Monday, May 19, 2014

Even More on Separation

The blog has received several comments on my attempt to explain R' Breuer's view that Austritt was not limited to Hirsch's kehilla. I even go so far as saying that the idea can apply to Orthodox groups - on an organizational, not a personal level. To me this explains the avoidance of the official Breuer's kehilla from YU, even though the two are separated by 1/3 of a mile. Some commenters have countered that the cool relationship between the two had nothing to do with Austritt but to other factors. However, elaboration on what constituted those factors has not been forthcoming.

Owllake has pondered that disagreement between R' Solomon Breuer and R' Chaim Soloveitchik on the Agudas policy towards Zionism may have started off a kind of familial squabble that lived on in Washington Heights. I would hope that Hatfield and McCoy type hostility would not affect community policy.

Aaron Rakeffet tells the story of how R' Breuer was brought to the USA by Bernard Revel of YU and while appreciating that likely life saving gesture, R' Breuer was greatly displeased by what he observed on the campus, particularly the educational content in some of the classes. To me, this is the more likely explanation. YU housed one of the greatest collection of scholars in the world, in addition to Rabbi Soloveitchik. You'd think that the Breuer's yeshiva could have utilized this to attract students, rather than watch so many of its youth march off to Lakewood. I would argue that the Torah u'Maddah approach was not acceptable to R' Breuer and overtook any possible benefits from an educational association between the two places. I admit that this is conjecture.

Whatever the real story there, I still argue that a kind of separation, even if we don't call it Austritt, is necessary today and even to Orthodox groups. I thought of a metaphor to explain it. Remember Odysseus and the sirens from the Iliad? Here's how describes the story:
A siren call means something that is alluring. It is dangerous and potentially deadly. Even if you know better, the siren call is hard to resist. In Greek mythology, the sirens who allured were sea nymphs beguiling enough to begin with, but with even more enticing voices.
In Odyssey Book XII Circe warns Odysseus about the dangers he will face at sea. One of these is the Sirens. In the adventure of the Argonauts, Jason and his men faced the danger of the Sirens with the help of the singing of Orpheus. Odysseus has no Orpheus to drown out the lovely voices, so he orders his men to stuff their ears with wax and tie him to a mast so he can't escape, but can still hear them singing.
When a person opens his ears to the enticing voices of the larger world, he needs something to hold him back, lest he leap to his death in the sea. As I have written, the Chabad shliach is safe running a Chabad house in Madrid because his focus is exclusively on Chabad. His clothing, his look, his mindset is all Chabad, so he's not enticed by Madrid. The Torah Im Derech Eretz person is open to the good of Spanish culture, so he needs something to hold him back lest he get too drawn in as some groups in the Orthodox world do.


  1. Lot of food for thought here.

    I don't know that there were such strong tension between R' Chaim Soloveitchik and R' Shlomo Breuer, but both certainly had strong views on several political issues that came to a head during the formation of Agudas Yisrael. R' Yosef Breuer's outlook may well have been colored by his father's experience. The history of the Breuer family relationship with Agudah, both in the US and in Israel, is probably worthy of several doctoral dissertationd.

    I suspect, however, that the problems with YU were more focused on the religious Zionist nature of the institution. When R' Rakeffet talks about the "educational content" of the classes, he's almost certainly referring to the teaching of Agnon, not the teaching of Greek philosophy. KAJ's early anti-Zionist stance was a bright-line boundary for the first 40 years of the kehilla's existence. This was a significant factor in the early years of the Yeshiva as well, since R' Breuer refused to start his yeshiva in space offered by R' Weinberg of Yeshivas R' Moshe Soloveichik, since the latter institution prominently featured an Israeli flag and the singing of Hatikvah.

    In later years, as KAJ adopted a more "standard American yeshivish" mindset, this aspect seems to have petered out, and the kehilla seems to take a much more neutral stance on Zionism (this might also be due to the fact that the religious Zionist movement has much less obvious sway in the modern Orthodox community as well, but that's a discussion for another time).

    The issue of filtering is much more nuanced and complex, and I don't think you do yourself any favors by putting it under the rubric of "Austritt." Almost nobody would argue that there should be some limits to how far a TIDE person should immerse in secular culture. The far more interesting argument is based on where those limits should be set, and by whom.

  2. Hirsch talks about accepting the good parts of secular wisdom. So how would that include the traife parts? Rakeffet doubts that the IRG would study Greek mythology. Now that may not even be true because I recall reading on Dr. Levine's site a story about kids in the IRG studying exactly that and saying they didn't take it seriously. Nevertheless, Rakeffet also stresses the TIDE filtering mechanism. Is that in your view just part of TIDE and not Austritt or are you saying there is no filtering? Seems to me there was lots of filtering and that's where it differs from TuM.

    When R' Breuer said that Austritt and TIDE are two sides of the same coin, what then was he talking about - Zionism and association with the non-religious groups only?

    Austritt means separation or withdrawal. So then maybe it's just me using the term to talk about care with secular studies. But so what? I believe the term helps to keep TIDE tidy.

  3. I believe in using technical terms in as precise and accurate a manner as possible, which is why I dislike using the term "Austritt" to mean "filtering." "Austritt" means secession or dissociation, and, in the Hirschian worldview, very explicitly refers to active non-participation with any non-Orthodox society on any official level.

    I do not believe that R' Breuer wrote any significant articles on how to apply Austritt in 20th-century America. He did write several pieces on how to apply TIDE, including the need for filtering.

    I believe that filtering at some level is absolutely necessary as a part of chinuch for young children. Contemporary American society, as a whole, accepts activities that are antithetical to a Torah life. One may argue that this is so pervasive that TIDE is no longer applicable at all. On the other hand, if one believes that Orthodox Jews are responsible to engage modern society, then the filters have to come off at some point, and we need to trust the combination of chinuch and community to keep our members in line.

    R' Hirsch never really dealt directly with social filtering. His community's German culture was a conservative, old-school, high society type. R' Hirsch never founded a religious college, nor did he ever (to the best of my knowledge) provide a vision for one, so it's impossible to know what he thought about protecting older students and adults from corrupting secular influence.

    The TIDE/TuM is, to my reading, a distraction. TuM is not well-defined as a Jewish philosophy; it is the motto of a specific educational institution. YU does not have a particular hashkafa: it offers a magnificently broad range of religious and secular studies, and invites students to combine them as they see fit. This provides tremendous benefits and challenges; however, in my opinion, it operates on an entirely different plane of existence than TIDE.

    1. TuM may be the motto of the institution but is consciously practice by a subset of it, so it is no less a working philosophy than the IRG's TIDE.

      You sound like a practitioner of TuM who wants to claim identity as TIDE. I would say that filtering is not just for children. Adults are vulnerable too.

      Perhaps my definitions are overly influenced by Rakeffet's lectures. I have to figure out how he determined that TIDE has filtering.

      As for Austritt, I checked with an expert who told me that Austritt is as you say concerned with avoidance of non-religious organizations. So I'm going to change the title of these posts. However, I'd still like to know, why did R Breur stay totally away from YU. He could have formed alliances that would have strengthened the appeal of his yeshiva.