Monday, October 28, 2013

R’ Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz

"R’ Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz told his students in America, “I cannot understand how it is possible for an American yeshiva student to be Jewish without ‘The Nineteen Letters’” "(Klugman, 1998)

from Return to Basics: A Call to Revitalize R’ Hirsch’s Torah im Derech Eretz

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Life, living, aspirations, achievement, and creativity

"Pagans, both ancient and modern, have a predilection for associating religion and religious matters with death and thoughts of death. For them the kingdom of God begins only where man ends. They view death and dying as the true manifestations of their deity, whom they see as a god of death, not of life; a god that kills and never revives, that sends death and its forerunners, sickness and affliction, so that men’s realizing the might of their god and their own impotence, may fear him. For this reason they set up their shrines near graves and the place of their priests is prominently near the dead. Death and mourning are the most fertile soil for the dissemination of their religion, and it seems that in their view, the presence, on their own flesh, of a mark of death, a symbol of death's power to conquer all of life, would be a sign of religiosity par excellence and, above all, the most essential attribute of the priest and his office.

"Not so the priests in Judaism, because the Jewish concept of God and the Jewish religion are not so. The God Whose Name assigns the priest his place among the Jewish people is a God of life, His most exalted manifestation is not the power of death that crushes strength and vitality but the power of life that enables man to exercise free will and to be immortal. Judaism teaches us not how to die but how to live so that, even in life, we may overcome death, lack of freedom, the enslavement to physical things and moral weakness. Judaism teaches us how to spend every moment of a life marked by moral freedom, thought, aspirations, creativity and achievement, along with the enjoyment of physical pleasures, as one more moment in life's constant service to the everlasting God. This is the teaching to which God has dedicated His Sanctuary and for whose service He has consecrated the ihbvf, the guardians of the basis and "direction" (Hebrew: ivf [priest] = iuf [direction] of the people's life.

"When death summons the other members of his people to perform the final acts of loving-kindness for the physical shell of a apb [soul] that has been called home to God, the ‘v hbvf ["priests of God"] must stay away in order to keep aloft the banner of life beside the dead body, to make certain that the concept of life; i.e., the thought that man has been endowed with moral freedom, that he is godly and not subject to the physical forces that seek to crush moral freedom, is not overshadowed by thoughts of death. Only when the realities of life require even the priest to perform his final duty as a husband, son, father or brother for the shell of a departed apb, or the presence of an abandoned body makes it necessary for him to take the place of the father or brother of the deceased, does his priestly function yield to his calling as a human being and as a member of a family. In such cases he is not only permitted but in fact commanded to have the necessary contact with the dead body. Under all other circumstances, however, priests must stay away from the bodies of the dead."

R' Hirsch on Genesis Emor 21:5

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Country Wisdom

"In the end, he was satisfied with a career that never yielded a hit album. ''All these boys -- Elvis, Jerry Lee, Roy Orbison -- they all lost their wives, their families,'' Mr. Perkins said in a 1996 interview. ''People say: 'What happened to you, Carl? All of them went on to superstardom. Where'd you go?' I say, 'I went home.' And that's a good place to be.''"

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Open Yet Focused

In our era, you need to be both more open yet focused than in the past. We live in a cholent of a society, both frum and general. In the office, there are Chinese, Indians, Albanians, you name it. That's not how things were 50 years ago. In my shul there are Sephardim, Hungarians, Israelis, Germans, Midwesterners, Brooklynites. You can't say my way or the highway anymore. It doesn't matter if in Frankfurt one frum community didn't say hello to the other. That won't work today because we are all mixed together in families, in schools, and in shuls. As R' Miller advises often, you have to get along with people. Moreover, the American personality is more open and accepting.

Yet, at the same time you have to maintain your focus. If you are not mystically based, the mystical stories can confuse you if you take them too seriously. If you are not punishment model based, same thing. In the Hirschian model, the rabbis don't dictate policy every 10 seconds so when they do you listen. You can go crazy if you have the Hirschian mindset and step into a Haredi shul, unless you know how to take it. So you have to be aware of the different styles that are out there and how they differ from yours, so you'll know how to take them.

If derech eretz is fundamental to your observance, by that I mean honesty and politeness and order, you have to be careful in communities where that isn't so important because you can get influenced and lighten up on a key avodah for you. And then you are lost as you try to base your day on values that are not core for you.

