Monday, October 31, 2016

Torah Im Derech Eretz from Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik

"There are religiously committed Jews who are indifferent to
the concerns of the larger non-Jewish society. They are content
to reside in isolated communities with unconcern, if not actual
disdain, for the Gentile world and for the problems which afflict
humanity. This introversion can be explained as a reaction to
the centuries-old derision and persecution which have been the
Jewish historical experience and to which they were subjected
with particular ferocity in modern times. Nowadays, there are
particular aspects of moral perversion afflicting the general
society which are repellant to Jewish sensibilities. Nevertheless,
this insularity cannot be vindicated as authentic Judaism even if
it can be understood and justified in particular historical periods
and situations. "

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Man of Faith in the Modern World, p. 73.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

More on The Importance on Fluency in Hebrew

“In Israel, the language of the Siddur, the language of the Chumash, the language of the Tanach is the lingua franca and the most secular Israeli can read Chumash with a little bit of work better than a kid who has gone to day school here [in Canada] for whatever years. A little bit of work just to get the syntax, etc. But Hebrew is – I believe this strongly –  Hebrew is the key to almost everything in Judaism from a skill set perspective. If you have Hebrew – many of us grew up in an Ivrit b'Ivrit generation and that is not the case now, there's a sense of oh if I teach in Hebrew I won't be able to teach as much Gemara, I won't be able to taech the Ramban and the Rashi the same way. To me it seems like once a person has the real skills in Hebrew they'll get the other thing. It was a wrong educational turn [moving away from instruction in Hebrew], but there are reasons for that.”

Professor Adam Ferziger, “Between East and West Israeli Religious Zionism and American Modern Orthodoxy,” 9:06, Audio lecture at Torah In Motion.

The Torah Im Derech Eretz of Rabbi Soloveitchik - An Example

"The aftermath of Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and the attack on the Palestinian refugee camps by Lebanese Christians, left a moral stain on Israel. In the Knesset there was a demand for a thorough inquiry into the massacres and a clarification if Israel was in any way responsible. The left wing political parties were in favor of the inquiry. The right wing parties were opposed to it. Mizrachi joined them in opposing any inquiry. Rav Soloveitchik was informed of the position taken by Mizrachi. A vote was scheduled for a Sunday. The Rav called Rabbi Friedman at the Jewish Agency and instructed him to call Israel in his name and to demand that Mizrachi vote for the resolution. The Rav said that it is not a political issue but a moral one and Mizrachi had to act morally. So insistent was the Rav that he told Rabbi Friedman to call Israel on Shabbat to convey his message! The call was an halachic order by the Rav to Rabbi Friedman. The call was made on Shabbat. Mizrachi voted for the inquiry."

Orthodoxy Awakens, The Belkin Era and Yeshiva University, Victor Geller, p. 258

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Yeshivos Must Teach Hebrew Language

"The indispensable basis of all is knowledge of the language, the mother tongue and the tongue of the Torah. From an early age every child in Israel should become familiar concurrently with the language of his country and with that of the writings which are to guide his life, -namely, Hebrew. In and from these writings he should derive his understanding of things and their relations, from them his ideas should be illustrated and clarified, from an early age his spiritual life should be developed by them. Anyone who realizes how a man's whole way of thinking takes its stamp and colouring from the language in which he speaks and thinks will agree with our Sages in regarding it as a matter of some consequence that the child should learn the holy language of the Scripture at an early age.' With it you place in his hands the key to realizing that the Scriptures ought to be the basis and source of his life, and also to making them actually his constant companions in life. Begin, therefore, with the language, and let him first read the Torah more with a view to enriching his knowledge of the language." 
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb 551 

Does this necessarily mean grammar and conversation? I know numerous American yeshiva bochurim who are not comfortable with Hebrew. They can manage some of the Rambam, which is easier Hebrew, and some Gemara Rashi, but there are all kinds of books that they cannot read. This after twenty years in school! A neighbor of mine tested some boys in a local mesivta in America and found that they could not read simple Hebrew text. And by read I mean understand, translate. The Orthodox Jewish world is the only society I know of that defines reading as saying words without understanding them. Anywhere else that is called illiteracy.

