Monday, September 29, 2014

Wisdom from the Gentiles: Excellence in a Relaxed State

"I try to relax as much as I can. Playing this game, I'm not afraid to fail. I don't like it, and after I do it I don't want to talk about it, but I'm not afraid of it, so every time I'm in a situation I try to think about times I've been successful and I try to relax." Baseball player Derek Jeter

I don't know that this is the approach to use with mitzvos, but it might be with many of the secular parts of our lives like parnassah. Also, it's not the ideal mindset for a person who is overly lackadaisical. But many Yidden are so intense about their religious lives that they come on too strong in the other parts of their lives. For intense people, the approach can be helpful.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Linked Post: A Peculiar Point in Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch's Essays on Education

Linked Post: A Peculiar Point in Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch's Essays on Education, Elliot Resnick from

"Despite the rhetoric emanating from certain camps of Orthodox Judaism, studying secular knowledge lishmah-knowledge for knowledge's sake-is a widely accepted notion among Jewish thinkers. In fact, virtually none of the great Jewish personalities who discuss the value of secular knowledge-from Rav Saadiah Gaon and Rambam to Rav Kook and Rav Soloveitchik-speak of its utilitarian value. Rambam does not praise Aristotle's philosophy for its salary-increasing powers, nor does Rav Kook laud university studies because of their utility in getting into a good law school.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch is a classic example of this knowledge-lishmah school of thought. Not only does he extol the spiritual value of secular studies, he explicitly derides those who see knowledge as a tool in advancing one's career. Two quotations (many more can be adduced) from his essays should suffice to establish this point. In "The Relevance of Secular Studies," Rav Hirsch writes:

[A]ny supporter of education and culture should deplore the fact that when these secular studies are evaluated in terms of their usefulness to the young, too much stress is often placed on so-called practical utility and necessity. Under such circumstances, the young are in danger of losing the pure joy of acquiring knowledge for its own sake, so that they will no longer take pleasure in the moral and spiritual benefits to be obtained by study."

Continue reading

Monday, September 22, 2014

On Zionism

When Israel was still united in a common land they did not call themselves Am, one people, for the reason that one common soil bore them all. For, alone among all the peoples of the earth, the possession of the land and the ensuing organization of the State was for Israel not an end but a means to the better fulfilment of their Jewish duties. The Torah did not exist for the State, but the State for the Torah. And only the Torah, the idea of being joint bearers of a spiritual calling, fused the individuals into an association of human beings whose inner cohesiveness is reflected in the term (literally, society) and whose character in the wider sense as a nation is designated by the term גוי that is to say, a corporate body or a people.

And even later on, far away from her land, when Israel sees her visible bonds of nationhood broken, the dispersed Jews call themselves Am, one nation, not in remembrance of a land once jointly possessed, not looking towards the future when God, as His words through the prophets teach us, will once more have united them, but in the consciousness of being, in the present as in the past, bearers of an eternal idea, an eternal mission, and of a God-given destiny which, in Israel, overshadowed, and still overshadows, the existence of the State, and which therefore has survived the State's downfall. We mourn over the sin which brought about that downfall, we take to heart the harshness which we have encountered in our years of wandering as the chastisement of a father imposed on us for our improvement, and we mourn the lack of observance of the Torah which that ruin has brought about. Not in order to shine as a nation among nations do we raise our prayers and hopes for a reunion in our land, but in order to find a soil for the better fulfilment of our spiritual vocation in that reunion and in the land which was promised, and given, and again promised for our observance of the Torah. But this very vocation obliges us, until God shall call us back to the Holy Land, to live and to work as patriots wherever He has placed us, to collect all the physical, material and spiritual forces and all that is noble in Israel to further the weal of the nations which have given us shelter. It obliges us, further, to allow our longing for the far-offland to express itself only in mourning, in wishing and hoping; and only through the honest fulfilment of all Jewish duties to await the realization of this hope. But it forbids us to strive for the reunion or the possession of the land by any but spiritual means.' Our Sages say God imposed three vows when He sent Israel into the wilderness: (I) that the children ofIsrael shall never seek to re-establish their nation by themselves; (2) that they shall never be disloyal to the, nations which have given them shelter; (3) that these nations shall not oppress them excessively (Kethuboth, III, I). The fulfilment of the first two vows is confirmed in the pages of history; about the third, the nations concerned must judge themselves.

