Return to Basics: A Call to Revitalize R’ Hirsch’s Torah im Derech Eretz
by Daniel Adler [A Young Writer Submission]
How is it that over the past few decades, Yeshivos all over the United States have produced students that are “un-Jewish” (to use a Hirschian phrase)? By that I mean that, after twelve years of a Jewish education, many of them are not committed to Judaism at all. Not until after high school, when students learn in Bais Medrash/Seminary for a year or two (often in Israel), do they become committed to a Torah lifestyle. A second problem that presents itself comes as a result of the Yeshiva day school system naturally feeding into a kollel lifestyle. This lifestyle has become automatic for many Yeshiva/Bais Yaakov graduates: they do not decide as individuals whether or not a kollel lifestyle is appropriate for them. These two problems not only afflict the Yeshiva world; they also affect the insular Chassidish world.
Based on my own experiences in Yeshiva and upon anecdotal evidence heard from neighbors and friends, I can list a number of reasons why these problems exist. These include: Appearances (some parents force their children to fit into a “Yeshivish lifestyle” regardless of their child (ren)’s personality and leanings); Peer Pressure (both students and their parents desire to be like everybody else, which has resulted in a “cookie cutter” society); Apathy (today’s students are indifferent toward Judaism due to either superficial study or multiple distractions/outside temptations); Judgmentalism/ Fear (intellectually curious students are often branded as heretics for asking questions); and Insularity (studying anything other than Gemara is considered, at best, a waste of time). These ideas are probably familiar to the reader from his/her own personal experiences.
An effective solution to “un-Jewish students” or to students who have mindlessly “chosen” a kollel lifestyle, is a return to R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch’s educational system. Both the modern day Yeshiva system for boys and the Bais Yaakov movement for girls are based on R’ Hirsch’s ideal of Torah im Derech Eretz. In fact, without R’ Hirsch’s successful educational program (in the 1800s in Germany), the Bais Yaakov movement would likely not have been started and the modern day Yeshiva system would not exist as it does. Unfortunately, today’s Yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs have strayed far from their original forebear’s weltanschauung. This is undoubtedly due to a takeover of the Yeshiva system and its ideology into every phase of life – and the Hirschian school of thought has seemingly lost this struggle. To a large extent, even the supposed successors of R’ Hirsch have given up on him. What then, can be expected of everybody else?
If one learns and examines R’ Hirsch’s works, one understands that R’ Hirsch’s writings are as apropos now as they were in the 1800s. Although we do not need to confront the (now dying) Reform movement (as R’ Hirsch did), similar conditions to R’ Hirsch’s era (religious, political, technological, and social) continue to develop and expand in today’s society.
What does Torah im Derech Eretz have to offer? It provides one with an ability and wherewithal to regulate one’s interaction with this secular and material world in every phase of one’s busy and active life through Torah. Although many branches of today’s Yeshiva system choose to replicate the model of the pre-Churban Eastern European Ghetto, by rejecting this world and insulating themselves against it (these see the yeshiva/the Jewish home as a ‘taivah’), most students today seek to engage the world around them. They wish to replicate the Western European model of R’ Hirsch’s day, where Jews were out in the secular world and needed to blend their Torah values with their lives within general society. My experience has found that teenagers, in particular, are not willing to ignore the world around them, nor should they need to do so. In fact, a careful examination of the pre-Churban European Yeshiva system reveals that it was initially meant to create an elite group of Torah giants. Most members of European Orthodox Jewish society were not expected to be successful in this elite system. Although most frum Jewish men strove to incorporate daily Torah study within their busy lives, most were not considered to have the ability to be part of that elite group of Bais Medrash/Kollel students. R’ Hirsch’s Torah im Derech Eretz system, on the other hand, is applicable to every Jewish individual and shows each one, on his/her own level, how to live a life of Torah. R’ Hirsch’s view of life is a “middle of the road” path available to all.
The best way to reintroduce Torah im Derech Eretz is to restore R’ Hirsch’s ideals, both in theory and in practice, at the high school level. Specifically, this includes teaching R’ Hirsch’s classic sefer, “The Nineteen Letters,” which contains the core of R’ Hirsch’s views on the world and Torah. R’ Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz told his students in America, “I cannot understand how it is possible for an American yeshiva student to be Jewish without ‘The Nineteen Letters’” (Klugman, 1998). Study of this seminal work will form the basis for a strong Hashkafic underpinning for all yeshiva/Bais Yaakov students.