We are a people that describes itself as being built around scholarship. One day a week we don't allow children to play with balls because we want them to study instead - all day. We don't build ball fields in Charedi neighborhoods because we want the children to study. We pray two hours a day in Hebrew. How many Jews can read that Hebrew? I know numerous cheder children that pray without understanding a word! What is prayer if you don't understand the words? We must teach grammar. I go to shiur after shiur that consists of the maggid shiur racing through a sentence of Hebrew and translating. One does not learn Hebrew that way. The brain turns on for the English, shuts off for the Hebrew, probably not grasping much in either tongue. It's like listening to a message coming through a bad short wave radio connection. I heard an interview with a graduate of the Realschule in Frankfurt where he talked about how the children there studied grammar. And here in Horeb, Rav Hirsch clearly calls for formal language instruction as the first of seven categories of a plan for education:

We may therefore tabulate the general subjects of instruction for Jewish youth as follows:

(I) Hebrew language.
(2)Vernacular.
Concurrently and as living languages at an early age along with general knowledge and development of the mind.
(3) Torah, Nevi'im and Kethuvim.....
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb 552 

He doesn't say to study Chumash with a translation. He says to study Hebrew language. It comes before Tanach! Why? Because you can't read a Hebrew text without knowing Hebrew well. And to know it well you must study it as a language, by itself so that it becomes a living language, which means a language one can speak. And as we know Rav Hirsch was not a Zionist. So he is not recommending Hebrew language proficiency so that one can make aliyah, something that did not exist in his day. He demands language study so that one can study Torah.

The Maharal also promoted study of grammar.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Linked Post: The Chofetz Chaim Teaches The Young Rav Shimon Schwab How To Be A Kohen - from Revach L'Neshama

"When Reb Shimon Schwab was a young bachur, he had the opportunity to visit the Chofetz Chaim.  In the course of the visit, the Chofetz Chaim asked him whether he was a Kohen or Yisrael.  R’ Schwab answered that he was a Yisrael.  The Chofetz Chaim then said, “I am a Kohen.  Do you know what difference it makes whether I am a Kohen or Yisrael?  When Moshiach comes we’ll all go up to Yerushalayim and we’ll all clamor to enter the Beis Hamikdash to bring karbonos and to perform the avodah.  We’ll run to the gates of the Beis Hamikdash and then suddenly we will be stopped.  I will be allowed to enter the Beis Hamikdash, but you will be forced to remain outside.  Those who are forced to wait outside will be extremely jealous of the Kohanim who were allowed in to perform the avodah.”

continue

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Monday, October 24, 2016

More on the Bais Yaakov Movement and Rav Hirsch

"The Nineteen Letters similarly affected Sarah Schenirer. From the first class she taught in the seminary until the last month of her life, Frau Schenirer taught The Nineteen Letters in one form or another. Over the years, hundreds of mimeographed copies of Rav Hirsch's writings were
used in the Cracow seminary. Furthermore, the entire Bais Yaakov curriculum was designed by Dr. Deutschlander, another ardent student of Rav Hirsch's writings."

Rebbetzin Vichna Kaplan: The Founder of the Bais Yaakov Movement in America by Danielle S. Leibowitz and Devora Gliksman, p. 81

"Vichna Kaplan (1913 – August 20, 1986) was an Orthodox Jewish teacher and school dean who, together with her husband Rabbi Boruch Kaplan, brought the Bais Yaakov movement to America. A prize pupil of Sarah Schenirer, the founder of Bais Yaakov in Poland, Kaplan opened the first Bais Yaakov High School in Williamsburg, New York, in 1938. She later opened the first Bais Yaakov Teachers Seminary, which provided teachers for all Bais Yaakov schools that subsequently opened in America and Israel." Wiki




