Sunday, June 29, 2008

Kiss it Goodbye

There has already been a ton of discussion about it. The Jewish Press reported a story in its last issue about remarks made by Rabbi Yisroel Mantel, Rav of Khal Adath Jeshurun. This is the American Jewish community of German Jewish descent that is associated with the philosophy of Rabbi Shamshon Raphael Hirsch known as Torah Im Dereh Eretz (TIDE).

Rabbi Hirsch’s legacy is well known. He was an advocate of studying worldly knowledge (Mada) and engaging with the culture of one's milieu.

I am an adherent of the Hashkafa of Torah U’Mada (TuM). In truth Torah U’Mada is not so easily defined. Dr. Lamm’s definition of TuM is not Rabbi Soloveitchik’s definition – neither the Rav’s nor Rav Ahron’s. Rav Hershel Schachter might have a simple definition while Rav Aaron Lichtenstein’s definition might be more complex.

As I see them, both TIDE and TuM advocate the study of Mada and engagement with the culture. The differences between them are not of any practical significance. The primary difference is that TuM believes that Mada has intrinsic value while TIDE – as I understand it - sees Mada as more utilitarian. Another difference is that TuM sees Torah and Mada as two disciplines to be studied independently. TIDE sees the study of Mada as an integrated part of Torah study. For TuM - Mada is an independently studied entity to be studied for its own sake.

But Torah is at the core of both Hashkafos. Torah is the moral, ethical, and Halachic guide for both. This - in a nutshell - is how I see their similarities and differences. So when TIDE is attacked, I take it personally.

Charedi Judaism by comparison is an entirely different species. They see Mada at best as a necessary evil - that should have as little time spent on it as possible – even when it comes to Parnassa. And participation in the culture is anathema to them.

Charedi Judaism has now taken another step toward total dominance in the Torah world. Rav Mantel in a moment of truth spoke his mind. The leader of the TIDE community now believes what Charedim believe. Torah true Judaism can now only be defined through Daas Torah. And Daas Torah exists only in the Charedi world. Here is how he put it:

The philosophical credo of Rav Hirsch, Torah Im Derech Eretz, is not viable in the absence of its chief advocate… Our generation, he said, must follow today’s gedolei HaTorah (great Torah leaders).

I don’t think he means Rav Aaron Lichtenstein.

This is quite a brilliant tactic on his part. He can praise the spiritual father of TIDE by quoting Rav Yisroel Salanter who said: “Where is there a Gan Eden big enough for Rav Hirsch?” …and in the same speech condemn the practice of Rav Hirsch’s philosophy in our own day. And what better authority to once and for all bury TIDE than the head of Rav Hirsch’s own community?!

Of course there are still important voices there that understand the value of TIDE. Rav Hirsch’s great, great grandson, Samson Bechhofer said:

If the goal of our kehilla and yeshiva is to have all of our sons and daughters end up in Lakewood – and I use Lakewood as a metaphor – then I submit that we are not being faithful to our founder’s philosophy or Weltanschauung, nor are we doing the future of our kehilla any great favors.

Rav Mantel would have none of that: (He) stood up and walked out of the hall at these words. He later returned and told the several hundred assembled that “grandchildren and lawyers” will not decide how to implement Torah Im Derech Eretz.

This slide towards Charedi Hashkafos is not a new phenomenon in that community. Many Orthodox German Jews in America long ago began abandoning TIDE and have been replacing it with a Charedi Hashkafa. Apparently - over the years - their students increasingly attended Charedi Yeshivos. There has also been much revisionist interpretation of Rav Hirsch during this time.

One popular Charedi interpretation is that Rav Hirsch never really meant it. He was really a Charedi underneath. But because of the rampant Haskala of his day it was a time to act - an Eis Laasos - that required change so as to preserve the Torah world and prevent its members from going off the track.

And miracle of miracles, he did it! He saved his entire community from going astray. But now it is no longer needed. We can go back to the true path of Torah - devoid of anything secular. Rav Mantel’s words are just another version of this.

The TIDE community is now an accepted part of the Charedi world. That’s because TIDE has abandoned their original Hashkafos. What remains is Minhagim. That’s it. They do Nitilas Yadayim before they make Kiddush on Shabbos - and other such differences.

So the death knell has sounded for TIDE. The bell has been rung by its leader. It has officially been proclaimed dead and it doesn’t matter that some people are upset. TIDE is dead because Charedi Daas Torah is all that matters.