Learning from other Religions?
Moshe Ben-Chaim

Reader: My question basically is as follows: While I accept your assertion that falsehoods dominate the non-Jewish religions and philosophies of the world, would you not admit that if some truth is contained in those religions or philosophies - heretofore not explicitly propounded by Jewish teachers - that they should be accepted?  Rambam admits in his introduction to Shemonah Perakim that many concepts contained in that treatise can be attributed to the non-Jewish philosophers, and encourages, "Hear the truth from whoever says it."  As you are also aware, Rambam calls Aristotle "the greatest of all philosophers" in Moreh Nevuchim; shouldn't we similarly be able to objectively glean aspects of the truth from non-Jewish systems?
Mesora: Other religions may have specific ideas which seem to fully comply with reality. But there is one major problem; they do not teach their ideas outside the context of their religious beliefs. For example: If Christianity supports death for blasphemers, on the surface this seems proper. But if we look at the larger picture, and grasp that their idea of God is physical, this estranges their law regarding the blasphemer from Judaism's law. Since God is in no way physical, a Christian who rebels and blasphemes his "idea of God", is in fact, not a true blasphemer according to Torah, and is not deserving of death. He is cursing his subjective, false notion of God, and not the true God. He did not blaspheme. Punishment in such a case would be evil - against Christianity's opinion.
Another example would be a comparison of Judaism's and Christianity's views of "abstinence." Christianity views sexual abstinence as a good, so does Judaism. But it is not that simple. Christianity praises nuns and priests, as they abstain their entire lives. This is a denial of God's wish for mankind to procreate. Christianity, in its attempt to reach "saintly" levels, created man made goals that are impossible to reach, and are wrongful to value. Denial of human feelings and functions, and psychological needs, is against God's true plan that man have these organs, desires and feelings. Additionally, such abstinence is an inherent contradiction. On the one hand, Christianity feels nuns and priests are a good. On the other hand, their abstinence prevents the creation of new nuns and priests, as they cut off births of those who could fill these roles. Judaism does value a limit on the physical. But it is for an entirely different reason.
Judaism desires that man reach his most happy and perfected state. This is when man is pursuing life with his essence, his elemental distinction - his intelligence. To live in accord with God's perfectly designed world which functions according to reason and precise laws, man achieves his greatest happiness when he follows the rules of the world. If he complies with how the world works, he will reap its bounty. If he fights reality, he will be doomed. Imagine someone who uses oil - instead of water - to irrigate his crops. Since he violates the rules of plant life, he will waste his energies and produce nothing, and even create more work for himself to reach the point where he was at prior to his error. Similarly, if one attempts to achieve happiness but does not satisfy his nature as a being possessing a mind, he will experience dissatisfaction his entire life. His essential component is not being addressed or satisfied. To help man direct himself towards a life where he pursues knowledge and intelligence, he must diminish his striving for physical luxuries and emotional satisfactions. Yes, desires have their time and place. And our point is precisely that. According to Judaism, abstinence is not for itself, to foolishly make one "holy" as suggested by Christianity. Abstinence targets a true goal; setting the stage where man is in control of his desires, satisfying them under the guidance of Torah law, but always realizing his true aim - the pursuit of God's wisdom. Only here will man find true happiness. Only in discovering new marvels does man realize his goal of God creating him as an intelligent being.
So we see that we cannot simply suggest to learn from other religions, even if they value the same things - "by name" - that Judaism values. In truth, the name alone is all that is similar.
When Maimonides praised Aristotle's ideas, he was not agreeing with Aristotle's "religion". This was not the topic of Maimonides' praise. Maimonides agreed with Aristotle's scientific and philosophical accuracies - not religious beliefs. Science explains God's physical creation. Philosophy deals with man vs man, and man vs God. Both science and philosophy - as thought by Aristotle - were divorced from religion. Maimonides viewed Aristotle as a seeker of the same system of truth that Maimonides sought. There was no conflicting system. These independent ideas of Aristotle do not form a part of a false religion, and therefore they were correct as ends in themselves. Here is the point of divergence from what we discussed earlier. Earlier, via our example of blasphemy, we showed how a seemingly innocuous and a apparently correct idea, when forming part of a false religion, is in fact corrupt. But in science and philosophy, Aristotle's statements were divorced from any extraneous goal such as anthropomorphizing God.
But as for religion, should we look to other religions? The answer is a clear no. Although Rashi says in Deuteronomy 18:9 that one may study the false practices of other nations to see how damaging they are, and to instruct his son on the right path, we must be convinced of God's divinely designed Torah system which needs no amendments from man made, flawed religions. God's system of Torah is complete and based on God's ultimate knowledge. God has gone so far to command us not to add or subtract to the Torah.
God's Torah system is complete. A false, man made religion cannot add to a complete system designed by God. It is the height of arrogance for man to have created new religions, after God has informed mankind of the only religion for all men. "...for what is man that he comes after the King, that all is already completed?" (Ecclesiastes, 2:12) "Do not be excited on your mouth, and (on) your heart do not hurry to bring forth a matter before the God, because God is in heaven, and you are on Earth, therefore let your words be few." (Proverbs, 5:1) King Solomon puts man in his place with these two statements.
There can be only one "best" lifestyle, and only God knows how to design it. He did so, and called it Torah. Fortunate is man that God gave us direction in the form of Torah. Foolish is the man who thinks otherwise.