Sunday, July 19, 2015

the Tafel to the Ikkur

“…Other disciplines are to be regarded as auxiliary; they are to be studied only if they are capable of aiding Torah study and are subordinated to it as the tafel to the ikkur. The Torah’s truths must remain for us what is absolute and unconditional, the standard by which to measure all the results obtained in other branches of knowledge. Only that which accords with the truths of the Torah can be accepted by us as true. The Torah should be our sole focus: All that we absorb and create intellectually should be considered from the perspective of the Torah and should proceed along its paths. Accordingly, we will not adopt ideas that are not in consonance with this perspective; we will not accept conclusions derived from others’ premises and mix them with words of Torah." 19 Letters, R. Hirsch

This quote silences the notion that R' Hirsch viewed Jewish and secular studies as being of equal importance. So what about his educational program as described in the articles in Judaism Eternal. I have to propose that the heavy emphasis there on secular studies, the apparent 50/50 split, was a result of government and community pressures. The former were much more significant than people may realize and the latter were too. R' Hirsch was trying to build a community that started with a few dozen people and had only non-religious to drawn from. He wasn't dictating rules to the Borough Park community, building a shul there and trying to attract frum people from other shuls. He was doing kiruv in an environment of wild and ferocious assimilation.

I think that this quote serves also to rebut the article "A Peculiar Point in Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch's Essays on Education". What that article does is focus on the general terms that R' Hirsch uses in some of his exhortations about the importance of education and take it to mean that he valued Torah and secular equal. I would propose that language choice may simply have been different in R' Hirsch's day. We live in a world so drenched with secular education that we are more careful to throw the word Torah in front of our sentences. Also, R' Hirsch was doing kiruv so he may have not wanted to press his point too bluntly. But the quote about ikur and toffel should show us that while he saw some value in secular education the value was clearly secondary and servile to that of Torah.

My own view is that much of secular studies is unnecessary for frum kids as they get the particular educational disciplines from their Torah studies. While people need a sense of history, they don't need to be experts in American history. Jewish kids get plenty of history from Jewish studies. Same with law and literature. Nobody needs to read F. Scott Fitzgerald. They need to know about metaphor and characters. Frum kids get that from Tanach. I'd say that math, science, and business are the only liberal arts style material frum kids really need. Of course, who is teaching business, maybe the most relevant of all secular subjects? That would violate what seems almost a world-wide plot to keep the masses ignorant about money. But that's another discussion.

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