Thursday, April 30, 2015


The relationship of many the faculty of Yeshiva University with Torah Im Derech Eretz is complicated. As many look to Hirsch and TIDE as the basis, or a major point of origin, for Modern Orthodoxy, they respect Hirsch. But also as practitioners of Torah u'Maddah, some tend to regard TIDE with some condescension as an American youth might look at his "simple" bobe from the shtetl.

I give as an example R' Aaron Rakeffet's depiction of the differences between TIDE and TuM. Rabbi Rakeffet, who has produced several fine books and even more interesting classes, has many times expressed his admiration for R' Hirsch and for German Orthodoxy. But a certain oversimplification of his assessment of TIDEs relationship with secular studies surfaces too. He's correct, I believe, in portraying TIDE with meaningful filters on the secular material, but he exaggerates and makes TIDE seem almost as if it consists of "thought control" and lack of "freedom of thought, freedom of speech" -  words he used in his discussion of the contrast between the two to say what YU did not want to be.

Witness this statement from his recording entitled "2006-12-25 Rabbi Joseph Breuer (and how Rav Hirsch differed in thought from Rav Soloveitchik concluded)":

"The Rav would be totally in favor. He says it openly. I quote him word by word. He does not want a catholic college. He does not want thought control. The Yeshiva has to be a real yeshiva. It has to be like Volozhin, like Brisk. And the College has to be like Harvard, like Yale, like Brown, like U of P. It has to be a proper college, university. Freedom of thought, freedom of research, freedom of speech. Two totally different viewpoints. And that's why the Rav said he loves Yeshiva University. And if I can illustrate it, this problem came up time and again. In my time, a group of students - I was already a Rebbe, I was already a Rosh Yeshiva, so the kids were carrying on why we have to study Greek literature, Greek, what do you call it, Greek mythology. Students were carrying on. I mean I also studied Greek mythology in my time. But we didn't question. I don't know. We, in the 1950s,  didn't question like the 1960s, for better for worse. These kids made an appointment to see the Rav. By the 1960s the Rav I don't have to tell you the Rav was the Rav. The 50s and 60s, the Rav already was the Rav. It's not like the 30s and 40s. And the Rav grants them an audience. I'll use the word audience. And the kids go into the Rav. How can we learn about learn about Greek mythology. They kill, they rob, they steal, they rape, they seduce, they lie, they do so many horrible things. And the Rav threw them out head first. What's the matter, you don't want to be educated. Without understanding Greek mythology, you cannot understand the roots of our civilization of the Greek and Roman civilization. And our civilization, and the classic civilization. And you have to be educated. This is what education is all about. The Rav threw them out head first. I can assure you had they gone into Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch with the same request, Greek mythology would  have immediately been struck from the curriculum."  (Audio) 32 minutes in.

The depiction here of Rav Hirsch's educational philosophy is somewhat simplistic. The children at his school did learn about Greece and Greek mythology. See here an account of a school committee member's visit to the classroom as told by the son a student who was in the room:

"This gentleman once attended a lesson about Greece, its history and its culture. He was neither well acquainted with with Jupiter and Pallas Athene nor with Mars and Hermes, and he listened with growing bewilderment. Suddenly he said, "Herr Doktor, may I ask a question?" "Of course," the teacher replied. "Children", said the visitor in great excitement, "I hope you don't believe it." The children laughed, and the teacher reassured this best friend of the school that the subject under consideration could not do any harm." Memories of Frankfurt, Hermann Schwab, pp. 8-9

Hermann Schwab's father, born in 1846, was one of the school's first students. So this visit occurred in the time of Rav Hirsch. Hermann Schwab's essay tells of his own encounters with Rav Hirsch.
Yes, in TIDE open apikorsis such as higher biblical criticism was not taught, whereas in YU it could be as Rabbi Rakeffet himself points out with several examples. However, as we see, we should not make assumptions about what the restrictions at Hirsch's schools entailed. This incident was not at a college as the IRG had no college. It wasn't even at a yeshiva gadolah but in the day school for kids.

R' Hirsch was very broad minded. He wasn't paranoid. He avoided immediate and immanent threats with such measures as not employing non-religious Jews as teachers, lest the heresy of the day find its way into the classroom. Yet, the requirements for shul membership were minimal - marriage according to halacha, a bris for oneself and one's sons (Klugman, p. 184)

I sent my little finding to Rabbi Rakeffet and he sent back a nice reply which said basically that the studies at YU in Greek mythology were quite intensive, a full course whereas at Hirsch's school they were perfunctory. Thus, he wasn't trying to say that R' Hirsch banned the topic altogether, just that he kept it brief. I can accept that answer; although we still have this quote, "Freedom of thought, freedom of research, freedom of speech. Two totally different viewpoints."

This only affirms my orientation as a TIDE person rather than a TIDE as I'd like to know about the Greek history with a brief overview of the mythology but wouldn't want to study it extensively. In my high school we spent months on Greek mythology and were forced to memorize the names of hundreds of their deities. I did not appreciate it. In college, I took a course in Greek Civilizations and again, it was way too much detail for me. I found all the killing and plotting very unpleasant and not particularly useful.

I'll still say that some at YU condescend towards the German community to some extent even as they admire it. But that's only fair as the other side of Washington Heights does the same towards YU.


  1. Good job.

    Popular, entertaining lecturers, speaking off the cuff, are not necessarily totally accurate.

  2. Thanks I was waiting for a comment on that. I was proud to have scored a good rebuttal, a Marshall McLuhan moment if you are familiar with the reference.

  3. higher biblical criticism was taught in generalities at Yu so that students should know what its about, not for advocacy purposes.

    also, cassuto's book rejecting it was required reading.