Thursday, April 30, 2015


The relationship of many the faculty of Yeshiva University with Torah Im Derech Eretz is complicated. As many look to Hirsch and TIDE as the basis, or a major point of origin, for Modern Orthodoxy, they respect Hirsch. But also as practitioners of Torah u'Maddah, some tend to regard TIDE with some condescension as an American youth might look at his "simple" bobe from the shtetl.

I give as an example R' Aaron Rakeffet's depiction of the differences between TIDE and TuM. Rabbi Rakeffet, who has produced several fine books and even more interesting classes, has many times expressed his admiration for R' Hirsch and for German Orthodoxy. But a certain oversimplification of his assessment of TIDEs relationship with secular studies surfaces too. He's correct, I believe, in portraying TIDE with meaningful filters on the secular material, but he exaggerates and makes TIDE seem almost as if it consists of "thought control" and lack of "freedom of thought, freedom of speech" -  words he used in his discussion of the contrast between the two to say what YU did not want to be.

Witness this statement from his recording entitled "2006-12-25 Rabbi Joseph Breuer (and how Rav Hirsch differed in thought from Rav Soloveitchik concluded)":

"The Rav would be totally in favor. He says it openly. I quote him word by word. He does not want a catholic college. He does not want thought control. The Yeshiva has to be a real yeshiva. It has to be like Volozhin, like Brisk. And the College has to be like Harvard, like Yale, like Brown, like U of P. It has to be a proper college, university. Freedom of thought, freedom of research, freedom of speech. Two totally different viewpoints. And that's why the Rav said he loves Yeshiva University. And if I can illustrate it, this problem came up time and again. In my time, a group of students - I was already a Rebbe, I was already a Rosh Yeshiva, so the kids were carrying on why we have to study Greek literature, Greek, what do you call it, Greek mythology. Students were carrying on. I mean I also studied Greek mythology in my time. But we didn't question. I don't know. We, in the 1950s,  didn't question like the 1960s, for better for worse. These kids made an appointment to see the Rav. By the 1960s the Rav I don't have to tell you the Rav was the Rav. The 50s and 60s, the Rav already was the Rav. It's not like the 30s and 40s. And the Rav grants them an audience. I'll use the word audience. And the kids go into the Rav. How can we learn about learn about Greek mythology. They kill, they rob, they steal, they rape, they seduce, they lie, they do so many horrible things. And the Rav threw them out head first. What's the matter, you don't want to be educated. Without understanding Greek mythology, you cannot understand the roots of our civilization of the Greek and Roman civilization. And our civilization, and the classic civilization. And you have to be educated. This is what education is all about. The Rav threw them out head first. I can assure you had they gone into Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch with the same request, Greek mythology would  have immediately been struck from the curriculum."  (Audio) 32 minutes in.

The depiction here of Rav Hirsch's educational philosophy is somewhat simplistic. The children at his school did learn about Greece and Greek mythology. See here an account of a school committee member's visit to the classroom as told by the son a student who was in the room:

"This gentleman once attended a lesson about Greece, its history and its culture. He was neither well acquainted with with Jupiter and Pallas Athene nor with Mars and Hermes, and he listened with growing bewilderment. Suddenly he said, "Herr Doktor, may I ask a question?" "Of course," the teacher replied. "Children", said the visitor in great excitement, "I hope you don't believe it." The children laughed, and the teacher reassured this best friend of the school that the subject under consideration could not do any harm." Memories of Frankfurt, Hermann Schwab, pp. 8-9

Hermann Schwab's father, born in 1846, was one of the school's first students. So this visit occurred in the time of Rav Hirsch. Hermann Schwab's essay tells of his own encounters with Rav Hirsch.
Yes, in TIDE open apikorsis such as higher biblical criticism was not taught, whereas in YU it could be as Rabbi Rakeffet himself points out with several examples. However, as we see, we should not make assumptions about what the restrictions at Hirsch's schools entailed. This incident was not at a college as the IRG had no college. It wasn't even at a yeshiva gadolah but in the day school for kids.

R' Hirsch was very broad minded. He wasn't paranoid. He avoided immediate and immanent threats with such measures as not employing non-religious Jews as teachers, lest the heresy of the day find its way into the classroom. Yet, the requirements for shul membership were minimal - marriage according to halacha, a bris for oneself and one's sons (Klugman, p. 184)

I sent my little finding to Rabbi Rakeffet and he sent back a nice reply which said basically that the studies at YU in Greek mythology were quite intensive, a full course whereas at Hirsch's school they were perfunctory. Thus, he wasn't trying to say that R' Hirsch banned the topic altogether, just that he kept it brief. I can accept that answer; although we still have this quote, "Freedom of thought, freedom of research, freedom of speech. Two totally different viewpoints."

