On Rav Hirsch’s Birthday. Part 1

 

This past Shabbos was the 212th birthday of Rav Hirsch. If there is value in celebrating the birth of one who no longer lives, it is in this that we can discuss that person’s life without discussing the death. ( Simon Ravidovich calls the Jewish people with our tendency to focus on the  loss of the previous generation – generation after generation – an “eternally dying people”!)

Twelve years ago at the 200th birthday, while discussing the viability of carrying the model Frankfurt kehilla forward, a grandchild of Rav Breuer bemoaned the neighborhood’s attrition by saying, “who will continue this community if all the kids are in Lakewood?”

This was a comment on the demographics of the community and not a deep hashkafic polemic.

The speaker himself had two – and now three- sons who are impressive talmidei chachomim in Lakewood. They were sent there by their family- at the advice of our own mesivta rebbeim- via such prestigious yeshivas as the one in Philadelphia and the main Brisk in Yerushalayim. One of those sons was present in the room.

 Nevertheless the speech echoed an idea that Lakewood is the anti-Breuers. The Rav rose from his seat after the speech and affirmed that the direction of the kehilla will not be set by “lawyers and businessmen”.

The next day the president resigned. 

This might have been the most important discussion that wasn’t had. It wasn’t about Torah Im Derech Eretz per se. It was about the flow of Jewish youth out of established communities and into Lakewood- and the resulting attrition of those communities. But since this comment was spoken in KAJ there is the issue of the loss of our “identity” and not merely about community numbers.

In the eighties the word of our demise was greatly exaggerated and it was predicted that urban flight would quickly destroy the local Heights community. Since then, gentrification and an influx of beautiful families of the YU kollel helped carry the community forward. Our own Kollel- after losing its core kollel members, took-on the tactics of the “out-of-town” kollel and recruited several families into the community. (There were no slots available when I married, but that is a story for another time- and is also typical of out-of-town kollels that are looking to attract “others” to the village. Not for now.)

 

Community numbers aside, what happens to a community’s identity if the youth throw themselves into the Olam Hatorah en masse? What happens? It changes. 

 

Regarding Torah im Derech Eretz, the question remains how, and if, it is, or should be, relevant to a generation of widespread limud Hatorah. Not because it was a horo’as sho’oh. Our mesorah says that it wasn’t. But because it might have been outmoded. 

 

Before I talk about this further, I need to mention that I made a video about this. (Audience applause.)

 

I also want to talk about TIDE.

 

  1. TIDE or Torah im Parnassah? 

While TIDE is a wonderful motto, and it speaks to the Torah’s mastery over every situation etc etc, it is, today, commonly invoked in the context of the “how” and the “when” of preparing for Parnassah. 

This is not without good reason, since attending college and “making it” in the United States are two challenges that threatened the quality of spiritual life in our community over the last century. 

But to pit TIDE against Kollel in the name of TIDE is a bit of an anachronism. There was no struggle regarding extended Kollel attendance in mid-nineteenth century Frankfurt. There was an institution of the “Klaus” and there were Eastern European Jews whose poverty and mannerisms were strange to the German Jews. But the motto of TIDE wasn’t created as an answer to the Kollel movement. 

So, if someone says, “Learning in kollel is very nice but we believe in Torah im Derech Eretz!” Are they wrong for summoning this as their motto?

No. This usage of the term is more similar to the idea of the gemara (Rabi Yeshmael) “Hinhog Bahem Minhag Derech Eretz”. There, the Gemara is clearly using the term in juxtaposition to “Eini Melamed Bonai Elah Torah” (Rashbi). 

Here is where it gets tricky. And here is the real anachronism. When I was in Lakewood (for some 9 years) the mashgiach Rav Mattisyahu Salomon Shlita said in a mussar sicha that we today are not followers of Rashbi, but we are “pruste rabi yishamelnickers”. Meaning, that while the Olam Hayeshivos has shunned college, we have proceeded with other ideas of how to survive. As a community we may have “pushed the limits”, but for the most part we proceed with a plan. 

