Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Facing the Truth of History - Torah Im Derech Eretz

Torah Im Derech Eretz (TIDE). In a nutshell this is the Hashkafa that seeks to integrate the study of Torah with the study of worldly knowledge. It was founded and elaborated upon by Rabbi Shamshon Raphael Hirsch.

As I have pointed out many times the differences between TIDE and Torah U’Mada (TuM) are relatively minor and more academic in nature rather than practical. So as a believer in TuM I am completely comfortable advocating a TIDE educational system for the Torah world. And by Torah world, I mean the Charedi Torah world too. That’s because as an adherent of TuM who places a high value in Mada as an independently important area of study (whereas TIDE sees Mada exclusively as an important but integrated part of Torah) I could easily achieve my goals in a TIDE system as I could in a TuM system. So as I said, from a practical standpoint – a very minor almost insignificant difference.

The main thing is that both TIDE and TuM value the study of Limudei Chol – Mada - as a L’Chatchila. This means that one should seek to study it and not think of it only in terms of a B’Dieved - a necessary ‘evil’ - to be avoided if possible. Rav Hirsch certainly considered it a L’Chatchila.

Unfortunately the revisionists in the Charedi world have decided that TIDE is not a L’Chatchila, but a B’Dieved. In fact it is worse than a B’Dieved. They claim that even Rav Hirsch considered it a B’Dieved and instituted it a only as Hora’as Shah – a necessary demand of the times to save Judaism.

Any student of Hirschean thought will testify that this is not so. He clearly states it in his writings. But the revisionists ignore it. In fact I believe that Rav Shimon Schwab, the great leader of the American German-Jewish community which is the home of TIDE was told by Rav Baruch Ber Leibovitz that TIDE is a B’Dieved and that Rav Hirsch did in fact consider it Hora’as Shah.

This view was recently more or less rubber stamped by the new leader of the German-Jewish community in the Washington Heights section of New York city. Rabbi Yisroel Mantel, Rav of Khal Adath Jeshurun told a group of his constituents that only Rav Hirsch himself could properly implement TIDE. For the rest of us, we need to rely on what the Gedolim tell us to do - which is of course to avoid all secular study and study Torah only if possible. That’s what the Charedi world in Israel does. And that’s the ideal promoted by some Charedi Rabbinic leaders here. Ironically Rabbi Aharon Feldman the Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivas Ner Israel - which is famous for allowing its students to attend college facilitating them as much as possible - has been a proponent of this ‘Torah only’ ideal for the ‘best and brightest’ students.

But this was not the ideal in pre World War II Europe. The famous story about the Yeshiva of Volozhin closing down rather than incorporating Mada into their curriculum had absolutely nothing to do with an anti Mada Hashkafa - as many Charedim would have us believe. It had to do with an anti Torah Czarist government goal of weaning people away from Torah via an insidious, innocent looking route. So of course Volozhin closed. But not for anti Mada reasons. Although the Yeshivos Gedolos (post high school) had no secular studies the elementary and Yeshiva high schools did.

I just received the following e-mail on Avodah, the Aishdas e-mail list that is archived and published. I present it in part here. It speaks for itself:

The December 2008 issue of the Jewish Observer contains a review of Ish Yehudi written by Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer. The Editor of the JO wrote an "introduction" to this review. In part he wrote:

"This essay extracts from the book under review details of the manner in which educational methodologies of the great German school of Torah im Derech Eretz were being introduced to be employed in the Lithuanian Yavneh and the Polish Bais Yaakov school networks to combat the problems of the day. This review has been reviewed by gedolei Torah and roshei yeshivos, who confirmed the picture drawn by Rabbi Carlebach in his new work, and who encouraged us to put his "new" historical insights before our readership."

The article describes how Rav Carlebach set up TIDE schools in certain parts of Lithuania.

"The Yavneh system was the main Orthodox school system in the shortlived independent republic of Lithuania. In the milieu created by this modern state, the old-fashioned cheder became extinct."

The footnote to this sentence says:

Heard from Reb Zalman Alpert, shlita, in the name of Rabbi Tuvia Lasdun. Reb Zalman also related to me in the name of his own rebbi, Rabbi Shimon Romm, that the vibrant young Orthodoxy that flourished in independent Lithuania between the wars was known as "Kovno Orthodoxy" (A similar Orthodoxy existed in Latvia.) It was anchored by the yeshivos of Slabodka, Telshe, Kelm and Ponovezh and the gedolei Torah that the yeshivas produced, but in the larger community outside the yeshivos it was dominated by ba'alei battim and movements such as the Agudah. The rav of Kovno, Rabbi Avrohom Dovber Kahana-Shapira was recognized as the leader of this Lithuanian Orthodoxy. By contrast, in the part of Lithuania (Minsk, Slutzk, Bobruisk and east) that was annexed by the USSR, religion was banned. Only Chabad managed to maintain limited, underground Jewish education. The part of Lithuania (ViIna, Lomza, Bialystok, and Brisk) that was annexed by Poland was also not as affected by the Torah im Derech Eretz influence. By the outbreak of the Second World War, with the exception of the talmidim of the great yeshivos (and a relatively nascent network of schools founded by talmidim of Novaradok), the youth of this region had been lost to Orthodoxy. Only the Chassidim of the region - Chabad, Slonim and Karlin-Stolin - fared somewhat better. Indicative of this trend is the fact that in 1936, Rabbi Elazar Menachem Mon Shach took a position as rosh yeshiva in the Karliner yeshiva in Luninets.

The article also says:

"With the approval of gedolei Torah, Rabbi Carlebach founded a Gymnasium (the European term for an academic high school), based on the German Torah im Derech Eretz model. Rabbi Carlebach brought in highly qualified teachers from Germany to assist in the venture. Among them was Dr. Leo Deutschlander, who later became famous for his enormous contribution to the Bais Yaakov school system. The school became known popularly as the Carlebach Gymnasium. By its third year of existence, it enrolled one thousand boys and girls in separate schools. Its remarkable accomplishments made a deep impression on the gedolim in Lithuania, particularly on the Rosh Hayeshiva of the great yeshiva of Telshe, Rabbi Yosef Leib Bloch. Rabbi Bloch invited Dr. Deutschlander, in collaboration with Rabbi Carlebach, to found the network of similar schools that came to be known as 'Yavneh."

"The network included separate teachers' seminaries for men and women in Kovno, Gymnasiums in Kovno, Telshe, and Ponovezh, and approximately one hundred elementary schools - all of which brought the chinuch methodology of 'Western Europe to Eastern Europe. Yavneh was intertwined with Zeirei Agudas Yisroel, and it was mostly the idealistic Agudist young men and women who served as the leaders and teachers of the Yavneh system.

"Leafing through the extraordinarily impressive pages of Hane'eman also impresses upon one the extent to which the Lithuanian yeshiva world embraced elements of the German Jewish derech."

Update (12/25/08 1:03 PM CST):

I have just been informed by an inside source that the Jewish Observer article excerpted here was apporved unanimously by the Agudah Moetzes - even the more right wing element in it. This is quite a revealtion and speaks well for their future of Charedi Judaism - at least in America.

I want to congratulate the editors of the Jewish Observer for publshing this 'truth of history'. They desreve tremendous credit for their courage in doing so.