This only affirms my orientation as a TIDE person rather than a TIDE as I'd like to know about the Greek history with a brief overview of the mythology but wouldn't want to study it extensively. In my high school we spent months on Greek mythology and were forced to memorize the names of hundreds of their deities. I did not appreciate it. In college, I took a course in Greek Civilizations and again, it was way too much detail for me. I found all the killing and plotting very unpleasant and not particularly useful.

I'll still say that some at YU condescend towards the German community to some extent even as they admire it. But that's only fair as the other side of Washington Heights does the same towards YU.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

except for Germany where no spark exists

I received this piece of Torah this week from the "themaishiv" email newsletter.

"In the Sefer Written by the late Gaon Harav Nosson Gestetner, Zt'l  On Chumash titled 'Lhoros Noson' volume 5 on Moadim it Is quoted in the Name of Maharshab of chabad, zy'a who During a Drosha delivered on Simchas Torah 99 years ago (5676) said that he has received f rom his ancestors that the Magid of Mezritz,zy'a told the Ba'al Hatanya,zy'a that in every Country there is some small spark of kedusha except for Germany where no spark exists..."

So I'm one who often points out the positive aspects of Germanic culture. I often say that the term Germanic is not necessarily synonymous with Germany as Holland, Scandinavia, and England are all Germanic.

Nevertheless, the idea put forth above should be considered.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Encapsulation of the TIDE Challenge

Moshe Koppel in his Tradition article Yiddishkeit Without Ideology: A Letter to My Son said the following, "Moreover, the yeshivish rule that "if it's not Jewish, we don't like it" was flipped in the modern Orthodox world to read "if we like it, it's Jewish."

The TIDE person does something else, a hybrid of the two. He can like and accept something even if its immediate source is not Jewish but he checks it out vigorously against Torah literature and through Torah sages. It doesn't become Jewish just because he likes it.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Wisdom from the Gentiles: Heraclitus

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.”

Friday, April 17, 2015

Guest D'var Torah

"And Aharon lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them..."  (Lev. 9:22)

Although the Torah does not describe the content of Aharon's blessing, the Sages assume that it was the well-known Priestly Blessing that appears in Parshat Naso.  There is also a textual anomaly in the verse:  The word that is pronounced "his hands" is spelled deficiently (the term of art for words written in the Torah missing a typical letter) as  "his hand."  The Torah Temimah explains that the deficient spelling comes to teach us a nuance of the Priestly Blessing procedure.  The Kohen positions himself in a manner that satisfies both the pronunciation of the verse and its spelling.  He raises both hands but places his right hand above his left; he has both raised "his hands" and "his hand."  R' Samson Raphael Hirsch takes a more homiletic tack.  He suggest that the deficient spelling of "his hands" hints to the idea that the blessing is not really coming from him, it is coming from Him; the Kohen is merely a messenger on behalf of G-d, the source of all blessing.

by Dan Lifshitz

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

There's No Magic Only Tricks

I found some videos on youtube where the secrets behind famous events by magicians are revealed. In one of them, a pair of men, who appear to be French, remind us to remember that "there's no magic only tricks."


What's the message for the practitioner of Torah Im Derech Eretz? When you deal with the world, watch out for the illusions. They are only tricks. So you want to get a college degree? Fine. Just don't fall for their illusions, the promise of grand truth, or even of parnassah. Most of college is not geared toward parnassah but towards liberal arts which make the professors a parnassah but not you. They'll teach you how to think they say. There's some truth to it, but only so much. After your fifth paper you know how to write well enough, maybe not to be a professional essayist, but enough to get through life and most careers. Now you have only 7 semesters to go. They do this all in elegant edifices and with expensive books with covers more beautiful than the contents.  I can't tell you how many people I know with degrees from the alluring Ivy League schools and their also Ivy's who can't make a living. Your hear the name Harvard and your heart flutters. It has such allure. Yet William F. Buckley told us, "I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University." It's not what it seems.

Then there's the corporations. They lure you to work for them with promises of the work-home balance and great benefits. And you find yourself working at home until 2 in the morning. One of the greatest crimes of America is the creation of its corporations of the 60 hour work week. You think it's getting you somewhere but really it just uses you up. America has redefined the purpose of life as career and yet most people dislike their work but do it far too many hours a week, a habit they started in college which sold you the dream of career. Illusions.