Building on this idea, it may be said that both communities (Torah Only (T.O.) and TIDE) are following Rabi Yishmael. Only that one community is engaging knowledge and Derech Erets towards the end of having a better edge on this world, while the other is shunning it until the need absolutely arises. 

So when one embraces “Torah im Derech Eretz” as his banner when engaging in preparation for parnassah instead of waiting to further advance in Yeshiva studies this is a form of adherence to TIDE. Here is when it isn’t:

I sat at a chasunah last night with a Rav/businessman. His son is in a decent law school on full scholarship. We were talking about TIDE and he saw his son as part of a movement in the Yeshiva world that prefers not to be disadvantaged in the secular world. (He also told me that for someone like his son, TIDE would provide a life-model in which he is not marginalized for leaving kollel. I disagreed. Not for now.) 

 I told him that many kollel people segway into the secular world by attaining degrees in accounting, social work or computers when the need arises. He told me that he knows about these options but these are “jobs” and his son had higher aspirations. I immediately understood that he had a disdain for someone with a “job”, and an admiration for business and professions where the payoffs can be bigger. I am not judging his respect for higher pay- but I would call this the true  “Torah im Parnassah.” 

A Rov who claimed to be an adherent of TIDE once told me that he believes that one should aim to be a Talmid Chochom. If he is not successful then he should aim to be a “tycoon” (his word), because he can support the vital institutions as such. Torah im Parnassah. 

A very nice, but somewhat crass woman from a slightly ostentatious frum neighborhood once told me (I was a young bochur then), “The Yekkes go to college. But a job always has a ceiling. We go into business and the opportunities are greater.” I was silent. Torah im Parnassah. (I made a video about this encounter too…)

One should likewise make the argument that many Modern Orthodox communities that rally behind the institution that rallies behind Torah U’madda- may also be silently adhering to “Torah im Parnassah”. The idea being that the necessities of life necessitated their choices. No movement was necessary to justify their entrance into the professions.

 I am not judging anyone here either, though I think it is categorically less idealistic than the purported TUM.  

The litmus test can be applied when the two worlds clash. When the person engaged in Parnassah, or in Mada, or in Derech Eretz, is faced with a clashing of beliefs, or morals, or ideas. The way the person deals with these situations will require TUM (engaging), or TIDE (subjugating), or TO (doubling-down on your principles).   

 

  1. Kollel for the Masses

I heard from Rav Schustal shlita that Rav Schneur Kotler approached the Satmar Rov about kollelim. The Satmar Rov told him that it is not the way of his community, though it is a beautiful thing. Rav Schustal added that today there are numerous large kollelim in Satmar. 

Rav Breuer had a similar attitude and the members of his community have children in Kollel today. (The kollel that existed in his time was small and consisted of accomplished scholars.)

What changed?

  1. The influence of the Brisk style of learning which engages a person in a less-structured and more community based mode of study. This style of learning is harder to accomplish outside of a Yeshivah setting. It also revolves around a core base of chavrusos that rely on one another for long sedarim free of distractions.
  2. The ability to learn via support from spouse or family in a better established frum community 
  3. The ability to segway into the workforce later if necessary 
  4. Community  (or government) support is more readily available.
  5. Torah scholarship is valued and secular pursuits and accomplishments are marginalized in the wave of advanced Brisk-inspired learning that prevails. 

Today this is the mode of limud hatorah. It is not going anywhere and we have all embraced it. 

Whenever s new movement forms, the real adherents are those who forged the way. There were  generations who needed to fight to learn in kollel. That fight is over in that the movement is there for the taking. 

Whenever a boutique lifestyle becomes ubiquitous, it becomes less eclectic and becomes open to new “mutations”.  

Today, besides Torah im Derech Eretz, the time has come to embrace “Torah im Torah im Derech Eretz”. And we will be all the better off for it.

The movement of TIDE will find its place within the very walls of the Beis Hamedrash. In the davening. In the streets and in the home.

 

 To be continued.

On Rav Hirsch’s Birthday. Part 1

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>