In Haredi communities, staying away from society is core. They pride themselves on that. People will brag that they have no idea who Shakespeare is. They tell you with glee.

That's fine. I'm not telling everyone how to live. I pride myself on worldly knowledge, but also on being able to separate out the bad and keep the good. Very different approach. That approach is bad for some, good for others. Each person has to find the one that works for him. In our society, you can't simply do just what people around you do because there are all kinds of people around you. It's not as simple as, I'm from Hungary, I do everything Hungarian style. But you don't have to condemn the others. Remember we are American Hirschian TIDE. Americans are more open than Germans, more tolerant. Like that other Germanic people the Dutch. Torah is eternal. TIDE changes in each society.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Introducing American Hirschian Torah Im Derech Eretz

So what is American Hirschian Torah Im Derech Eretz? Well, it is fundamentally Hirschian Torah Im Derech Eretz. He is the foundation for a modern understanding of Torah Im Derech Eretz. However, 125 years have transpired since his passing and the world is vastly changed. It is important to note that we are still in the modern era so it has not changed as much as it did with regard to Torah observance between his era and the pre-modern. Yes, technology has exploded maybe even as much between our era and his and his and the prior, but philosophy, society, government - all that stuff puts us in a similar era to his.

So what's the American piece? For one, it has a different stance on Zionism. R' Hirsch generally was opposed and he referenced the three oaths from the Gemara in Shavuous. However, some significant events have happened since then: the conference at St. Remo, the UN Vote in '48, and the Holocaust. According to the Ohr Somayach, the vote at St. Remo alone nullified the three oaths. So all the more so for the other two events.

Besides that, half of Jewry lives in Israel today. Moreover, there really isn't much of a secular Zionist movement anymore. The threat of a Jewish identity outside of mitzvot, which was the real basis for opposition to Zionism, isn't that relevant.

You can argue that the Mizrachi movement has Hirschian qualities in its orientation of engagement with life. We are not Jews only in the beis midrash but in the field, in the army, in the lab, etc. The problem with Mizrachi was their involvement with the non-religious. Austritt is a big part of TIDE, but Austritt may have changed too. R' Hirsch's Austritt consisted of pulling away from a dominant reform community that was openly and actively opposed to mitzvah observance. Many worked with the government to shut it down. It operated in a city that had gone from a strong hold of Torah to a place with 100 frum families by the time R' Hirsch arrived.

Was the Washington Heights Austritt against Yeshiva University constructive? George Frankel argues that it was not or at least that it should not continue. The Hirschian community, he argues, needs to team up with YU, lest it be swalled by Haredism.

So the Austritt is different too. I think you can just as easily argue for an Austritt against the Haredi world as the Modern. Both take a different course than TIDE. However, I don't see the point of Austritt against Orthodox groups. We are up against 7 billion heathens for the most part. We need each other. The Haredim remind us of the need for resistance to the world and for a seriousness in life. The Modern remind us of the need for proper engagement with the world.

Thus, American TIDE is more complex and looks to more places. For example, I don't see how one cannot not look to the teachings of R' Joseph Soloveitchik. While he was a Torah u'maddah personality, much of his Torah spoke to TIDE. Same goes for R' Kook. Recall R' Hirsch's criticisms of the Rambam in the 18th letter of the 19 letters. R' Hirsch criticized the Rambam for being influenced by the Arab and Greek philosophy in his idealism of the the philosopher and his making mitzvos a handmaiden to it. I think this is an incredible and bold insight and it informs us of some of the flaws in the Haredi world today, which does something similar with Torah study. Nevertheless, R' Hirsch still called the Rambam a great man who saved Judaism. This idea of throwing people away for saying anything one does not like is a contemporary fad. So one can enjoy R' Kook while setting aside some of the more strident Zionism. Same with any of the great figures who don't fit in perfectly with contemporary agendas of different groups. Most of the time these people just talked Torah. You can study it. If they said or did something that doesn't align with Hirsch's TIDE (as you would expect him to apply it today) then just ignore that part. Would R' Hirsch approve of an Advanced Talmudic institute at Stern College? Hard to say. My guess is no. But that doesn't mean you can't study R' Soloveitchik who gave the opening shiur there.

