Two on Rav Hirsch, zt”l

The two pieces that follow deal, respectively, with the relevance of Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch for the relationship of Torah Jews to their fellow Jews and with what he still offers to Torah Jews as individuals and a community. Those two subjects formed the substance of my speech in Washington Heights on the occasion of Rav Hirsch’s bicentennial. I apologize for the considerable overlap between the two pieces, but decided to publish both, as they focus on different facets of Rav Hirsch’s legacy.

The Enduring Legacy of Rabbi Shamshon Raphael Hirsch

Today marks the bicentennial of Rabbi Shamshon Raphael Hirsch, whose vision dominated German Orthodoxy from the early 19th century until its destruction by the Nazis.

When Rabbi Hirsch first burst on the scene, as the 27-year-old author of The Nineteen Letters, German Orthodoxy was in full flight. In the first decades of the 19th century, for instance, nearly 90% of Berlin’s Jews made their way to the baptismal font. The Nineteen Letters was the first work to address the modern age from the perspective of Torah. That work and its successor Horeb arrested in mid-flight thousands who had all but turned their back on traditional Judaism.

One rabbinical contemporary wrote, “Anybody who reads The Nineteen Letters will find that until now he did not know Judaism as he knows it now, and literally becomes a new being.” Rabbi Hirsch’s writings provided the initial inspiration for Sarah Schenirer, the founder of the Bais Yaakov network of schools for women, and the lay leaders of the original Agudath Israel movement were almost all drawn from the ranks of his disciples.

Because of his openness to secular studies Rabbi Hirsch is sometimes described as the founder of modern Orthodoxy. That is a mistake. In the context of German Orthodoxy of his day, Rabbi Hirsch was considered a zealot. His insistence on a complete separation from the government-recognized communal bodies, on the grounds that they bore the taint of institutionalized heresy, divided the Orthodox community of Frankfort that he had almost single-handedly built. Every page of the voluminous Hirsch corpus cries out his intense Fear of Heaven.

Rabbi Hirsch is more accurately described as the architect of Torah Judaism for the modern world (the subtitle of the definitive biography by Eliyahu Meir Klugman.) He wrote for a modern world lacking the protective insularity of the ghetto, one in which every Jew simultaneously lives in a broader non-Jewish society. Though he recognized the dangers of Emancipation and repeatedly stressed that participation in the larger society could never justify the slightest deviation from one’s duties as a Jew, Rabbi Hirsch saw Emancipation as allowing for a fuller Jewish life.

The narrow constraint of Jewish life in the ghetto had, in Rabbi Hirsch’s opinion, robbed Jewish learning of its intended vitality, through actual application to life situations. “The goal of study,” he lamented, “has not been practical life, to understand the world and our duty in it.”

Rather than approaching the broader society in an exclusively defensive posture, Hirsch viewed it with optimism. He saw the historical circumstances of any period as the raw material upon which the ideals of the Torah must be impressed to the extent that the larger society provides the opportunity to do so.

His writings are filled with an enormous confidence in the power of Torah to uplift and transform every period of history. Accordingly, he addressed the entirety of German Jewry on a monthly basis on the major issues of the day. No Torah scholar of comparable stature fills that role today.

THE LAND OF ISRAEL has not provided fertile soil for the Hirschian tradition. Orthodox refugees from Germany, or at least their children have virtually all gravitated either towards Mizrachi or to the mainstream yeshiva world. It is often pointed out by the latter that the last 150 years of German Orthodox life produced no more than two or three Talmudists or poskim (legal decisors) of the first rank, compared to hundreds in Eastern Europe. For that reason, the Hirschian tradition will never become the dominant one within the Israeli haredi world.

Nevertheless Rabbi Hirsch’s writings still have much to offer both to the haredi world itself and the broader Jewish society. Indeed it is hard to think of any nineteenth century Jewish thinker who speaks with such astonishing contemporaneity. More than 100 years after his passing, new translations of his work, particularly his commentary on Chumash, continue to appear regularly. On any issue to which he set his pen, his word continues to be not just the first word but the last.

As more haredim enter the marketplace and, as a consequence, seek some form of advanced secular education, Rabbi Hirsch’s writings on the confrontation between modernity and Torah will gain many new readers. His corpus is already standard reading for ba’alei teshuva drawing closer to the world of Torah study and observance.

Rabbi Hirsch described the prevailing religious observance of his day as preserving outward forms without the animating inner spirit. His life task was to reverse that “uncomprehended Judaism.” For Hirsch, the Torah is “Divine anthropology” – an account of Man from the vantage point of the Divine. The mitzvot must be understood not as arbitrary rules that demand only obedience but as the tools through which G-d seeks to shape the ideal human being, whose self-perfection is the goal of Creation.

