Thursday, July 30, 2015

Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz - The Institute for Ashkenazi Heritage

from the Machon's old website:


"Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz - The Institute for Ashkenazi Heritage - is the leading institute dedicated to the research, preservation and transmission of the unique religious values, customs, and folklore of German Jewry, as they existed prior to the Holocaust.


"The history of German (Ashkenazi) Jewry dates back to the destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem. First in Roman Italy, later on in the Rhine Valley, these Jews developed their own remarkable tradition. That tradition is the cumulative product of two millennia of brilliant scholars and dedicated community leaders. It remains today one of the priceless spiritual legacies of our people.

"Rabbi Isaac of Vienna the 'Ohr Zarua' exclaimed nearly eight hundred years ago, "Do you not know what towering geniuses and men of holiness are the Rabbis of Mainz, Worms, and Speier? From them has the Torah gone forth to all of Israel!" After Rabbenu Asher (the 'Rosh') was forced to flee Germany for Spain, he wrote, "I keep to our tradition as we received it from our ancestors of blessed memory, the Sages of Ashkenaz. Their Torah was a legacy from their fathers from the time of the Temple's destruction.""

Monday, July 27, 2015

Wisdom from the Gentiles - Pressure

"The only pressure you get is what you put on yourself." Football legend Johnny Unitas who was known for being great under pressure.

What he means is that in the end a person has to control the faucet. You can't live you life with other people pressuring you to do this or that. You have to use your seichel to determine what you can handle and what you should handle. And if you allow others, particularly people you don't respect, to pressure you, then really you have pressured yourself.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Redemption and Iran

Generally, I stick here to the topics of Torah Im Derech Eretz and German Orthodoxy, however this travesty of a "deal with the devil" ie Iran is so momentous that I had to offer the following two pieces of information:

1) A passionate talk from political commentator Mark Levin about WWIII in the making via Iran.

2) Yalkut Shimoni on what appears to be the same topic:

“Rabbi Yitzhak said: The year that  Melech HaMoshiach will be revealed, all the kings of the nations of the world will provoke each other. The king of Persia [in modern times they changed the name of their country to “Iran”] will threaten the king of Arabia [today called “Saudi” Arabia] and because of this the king of Arabia will go to the king of Edom [USA] for advice.
Afterwards the king of Persia will destroy [most of] the world. The remaining nations will be hysterical and frantic and fall on their faces and will be seized as if by “birth pains”.
And the people of Israel will be frantic and hysterical and they will say, where will we come and go? Where will be come and go?
And Hashem will say to them: Do not fear my children, do not fear. All that I have done I did only for you. Why are you afraid? The time for your Redemption has come!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Ashkenazi Jews Descend from Jewish Families in Germany

from the Open Siddur Project -Tefiloh Sefas Yisroel, a nusaḥ Ashkenaz siddur dedicated to the memory of the Bad Homburg Jewish community. Bad Homburg is not to be confused with Hamburg in Northern Germany. Bad Homburg is near Frankfurt.

"Most descendants of European Jewry including Ḥasidim are descendants of Ashkenazi families (with the important exception of Jews descending from the Spanish-Portuguese communities expelled in 1492 — the Sepharadim, and some other ancient European Jewish communities diminished during the Holocaust — the Byzantine Romaniote Jews of Greece and the Jews of Italy)."

Siddur Bnei Ashkenaz_Page_001_Image_0001

People often say to me, when they observe me keeping minhag Ashkenaz, oh I didn't know you are a yekke. And by that they mean, I didn't know your grandparents were from Germany. Well they weren't. But their ancestors were - perhaps their great-great grandparents or their great-great grandparents. Ashkenazi Jews trace back to Germany and before that to Italy. And before that to the Holy Land. In the Holy Land, Italy, and Germany the Ashkenazi minhagim were established under the guidance of the Sages of the Gaonim with whom the German and Italian communities were in close contact. In the time since, minhagim changed some except in Frankfurt and other German communities that held on to them. So the traditions in Frankfurt are not these oddball diversions from the mainstream. They were the mainstream and the practices of the ancestors of most Ashkenazim. They don't belong to the Yekkes. They belong to all of us.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