In order to prevent conflict and confusion in a student’s mind, secular studies must be approached from a Torah perspective. R’ Hirsch advocated having Rabbaim and frum individuals teach as many secular courses as possible. In fact, a general paradigm shift in our community’s approach to secular studies is needed. Students must be able to make a connection between secular studies and Torah. Why should students, especially young men, feel as if they are wasting their time (bittul Torah) all afternoon? One brief example as to how one aspect of secular studies broadens one’s mind will suffice. R’ Hirsch stresses how closely history is related to Torah. This means that one can see how HaShem runs the world by examining history: if one understands Torah (the foundation of all of history for all mankind), man’s place in the world, and the place of our nation, we can see HaShem’s guiding hand throughout time. By beginning one’s study of history with the careful study of Tanach, one sees that history is nothing more than HaShem’s hashgacha. If one does not study history with this focus, a student will not be able to truly know him/herself, nor his/her place within society. Also, by emphasizing the creation of all beings by the Oneness of the Divine Being, one’s appreciation of oneself, of all humanity, and of all facets of creation, is increased.
Once the importance of all Jewish individuals and their individual talents and endeavors is taught, a work ethic can be reinstituted. Instead of the “working boy/earner” being disparaged, as in our current yeshiva system, respect can be restored to those who combine Torah values within their workplace ethic. R’ Hirsch acknowledges that not every individual must be an exact replica of every other individual within a Torah community. In R’ Hirsch’s system, every type of individual is needed for every position. Whatever work one is doing is not considered bittul Torah; it is part of an active avodah of how one serves HaShem, as the Torah calls all Jews to an active life in this world. R’ Hirsch expresses this idea beautifully when he describes how different each of the Shevatim was (each had a unique path to HaShem), yet all twelve Shevatim were the sons of Yaakov Avinu. The Jewish people needs every kind of individual working in its “labor” force. (See for example, R’ Hirsch’s Collective Writings, Volume II, pages 361-362; Volume VII, pages 325-326; and R’ Hirsch on Bereshis 49:28).
R’ Hirsch was never afraid to examine any subject under the light of Torah. If an idea did not stand up to Torah, he dismissed it. If it did stand up under the scrutiny of Torah, that idea gave insight into HaShem’s universe. Today’s students often have keen questions in which they seek to resolve conflicts between Torah and secular perspectives. Our schools desperately need individuals who are expert enough in Torah and secular subjects, who are able to answer such questions and can assist students to examine the world with a discerning eye. Students have the right to ask questions and to receive honest answers. More importantly, students themselves have the right to be empowered to achieve this understanding. To quote R’ Hirsch:
On the other hand, it is equally true that the requirements of the child’s future occupation, and the specialized and general skills that will prepare him for it, must not in any manner be neglected. We say this not merely out of deference to his future secular career, but because our calling as Jews, the preservation of Torah-true Judaism in our era, urgently demands that its adherents must not in any way lag behind when it comes to modern, secular education. Again, this is necessary not merely so that they may be able to represent their sacred heritage in a manner that will command respect from wider social circles but, above all, in order that they may be able to view the intellectual, ethical and social developments of their time in true perspective, neither overrating nor underrating their significance but seeing them from the vantage point of Judaism in their rightful place within the Kingdom of God. Knowledge will protect our children from preconceived notions and from the errors in either direction to which the ignorant inevitably fall prey. Only the ignorant can be dazzled by spurious glitter or intimidated by empty pretense. Conversely, only the ignorant can be moved to throw away what is good and true in modern developments along with what is empty and evil. The only weapon against these pitfalls is knowledge (Hirsch, 1997).
Baruch Hashem, the study of Torah continues to be on the rise. This study of Torah must be balanced with action. As mentioned earlier, R’ Hirsch constantly stressed how Torah is applicable to the world, here and now. He neither advocated living an insular lifestyle nor keeping focused solely on the world to come. This idea of engaging with our world, which runs throughout the Torah, is in sharp contradistinction to the ideas of Christianity and Islam that stress asceticism in this world and a focus on the next world. Rabbaim must teach their students how to conduct themselves in this world and not to let the world pass them by. To quote R’ Hirsch, “I almost believe that all you homebodies would one day have to atone for your staying indoors, and when you would desire entrance to see the marvels of heaven, they would ask you, ‘Did you see the marvels of God on earth?’ Then, ashamed, you would mumble, ‘We missed the opportunity’” (Hirsch, 1997). To R’ Hirsch, putting Torah into action is its purpose.
Will R’ Hirsch’s answer be a solution for every single person? Undoubtedly, a solution that fits every single individual does not exist. Those elite individuals who desire to be completely involved in Torah exclusively are to be commended. However, demanding that level of commitment from every Jew is neither possible nor desirable. The Gemara in Brachos (35b), states that while many tried, unsuccessfully, to follow Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, many others successfully followed Rabbi Yishmael. R’ Breuer, in his essay, “The Relevancy of the Torah im Derech Eretz Ideal,” ponders the following pertinent question: “How many victims may have been claimed by the rejection of the Torah im Derech Eretz ideology?” (Breuer, 2010). The attrition rate away from Judaism by those who have followed R’ Hirsch’s system is extremely minimal. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the Yeshiva system. This fact has been recognized both by proponents of and antagonists to Torah im Derceh Eretz (such as Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler (see Tradition, Spring 1997, R. Shimon Schwab: “A Letter Regarding the “Frankfurt” Approach”).