In his commentary on Chumash, Rabbi Hirsch demonstrated the meaning and life lessons that each detail of observance, including that of the Temple service, seeks to inculcate. Even those who find themselves unmoved by a particular explanation will never again doubt, after reading Hirsch, the relevance of each word of Torah to daily life.

The awareness of mitzvot as educational tools for the formation of the ideal human being is closely linked to another key Hirschian concept: the imperative of sanctifying God’s Name through one’s every action. One of the miracles of the Tablets of the Law was that they read the same from whichever direction one looked. And so, Rabbi Hirsch taught, must it be with every Jew. From whichever direction he is perceived – whether at home, in the study hall, or in the marketplace – he must bear the stamp of a Jew shaped by Torah.

The glory of German Jews raised in the Hirschian tradition was their emphasis that one must not only be “glatt kosher but glatt yosher (straight).” A member of the Hirschian community of Washington Heights in upper Manhattan told me this past Shabbat that he has never experienced the temptation to cut a corner on his taxes or in business dealings.

I have no doubt that an exposure both to Rabbi Hirsch’s writings and to Orthodox Jews raised in his tradition would go a long way towards drawing non-observant Israeli Jews towards their traditions.

But there is another aspect of Rabbi Hirsch that is crucial to the entirety of Jewish society in Israel today. Absent some understanding of why the continued collective existence of the Jewish people is a matter of universal significance those with the talents and wherewithal to go elsewhere will do so. Indeed the statistics on Israel’s brain drain make clear that many already have.

Hirsch’s writings provide perhaps the fullest account of the Jewish national mission. “To reestablish peace and harmony on earth . . . and to bring the glory of G-d back to earth,” he writes in his Commentary to Chumash, “is proclaimed on every page of the Word of G-d as the result and aim of Torah.” Elsewhere he described Emancipation as a step towards “our goal – that every Jew and Jewess, though the example they provide in their own lives, should be priests of G-d and genuine humanity.”

Jerusalem Post
June 27, 2008

The Enduring Relevance of Rabbi Shamshon Raphael Hirsch זצ”ל

I had the privilege this past Shabbos of speaking in K’hal Adath Jeshurun of Washington Heights at the celebration of the bicentennial of Rabbi Shamshon Raphael Hirsch. About Rabbi Hirsch’s historical achievements there can be no debate: He was the savior of German Jewry; he stood at the forefront of the battle against the nascent Reform movement and the emerging Science of Judaism that developed into the Conservative movement; he inspired the Bais Yaakov movement, without which the remarkable growth of Torah learning in the past 60 years would have been inconceivable; and he provided the model for all subsequent efforts to reach out to Jews far removed from Torah.

Yet there are those who question whether Rabbi Hirsch, however important historically, still speaks to a vastly different Jewish world than the one in which he lived. One of the directors of the Rabbi Joseph Breuer Foundation, which will soon complete a monumental new translation of Rabbi Hirsch’s commentary on Chumash into English, was told recently that there is no need for a new Hebrew translation of the commentary, since it was written for those with no Torah background.

Such an attitude is perhaps understandable (particularly if one has never read Hirsch’s commentary). At the time Rabbi Hirsch burst on the Jewish scene, as the 26-year-old author of The Nineteen Letters, Torah Jewry was in full flight in Germany. In the early 1800s, so many Jews made their way to the baptismal font in Berlin that the city council issued an order that no Jew could convert without explicit permission of the government. We live, by contrast, in a world in which Torah learning is thriving and ever expanding.

Yet it would be a mistake to think that because so much Torah is being learned that the basics of Jewish belief are fully internalized. Too many of our children are afraid to ask questions for fear of being labeled apikorsim. Too many rebbes and Bais Yaakov teachers react with horror to questions, and assume a malevolent intent. Each of us pushes off responsibility for addressing the issues that naturally arise – parents on rebbes, rebbes on parents, the fifth-grade rebbe on the previous rebbe.

One of the speakers at a three-day Torah Umesorah seminar for mechanchim on teaching the Holocaust this past week commented that children no longer raise the basic issues of theodicy that tragedy on that scale inevitably arouse. Perhaps one of the reasons is that they are afraid to ask.

“Uncomprehended Judaism,” is the Hirshian term for the failure to understand Judaism on its own terms and from within. The result of that failure, even among those few who continued to observe mitzvos in Rabbi Hirschs’ time, was observance in which “the letter of the law is preserved but from which the spirit has fled.”

But “uncomprehended Judaism” was not a phenomenon confined to former days. And where it exists even the outward observance lacks staying power. The Jewish Observer recently published an article on adults-at-risk – i.e., those born into religious homes, who learned many years in yeshivos and in seminary, who wake up one morning and realize that they have no idea why they do what they do other than lifelong habit. The results of that realization are disastrous for them and their families.