the Tafel to the Ikkur

“…Other disciplines are to be regarded as auxiliary; they are to be studied only if they are capable of aiding Torah study and are subordinated to it as the tafel to the ikkur. The Torah’s truths must remain for us what is absolute and unconditional, the standard by which to measure all the results obtained in other branches of knowledge. Only that which accords with the truths of the Torah can be accepted by us as true. The Torah should be our sole focus: All that we absorb and create intellectually should be considered from the perspective of the Torah and should proceed along its paths. Accordingly, we will not adopt ideas that are not in consonance with this perspective; we will not accept conclusions derived from others’ premises and mix them with words of Torah." (Vayikra 18:4-5)

This quote silences the notion that R' Hirsch viewed Jewish and secular studies as being of equal importance. So what about his educational program as described in the articles in Judaism Eternal. I have to propose that the heavy emphasis there on secular studies, the apparent 50/50 split, was a result of government and community pressures. The former were much more significant than people may realize and the latter were too. R' Hirsch was trying to build a community that started with a few dozen people and had only non-religious to drawn from. He wasn't dictating rules to the Borough Park community, building a shul there and trying to attract frum people from other shuls. He was doing kiruv in an environment of wild and ferocious assimilation.

I think that this quote serves also to rebut the article "A Peculiar Point in Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch's Essays on Education". What that article does is focus on the general terms that R' Hirsch uses in some of his exhortations about the importance of education and take it to mean that he valued Torah and secular equal. I would propose that language choice may simply have been different in R' Hirsch's day. We live in a world so drenched with secular education that we are more careful to throw the word Torah in front of our sentences. Also, R' Hirsch was doing kiruv so he may have not wanted to press his point too bluntly. But the quote about ikur and toffel should show us that while he saw some value in secular education the value was clearly secondary and servile to that of Torah.

My own view is that much of secular studies is unnecessary for frum kids as they get the particular educational disciplines from their Torah studies. While people need a sense of history, they don't need to be experts in American history. Jewish kids get plenty of history from Jewish studies. Same with law and literature. Nobody needs to read F. Scott Fitzgerald. They need to know about metaphor and characters. Frum kids get that from Tanach. I'd say that math, science, and business are the only liberal arts style material frum kids really need. Of course, who is teaching business, maybe the most relevant of all secular subjects? That would violate what seems almost a world-wide plot to keep the masses ignorant about money. But that's another discussion.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Hirsch verses the Musar Movement

Interesting post on about the modern battle against assimilation with a special reference to R' Hirsch:

"Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch took a different tack for his place and time. His approach was to beat the opposition at its own game. Rav Hirsch went out to the assimilated youth to challenge their adherence to the ways of non-Jewish society. Whereas in the past non-observant Jews tried to diminish Torah observance by attempting to poke holes in the logic of Torah observance, Rav Hirsch poked holes in the logic of assimilation. Rav Hirsch armed Jews with rhetorical weapons to fend off the assimilationists. Jews could now venture into fields of employment that brought them into contact with the world at large, without severing their ties to the Torah."

I often mull over the differences and similarities between R' Hirsch and R' Miller, two influences in my life. A paragraph on the Musar movement captures some of the differences:

"Rav Yisrael Salanter had another approach. He taught that one's goal is not to be superior to the next man by diminishing him. One's goal is to be better than oneself. The message of the Mussar movement was self-perfection."

I think that this quote captures another one of the differences which is that German Orthodoxy is more outwardly focused in some respects, more community minded like the Chassidim. Musar is individualistic, which could be dangerous to Americans for even as it tries to fix our decadence it could play into our selfishness.

As we know, R' Salanter and R' Hirsch had great respect for each other so we needn't see the differences as requiring a choice and right verses wrong.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Very Fine Jews

"Now when you see German Jews here you recognize them as German Jews. They are very fine Jews, frum Jews. But those German Jews who are not frum Jews, you don't recognize them because they are lost, they are assimilated."

Rabbi Avigdor Miller, Beginning of Holocaust2, 25:00