Tuesday, March 16, 2010

An Analysis of Animosity

There seems to be a common denominator among adherents of Torah Im Derech Eretz (TIDE). It is the idea that Torah U’Madda (TuM) is in no way similar to it. They insist that the difference between the two Hashkafos is so great that they are anathematic to each other. Whenever it is suggested that the two Hashkafos are not that far apart - there is an almost ferocious denial by adherents of TIDE.

I’m not sure why there is so much animus but I am going to try and analyze it.

I maintain that the two are not that far apart. Even after the many denials and explanations of the differences by TIDE adherents. There are differences. But to separate the two almost as if one was Treif/Passul and the other Kadosh is unfair and untrue.

I think one of the reasons for the strident opposition is the very similarity if the two. They do not want to be tainted by a philosophy that has been painted as Treif. That TuM is seen that way by them is in my view based on a complete misunderstanding of TuM. There is in fact no real hard definition of it. But it is still seen as Treif because is synonymous with Yeshiva University which they at best see as an aberration of TIDE.

YU is indeed the institution of Torah U’Mada. That was the logo of the institution for many decades. But YU is not exclusively definitive of it.

It was YU’s former president and current chancellor, Dr. Norman Lamm, who initiated the Torah U’Madda Project. He felt that Torah U’Mada had to be more than just a logo for his Yeshiva and asked members of his faculty for input into exactly what TuM is. He got widely differing opinions about it. Ranging from that of Rav Hershel Schachter who said that it means nothing more than learning Torah and Mada in the same building - to that of Rav Aharon Soloveichik and his 5 perspectives into which he incorporated Hirschean TIDE.

Dr. Lamm gave his own perspectives in his groundbreaking book Torah U’Madda. He starts with the idea that there are two towers of wisdom - one of Torah and the other of worldly knowledge or Mada - Torah being the primary of the two. He proceeds to examine various models within Orthodoxy which may exemplify this philosophy. One of those models - though not his personal favorite – is TIDE. He includes in his analyses the commonalities and difficulties with each model.

Although Dr. Lamm chooses one model that he feels most closely fits with the philosophy of Torah U’Madda he concedes that it is not perfect. There was no final definition of TuM made in that book. I believe he only meant that book as a starting point for discussion. And that is in fact where it lies today.

I prefer to think of TuM as a more broad based Hashkafa that actually includes TIDE but is not exclusively limited to it. This where where the strident TIDE opponents of TuM get it wrong. They are fighting phantoms.

In my view the commonality and primary aspect of both TIDE and TuM is that they both place a very high value on the study of Mada beyond that of Parnassa needs. I don’t see the adherents of either to be that different. Both Hashkafos encourage the study of Mada. In any given discipline - a TIDE adherent with a PhD and a TuM adherent with a PhD have acquired exactly the same degree of knowledge. In theory at least.

That each may see Mada in a different light is a minor point in my view. Does anyone really believe that Rav Hirsch would have rejected Rav Aharon Lichtenstein’s Hashkafa as invalid just because he viewed the study of Mada in a different light than he did? Does anyone really believe that the ‘Torah Only’ Hashkafa of Lakewood is closer to the Hirschean ideal than Rav Aharon Lichtenstein’s TuM? And yet many adherents of TIDE would say that indeed Torah Only is closer to TIDE than TuM!

For this attitude I blame the Charedization of the Hirschean Kehilla. TIDE has been redefined. It is no longer seen as a L’Chatchilla - the preffered approach of an Orthodox Jew. Rav Hirsch's philosophy has undergone revisionism and morphed into at best a B’Dieved of Torah U’Parnassah.

The new claim is that Rav Hirsch came up with TIDE as a form of Hora’as Shah meant only for his time and his place. The new claim is that he did not mean it as the primary route a Jew should take. The new claim is that the primary route is of course the Charedi one of Torah Only. TIDE in our day should not be adopted at all by Bnei Torah except as a last resort at best.

If I am not mistaken that belief is based on a Shaila – a Hashkafic query – asked of Rav Baruch Ber Leibowitz by Rav Shimon Schwab the leader of the Hirschean Kehilla for many years. Rav Leibowitz who was known as a zealous opponent of college convinced Rav Schwab of this revised and Charedized understanding of Rav Hirsch. And it became the standard definition of TIDE.

The new definition versus the old one was put into stark relief a while back during an event in the Breuer community celebrating Rav Hirsch’s bi-centennial. Breuers for those who don’t know is the tightly knit Kehilla – or community of Hirschean followers many of whom immigrated from Germany and settled in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan.

There were two speakers at that event. One was a new leader of that Kehilla and the other was Jonathan Rosenblum. After Jonathan spoke about the classic Hischean philosophy as a model for our time, that new leader said that only Hirsch himself could understand TIDE and that it would be impossible for anyone to practice it today. The exclusive pursuit of Torah knowledge is now everyone’s best bet.

This is the new TIDE. Most of the Breuers Kehilla can now be classified as Charedim with German Minhagim. While Mada is more accepted it there – it is at best now seen in terms of Parnassa. But classic Hirschean TIDE is not about Parnassa.

Bearing all this in mind it is not too difficult to understand why adherents of TIDE are so strongly opposed to TuM. Even by those who adhere to the classic definition of TIDE. They are part and parcel of the Charedi world that has rejected YU which they see as definitive of TuM. I don’t know that I - or anyone else - will ever disabuse them of that notion. But it is a false one filled with bias and misinformation.