Rabbi Hirschs’ writings offer the antidote to rote observance lacking inner meaning. As Rabbi Grylak’s moving account last week of his first encounter with The Nineteen Letters makes clear, those writings still offer one of the most powerful accounts of what it means to be a Jew and what is the role of the collective Jewish people.

Rabbi Hirsch spoke of the Torah as “Divine anthropology” – an account of Man from the vantage point of the Divine. That Divine anthropology forces upon us an awareness of mitzvos, not as arbitrary rules solely designed to compel obedience, but as the tools for shaping the Ideal Man, whose self-perfection is the goal of Creation.

And who more than Rabbi Hirsch demonstrates the meaning and lessons to be inculcated by every detail of our mitzvah observance, including every aspect of the temple service. Even those who find themselves unmoved by a particular explanation will never again doubt, after reading Hirsch, that each word of the Torah provides guidance for every aspect of our day-to-day lives.

The recognition of mitzvos as Hashem’s tools to form an ideal human type is closely linked to another major Hirschian concept: the Kiddush Hashem imperative. One of the miracles of the tablets of the Law was that they could be read from every direction. And so, Rabbi Hirsch taught, must it be with every Jew. From whichever direction he is perceived – whether at home, in the study hall, or in the marketplace – he bears the stamp of Torah upon him.

The awareness of ourselves as exemplars of Hashem’s Torah instills life with the idealism that each of us needs. It also provides a cure for the prevalent competitiveness that treats success in one particular area the exclusive measure of self-worth. In our ability to proclaim Hashem through our conduct in every sphere, we are all equal and each of us has a role that belongs to no one else.

In his voluminous collected writings, Hirsch addressed the entirety of German Jewry on the major issues of the day and of every individual’s life. He revealed a Toras Chaim not confined to the disputations of the beis hamedrash, but which spoke to every contemporary issue. We lack any figure of comparable stature today who regularly addresses the broader Jewish public on the issues of the day.

In his magisterial summation of Rabbi Hirsch’s legacy last Shabbos, Rabbi Elyahu Meir Klugman, his preeminent biographer, pointed out that the Jewish world today, even in Lakewood and Bnei Brak, is one of constant interaction with a larger gentile world. Rabbi Hirsch remains a vital guide to the interface between the world of Torah and the larger society.

He did not approach that larger society in a purely defensive posture – one that conveys doubts about the power of the Torah – but with optimism, confidence, even aggressiveness. He viewed the particular historical circumstances of his time as the raw material upon which the ideals of the Torah must be impressed to the extent that the larger society permitted. He did not doubt the dangers involved in that effort; his writing are filled with warnings and strictures about where no Jew must tread.

Yet fortified with the pure yiras Shomayim that cries out from every passage, and which is manifested in the fact that virtually all of his thousands of descendants are mitzvah observant even after five or six generations, he was filled with an enormous optimism about the power of Torah to uplift and transform every period of history. We too could benefit from a healthy dose of that same confidence.

July 2, 2008

You may also like...

28 Responses

  1. Natan says:

    Because of his openness to secular studies Rabbi Hirsch is sometimes described as the founder of modern Orthodoxy. That is a mistake… Every page of the voluminous Hirsch corpus cries out his intense Fear of Heaven.

    Do people who are Modern Orthodox by definition lack intense Fear of Heaven?

  2. Baruch Pelta says:

    I was shocked that Reb Rosenblum, a man who himself is attracted to Torah im Derech Eretz, wrote what he did. After having subjected R’ Elias’s views to critical analysis in a forthcoming essay, I think I can state with confidence that Reb Rosenblum’s views have been quite influenced by R’ Elias’s writings on this topic.

  3. shmuel says:

    Because of his openness to secular studies Rabbi Hirsch is sometimes described as the founder of modern Orthodoxy. That is a mistake
    I must disagree. R Hirsch’s approach in fact is the very essence of modern orthodoxy, an openess to secular studies and the higher aspects of the dominant culture without dilution of Yiras Shamayim or shmiras mitzvos. Those who fall short of these goals don’t define the movement any more than a convicted felon with chredi or chasidishe garb defines those movements.

  4. Mike S says:

    Rav Hirsch does not fit cleanly into our current division into Chareidi and Modern Orthodox. He was a strong proponent of engagement with modern secular and civil culture and science, yet also a strong proponent of separating from institutions associated with those Jews who have abandoned halacha.

  5. Toby Katz says:

    “Do people who are Modern Orthodox by definition lack intense Fear of Heaven?”

    Not “by definition” but sociologically, that’s how it often works out.

  6. Avi says:

    “It is often pointed out by the [mainstream yeshiva world] that the last 150 years of German Orthodox life produced no more than two or three Talmudists or poskim (legal decisors) of the first rank, compared to hundreds in Eastern Europe.”

