Once again on a list to which I belong, someone who I admire and respect has challenged the notion that Hircshean Torah Im Derech Eretz (TIDE) is in any way similar to Torah U’Mada (TuM). That never fails to surprise me when it happens even though it seems to happen a lot.
The bone of contention is that the Hashkafos are radically different. I do not see it that way. Yes they are somewhat different but radically different? I beg to differ.
Let us examine what the essential differences are. To the best of my understanding and in a nutshell TIDE sees Mada – or secular knowledge as an enhancement to Torah and Mitzvah observance. As such it seeks to study only those disciplines that do that. TuM does not disagree with those reasons at all and includes them as part of its definition. But in TuM there are additional aspects to the value of secular knowledge. Essentially it sees Mada as a separate and highly valued entity worthy of its own independent study. A TuM adherent will then integrate that knowledge as a resource for many things including enhanced understanding and observance of Mitzvos
TIDE on the other hand does not value secular knowledge that has no direct bearing on Torah U’Mitzvos.
Now it is true that these are very basic differences. And I will admit that they may be irreconcilable in theory. But in practice there is little difference.
The essential elements of TIDE and TuM are the same. In practice adherents of both TuM and Tide live an almost identical lifestyle. Both Hashkafos take Torah and Mitzvah observance seriously. Both Hashkafos place a very high value on a secular education - and not only for Parnassa or livelihood reasons. Both view the participation in secular culture favorably as long as they are in Halachicly permissible ways. The similarities are thus far greater than the differences.
What is disturbing to me is the stridency of the antagonism to TuM from those who are adherents of Hirschean TIDE. They so separate themselves from TuM - that they feel they must discredit it! What is ironic about many adherents of TIDE is their willingness to be more aligned to the Torah U’Parnassa (TuP) Hashkafos which is an attraction for moderate Charedim - than they are with TuM adherents.
And that is ironic. TuP adherents do not see any value in Mada other than utilitarian. They see it at best as a means toward a livelihood. They do not place any intrinsic value on Mada as do the adherents of TIDE and TuM.
For example an adherent of TIDE might see value in using secular knowledge to enhance one’s understanding of Torah – same as an adherent of TuM might. But a TuP adherent might find that laughable. A TIDE adherent will see the recreational or even inspirational value of a Beethoven symphony or a Puccini opera just as an adherent of TuM might. A TuP adherent would probably find that laughable too – even while guiltily enjoying it.
And yet many adherents of TIDE completely reject TuM and they see themselves far closer in Hashkafa to TuP.
Perhaps that is in part because TIDE has been redefined by the Charedi world to mean TuP - at best. Many of today’s TIDE adherents have basically bought into that. Their battle is to maintain any version of TIDE as a L’chatchila rather a B’dieved. If you ask me – I think that they protest TuM too much!
I think we would all be better served if adherents of all 3 Torah Hashkafos combined our strengths. We ought to see that what unites us is - by far - greater than what divides us. We should all be on the same side of fighting ignorance about secular studies and general culture. Instead we ought to be promoting its value rather than splitting hairs about our differences.