R' SR Hirsch, Horeb 608


“When, during the reign of Hadrian, the uprising led by Bar Kochba proved a disastrous error, it became essential that the Jewish people be reminded for all times of another important fact; namely, that Israel must never again attempt to restore its national independence by its own power; it was to entrust its future as a nation solely to Divine Providence. Therefore when the nation, crushed by this new blow, had recovered its breath and hailed even the permission to give a decent burial to the hundreds of thousands who had fallen about Betar as the dawn of a better day, the sages who met at Yavneh added yet another blessing to the prayer for the restoration of Jerusalem. This fourth blessing is an acknowledgement that it has always been G-d and G-d alone Who has given us, and still gives us to this very day, that good in which we have had cause to rejoice; and that for future good, too, we may look to none other but G-d, and none besides Him." 

R' Samson Raphael Hirsch, Commentary to the Prayer Book, p. 703


There was a need to impress upon the mind of the Israelite who possessed freedom and land the value of the Torah. There was a need to proclaim to the State as a whole and to each individual in it: "The land which you own, the fields which bloom for you and the fruits which ripen for you--these are not your gods and your goods, these do not constitute you a nation nor are they the objects of your strivings as people and individuals. All these have been given to you for the sake of the Torah; for the sake of the Torah you possess them, and without the Torah you would lose them. All this land with its abundance of milk and honey, and all the rich and free national life which flourishes on it, are only a means and have only one object, namely, with this freedom and abundance to develop a communal, collective and individual life such as your God and Master has prescribed for you in the Torah." To impress on our minds and hearts this unconditional value of the Torah and the conditional value of all other possessions--this was the purpose of the ספירה of the days and weeks which  ואחד ב"ד וכל אחד , both the heads of the community and every individual in Israel מהחל חרמש בקמה had to count from the first setting of the sickle to the corn up to מתן תורה to the festival of the giving of the Law. 

In course of time Israel forgot this counting. It ceased to count up to its Torah and to see in the Torah the principal element in its national existence. It began to look for freedom and independence to its land and soil, to which it had the same right of possession as any other people to its own land. It imagined that it was entitled to count by its land, that it could dispense with the Torah and retain bread and soil, freedom and independence without the Torah, and "Judah's gods became as numerous as his cities". Then it lost land and soil, freedom and independence, saving nothing but the Torah up to which it counted no more in the land itself, and it wandered in strange lands for two thousand years. The seasons go round, the sun shines and the dew falls, but for the Jew no seeds sprout, no fields bloom, he no more puts the sickle to his own corn. And why? Because he wanted his activities to end with this sickle, and he was not willing to begin from this sickle to count to his Torah. From the time that he deified the sickle he lost the sickle! 

R' Samson Raphael Hirsch, "Iyar," Judaism Eternal, Vol. I, p. 80-1.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Order in the Synogogue

“Physically, the Kehilla’s German-Jewish character is immediately visible in the Synagogue. Extensive chapters in the Shulchan Aruch stress the vital importance of cleanliness, order, and dignity in the Synagogue. Thus, these aspects in themselves have little to do with a specific “German Jewishness.”

"Our Way," R' Joseph Breuer

Sounds contradictory I know. I think what he's saying here is, yes German Jewry is known for order and cleanliness and you see that in the synagogue. Nevertheless, these ideals are from halahka. Thus, we can say that the order in the synagogue isn't just German, it's halahkic and German Jews excel in it.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Defender of Mitzvot

"Strangely enough the same line of reasoning [of Rabbi Hirsch's, in his criticism of Rambam and his rationalism] resulted in condemnation of both mysticism and rationalism for their non-humanistic ideals. For the rationalist the knowledge of God, and not the practical consequences of the Mitzvot, constitutes the highest desideratum of religious living. … For Hirsch, the Mitzvot must serve the eternal purpose and task of Israel, the mission to humanity. The higher purpose that Maimonides finds in religion is unacceptable to his zeal for the humanistic conception of Mitzvot."

Rabbi Howard I. Levine "Enduring and Transitory Elements in the Philosophy of Samson Raphael Hirsch" (Tradition 5:2, Spring 1963)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe on Hirsch, Breuer, and Breuer

"The definition of a gadol be'Yisrael is one who is great in Torah and great in piety, one whose personal views and conduct are based exclusively on those twin pillars. Such a person is acknowledged as a peer by the other great men of his era. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch was revered by the Chassidic leaders of Galicia and by the rabbis of Lithuania. That his views did not accord with theirs was immaterial; his philosophy grew out of his G-d-fearing understanding of Torah, and therefore it was legitimate for him. So it was with Rabbi Salomon Breuer and so it was with Rabbi Joseph Breuer. Their greatness transcended community. They belonged to Klal Yisrael, so they were honored by Klal Yisrael, all of it."

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe

From Jewish Observer Article

Full article