Sunday, July 06, 2008

Centrism - The Legacy of TIDE

One of the things I have noticed recently in the debates about Torah Im Derech Eretz (TIDE) and Torah U’Mada (TuM) is the different way Charedi and modern Orthodox Jewry perceives both Hashkafos. It is interesting that both claim TIDE to be a legitimate part of their world.

Charedim tend to claim that TIDE has been adopted by the majority of the Charedi world in practice if not in theory and is a legitimate Hashkafa. They will then contrast it with TuM and say it is illegitimate from the start - far from TIDE.

Modern Orthodoxy on the other hand will point to the similarities in the Hashkafos of TIDE and TuM and say that even though there are differences, they are very similar - probably identical in practice and almost idential Hashkafa. The Hashkafic differences – they will say - are minor. Charedism that has the 'Torah Only' Hashkafa are nowhere near TIDE.

So each community claims it as their own to the exclusion of the other. What is the truth?

Well in a sense - both are true. In practice I point to what I call the ‘Rabbi Berel Wein Syndrome’. This is the current phenomenon of the two worlds sort of melding into one. I have written about this many times. Briefly what I mean is that Charedim have taken some of the roads to success that Modern Orthodox Jews have. They have gone to college and professional schools and have achieved nice careers for themselves. Both communities work for a living, are very observant of Mitzvos and both communities are Koveih Itim – put aside time for daily learning of Torah.

Both communities are educated in Halacha and observe it the same way. For example - married women cover their hair. They send their children to the same schools – often a moderate Charedi school with a good secular studies program. Both want their children to be knowledgeable in Torah and Halacha, be well rounded, and learn a profession so they can support themselves at some point in the future.

But when it comes to the actual philosophy of TIDE the truth is that TuM is far more identical to TIDE than Charedism. It is somewhat baffling that Charedim want to claim TIDE as legitimate and thereby an acceptable part of Charedism, when it is only the practice and not the actual Hashkafa that they accept.

One reason they do this, in my view is because of the belief that TIDE’s founder, Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch was himself a Charedi whose Hashkafos were B’dieved - a reaction to the times. And that now those Hashkafos are no longer needed. Were he still alive Rav Hirsch would have himself abandoned them.

They will also condemn TuM based mostly on sociological reasons. They see modern Orthodox Jews in their most common incarnation – that of Orthodox-Lite. These are observant Jews who are lax in many Halachos. For example many married women do not cover their hair. Some are immodestly dressed by Orthodox standards. Some go to mixed beaches and swimming pools. They prefer to stay that way and can be heard to say that everyone picks and chooses which ‘minor’ Halachos to follow and this is their choice. Usually they are undereducated religiously and often will make decisions based on lifestyle choices rather than Halacha. Charedim look negatively on this group and see them as representative of TuM. They thus condemn it for that reason – associating this behavior with a TuM Hashkafa.

But this is not the modern Orthodoxy that is truly reflective of TuM. It is Centrist modern Orthodoxy that represents it – those who are serious about keeping Halacha.

From my limited study of Rav Hirsch’s TIDE and according to those who are experts in it – it is in no way a B’dieved. Rav Hirsch believed that the best way for a Jew to live was to incorporate Mada into one’s Torah. That Mada was the fulfillment of Torah. This is very similar to the TuM Hashkafa.

While in practice Charedim can claim to accept TIDE and reject TuM, the truth is they really can’t say that without a healthy dose of revisionism. If one looks at the basic elements of the TIDE and TuM - they both place high value on secular studies and participation in the culture. Charedim don’t. To deny this is to be revisionist.

Since TIDE and TuM are such natural allies and the Charedi Hashkafos of 'Torah Only' are so radically different from both, I have little doubt as to which Hashkafa gets to say it is a more legitimate expression of TIDE. It is obviously the Centrist modern Orthodoxy of TuM. They are the true heirs. Charedi Judaism just accepts TIDE by default practices such as attending college for purposes of learning a career, and - in some cases - via revisionist history.

If one were to judge the Charedi 'Torah Only' Hashkafos and Centrist TuM Hashkafos by the Yeshivos its adherents attend, one could easily see whose Hashkaofs are most closely followed by which school. Lakewood is pure Limud HaTorah – Torah study. There are absolutely no secular studies permitted there. If someone wants to go learn how to make a living via a secular education, he must leave the Yeshiva as an official student.

By contrast Yeshiva University (YU) whose motto is TuM has every student in its Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) program - learning both Torah and Mada. Every student there must complete a bachelors program if he wants to get Semicha – a rabbinic ordination. That is the ideal of a TuM Hashkafa and is well within the spirit of TIDE – as opposed to Lakewood, which it isn’t.

Lest anyone say that the students at YU don’t learn Torah with the same Hasmada as the Lakewood students do - I am here to tell you that the serious Torah learning at YU is very great as it is in Lakewood. There are students studying in the Beis HaMedrash till the wee hours of the morning. And the level of Mitzvah observance is equally as sincere by both schools. Except for some minor differences in the look of the students or the adoptions of various Chumros the only real difference between them is in the study of Mada.