    How many current mainstream yeshiva world Talmidei Chachamim owe their very existence as Torah-true Jews to ancestors who remained observant due to the Hirsch kehilla and writings, as well as to R’ Hirsch-inspired Orthodox day schools, high schools and Bais Yaackovs? How many attained their greatness using money earned by TIDE labor?

    The purpose of Torah-Only is to produce Talmidei Chachamim, and the purpose of TIDE is to produce Mikadshai Hashem (sanctifiers of G-d’s name)for the outside world, as well as providers of what is beneficial for Torah observance from the outside world, under the guidance of Talmidei Chachamim.

    We would do well to finally come to the understanding that the two are interdependent parts of one whole; and that each individual needs to join the group that fits his or her talents and circumstances best, without worrying about which group is “better” in one way or another.

  7. LOberstein says:

    As a fan of Mishpacha, I was surprised that its tribute to Rav Hirsch was an attempt to make him acceptable by showing similarity of his views to Agudah and Satmar. I first saw this hesitation about Hirsch when a rabbi told me that his shul would not mark Hirsch’s birth because his views are no longer relevant and if he were alive today, he wouldn’t hold those views. The same people also say that any psak of Rav Soloveitchik that they don’t like was rejected by the Rav hinself in later years (they assume). Rabbi Dovid Katz of Baltimore gave a series of lectures this winter that included serious historical analysis os Hirsch and his times. The man was complex and he cannot be pigeon holed into contemporary strictures. True historians see the full picture. Truth tellers like Rabbi Katz are rare abd in some other cities would be shut up, not for lying but for truth telling.
    Taking Hirsch out of the context of his times does not reveal the whole Hirsch.

  8. RSRH Follower says:

    R. Rosenblum implies that the chareidi world is closer to the philosophy of RSRH than the MO world but he fails to articulate why that is the case. He notes that RSRH had yirat shomayim and his philosophy of austritt. As for yirat shomayim, I acknowledge that there are many in the MO world who are lacking in that regard as may have also been the case in RSRH’s kehila. However, I hope that R. Rosenblum would agree that there are many in the YU world in the US and the dati leumi world in Israel who are outstanding yerai shomayim. In fact, the serious MO individual is much more likely to view RSRH as a source of inspiration than an MO-lite individual who in all likelihood knows little about RSRH and his writings.

    As for Austritt, this has practically no relevance in the MO world as there is little, if any, joint activity between MO organizations and congregations and the non-Orthodox denominations. In any case, the issue of austritt has almost no relevance to the daily life of an MO individual. What does have relevance to an MO individual is precisely the issues that are at the core of the unique aspects of RSRH’s philosophy — specifically the importance and value of general culture and secular studies, the universalistic message of the Torah, our obligations and attitude to gentiles, the emphasis on Kiddush Hashem and ethics, the position that Torah was not meant to be lived in the ghetto and the value of emancipation etc. These concepts are are central to the philosophy of Modern Orthodoxy and its educational institutions. By contrast, chareidi schools preach a philosophy that is in direct opposition to that of RSRH in respect all of the issues set forth above. In addition, they almost never teach the philosophy of RSRH, and they often advocate the spurious claim that RSRH’s positions were only meant as an horaas shaah (I wonder whether the chareidi BT yeshivos that teach the philosophy of RSRH tell their students that their children will not be exposed to RSRH if they attend chareidi schools). There is nothing wrong with the fact that the chareidi world follows their Rabbinic leaders and not RSRH in respect of these issues, but we need to be intellectually honest about the fact that the philosophy of RSRH can only be found in contemporary times in the MO world in the US and in certain segments of the dati leumi world in Israel.

    Finally, as R. Rosenblum notes, a fundamental feature of RSRH’s philosophy and that of his community is that of acting with glatt yosher, particularly in dealing with gentiles. While I believe that most chareidim conduct their business affairs with absolute honesty and integrity and there are many MO who have much to improve in this area, can there be any doubt that the MO community has a far better record of observance of halachos relating to financial honesty and integrity? One simply has to read the newspapers to arrive at this obvious conclusion. I have lived in both communities and I can tell you that there is no comparison between the two communities in this area. The fact that there is a well known chareidi Rabbi in the US who publicly and privately tells people that they can ignore parts of Choshen Mishpat relating to taxes and financial transactions with gentiles while this Rabbi continues to maintain his position of respect in the community speaks volumes about the long way that chareidi community needs to go in order to consider themselves followers of RSRH in this regard. By contrast, when this Rabbi made such comments in an MO community, the community was in an uproar and this “Rabbi” will probably not be permitted to ever appear in this community ever again. Now, that is in the spirit of RSRH!