R’ Hirsch’s words are as pertinent now as ever, “…but Torah im Derech Eretz is nevertheless the one true principle conducive to “truth and peace,” to healing and recovery from all ills and religious confusion. The principle of Torah im Derech Eretz can fulfill this function because it is not part of troubled, time bound notions; it represents the ancient wisdom of our Sages that has stood the test everywhere and at all times.” Like it or not, we live in the ultimate Western World. Today’s latest social and technological challenges (for example, cell phones, smart technology, and the Internet) can be met utilizing R’ Hirsch’s approach. A return to a pre-technological age (for example, banning use of technology) is neither practical nor effective. Such measures will not return disaffected Jews to Judaism. Torah im Derech Eretz is an alternative, proven approach. It has already saved the world once; it is time we allow it to do that again.
Daniel Adler studied at Yeshiva Gedolah of the Five Towns. He attained his Bachelor’s Degree from Touro College in Psychology and is currently pursuing his Master’s Degree in Speech-Language Pathology. He has taught for CAHAL at Yeshiva Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway, is an ardent follower of R’ Hirsch’s Torah im Derech Eretz ideal, and has created a syllabus to teach R’ Hirsch’s ‘Nineteen Letters’.
But isn’t your call futile? Can I quote from your own article, when you explain why the Hirschian approach has been abandoned, and I quote:
“This is undoubtedly due to a takeover of the Yeshiva system and its ideology into every phase of life – and the Hirschian school of thought has seemingly lost this struggle. To a large extent, even the supposed successors of R’ Hirsch have given up on him. What then, can be expected of everybody else?”
Unfortunately, you have not even attempted to answer the question.
Daniel wrote that one of reasons for the failings of the educational system is:
“… Judgmentalism/Fear (intellectually curious students are often branded as heretics for asking questions) … ”
I would add onto this students not getting satisfying answers to their legitimate questions.
I remember one time when we hosted four recent graduates of the Baltimore Bais Yaakov in our home. They told us that they reached a point in high school where they stopped asking questions. Too often their questions were just pushed aside as unimportant.
High school teachers must be willing and able to either answer their students’ questions or quickly find answers. They must also be sensitive to detecting when an answer has not been satisfying to the students.
Sounds pretty much like the education I got at MTA back in the 60’s. Before anyone starts dissecting TUM and TIDE I suggest you Google Star Trek- “let that be your last battlefield”
I am not so sure the TiDE version of integration is one whose time has returned. I am thinking in particular of Austritt. Even those who voted against joining the SCA would not be ready to declare themselves a separate people from our non-O bretheren. Perhaps if things ever get so bad that patrimonial descent and non-O conversion erase our ability to consider the non-O community a community of primarily Jews…
Some students pursue full-time, advanced study of Torah because it is a mitzvoth if one can pull it off. They want to serve Hashem and we are supposed to be studying Torah whenever we are not occupied with another mitzvoth activity. Since supporting one’s family is a mitzvoth, it is sometimes not possible to study Torah full-time and also work at a paid job to support a family, but if one has other means and has received the approval of his Rabbonim, then full-time Torah study would seem to be obligatory. I don’t believe that everyone holds that there is a heter to puruse secular interests simply because one doesn’t want to study Torah.
I’d suggest small pilot projects to generate more interest in the overall concept and associated methods (not so novel—after all, aren’t the Jewish people a kind of pilot project for the world?). The parents, students and staff of these projects would have to have a pioneering attitude and an adequate base of support, and not be fazed by nay-saying or ridicule.
Maybe there is just enough dissatisfaction with existing choices to make this “new” one fly.
As for Austritt, if the general community can’t legally tax and stifle the Orthodox as occurred in Frankfurt, such a separation is not necessary now.
“R’ Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz told his students in America…”
Re. RSRH and R. SF Mendlowitz, this is a quote from R. Yaakov Horowitz(“Rambam or Ra’avid? Spiritually Preparing for Wal-Mart”, Mishpacha, 2/26/08):
“Rabbis Daniel Mechanic and Yerachmiel Milstein are making an admirable contribution in this arena with their excellent and popular Project Chazon seminars which expose high school talmidim and talmidos to matters of Torah hashkafa. But that is just a drop in the proverbial sea, as these sporadic sessions cannot substitute for ongoing chizuk in the very core tenets of our Torah.
The legendary Reb Shrage Feivel Mendlowitz passed away eleven years before I was born, but I consider him my ‘second-generation’ rebbi as nearly every one of my rebbeim were talmidim of his. When one reads through his biography, one cannot help but notice the breath of diverse sefarim that he learned with his talmidim (aside from gemara, tanach, halacha and dikduk); chassidus and mussar, Maharal and a seemingly endless array of sifrei machshava, Jewish thinking. I was a recipient of his passion and vision as I heard many hundreds of quotes from him in all these diverse areas of Torah learning over the years. “
“I am not so sure the TiDE version of integration is one whose time has returned. I am thinking in particular of Austritt. Even those who voted against joining the SCA would not be ready to declare themselves a separate people from our non-O bretheren. Perhaps if things ever get so bad that patrimonial descent and non-O conversion erase our ability to consider the non-O community a community of primarily Jews.”
