Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Who Inherited Hirsch

One of the common misbeliefs in Modern Orthodoxy is that Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch was a founder of the movement. However, historical analysis and a look at where his followers are today quickly disabuses one of that notion. Rav Hirsch was a strong proponent of a meticulous Torah lifestyle complemented by secular knowledge but he never moved from the Torah-first position that he espoused. For him, the secular world was full of God's handiworks and needed to be appreciated but only as a stepping stone towards a better worship of the Creator. This, in essence, was Torah im Derech Eretz.
As opposed to actual Modern Orthodoxy, the Hirsch model of combining Torah with a wordly approach received a relatively sympathetic attitude from the Eastern European Jewish leadership of the day. These great rabbonim generally understood that German Jews were not isolated from their surrounding society like a large number of Eastern European Jews were. As a result, the Torah-first-and-only approach used with such success in Poland and Lithuania was unlikely to be viable in Germany. With Rav Hirsch's approach, however, Jews who might otherwise be at risk from contact with secular culture could now interact without compromising their Jewishness. Not ideal, to be sure, but better than the alternative.
This closeness in relations has not waned over time. Rav Hirsch's followers generally belong to the Agudas Yisroel and practice with a Chareidi level of devotion. But in other things, they have managed to remember that Rav Hirsch believed an observant Jew could excel in both Judaism and the study of secular subjects and that this was a great option for many.
Unfortunately, Rav Hirsch left no official successors and, as a result, although there are many Hirschian rabbonim there is no one to unify and champion the Torah Im Derech Eretz movement. Now, even during Hirsch's time there were those in the Eastern European leadership who insisted that Hirsch's approach was specifically for his community and his time period as an emergency compromise but that it should never have been considered as an actual perpetual philosophy within Judaism.
It appears that the inheritors of that belief are now moving to rewrite history to ensure that it become the official Hirschian position. During a recent social function in New York, one Rav Yisroel Mantel, leader of Khal Adath Jeshurun which is the central synagogue in the Hirschian world, said:
that the philosophical credo of Rav Hirsch, Torah Im Derech Eretz, is not viable in the absence of its chief advocate. According to the report, Rav Mantel said that only Rav Hirsch, a great man who knew the fine boundaries between what is religiously permissible and what is prohibited, could make Torah Im Derech Eretz workable. Our generation, he said, must follow today’s gedolei HaTorah.
According to the article, this statement was not well received by many in attendance including the shul president who subsequently resigned. Well, can you blame him? He took the job as president of a Hirschian shul only to discover that his Rav intended to turn it Chareidi.
The significance of this latest move is clear. Having delegitimized the religious authority of both Modern Orthodoxy and Mizrachi, the Chareidi world is clearly committed to eliminating contemporary Hirschians as historical abnormalities who did not understand the intent of their founder.
Would that there was a leader, any leader, in the non-Chareidi crowd who could stand up to this bullying before it's too late.


Baruch said...

Excellent post.

Rav Hirsch was a strong proponent of a meticulous Torah lifestyle complemented by secular knowledge but he never moved from the Torah-first position that he espoused.
I would argue that R' Lamm never did either.

Unfortunately, Rav Hirsch left no official successors and, as a result, although there are many Hirschian rabbonim there is no one to unify and champion the Torah Im Derech Eretz movement.
I think R' Shlomo Breuer, R' Isaac Breuer, R' Joseph Breuer, and R' Shimon Schwab all believed in TIDE and believed in implementing it. Perhaps they weren't as Hirschian as R' Hirsch (especially R' Schwab), but they did go for it.

Bartley Kulp said...

The truth is that Rav Hersh lived in the land of Utilitarianism/derech eretz. I mean Germany. The concept of TIDE could flourish there, unlike in Eastern Europe.

The situation in the states cannot be compared to Germany. What does derech eretz mean in the states? and particularly in New York? The land of eating TV dinners while watching football on the couch, fast food, and finger food (this practice is anathema in much of Europe. In post modern Americana, nivul peh is not even frowned upon so much save for the fundamentalist Christians of whom most TIDE practitioners would probably find below their mentality.

Granted that there might have been such American cultural luminaries like Arthur Miller, John Steinbeck, Alexander Penn and the like. They have been replaced by Steven King, Tom Clancy, Sidney Sheldon and my all time favorite Jacky Collins.

The music scene in the United States also would probably not have been what Rav Hersh envisioned as culturally acceptable for his kehilla (although I would have loved to go back to Germany 100 years plus in order to play a rendition of "Roll over Beetoven".).

The only thing left perhaps in western society untainted is art appreciation. Then again, how many people are really into art?
Bartley Kulp | 06.29.08 - 8:37 am | #

Many Orthodox German Jews in America long ago began

ClooJew said...

While the incident is 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.

SJ said...

Rav Hirsch didn't win shit. the gedoylem are going to control washington heights.

Bartley Kulp said...

I have to agree with what sj said. The fact is that Lakewood is first and foremost a Kollel society, whose values are that there youth should prepare themselves for marriage and Kollel as long s they can survive with it. It is the Lakewood standard that is being copied in torah communities all over North America.

The modern concept of the kollel society was an innovation from the Chazon Eish in Israel and Harav Aaron Cutler in the USA. This concept reigns supreme in the Israeli Chareidi community. In the USA this is the de facto standard that has taken over. It is even making inroads in traditionally modern cities like Chicago, Boston and even Toronto.

However I wish that sj would have left out the gedolim being in control remark. This might be the real difference between the Washington Hights community and Modern Orthodoxy. I have heard a lot of semantic analogies but I think that this is the essence of the Issue.

The KAJ kehilla always valued gedolim. Unfortunately in this generation they did not produce gedolim of their own or the ones that they did produce switched to other hashgafas. Although the issue of switching missions is probably being debated right now in Washington Hights, the fact is that they are pulled towards gedolim. Because they have not produced any of their own, they are looking for adopted parents so to speak.

The Modern orthodox are not as "Gadol Centric" to coin a phrase.

Anonymous said...

You wrote:
". . . although there are many Hirschian rabbonim . . "

Would you be so kind as to name five under the age of 70?

Anonymous said...

KAJ valued gedolim because they are largely naive. It's the same reason why conservative heads of academic departments may hire a liberal professor even though a liberal would never hire a conservative.