Thursday, November 30, 2006

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch and Austritt

Evanston Jew has a fascinating article today on the subject of Austritt. It is an analysis of the consequences of Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch’s decision to leave the established Jewish community in Germany which had become dominated by the Reform movement. From the essay:

“Torah im Derech Eretz developed, in my opinion, in an eccentric way leaving a legacy of major disagreements as to what it was all about”

and later:

“(Chasidim) didn’t much care for the yekkes’ snobbism and condescension either. Why the chassidic Jews were not invited to join the Orthodox yekkes is anyone’s guess. In this regard it is interesting to note that because of the way Orthodoxy was reestablished there was a serious disconnect with the glorious history of the Frankfort rabbinate. I am being a bit mean here, but I believe it is fair to say that a typical Orthodox German yekke had a far greater knowledge and appreciation of Goethe and Heine than he had of the Hafla’ah or the Pene Yehoshua and Rav Nasan Adler. Torah im Derech Eretz produced few if any great lomdim, mekubalim or poskim. I believe Austritt was responsible.”

I am a big fan of Torah Im Derech Eretz (TIDE). Even though it isn’t my Hashkafa (of Torah U’Madda) it is a “kissing cousin” to it. I do not agree with Evanston Jew’s assessment that TIDE developed in an eccentric way. It is a very well thought out, clearly defined Hashkafa. And RSRH’s development of it was not eccentric at all. But I do agree that its “legacy” is one “of major disagreements as to what it was all about” But I blame the current mindset (generally speaking) of the Charedi leadership for that. They wish to redefine TIDE in their own image so as to de-legitimize (or at least minimize) what they don’t like about it and thereby minimize the differences between the Yekke and the Charedi..

One thing Evanston Jew points out is that Yekkes were a bit snobbish. I think that’s true. Their knowledge of “Goethe and Heine” gave them a sense of superiority vis-à-vis other Jews. I believe, however that the responsibility ofr this attitude had more to do with the German culture itself than with anything RSRH did. It wasn’t Austirtt that caused this snobbishness (though it may have contributed to it) It was the German attitude about their own superiority permeating German Jewry that was responsible for this.

And the less secular a Jew was the more superior a German Jew felt towards him. This explains why the animosity that existed between German Jews and Chasidim was so great. Chasidim were viewed as being on the lowest rung on the Totem pole because they were the least educated in the works of people like “Goethe and Heine”. All Germans really looked at civilization as containing or perhaps even requiring a social class structure... with themselves being the highest ones on the totem pole. The Nazi racial theories, with Germans being Aryans, the master race, certainly reflected the importance to Germans of the belief in a social class system. Nazism was an expression in the extreme of their social caste ideas. And before Germans separated out the Jews as the inferior race, many Jews looked at themselves as Germans first and Jews second. I think that is in part why Reform took hold so readily there.

So is Austritt responsible for any of this? I tend to think not. But I will concede the possibility of that being a factor. But you are right about one thing. Austritt has become the dominant force in Charedi Judaism. But the Austritt there is not from Reform. It is from Orthodoxy itself. They do not view any Orthodox Hashkafos other than their own as valid and have rejected any attempts to integrate with them. (This may be changing a bit. See the previous post.)