That may have been an essential feature of Hirschian TIDE, but since I’m fairly certain that Neo-TIDE is being proposed, why is Austritt important? There are no officially recognized Gemeindes, no coercion or taxes imposed by the non-Orthodox. Similarly, there’s no political nationalist movement for disenfranchised Jews to establish an independent Jewish state in Palestine to oppose.
Thank you for your thoughts. I would be interested in seeing your syllabus on teaching The Nineteen Letters.
I have been studying the works of RSRH for quite a few years and I too am convinced that TIDE provides a solution for our dor. I am equally convinced that RSRH did not articulate TIDE as a mere solution to Reform and Haskalah – RSRH understood it to be the main theme and ideal by which the Jewish Nation should carry out its mission and ultimately, how the world can too. To RSRH, this is the central theme of every page of Torah. (Let’s leave aside what Rav Boruch Ber or Rav Elchon said RSRH intended. It is obvious that they did not read very much of his writings to suggest otherwise.)
But we have a big problem putting TIDE into practice for today’s teenagers. The world out there is not the same world that existed when RSRH was living. There is so much in the current DE that is not healthy for a teenager to approach, that we find the need to filter out many parts of the world. Teenagers who are encouraged to think and then see parts of the world held back from them, get a mixed message. Their conclusions aren’t always going to be what their TIDE mentors hoped for.
Knowing that RSRH wrote TIDE means Torah that translates and speaks to the climate/culture of any given time, I know there is a good answer. Does anyone out there have it?
It would help if we stopped calling them secular subjects.
We either believe God created wisdom or we don’t.
If we do, the correct title for those subjects should God’s wisdom, or wisdom for brevity.
“Knowing that RSRH wrote TIDE means Torah that translates and speaks to the climate/culture of any given time, I know there is a good answer. Does anyone out there have it?”
TIDE can have a broad application.
For example, R. Shrage Feivel Mendlowitz, besides actually teaching Nineteen Letters, had an appreciation of the world at large, in addition to having a broad educational curriculum(on the relevance of the latter to today, see R. Yaakov Horowitz’s article “Rambam or Ra’avid? Spiritually Preparing for Wal-Mart”, Mishpacha, 2/26/08, available online).
R. Mendel Kaplan of Skokie and Philadelphia was unique in how he taught “chochmas hachaim”, an approach to life, in his shiurim; perhaps that’s an element of TIDE or at least in congruence with it, even if it’s not 100% Hirschian.
It’s encouraging that there are young writers out there capable of developing thoughts and making astute comments.
Of course, Mr. Adler is correct. Even without the philosophical underpinnings of TIDE, this synthesis was the de facto equation in most Yeshivos prior to the Kollel era which began in the early 1980’s. And our communities were all the better for it.
Unfortunately, there has been far too much emotional, ideological, political, and of course financial capital invested in the current system. So, I don’t see any imminent return to the basics, certainly not philosophically driven by the merits of the Hirschian system. Today, it is unheard of for the “metzuyanim” to leave the Yeshiva to pursue vocations where their skills and personality could be better matched. (It is even unheard of for the mediocre bochurim to leave the Kollel even if they were never suited to be there—the justification being that they are not ready to go out into the real world without additional compensatory study.). The Bais Yaakovs are in collusion, inasmuch as they too are skewed towards supporting the current system by supplying the needed partners to sustain it, be their intended partners excellent, average or underwhelming.
Today, in the mainstream (and “elite”) Yeshivos, there is no strategic plan, exit strategy, or end-game for their bochurim. We have seen a total breakdown of accountability. Yeshivos, while in a position of profound influence play “defense” by pushing that responsibility back on the parents. Parents, on the other hand, have often lost or abrogated their influence. The result is that bochurim, Kollel guys, and subsequently families have and will continue to fall through the cracks. This had led to underachieving and unsustainable communities.
>There are no officially recognized Gemeindes, no coercion or taxes imposed by the non-Orthodox.
True for America. Here in Israel, the austritt ideology is alive and well (without the derech eretz part).
