Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Battle for Ashkenaz

I once heard the advice that if a person finds out what he wants to do with his life he needs to keep it to himself because if you tell other people "they'll try to kill it".

This month I had two unpleasant encounters with people on the matter of Rav Hirsch and whether or not his teachings were emergency measures ('horah sha'ah.') I could probably explain it, but not precisely, the phenomena of some people who try to stamp R' Hirsch in such a way. It's bizarre how automatic is this impulse of people who don't even know each other to go on this diatribe almost in unison. They have nothing evident to gain and little knowledge about the topic. They go about it as if it were a religious duty. But they don't have much to go by other than counterfeit coins of misunderstanding, to paraphrase R' Hirsch.

My view on the different derachim is that Hashem formed different tribes and different paths for which one purpose is an exercise in tolerance, respect for gadolim whose thoughts don't match one's own, and the humility required for all of this. But there might even be a bigger reason for it, which is that Hashem is big and broad and so is the universe He created and so is the Torah, which has to be at least as complex as physics and chemistry. When I hear of other derachim my first impulse is not to stamp them out but to say how wondrous are our people and our Torah.

While many in the Charedi world have a certain bemused respect for Sephardim and Yemenites, they might be generally pretty intolerant of anything closer to home. Perhaps we can call this the battle for Ashkenaz. Who defines it?

Must there be one definition? Ashkenaz is more than 1,000 years old. Different legitimate paths will emerge.

I wonder if today our faith is so weak that we substitute ideology for faith and polemics for deveiykus.

I wrote in my article "Long, Lonely Journey to the Rav" (Tradition) how in my early days in the frum world I encountered numerous people who tried to steer me from studying Rav Soloveitchik and from seeing Rav Hirsch as anything other than a commentator on Chumash and fighter of reform. 25 years have passed and I have learned to keep my visions to myself but on the occasions when I slip I have the pleasure of reliving the past and seeing what a challenge it was in those early days to nurture my instincts and thoughts and pursue a path other than the prevailing one.

I post right at the top of this website R' Breuer's assertion that Torah Im Derech Eretz was not an emergency measure. I put it there to remind myself and everyone else because the revisionists are as relentless as they are ignorant.

As R' Schwab tells us, whether it's an emergency measure or not, it's needed today as our era is much like Rav Hirsch's. The problem is that the labeling of TIDE as an emergency measure pushes people away from it. If you are going to change your life, why go halfway? Only after a person has collapsed for the 1,000th time is he willing to just do what he needs to survive even with a path that could be less than ideal. Of course, R' Schwab reminds us that Torah Im Derech Eretz is a chumrah not a kulah. It is ideal. In many ways it is the harder path. This is a whole complicated subject in itself but not the point here.

The point is that people need to put a muzzle on their mouths. As a man once told me, don't sleep with your head under big rocks. If R' Schach and the Lubavitcher Rebbe want to fight it out, that's their business. You just go about yours and stay out of it.

Today, we all boast of our alleged respect for gadolim. Such is in vogue. If you want to find out who really means it, watch what they do when they hear that a Jew is a following a course different from theirs, a course crafted by a great man or men or an entire class of good Jews. Will they inquire about it in genuine curiosity or will they attack, imposing on it their will via yellow belt karate with just enough knowledge to do harm to themselves and everyone else.

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