Sunday, September 23, 2018

19 Letters

I read through some of Hirsch's 19 Letters recently and resolved something that had always bothered me. Benyamin writes a heartfelt letter of his frustrations with Judaism and how it keeps him out of the ebb and flow of the world. Naftali writes back without addressing his complaints directly. The picture Naftali paints is one of which we are familiar. As Professor Marc Shapiro has noted, today, we hear the 18 letters of response and much of it sounds familiar, but that's because we live post 19 Letters. That's the influence Hirsch had on the Jewish world. He introduced many of the understandings that now seem commonplace. (Of course they are basic Torah ideas found in Chazal but ones that to a large extent were forgotten by the common Jew.) It seems as if he is giving a cliched, canned response but at the time the ideas were new to most people.

But not only that. I realize now that Hirsch was addressing Benyamin's gripes. He was saying, you feel as if you are not part of the world and are not contributing to it. But the Jewish mission concerns the world. The Jews are to serve as a beacon, as teachers of morality to the world.

This is a different answer than one might get in some places. Often people are told, well, who cares if you are missing out on gentle endeavors like art and music. That's all emptiness anyway. The gentiles are horrible, disgusting. We don't care about them. That's often the answer one gets.

But is that going to work on someone with Binyamin's concerns, someone who feels that high culture, science, and democratic government are good for the world. Is someone who identifies in whatever way with the other humans on this earth going to be drawn to Judaism when Judaism is depicted as hostile with and unconcerned with the human race?

Hirsch's answer, through the fictictious Naftali, is very clever. He doesn't slam Binyamin to the floor, but works with him. He also doesn't do what many others in the kiruv world do, say, oh, you like art, you can be an artist here too. -- These are not the same kiruv people who tell you that all gentile culture is garbage. It's more the Modern Orthodox kiruv approach. -- Because quite frankly, it's very difficult to be an artist in the frum world. Or let us put it a different way, it's hard to be part of the art world in the frum world. Because the art world is so full of illicit and problematic images and people, that one really can't be a part of it in normal circumstances. Yes, you can make some art, but, except for those who can't function without it and for whom we make exceptions, you can't move to Paris and be part of the art scene. It really is disingenuous to pretend otherwise, even though some kiruv people often do.

Rather, Hirsch is saying, you can make an even higher contribution. You can show the world the way in morality.

This presumes that the Jewish mission cares about the human race. And I have quotes from the Netziv and Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik and others that show how such a view does fit in with Chazal and Tanach even if we have lost touch with that part of Judaism in recent centuries. For example:

"There are religiously committed Jews who are indifferent to the concerns of the larger non-Jewish society. They are content to reside in isolated communities with unconcern, if not actual disdain, for the Gentile world and for the problems which afflict humanity. This introversion can be explained as a reaction to the centuries-old derision and persecution which have been the Jewish historical experience and to which they were subjected with particular ferocity in modern times. Nowadays, there are particular aspects of moral perversion afflicting the general society which are repellant to Jewish sensibilities. Nevertheless, this insularity cannot be vindicated as authentic Judaism even if it can be understood and justified in particular historical periods and situations."
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Man of Faith in the Modern World, p. 73.

This is one of the reasons that it's not so easy to be a Hirschian in Israel. People in Israel are so obsessed with Zionist politics, so obsessed with Arabs, who overwhelmingly are deemed an enemy (not my perspective) and see everybody else only in terms of how they seem to treat the State of Israel. So Europe is deemed anti-Israel therefore we don't like Europe. That's the attitude over here.

There's not a whole lot of interest in the human race in Israel, except maybe in leftist circles which are quite far from religious.  It's not a great place for Hirschians and it's a very bad place to send newcomers to Judaism who have Hirschian leanings because they can get turned off. I know of numerous cases of baalei teshuvah who were directed to Eretz Yisroel to study and got so turned off by the anti-gentile attitudes and the politics that they did not stay with the religion.

This is why Hirsch was a master of kiruv, maybe the first kiruv person in modern times, and why he had the respect of the great rabbanim of Eastern Europe such as the Chasom Sofer, R' I.E. Spektor, R' Y. Salanter, and R' Chaim Ozer Grodinsky. He offered a path in Judaism that was a true path, that required definite sacrificies, but he did not impose demolition of the mind, nor did he sell a bridge. He found the fine line between competing outlooks. It's all there in the 19 Letters, a book he wrote at the ripe old age of 28.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Kenes in Bene Brak, chol moed

בית הכנסת כמנהג אשכנז
רחוב הרב בן יעקב 25 ב"ב

ביום חמישי י"ח תשרי
ידרוש בין מנחה למעריב
מורנו הרב בנימין שלמה המבורגר שליט"א
זמני התפלות
מנחה                       6:00
מעריב                      7:15
לאחר מעריב זמירות לכבוד המועד