Sunday, October 23, 2016

Choosing a Trade

So here's some tremendous advice from the Chovos HaLevavos (Duties of the Heart) on choosing a trade:
God gave the cat an instinct to catch mice, to the hawk to hunt birds, while other birds catch fish. Thus, ingrained in the nature of each animal species, there is a liking and desire for a special kind of vegetable or animal to serve it as its nourishment, as well as the means of getting them. Accordingly, God also provided them with certain body structures and parts, as, for instance, the lion's strong and sharp teeth and claws, or the long legs and bill of the bird that catches fish. On the other hand, animals whose food comes from the vegetable kingdom are not provided with hunting equipment. Similarly, God gave man certain aptitudes for securing a livelihood.
Therefore, man should follow his natural inclination when selecting the means to make a living. If he feels a desire for a special trade for which he is physically fit, he should choose that occupation as the means of gaining his livelihood, and be contented with its advantages and drawbacks. He should not quit even when times are bad, but rather trust in God that He will provide his sustenance.
(Chavas HaLevavas, cited in With All Your Heart, Rabbi S. Wagschal, p. 77)
So by way of illustration allow me a confessional moment where you may learn from my mistakes. I worked for a quarter of a century on Wall St. as a project manager in financial operations. I was miserable most of the time. I'm not a Wall St. guy. I don't care much about money. I don't care for the aggressiveness of the Wall St. culture. While I have some interest in computers and project management, it doesn't drive me. I made some friends that I treasure to this day, but can't say that I look back on the work with a sense of satisfaction. And the culture pretty much made me sick.

I wanted to be a social worker. What can I say - I like helping people and I find the intricacies of human lives to be very interesting. 

The Good Lord tried to help me to become a social worker. One evening years ago I got a phone call from a neighbor who worked on the board of a Brooklyn based charity. A home for developmentally disabled men needed a Shabbos manager to work with the Shabbos counselors who were all college students. I was in my thirties already and they needed somebody a little older to supervise.

I had never done this kind of work before, but I went down to Brooklyn to check it out. Walking for the first time into a home full of people with disabilities can be daunting and in this home many had severe disabilities: autism, severe retardation, severe cerebral palsy. I met some of the residents and tried my best to be natural with them as I took in all the information. I hope didn't look to awkward or afraid. I went home, couldn't stop thinking about them, and took the job.

I stayed there for six wonderful years until my full-time career - project management - took me to another city. I missed the social work, but felt that I had to stick with the project management because of its higher income earning potential - the costs of supporting a frum family being what they are.

There's more details to the story but the outcome of it is that I believe that I should have moved over to social work. I didn't go for the money out of any lust for money but rather the idealism of raising a Jewish family which today is expensive. Still, I believe I made a mistake. I didn't listen to the Chovos HaLevovos. He says to do the work that suits your nature and be satisfied with the advantages and disadvantages. I didn't do that. I'm not sure that many people in the yeshiva world do. I fear that the New York money culture has rubbed off on us and we don't think enough about finding work that suits our natures. We just go for the most money we can make. I know so many miserable baal habatim who hate their work. They stayed in kollel until the last minute, didn't plan for the future, and now just go for the money. In my view, the Chovos HaLevovos says not to do this.

Grumpy men don't inspire their families. It's a terrible thing for a child to see his father suffer, particularly when it's needless suffering.  I recall a talk by Rabbi Yitzchok Breitowitz of Ohr Somoyach where he lamented the cynicism that affects so many people in the yeshiva world. (He used the term 'yeshiva world.' In my view, that world has been replaced by the Charedi world which is not quite the same as the yeshiva world). I wonder how much of it comes from frustrations with choice of parnassa. It affects avodas Hashem and emunah. As Rabbi Avigdor Miller often said, Judaism is built on gratitude. If you are miserable all day long, you are not going to feel much gratitude. In the Western world today, a person can work in a field that suits him. This has been the case in the United States for decades. You don't need to suffer. Discover your nature, your skills, get some training, and go into work that suits you. In my opinion, so teaches the Chovos HaLevovos. Rav Hirsch tells us to study Torah "as a businessman, a tradesman, an artist, a doctor, or a scientist." Choose the trade that suits you.