An interesting historical tidbit. When R’ Itzchak Breuer zt”l made aliah in 1934, he honestly believed that he would find ideological partners in the old yeshuv. Very quickly, he discovered that he basically had a choice between austritt without derech eretz or derech eretz without austritt. Looking at the two kibbutzim he helped establish, chafetz chaim and shaalavim, one can see that he realized that austritt would cause more evil than good. (This is from someone whose father was such an extreme austritt ideologue that on his walk to shul, he chose a significantly longer route so as not to walk past the orthodox grossegemeinde shul)
Jews and Civilization
By Toby Katz, on July 28th, 2011
Tonight, the 26th day of Tammuz in the Hebrew year 5771, is my father’s ninth yahrzeit. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think mournfully of all the questions I would like to ask him and all the conversations I would like to have, remembering so much of what I learned from him and yet thinking that it was pitifully little, considering the genius and great-heartedness of that extraordinary man, R’ Nachman Bulman, of blessed memory. He is to this day so longed-for and so deeply missed by so many people, as I well know from many of his students and former congregants.
I have not written here in a long time, for various reasons. But tonight, in my father’s honor, my heart urges me to talk about some of the beliefs that my father held most dear. My father believed passionately in Torah Im Derech Eretz (TIDE), the very ancient Torah understanding that was given more modern and eloquent expression in the 19th century writings of Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch. TIDE refers to Torah together with civilization or Torah together with secular pursuits or Torah together with courtesy and humanity. It is hard to define exactly in a short essay but let me talk about one aspect of TIDE.
We who believe in TIDE believe that one of the reasons that Hashem scattered us among the nations, in addition to the obvious fact that this is a punishment for our sins (foretold in the Torah), is that we are meant to be an ohr lagoyim, a Light to the Nations. We are also a blessing to the nations, also foretold in multiple places in the Torah. It was we Jews who introduced monotheism and morality to the world and we have indeed blessed the nations among whom we live in ways too numerous even to begin to detail.
Now, there is another school of thought within Orthodoxy which rejects TIDE and which holds that we have no responsibility towards the nations, other than to be basically law-abiding citizens, and that we should have as little to do with them as possible.
In Poland and Russia over the last few centuries, the goyim were mostly drunken, ignorant peasants who regularly slaughtered and robbed Jews. The Jews in those countries were so far above the goyim in every respect that it is no wonder they developed a contempt for the peasants around them. In addition, there was a fundamental lawlessness, with laws purposely designed to destroy Jewish lives and livelihoods and with authorities turning a blind eye to pogroms and depredations conducted by the gentiles against Jews. In such societies, it was inevitable that Jews would learn to live by their wits and would find every possible way around, under, and despite the laws (which were an anti-Semitic farce), simply to survive.
19th century Germany, where Hirsch lived and wrote, was a highly civilized country in which Jews had gone a long way towards legal and political emancipation and in which most of the surrounding goyim were educated and refined people. Of course we know how that played out, and thus we internalized another lesson: as long as we live as a small minority in foreign lands, we always have to watch our backs.
Nevertheless, there are many righteous gentiles and we owe them our friendship and gratitude. And when we live in such a malchus shel chessed as America is—such a benevolent country—we owe the gentiles around us a great deal. It behooves us to bring blessing to them and not curses, chas vesholom, to the best of our ability. This is the more true because this is a country in which we have the legal right to vote, to speak and to write, to make our voices heard.
Now, my father admired Yekkes, German Jews, very much—for their honesty, their integrity, their courtesy and good manners, their straight dealings, their incorruptibility. There were certain things about the Polish and Russian Jews that he looked upon as deformities caused by the harsh galus, the harsh and hostile exile, that they had suffered in their motherlands or rather, stepmotherlands. He was a Polish Jew himself, a Gerrer chossid. He had the warmth, the keen intelligence, the emotion and passion, the love of learning combined with the love of his people, that were so characteristic of the best of the Polish Jews.
Yet philosophically he admired, as I said, the German Jews, and especially their towering giant, Rav Hirsch.
He rejected the Polish idea of “Fife on the goyim” – I don’t care what the goyim think, I don’t care what happens to them, as long as I get mine.
He believed that we Jews are part of civilization, part of humanity, and owe something to the rest of mankind, especially to countries that provide a safe haven and economic opportunities for us to build our shuls, our schools and the whole wonderful infrastructure of Jewish life.
What most lately prompts these thoughts is the passage of the gay marriage law in New York. Shamefully, a number of lawmakers turned traitor to the voters who had elected them, and passed a bill that will directly benefit less than one percent of the people in New York. It was mainly Democrats but also a few Republicans who committed this shameful act, for reasons that are obscure. Would you sell your soul to get a favorable mention in the New York Times?!
What tears at my guts is the fact that so many fine Orthodox Jews with beards and sheitels, vote for these scoundrels because they want the goodies—and by the way, this motive is not evil, really it is not—their families need help, they are drowning financially, their schools and communities really are often in dire financial shape. I understand all that, and yet.
This voting pattern is incredibly blind and shortsighted.
The attitude of, “What do I care if two men want to get married? What is it my business, what does it hurt me?” – that attitude is indefensible. It matters for so many reasons. If the air is polluted, I cannot say, “Well who cares, I’m not breathing that stuff anyway.” The environment around us affects us, it influences us, we cannot build high enough or strong enough walls to keep it out.