American TIDE also would not be limited to 19th century high culture as I would guess it did in Frankfurt. Could it include Jazz music for example? Not sure. Maybe in limited quantities. Could it include folk music? These are all the questions we must ask.

I think this is one reason that Hashem gave us Rabbi Soloveitchik. Our era needed a gadol to present Torah that was not limited to Frankfurt Torah Im Derech Eretz. We needed someone who could talk about despair, even his own, who gave you more leeway in which to operate. That doesn't make him a Torah Im Derech personality in the Hirschian sense but maybe in the 20th century sense of it. R' Hirsch talked often about God as a loving God. The Rav even called God a friend. I believe that was needed for many in our era. This stuff isn't simple.

The main thing is to formulate a TIDE that works constructively for you, that inspires you to be your best. Today, it's highly personalized. You really have to work at it.

It's my view that contemporary Modern Orthodoxy is not Hirschian. Same goes for Haredism. The former is overly engaged with secular society. The latter hides not just from the world but oftentimes from life. This doesn't go well for people who work in an office 60 hours a week. It's hard to be motivated only by Torah study when you have only an hour a day for it.

Hirschianism is a wonderful alternative to these, containing elements of each. However, most people need to apply it to contemporary life - I call this application American Hirschian Torah Im Derech Eretz.

Monday, October 7, 2013

My Visit to Washington Heights

On Sunday, I stopped off at Breuer's for schacharis. I have been to the community once or twice before over the years but never with an eye for joining. In the past, it was a curiosity.

Would this yield something good or would it be disappointing? 

Oh my goodness, what a wonderful morning it was. First of all, I was impressed by the neighborhood. Where I live in New Jersey, you have a lot of fiberglass shingled houses that don't age very well. The newer buildings all have fake facades. You can't imagine them standing up to a good wind.

Conversely, upper Manhattan is built like a castle. Hurricane? No problem. Big bricks buildings with pretty designs all around them. It was impressive. The view of the Hudson and cliff rocks are attractive too.

I noted also that the A train takes you right you to Breuers, 2.5 shorts blocks away.

The outside of the shul is nice. It's not ornate like the upper East side synagogues, which are pre-War. Architecture changed vastly after the War, where beuax-arts seemed to go out of favor. But is isn't bland. It has a certain humble grandeur to it. Maybe dignity is the word. I don't own an architect's vocabulary, so I may not use the right words here, but the area around the steps, where the building juts out into an alcove, gives some dimension to it. The brick is classic color rather than the white or colored brick that in my view doesn't age very well. The brick has aged well. There is some nice design in the brick. There are some concrete or perhaps granite ornaments. I can never tell the difference. The iron fence gives you the Buckingham palace feel. In the suburbs it's all plastic. The reliefs of the tablets and menorahs give a nice decorative touch. There's a simplicity to it, a humility even. Yet it's sort of grand, if only by sheer size. I liked it.

Inside is really special. The shul has perfect proportions. I have seen shuls with odd shapes. This one was done really well, from the main area, to the lady's balcony. Really well done. The architect knew his stuff.

The aron kodesh is just beautiful. A dark mahogany wood. Not overly ornate like in so many shuls. It's quite large but not too much. Just right for the building. To either side are strips of blue glass. Again, not too much, but adding color. 

The whole room is grand yet cozy.

Most importantly, the people were the same. On the way up the stairs a gentleman greeted me and chatted a bit. Within 10 minutes, I was greeted by three more that asked if I needed anything. A Hirsch Chumash I said. He went and quickly got one. One sometimes hears that Germans have a reputation for being cold. Actually, I have not found that over the years even by gentile Germans. Rather, I have found them to be fairly friendly. Same here. I think the whole thing is a kenard. But more there was a manner of civility. It was noticeable. I don't know if I ever have had more people come up to me than I did here, certainly not in the span of 10 minutes.

One gentleman talked to me for about twenty minutes about the community once I told him of my interest. He gave me little tips about the minhagim, sensing that they would be knew to me.

We were talking about customs regarding milk and meat, the 3 hours. He said R' Schwab advised 6. I asked why and he called over another gentleman that R' Hirsch suggests the same in Horeb.