I believe it's much more common for women to go into work they like. I remember in my dating days all the women who were getting graduate degrees in psychology and music therapy and art. I felt enormous jealousy. I know that the obligation of family support falls on the man, but I don't think this means a man is obligated to be miserable. It doesn't help anybody if he is. Rav Hirsch uttered words similar to that of the Duties of the Heart:
Capacity to earn a living and support himself. The attainments which are to fit the child for its future career must include also such knowledge and skill as will one day assure him the possibility of becoming self-supporting as you have been, also of forming a circle round himself and bringing into it possessions of his own, and, from this circle and with these possessions, of living a full life of justice and love; and so transmitting to the next generation what he has received from you. Therefore you have to take thought that your child will be provided with some business, some craft, some art, some profession, according to his disposition. All are equally worthy, provided they are honest and honourable." Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb 552
 "According to his disposition" is the phrase I'd like to highlight here. You'll see the phrase and again and again in Rav Hirsch's child rearing advice.

I know many people who go through life as if there's only one mitzvah out there and you know which one I'm talking about. Thus, choice of parnassah consists only of getting enough money for this mitzvah.

In my view, this is not the Torah Im Derech Eretz way. We have 613 mitzvos and having a healthy personality is part of it. Having a sense of satisfaction with one's work goes a long way to help make that happen. As Rav Hirsch says, "Cheerfully and purposefully he works at his chosen profession, and, the happier since the Sabbath-rest vouchsafes God's approval of his
activities during the week." (Jewish Joyfulness)

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Which is the Real Emergency Measure?

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

― George Orwell, 1984

This could also have been the introductory quote to my post about the horas ha'shah people, the ones who claim that Torah Im Derech Eretz was an emergency measure for 19th century Frankfurt. Today, the "Torah-only" philosophy dominates the non-Modern Orthodox world. I'm not coming today to criticize it because, even though it was never an approach for the masses, as the Gemara tells us, the traifus of much of the world today can make Torah only a valid emergency measure for the masses. I see this, by the way, as much in Israel as I did in America, maybe more because secular Israelis are so aggressive that their non-observance, which can be quite intense, can influence a person who is trying to be observant, influence in very significant ways.

So Torah-only has come to dominate the present. Unfortunately, this has lead to a rewriting of the past, and therefore a control of the future. The rewriting is the portrayal of Torah-only as being some kind of uniquely authentic, traditional derech, when we know that historically most Jews earned a living and used secular knowledge to do it. The Gemara's basic advice seems to be that Torah Im Derech Eretz is the best approach for most people.
Our Rabbis taught: 'And thou shalt gather in thy corn.' What is to be learnt from these words? Since it says, This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, I might think that this injunction is to be taken literally. Therefore it says, ‘And thou shalt gather in thy corn’, which implies that you are to combine the study of them with a worldly occupation. This is the view of R. Ishmael. R. Simeon b. Yohai says: Is that possible? If a man ploughs in the ploughing season, and sows in the sowing season, and reaps in the reaping season, and threshes in the threshing season, and winnows in the season of wind, what is to become of the Torah? No; but when Israel perform the will of the Omnipresent, their work is performed by others, as it says. And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks. etc., and when Israel do not perform the will of the Omnipresent their work is carried out by themselves, as it says, And thou shalt gather in thy corn. Nor is this all, but the work of others also is done by them, as it says. And thou shalt serve thine enemy etc. Said Abaye: Many have followed the advice of Ishmael, and it has worked well; others have followed R. Simeon b. Yohai and it has not been successful. (Berachos 35b, Soncino Translation)

This week I went to a site in Israel - Neot Kedumim - that tries to give visitors a sense of life in Mishnaic times. So you grind olives with a big press and you use a water wheel to gather water. 