But even more so, we are supposed to be a help and a blessing and a light to the nations. We owe America so much! How dare we just shrug our shoulders and say, “Let them do what they want, the hell with them!” Where is the promise and the obligation we have to say the truth, and to bring G-d’s blessing on the people who have been so good to us?
It is only fair of me to acknowledge that it is not only Jews in Brooklyn, with black hats and sheitels, who have this attitude of indifference to the moral welfare of the goyim among whom they live.
This same attitude is even more widespread, and is given a patina of intellectual respectability, by the liberal Modern Orthodox Jews of Teaneck and Manhattan and many other communities. “It’s none of our business what other people do, we can’t impose our will, yada yada.” Or even worse, “Why should homosexuals be denied their chance of happiness, why should the Torah have anything to say about it?”
Here is one argument that is truly evil – and it took the full force of the liberal world fifty years, pushing with all their might in every medium available to them, to brainwash the American people into believing this:
“Religious arguments are illegitimate in the public square. Any reference to G-d, Bible, Judeo-Christian morality or religious tradition is illegal, immoral and unconstitutional. If you can’t think of a completely secular argument for or against a given law, shut your mouth, you have no right to speak.”
This evil dogma, the exact opposite of what Americans believed and practiced for the first 200 years of this great republic’s history, has led us to the pass we’re in now, where Orthodox Jews and devout Christians stand muzzled in the public square, angry, ashamed, inarticulate and helpless.
Here, for the record, is what our ancient Torah heritage has to say about homosexual marriage:
The nations are allowed to continue in existence only because they keep a minimum of three mitzvos. These are: not writing marriage documents for the union of two males, not selling human flesh in the market place, and giving honor to the Torah—which in practice means, not persecuting the people of the Torah, the Jewish people.
In one of his prophetic visions, the Navi (prophet) Zechariah took thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the Temple treasury in Jerusalem (Zechariah 11:13). The Rabbis of the Talmud had varying interpretations of what this vision symbolized. According to Rabbi Ulla (Talmud Chullin 92B), the thirty pieces of silver symbolized the thirty mitzvos that the Bnei Noach accepted upon themselves. These thirty mitzvos include not worshipping idols, not consulting witchcraft and sorcery, refraining from illicit sexual relationships, and so on. (Bnei Noach are the Sons of Noah, also called Noahides—i.e., the nations of the world.)
Rabbi Ulla says that the world continues to exist because the nations accepted these thirty mitzvos. However, he adds, the nations do not keep all the mitzvos they accepted. They keep only three, and one of the three is: “They do not write a marriage contract for males.” Rashi comments that the nations do engage in forbidden homosexual relations, but they at least acknowledge that such relations are illicit by not formalizing those relations in legal documents.
The other two commandments that they keep are that they do not sell human flesh in the market place, and that they give honor to the Torah (Talmud Chullin 92B).
Elsewhere the Rabbis of old stated that the final decree of destruction, the Great Flood, was sealed against the generation of Noach because they wrote marriage documents for males. “Rabbi Huna said in the name of Rabbi Yosef, ‘The generation of the Flood was not wiped out until they wrote marriage documents for the union of a man to a male or to an animal ’ ” (Genesis Rabbah 26:5; Leviticus Rabbah 23:9).
Implicit is the assumption that if the nations do not abide by at least the aforementioned three mitzvos, they may forfeit the very right to exist. Hence, these three—not writing marriage documents for males, not selling human flesh in the marketplace, and honoring the Torah—may be considered the Three Conditions for the continued existence of mankind.
So you see, the idea of gay marriage is not new, not a fresh idea that represents the ultimate development, enlightenment and evolution of mankind. No, the formal marriage of two men is a very ancient idea that represents the degradation of mankind.
Why would I talk about something so degraded and so low when I want to speak in my father’s honor? I will tell you. I am not talking about degradation and sin. I am talking about Torah.
I know very well that in the court of public opinion we—moral Jews and members of other traditional faiths—have lost this battle. So why tilt at windmills?
Because I have compassion on my fellow Jews and on my fellow human beings—very much including homosexual human beings. I don’t want our Creator to be angry with us. What we cannot help, we cannot help. He will not be angry at religious and moral people if they were not able to stand on the seashore and stop the tide from rolling in. However, if we do not even try, if we make no protest and say nothing, then indeed we too may be held accountable, chas vesholom.
And I am not daunted by the odds against us. We are few and we are weak, but Hashem is mighty and powerful. If we try to do the right thing, He will help us and bless us, and help and bless this great country that has given us so much.
Avraham Avinu was one man against the world, “Avraham ha-Ivri” – “Avraham the man from the other side, Avraham the man who stood all alone, Avraham the Hebrew.”
Yet today the whole world knows his name and he is honored by billions of people, Christians and Muslims, all over the world, who know that Avraham taught, alone, “There is a Creator, and He cares for the welfare of His creatures.”