You find yourself paying thousands in medical costs. You find out that the training programs are threadbare. I know of a company that boasts of its "extensive training programs" consisting of thousands of courses but in reality they are only course descriptions with no offerings. You hear the name "Google" and dream of working there. I know a guy who works there and works day and night under insane pressure. It's destroying him. Illusions.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't get a degree or work for a corporation. Just don't expect magic. Don't fall for the illusions that really are just tricks. Stay grounded in Torah. As for the world outside of Torah, get out of it whatever good you can but don't expect too much, expect far less than it promises. Better to transform the pieces of it that you can than allow it to transform you.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Hashem's Love for Us

Rav Hirsch often wrote about Hashem's love for Jews. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik's writings often paralleled (or were inspired by?) Rav Hirsch's. In the Mesoras HaRav Chumash we find an example:

"Abraham did not deny his son to God. In exchange, God said, Because you have done this thing and you did not withhold your son, your only one., [t]hat I will surely bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand that is on the seashore, and your descendents will inherit the cities of their enemies (verses 16-17). This was the kinyan chalipin, a legally binding transaction based on an exchange of property. You give Me your son, and I will give you your future. And once the kinyan is made, it is an agreement and a covenant that can never be changed. When we say "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God Of Jacob," we do not mean God should love us because He loved Abraham. We say that He should love us because he singed a binding agreement with Abraham that requires Him to love us. (The Lord is Righteous in All in Ways, p 53) - Mesoras HaRav Chumash, Bereishis, p. 155.

And while we are on the topic, here's a gem from R' Marcus Lehman of Mainz:

"The boundless goodness of God, that is unfathomable to the limited powers of human understanding, טובו, is the prime mover and mark of all His loving actions. (The English word "God" is also derived from His goodness). Despite its fullness, it does not act blindly, but changes according to the worthiness and need of the person to whom it is given. To the faithful, it is expressed as a bounty in recognition of their worthiness, חן, to the undeserving, as mercy, חסד, and even to those who have forfeited it or could never lay claim to it, as compassion, רחמים.

"God's benevolent action is not sparing with its love, but extends לכל בשר, indiscriminately to all, although in differing amounts."

R' Marcus Lehman, Passover Haggadah, p. 236

I wrote an article on this topic which you can find here.

And here's more in that vein:

"He rides the Heavens for your help..." Devarim 33:26

"Even though you are unaware, Hashem is taking action in the heavens for your help as if He mounted a chariot and was speeding to assist you... Down below here on the earth you may seem to be forlorn and helpless, but Hashem always is taking action to preserve you and to overcome your enemies." —R A Miller,  Fortunate Nation

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


מִמְּקוֹמְךָ מַלְכֵּנוּ תּוֹפִיעַ וְתִמְלוֹךְ עָלֵינוּ כִּי מְחַכִּים אֲנַחְנוּ לָךְ
מָתַי תִּמְלךְ בְּצִיּוֹן בְּקָרוֹב בְּיָמֵינוּ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד תִּשְׁכּוֹן
תִּתְגַּדֵּל וְתִתְקַדֵּשׁ בְּתוֹךְ יְרוּשָׁלַיִם עִירְךָ לְדוֹר וָדוֹר וּלְנֵצַח נְצָחִים
וְעֵינֵינוּ תִּרְאֶינָה מַלְכוּתֶךָ כַּדָּבָר הָאָמוּר בְּשִׁירֵי עֻזֶּךָ עַל יְדֵי דָּוִד מְשִׁיחַ צִדְקֶךָ
יִמְלֹךְ ה' לְעוֹלָם אֱלֹהַיִךְ צִיּוֹן לְדֹר וָדֹר הַלְלוּיָהּ

Monday, April 6, 2015

The successor to the old קדושות קהילות of Western Europe

"As far as our own Kehilla is concerned we may very well consider ourselves as the successor to the old קדושות קהילות of Western Europe, the perpetuators of the thousand year old sacred אשכנז מנהג and the faithful pupils of the saintly אשכנז חכמי in general and of Rabbi S. R. Hirsch זצ"ל in particular. It follows that we keep aloft this banner and that we keep our precious heritage forever close to our hearts. From the days of Rashi and the Tosafists to the time of R. Moshe Sofer and R. Ya’akov “Jokef” Ettlinger there has been an uninterrupted chain of tradition which was transmitted into the post-Ghetto world by the blessed genius of Rabbi S. R. Hirsch, his co-workers and followers. It is for this compelling reason that we treasure our traditional pronunciation of the sacred tongue, our age-old melodies, our פיוטים and סליחות, which have withstood the onslaught of time and turbulence. We embrace these time-honored forms and expressions which were dear to our forebearers and we cling to their inherited Jewish way of life and we to teach it to our children with love… It is the essential function of our Kehilla to gear all its energies ליושנה עטרה להחזיר, to return this “crown to its ancient glory,” to bring forth the most noble and lofty possibilities which lie hidden in our heritage to its utmost potential; in line with the justified observation of the saintly Chatam Sofer: התורה היא ירושה לנו בני אשכנז."

Rav Shimon Schwab, Selected Writings, Lakewood, NJ, 1988, pp. 17, 62-63 in Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Shelf of Siddurim at KAJ

Ordered and tidy. It calms the mind and brings honor to the beis kenneses.