  9. Steve Brizel says:

    I think that one can dissent from the above essay for a variety of reasons:

    1) The Breuer Kehilah in the US has not been led by a rav who believes in TIDE for many years.
    2) One should read The Nineteen Letters (without R Elias’ comments) and The Collected Letters of RSRH and ask oneself whether RSRH would appreciate today’s Kehilah which one can argue is a Charedi Kehillah with Yekke Minhagim.
    3) R Baruch Ber ZTL, in Birkas Shmuel, branded TIDE a Horaas Shah, which was clearly not RSRH’s intention in his writings.Elu v Elu and R Elias’s comments on The Nineteen Letters are an intellectual burial of TIDE.
    4) R Moshe Shapiro has already voiced the POV that TIDE is not a mainstream Hashkafa in the wake of the Slifkin ban. I would tend to doubt that today’s Charedi world, whether in the US or in EY, would consider RSRH and TIDE as mainstream
    5) If one speaks to those who were raised in the Kehillah, they will tell you that their sons and sons in law are learning in Lakewood & Mir, as opposed to attending college and obtaining a professional degree.

  10. elana says:

    This oft repeated citation about only 2-3 versus hundreds of first rank Talmudic scholars deserves a bit more attention examining numerous independent variables and hypotheses. Comparative size of the orthodox populations, impact of emancipation, relative affluence and ability to enter the workforce, the very definition of who is first rank (who one counts is certainly subject to scrutiny) and other factors reduce the dramatic nature of the comparison. Undoubtedly, the comparison would give a numerical edge to Eastern Europe, more precisely, Lita and its environs. However, a fuller study must also account for the impact of a dramatically changed Derech haLimmud in that part of Eastern Europe. I have not seen any studies comparing “gedolim per capita” in Lita versus not Germany but versus Poland, Galicia, Hungary, Rumania, etc. Clearly, multiple factors may be at play.

    Beyond that, read the tshuvah of one of the greatest gedolim of Eastern Europe, R. Dovid Friedman “Karliner” ztl citing the German “orthodox” approach. (emek beracha – maamar daled; thanks to prof. Leiman for popularizing the tshuvah.) It contained strong praise of a method that after great losses, stemmed the tide and (regardless of its ability to produce “gedolim”) created vibrant frum communities in the face of modernity. His tshuvah’s evaluation of its applicability to Israel in almost prophetic accuracy even today, would be a more apt and accurate remembrance of RSRH ztl.

  11. joel rich says:

    “Do people who are Modern Orthodox by definition lack intense Fear of Heaven?”

    Not “by definition” but sociologically, that’s how it often works out.

    Comment by Toby Katz
    Rn’ Katz,
    Please share with us the study that was the source of this information as well as how Fear of Heaven was detected by the observer.

  12. S Simon says:

    In an interesting essay published in Encounter (pg. 204)(also found on the Avodah mailing list at, Professor Lev argues that the lack of Gedolim produced by the Hirschian system had more to do with the environment TIDE operated within (mass assimilation and little respect for intense devotion to Torah study) than with the system itself. He suggests that the Yeshiva system too, serves the average and very good student, but does not in and of itself produce the most brilliant Gedolim (e.g. Chazon Ish, the Rogatchover), but rather provides the supportive environment for one should he emerge.

  13. Chareidi Leumi says:

    >“Do people who are Modern Orthodox by definition lack intense Fear of Heaven?”

    >Not “by definition” but sociologically, that’s how it often works out.

    How are you bochen klayot vaLev? and how do you know how many in the chareidi world have yiras shamaim and how many have yiras “not getting a shiduch” and yiras “what will the neighbors say”?

    True yiras shamayim is rare – I highly doubt any community has a monopoly on it (or even a secret recipe on how to get it)

  14. Michoel says:

    Oy vey. I can’t believe folks have more energy for more MO-Chareidi mud wrestling. And when it is done we will have all learned from each other and have deepened out mutual respect and ahavas Yisroel.

    The three weeks is coming soon!

  15. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    The places in EY where emuna (hashkafa) is learned regularly and treated with importance are the dati leumi yeashivot. In the hareidi world the emphasis is totally on the technical mastery of Shas/poskim.

  16. Garnel Ironheart says:

    “Do people who are Modern Orthodox by definition lack intense Fear of Heaven?”

    Not “by definition” but sociologically, that’s how it often works out.

    Comment by Toby Katz
    Rn’ Katz,
    Please share with us the study that was the source of this information as well as how Fear of Heaven was detected by the observer.

    I think everyone would agree that the Modern Orthodox community rarely participates in such well-known Yiras Shomayim activites as:

    1) Rioting and burning garbage cans when disagreeable social groups hold public events
    2) Stoning buses that allow {gasp!} mixed seating
    3) Assaulting women (and men that try to help them) that don’t hold by separate seating on buses
    4) Modesty patrols that attack people that don’t meet their standards
    5) Burning the Israeli flag on Yom Ha’atzmaut

    Oh wait, are those considered wrong and not approved by a certain segment of Torah world? Maybe, but that doesn’t explain why some then go and explain that their violent outbursts are a result of their intense Fear of Heaven.