I agree that TIDE [the Derech Eretz component would have to be reformulated to be relevant in the contemporary scene] could do much to cleaning our generation from the failures of the yeshiva system. However, I think it is a pipe dream to think that there is any chance of the leadership of klal yisrael giving the idea any consideration at all – see Rav Elyashiv’s recent declaration about the michlalot chareidiot and the hardly veiled condemnation of nachal chareidi. The yeshiva world has accepted Rav Dessler’s zt”l understanding of “elef nichnasim v’echad yotzeh l’hora’ah” as Torah miSinai – if many are lost [OTD] as a result, that is the price we have to pay – see Michtav M’Eliyahu III, pgs. 355-360.
Even Rav Aron Leib shlitah – who is considered to be supportive of the programs that RYSE condemned – views them as a clear b’dieved.
I see from the comments that we are more or less the same chevra of wandering minstrels of TIDE. At least we are a cadre keeping hope alive!
Shades of Gray,
Are there enough capable individuals, who understand TIDE, who know how to relate to teens, who can pull it off in our dor? Perhaps not. Perhaps teaching TIDE needs to be taught primarily to adults.
I read that Rav Shraga Feivel taught Tehillim with RSRH’s peirush in Torah V’Daas. In our dor how many teens would show up to such a shiur? I get inspired when I study history or visit the botanical gardens, but how many teens that you know would be open to focus on history as RSRH would have us do, or consider a trip to the botanical gardens?
In our world where everything is presented quickly and in digest form, it’s hard to penetrate and present a message that begs for thought and pause.
And as I asked above, if teens are told on the one hand that the Torah has expression in every current matter, we open a can of worms. Do we really want them looking at everything? Will they be mature enough to hold back their curiosity to only explore the areas we give a hechsher to? Are there enough TIDE teachers who can guide them? I know RSRH’s dor and the ones in Germany that followed dealt with this stuff too, but I think the pull of our current culture is far more intense.
Bravo Daniel! We Hirschians are few, but we must never forget the words of Rabbeinu R’SRH, said in the context of the battle for Orthodoxy in general, but equally relevant to Hirschians today:
“We find ourselves in the minority. Should we therefore lose confidence and despair of our own cause? Is it always the numerical majority that the noblest, most important and promising tasks are entrusted?…” Collected Writings, Vol.II, page 233.
We can find a way to appeal to those who desperately need Torah Im Derech Eretz, without posing a threat, in appearance or fact, to the yeshivos.
Regarding the comment by Gershon Seif February 15, 2012 at 4:48 pm:
Your points are why this has to start small as one or more pilot programs. People who aren’t open to theoretical hashkafic arguments may take note of an intriguing experiment that is succeeding on its own terms.
“but how many teens that you know would be open to focus on history as RSRH would have us do, or consider a trip to the botanical gardens?”
I understand your point; I’m saying, though, that if one interprets TIDE loosely, there can be many contemporary applications.
Though not a Hirschian, R. Eli Teitelbaum is described below as demonstrating TIDE to ten year olds(from an article in the commemorative issue from “The Event” concert held in Madison Square Garden in March, 2009, written by one of the concert organizers):
“This evening’s concert pays tribute to the memory of the beloved Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum zt’l…I was just a ten year old when I met “Eli” as he was affectionately known to all. To us kids, he was already a legend. Rebbi, judo expert, water safety trainer, musician, head counselor, originator of the Pirchei Boys Choir, and the go to person for any advice.
Always approachable, he showed us kids that Torah im Derech Eretz worked. You could have a good time and accomplish; yet, not forfeit your Yiddishkeit. I still remember him organizing for some of us kids from Boro Park, one Chol Hamoed Sukkos day, a baseball game out in Kew Gardens. After the game, he brought us to his parents’ home for a meal in their Sukka and to meet his father R’ Yaakov Teitelbaum zt’l. Torah im Derech Eretz, that is what we took away that day.”
just came across your article while trying to research some of rsfh views on “modern technology”.
i recently wrote this opinion piece in the flatbush jewish journal and was now blasted for heresy.
thanks to you article i hope to respond.
one can see that he realized that austritt would cause more evil than good. (This is from someone whose father was such an extreme austritt ideologue that on his walk to shul, he chose a significantly longer route so as not to walk past the orthodox grossegemeinde shul)
More than this. See pages 20-23 in Mittleman’s “Between Kant and Kabbalah” – Rabbi Beuer discussed the Austritt-type way of life with Rabbi Kook, and later he was convinced that this mode was not applicable in Israel. In fact, he initially thought of the old Yishuv, as exemplified by Rabbi Sonnenfeld as a Frankfurt ideal, but was quickly discouraged by the insular and passive attitude of this community.
Thank you all for reading and commenting on this essay. I would like to address a few points.
