Q. Why do some circles oppose the study of secular subjects?
A. The view of Maimonides in the fifth chapter of his Sh’moneh P’rakim – Eight Chapters on Ethics – is that subject to certain safeguards, so-called secular subjects are good and useful. He says science and medicine promote health of mind and body; mathematics and physics sharpen the mind and train it to distinguish logic from illogic; aesthetic studies help to relax the soul and senses.
However, anything that might undermine the Torah is not permitted. Thus, a Jew may not read books of idolatrous philosophy unless for the express purpose of being able to refute them. Maimonides would certainly agree that subjects which undermine Jewish moral principles are not permitted.
The opponents of secular studies fear, however, that one’s Torah study might take second place to secular education, and suffer. Even Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the great proponent of Torah Im Derech Eretz (the combination of Jewish and general culture) warns that if general culture does not bring a person to Torah but seeks to replace it, it is not the path that leads to the Tree of Life (Commentary on Gen. 3:24).