    So which is it?

  17. ClooJew says:

    While the incident is, lulei demistafina, another setback for the already fragile and fraying Washington Heights/KAJ community, Rav Mantel said nothing that any Torah authority would argue with: We must be directed by the leaders of our time. “Dor dor vedorshov.”

    The German-Jewish absorption into the melting pot of Orthodox Jewish America appears now to be nearing completion. Much of the Washington Heights community blended into Monsey(which has its own KAJ) and other communities. For the most part, all the yekkes I grew up with are, today, indistinguishable from all the other yeshiva guys I went to school with.

    Yekkes are barely any longer a distinct “community,” not because they haven’t tried, but because the culture of the United States, in all its democratic glory and fiscally upward mobility, does not lend itself to those sorts of enclaves.

    Fortunately, none of that matters. What the Yekkeshe community can take pride in – and this is, lulei demistafina, the ultimate trophy – is that Torah Im Derech Eretz is the de facto standard of American Orthodoxy.

    Most of us go to work, speak unaccented English, and are friendly and honest with the “outside” world. Again, that’s most of us. Even in Lakewood, the vast majority of heads of households are not sitting in Kollel but hold jobs that require them to deal with the outside world. Lakewood is not the ghetto that it is perceived – nor that it perceives itself – to be.

    Two centuries later, Rav Hirsch has won not only the battle, but also the war.

  18. Meyer Wolf Baum says:

    It seems to me that Jonathon Rosenblum was strongly influenced by the article written on Hirsch’s everlasing impact by Rabbi Y. Frankfurter which was recently published in Mishpacha Magazine. It was a groundbreaking article in many ways. Click here to see it in full:

  19. Daniel B. says:

    Although I am not a member of the German Jewish community, I am disturbed by Rabbi Yisroel Mantel’s recent remarks regarding the contemporary relevance of “Torah Im Derech Eretz.” See

    Obviously, Rav Hirsch’s philosophy needs to be properly applied to every generation and locale (the same is true about Rav Aharon Kotler’s philosophy, or any other). But it is an entirely different matter to dismiss “Torah Im Derech Eretz” as irrelevant in our time.

    For one thing, in a generation where tuition is so expensive and, therefore, the need for “Derech Eretz” cannot be minimized, it is essential that the Derech Eretz be balanced with Torah learning and practice. One could, in fact, argue that “Torah Im Derech Eretz” has never been more relevant.

    Furthermore, with Rav Hirsch gone almost 120 years, why is it first being said now that “Torah Im Derech Eretz” could only be properly implemented in his lifetime?

    It would have been more politically savvy (and, I believe, more accurate) to say that “Torah Im Derech Eretz” is alive and well today, although it is essential that the philosophy be properly applied to every generation and locale.

    The downside to such candor would have been the need to acknowledge (at least implicitly) that, by no stretch of the imagination, could learning in Kollel indefinitely be deemed consistent with “Torah Im Derech Eretz.”

  20. LOberstein says:

    I first was introduced to SRH by Rabbi Boruch Borchardt when I spent a summer in Camp Agudah in 1963. This Sunday is the Shloshim for Rabbi Borchardt whose life and legacy of service is a tribute to all that is good in the German tradition. However,many of the next generation of those German Jews attended Litvish Yeshivos and are no longer “yekkes”.Someone once told me that there is a phrase “an alte Yekke” because there are few young ones. In a ccertain way, these former Germans brought their extreme anti-Reform and opposition to any compromise and became more Litvish than the Litvaks. Maybe part of today’s extremism is the result of this cutural blend.
    Onb the other hand, events in Baltimore always start on time thanks to the German influence on this community.

  21. Bob Miller says:

    Rav Hirsch, ZT”L, pointed out that, in each era, Torah has to be actualized within the prevailing Derech Eretz of the places where Jews live.

    Possibly, in each era, a different Jewish community or type of community is ripe for adopting his approach. If the heirs of Jewish communities transplanted from Germany are no longer comfortable with his approach, that’s for them to decide, but their decision should not prejudice us.

  22. Jewish Observer says:

    “On the other hand, events in Baltimore always start on time thanks to the German influence on this community”

    separate seating at NIRC dinners is not only not on time – it is LATE!

  23. Mark says:


    “In a ccertain way, these former Germans brought their extreme anti-Reform and opposition to any compromise and became more Litvish than the Litvaks. Maybe part of today’s extremism is the result of this cutural blend.”