I couldn't believe I was having a discussion where the textual reference to a halachkic discussion was Horeb and not Mishneh Berurah. Note, they do have a MB class there.

I had my very worn copy of the Hirsch siddur with me, the one I have been carrying for 25 years, the first siddur I ever bought, the one with black tape on the side. So I didn't need their siddurim. Neverthless, I was over the moon to see a wall of Hirsch siddurim. A man who was grabbing a siddur of his own, an Artscroll, joked to me, 'feels like sacrilege.' I didn't understand. 'Using an Artscroll here,' he explained. I laughed.

The place was in good shape and very organized. The light switches are all numbered and color coded. The books are in order. The front door contains a neat and clean sign with times for davening and classes. 

There was only one yarzheit light on and checking it I noted that it actually had the day's date. Well the next day's date, it was the 3rd of Cheshvon, while the day was the 2nd. But I wouldn't be surprised at all to find out that they turn on the relevant ones for the whole week.

I certainly got the feel of German Orthodoxy during my little visit. There were shirium going on, yet there was a sense of the complete Judaism, including derech eretz and mitzvot. I was so happy. I raced home to tell my wife. Now I'm telling the world.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Not Time Bound

"Torah im Derech Eretz ... is not part of troubled, time bound notions; it represents the ancient, traditional wisdom of our sages that has stood the test everywhere and at all times." (Gesammelte Schriften vi p. 221)

Broad Definition

"Derech Eretz includes everything that results from the fact that man's existence, mission and social life is conducted on Earth, using earthly means and conditions. Therefore this term especially describes ways of earning a livelihood and maintaining the social order. It also includes the customs and considerations of etiquette that the social order generates as well as everything concerning humanistic and civil education"

R' Hirsch on Pirkei Avot

Friday, October 4, 2013

Maharal: TIDE is not Torah u'Parnassah

"Maharal, Judah Loew (1525–1609), points out that Derech Eretz is not limited to "earning a living"; rather the concept encompasses hanhaga tiv`it, "operating in the natural world". Here, Maharal in his Derech Chaim comments on the later Mishna, Avoth 3:20, which discusses the interdependence of "Torah and flour (kemakh)" as well as the interdependence of "Torah and Derech Eretz". Kemakh, flour, clearly refers to monetary livelihood (with Torah referring to spiritual livelihood). Thus, Derech Eretz refers to more than just "earning a livelihood" and includes the knowledge and skills that facilitate success in the "world of Nature"."

from Wikipedia

רבי אלעזר בן עזריה אומר, אם אין תורה, אין דרך ארץ; אם אין דרך ארץ, אין תורה. אם אין חכמה, אין יראה; אם אין יראה, אין חכמה. אם אין דעת, אין בינה; אם אין בינה, אין דעת. אם אין קמח, אין תורה; אם אין תורה, אין קמח.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What Is TIDE?

"Judaism is not an appurtenance to life, and to be a Jew is not part of the mission of life. Judaism encompasses life in its entirety. To be a Jew is a sum of our life's mission-in synagogue and in kitchen; in field and in counting-house; in the office and on the speaker's platform; like father, like mother, like son, like daughter; like servant, like master; as man, as citizen, in thought and in feeling, in word and in deed, in times of pleasure, in hours of abstinence; with needle as with chisel or with pen. To be a Jew--in a life which in its totality is borne on the word of the Lord and is perfected in harmony with the will of God-this is the scope and goal of Judaism. Since Judaism encompasses the whole of man and in keeping with its explicit mission, proclaims the happiness of the whole of mankind, it is improper to confine its teachings within the "four ells" of the house of study or of the home of the Jew. Insofar as the Jew is a Jew, his views and objectives become universal. He will not be a stranger to anything which is good, true and beautiful in art and in science, in civilization and in learning. He will greet with blessing and joy everything of truth, justice, peace, and the ennobling of man, wherever it be revealed He will hold firmly to this breadth of view in order to fulfill his mission as a Jew and to live up to the function of his Judaism in areas never imagined by his father. He shall dedicate himself with joy to every true advance in civilization and enlightenment. But all this on condition that he be never obliged to sacrifice his Judaism at any new level but rather fulfill it with even greater perfection."

R' Samson Raphael Hirsch, 1854
Statement Against Reform

Quoted in Guardians of Our Heritage, p. 290