Reubi Friedman: It is true that I have not answered the question of why R’ Hirsch’s approach has been abandoned by many, although I do mention that this (partly) has to do with the Yeshiva system and its ideology taking over every phase of life. I believe that this problem must be approached both from a historical and sociological perspective, both in Germany and in the United States. (The reason for abandonment was/is different in the different environments). This issue really requires a separate essay, but one source that discusses this problem in Germany is Marc Shapiro’s, “Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy” – see chapters 4 and 6. As for the United States, I heard from my brother in the name of R’ Adlerstein that one of the reasons that TIDE does not perpetuate is because most people that follow TIDE do not end up teaching in the Yeshiva system. Almost all Rabbaim are from a typical Yeshiva environment and are not familiar with TIDE (and many are directly against it). One reason in Germany was because Torah was not being learned by the followers of TIDE and therefore, TIDE became stale. The study of Torah must always be in the forefront. As R’ Schwab said, it is TORAH im Derech Eretz, not Derech Eretz with Torah. Perhaps an essay on this topic would be warranted at some point in the future.
Austritt: Austritt was hotly contended in Germany, where it was very applicable. Not to push aside the importance of Austritt (I, of course, have my own opinion on the matter), but 1. it is not nearly as prevalent an issue in the United States, and 2. even in Germany, TIDE was accepted by almost everybody – even if they rejected the ideas of Austritt! Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Let me quote from Marc Shapiro (ibid) page 84, “It is very significant that despite the separatism…[R’] Hirsch’s religious philosophy of TIDE became a guiding light for the overwhelming majority of Germany’s bourgeois Orthodox, finding popularity in all circles…Rejection of [R’] Hirsch’s religio-political programme (i.e. Austritt), which [R’] Hirsch himself regarded as being of fundamental importance, was thus coupled with adoration of his ‘pure’ religious philosophy.” Austritt should not stand in the way of accepting the main ideas of TIDE.
The Nay Sayers: Many are not sure if TIDE can be applicable today. I would say that the explosion of technology and distractions are all the more reason to implement TIDE, as I outlined. The method of ignoring the world is a failure for many; TIDE is a proven success in a society that was similar to ours. I think that we will need support groups to guide people, such as existed in Germany (such as the V.A.D. – Verein Judische Academiker), and we need guidance. Such visionaries as R’ B. Wein, R’ Y. Adlerstein and many others give guidance along these lines. Venues such as Cross-Currents are excellent for TIDE oriented individuals. It is encouraging that R’ Hirsch’s seforim are constantly out of print because the demand for them is so high. Feedback from this essay has also shown me that a true interest in examining R’ Hirsch’s approach exists. I don’t believe that TIDE will be accepted everywhere (certainly even less in EY); however, if TIDE individuals begin to involve themselves in chinuch at some level, this is bound to have an impact. We do not need to “turn on” TIDE in one day – it is a process.
MB: I think you have an excellent point, yet I believe that we must be cognizant that studying topics besides Torah is not Torah; they are ancillary to Torah.
Menachem Pheterson: Please contact me through Cross-Currents.
I think that some return to TIDE is on the horizon, although the motivation will be less philosophical, but rather financial, as chareidi Judaism is incapable of taking care of the financial disaster affecting many segments of its own community. This will result in people taking a general education more seriously.
Once people start taking getting a general education more seriously, many people will rediscover TIDE (or a variant: I include Torah u’madda, and the various ways R’Lamm approaches this issue in his book of the same name).
There will of course, for the foreseeable future, be people who will resort to forced apologetics to justify the big blunder segments of the Jewish community committed during this period in time, but the crucible of history will ultimately force us as a whole to approach life in a more reasonable and balanced fashion.
February 19, 2012 at 5:41 am
“one can see that he realized that austritt would cause more evil than good.”
Yes.He probably would have followed his siblings into the Agudah.(His brother,Rav J.Breuer of W.Heights was further right.)
“many people will rediscover TIDE (or a variant: I include Torah u’madda,”
read R’J.Breuer or R’Schwab
Reb Dovid (Landesman)
I agree. Whenever I see that Michtav Eliyahu, I cringe knowing that there are those who actually interpret that as Halacha L’Maaseh as a post facto defense of the prevalent broken system both in Eretz Yisrael and in America. The Sefer is one of and not one of Halacha, and should be seen as merely an observation of not only one person, but also one limited in place and time. It therefore has no application today beyond theoretical. Anyway, practically speaking, the one Gadol who does emerge is not doing so as a function of any system that produced him. History has borne that out.
There is one huge obstacle to TIDE becoming acceptable to the mainstream: there are no gedolim currently alive who believe in TIDE. Many, many intelligent, imaginative, insightful, truth-seeking people have found their way to TIDE, but none has, as of yet, become a recognized Torah leader who can speak with authority.
Sadly, even R’ Shimon Schwab, although clearly believing in TIDE, did not fight a public battle for it’s supremacy (rather advocating “These and Those”).
I eagerly await a leader arising who can turn the tide.