    It’s funny you should say this. A mishpachah I know well and would consider very far right Hareidi are direct descendants of one of the most staunch yekke’s I’ve ever known. The man never wore a yeshivish article of clothing in his life nor spoke a word of yinglish. His was proper English or German all the time. Yet, he was a fierce anti-reform and when the day school of which he was headmaster instituted a policy that he felt crossed the line, he promptly resigned on no one and nothing could induce him to return to his post. At the time, he had five children with no other means of support. At the time of his petirah, he had completed Shas multiple times along with many other sidrei limud [rambam, tanach, etc.] It is not a stretch by any means to assume that some of his tenacity was passed down to his children who act just as he did but wear different clothing.

  24. Naftali Wagschal says:

    Re: #11 Toby Katz and Joel Rich

    How can you tell a Y’rei Shomayim?

    It is true that only Hashem can be ‘choker kloyos v’lev’ but that doesn’t preclude one from applying certain criteria to differentiate between an apparent Chared el d’var Hashem and someone who doesn’t appear to be so.

    The Chared el d’var Hashem aka ‘charedi’ accepts the totality of the Shulchan Aruch as understood by the Gedolei Harabonim and Poskim of our times. There is also a certain intensity observable in their attachment to Yiddishkeit. They don’t complain about or mock “Chumros” nor do they ask for a more lenient application of the halachoth of the Shulchan Aruch in line with present views and needs.

    They don’t ‘take it easy’ with their practice of the Mizvos and it is clearly apparent that they consider mitzvah observance as a serious matter and something to be done conscientiously. They are happy to comply with the more stringent applications of halachic standards for tznius and parents will send their children to the Yeshivos which provide a high level of Torah education.

  25. Doniel Sayani says:

    Rav Hirsch’s Torah Im Derech Eretz, I believe, presents a paradigm by which klal yisroel can come together. First of all, Rav Hirsch’s genius was that he realized that Orthodoxy cannot be intellectually-closed to the riches of the natural and social sciences, because these disciplines explain the functioning of the natural world and human race created by HaShem and used by the Torah to convey the will of HaShem for the Jewish people and the world at-large. While Derech Eretz does not view science (maddah) as another avenue of truth (only the torah is emes, according to Rav Hirsch, although maddah casts light on and enables us to fully understand torah, distinguishing Derech Eretz from Modern Orthodoxy, based on Torah u’ Maddah, the premise that both torah and science are valid ways of pursuing truth), it does represent the only viable means, I believe, for Orthodoxy to remain fully committed to the torah and halacha while avoiding ignorance and close-mindedness. While several voices in the Haredi world have affirmed their belief that Derech Eretz is a hora’as sha’ah, such as the Kaminetzer R’ Boruch Ber Leibowitz, I believe that there was no better representative for Derech Eretz in our time than R’ Yosef Breuer, who unabashedly refuted this claim and held that Derech Eretz is the only practical hashkafah that can sustain klal yisroel as we engage the world at-large and its riches while pursuing our own derech, in talmud torah and the practice of mitzvahs and halacha. Anyone familiar with the Seridei Esh, R’ Weinberg, zt”l, the last Rosh Yeshiva of the Hildesheimer Yeshiva, knows that his own weltanschauung and the entire hashkafah of the yeshiva was based precisely on this premise- the minutia of halacha were kept, while a myriad of darchei ha limud were used to have the best understanding of torah possible, including modern insights into rabbinical psychology and pastoral counseling, philosophy, science and geography, history, secular law, academic glances into the Talmud and literary methods of Tanach study, in the tradition of R’ David Zvi Hoffman, a talmid of Rav Hirsch (who pioneered the inclusion of modern Jewish studies methods, wissenschaft dies Judentums, into the traditional derech of the yeshiva), which is carried on today in the work of R’ Mordechai Breuer, a scion of the Hirsch dynasty, who utilizes an academic approach to Tanach that avoids Wellhausen’s criticism, documentary hypothesis, which was debunked by Rav Hirsch as being false to history and archaeology. Rav Hirsch and the Yeshiva pursued knowledge so that they could respond to its challenges in a civil manner true to the Torah and our Mesorah, which embraces the pursuit of knowledge and responds to other ideas, even properly engaging them at times; we see this in the personalities of the Rambam and the Vilna Gaon (see Yehudah Levi’s article in the Sefer “The Living Hirschian Legacy” on the topic), most remarkably, and even in the writings of Yitzchak Breuer, a scion of the Hirsch dynasty, who incorporated Immanuel Kant’s philosophy into his own torah (His writings were even part of the curriculum at Torah Vodaas in its early days, under Reb Shraga Feivel, although one could never see this in the contemporary Torah Vodaas). Rav Hirsch, I believe is a true gadol whose knowledge and hashkafah directly informs my life in innumerable ways and forms the basis for my outlook, as one who is intellectually open and halachically-committed. How sad is it that this derech is not preserved in the Frankfurt kehillah, but instead in the halls of Yeshiva University, Jewish studies departments in the modern university and within the institutions of Modern Orthodoxy, leaving Rav Hirsch’s hashkafah and his legacy in danger of being relegated to the textbooks/ annals of history and the misinterpretations of the Haredi world, which lacks an understanding of the hashkafah in the first place and threatens to impose the standards of secluded communities on a community based on a hashkafah of openness, intellectual integrity, and engagement with the world at-large. I urge the kehillah in Washington Heights to reconsider its approach and evaluate its direction in an era of increasing fundamentalism within Judaism, rachmono litzion, and perhaps reconsider what is truly taught and learned on the other side of Bennett Avenue, within Yeshiva University. I urge the KAJ community to reevaluate its matzav and I urge the entire Jewish community, Modern Orthodox, Chassidic and Litvish, to pursue study of Rav Hirsch’s torah as a means of bridging all of us together, kulanu be echad.

  26. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “It is true that only Hashem can be ‘choker kloyos v’lev’ but that doesn’t preclude one from applying certain criteria to differentiate between an apparent Chared el d’var Hashem and someone who doesn’t appear to be so”

    I don’t think that it is helpful to engage in generalities, but if one does on the level of ideology(as opposed to the individual), perhaps both sides should make an effort to see potential weaknesses in their own ideology, since no system is perfect, as opposed to the usual opposite way of viewing things?

    For example, take the issue of Torah authority, which in some degree is part of all Orthodoxy. MO has not suffered from the downside of making frequent prohibitions in a general way(although there might be a potential risk in the other direction). Yet I recall to his credit, a speaker at an OU convention saying that some in MO can learn from Charedim as far as certain aspects of kavod Hatorah. Similarly, I think it’s less important in terms of opinions regarding which ideology can claim to fit any general definition of “Chared el d’var Hashem”, and more important to appreciate why people decide to belong to either side, and also, to counteract any potential weakness of one’s own ideology(or the way it’s applied on a practical basis).

  27. elana says:

    Doniel, while I applaud the major theme of your essay, it contains a number of details that I cannot let go by. 1) Your distinction of TUM from TIDE with the assertion of only one emet, conflates super-ordinate with only. See, for example, the Rav’s footnote in the Lonley Man of faith on the impossibilty of contradiction between the story of creation in the Torah and science, since they are on different planes. This is argued with greater philosophic accuracy in the Halakhic Mind. You are in good company; many of the essays criticizing Dr. Lamm have difficulty with truth /emet outside Torah. R. Hirsh’s view is, at least to me, unclear; I tend to think that the Rav’s argument is axiomatic and hence irrefutable (and not widely understood.) Halakha/Torah trumps all in terms of how to behave; despite that, there are external truths. 2) You tend to lump embrace of modernity – philosophy, psychology, literature, mathematics, etc. – with academic study of talmud. While you and I may value both, many of the luminaries you referenced had more nuanced views that often saw value in one or the other but not always in both. 3) My brother and I had the great zechut to study with R. Moredechai Breuer. I doubt R. Hirsch would have been comfortable with his significant use of the methods of biblical criticism. Read prof. Carmy’s hesped and prof. sid Leiman’s earlier critique. Again you and I might value his approach, and it was taught at MO yeshivot (even for men), but it pushes / stretches the limits of TIDE.

    Fear not however, book burners (a more direct method to rewrite history) have never won and as Mishlei asserts: “there is nothing new under the sun.” your appraoch has a winning track record; i share your dream of “kulanu be echad.”

  28. Doniel Sayani says:

    Todah rabbah to Elana. Thank you for helping clarify some of the messier points of ideological distinction between TIDE and TUM, The Rav and Rav Hirsch. Exploring these differences can be tricky, but we hope and pray that we see emes, while realizing that our strength comes from our diversity, which unifies us just as the shevotim were unified amid their differences. Your points are well-taken; RMB’s approach to Tanach, for instance, may not be directly in sunch with TIDE, but it is in that spirit, especially done by a descendant of Rav Hirsch. As far as number 2 goes, again, I am generalizing, We must consdier that even some Haredim, who wouldn;t touch mehqar with a ten-foot pole, maybe other than to refute it, do pursue study of economics, medicine, food science, etc. as a means of being more effective poskim, mashgichim, mohelim, dayanim, etc., as having a proper view of haalcha entials understanding the basics of these areas (Shabbos and technology, Chosehn mishpat and Business, Torts, Economics, Even Ha Ezer and fmaily law, Kashrus and food science, niddah and gynecology, etc.) Thank you for responding to my points and taking the time to offer your own insights and experiences. Kol ha kavod.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This