And there's a technology to it, certainly a worldly knowhow that Rav Hirsch tells us was of interest to the scholars of the Gemara.
The prerequisite for the true fulfillment of God's laws is knowledge, as thorough as possible, of all the realities of human affairs on earth. For example, the writings of our Sages have preserved for us an immense treasury of such a variety of skills and arts as agriculture, cattle-breeding industry, commerce, pharmacology, dietetics etc. Therefore the true תלמיד חכם the true disciple of the Law's wisdom, can learn from every man: from the farmer and the shepherd, from the merchant and the artisan, from the physician and the housewife, and so forth, and it is said, מכל מלמדי השכלתי "From all those who have taught me, I have learned and acquired understanding." Everyone with whom I converse could become my teacher by reason of the skills of his calling and his experiences. And they became my teachers because Your testimony which ennoble all our lives were the theme of my speech and thought. Viewed in the light of Your testimonies, nothing human is base or vulgar. Every aspect of human life is lofty and ennobled."  Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch on Tehillim 119:99
Today many people seem to take pride in being completely ignorant of the world. But any visit to an historic site, even one of the 19th century, gives the sense that without worldly knowledge one would starve and shiver. It is only today in the world of a trillion dollar education industry that a Torah educator can think olive all comes from supermarkets rather than from olives which need to be pressed.

So the big game today is to pretend that scholars of old also knew nothing about the world. And by rewriting the past, the future is controlled too. Idealistic young people, particularly the spoiled ones of our generation that see all ideals as free and easy to achieve, pursue ideals. In Judaism, we look to the past for that more than the future. So in Judaism, more than perhaps any other way of life, controlling the past means controlling the future.

What percentage of the Charedi world operates under the assumption that Torah Im Derech Eretz, how little they know of it, was an emergency measure? It's a very high one. And because the Torah only world controls most of the publishing and education, that's the message that dominates - even though it is contracted by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch himself:
'Torah im Derech Eretz' is the one true principle conducive to truth and peace, to healing and recovery from all ills and all religious confusion. The principle of "Torah im Derech Eretz" can fulfill this function because it is not part of troubled, time-bound notions; it represents the ancient, traditional wisdom of our Sages that has stood the test everywhere and at all times. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch,  Collected Writings, Vol. VI, p. 221
But few people know that Hirsch felt this way and not just Hirsch but his rebbes too. He operated from a mesorah as Rav Schwab tells us.
 But Rav Hirsch also had behind him a solid mesorah from gadolim who showed him the way. From the time of Chazal through the period of the Geonim; the Rambam, the Chachmei Sepharad through the Talmidei Hagra all the way down to his own Rebbe the Oruch L’ner and his disciples. Rav Hirsch had his mesorah.” (Selected Speeches, p. 243).[70]

But the rulers of the present come to rule the past and thereby rule the future. We must not let them - not that the Torah-only advocates are our enemies - they are our brothers and sisters - but we have to push forward with our message and derech and not let the past be rewritten.
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Side note on Neot Kedumim

They also have there actual examples of far out cases in the Mishnah, such as is a succah on a camel kosher.




It definitely helps bring the Mishnah to life.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Shul

The Shul

Breuers 2gether

Great footage of the old simple glass windows. I much prefer the old, simple glass. It let in light and didn't have that Modern Orthodox shul look.



Saturday, October 15, 2016

On the condition

"The land of the Divine Torah is there for the people who live in it. Its most valuable product, the purpose and goal of the whole of God's Blessing directed to it, is every human life nourished by it, through its means able to dedicate itself to making God's Torah into a realisation. The land is only given on the condition of every human life respected as being unassailably sacred to the Torah. One drop of innocent blood shed and no notice taken of it drops a stitch in the bond which connects the land with the nation and both with God. (see verses 33 and 34). This holding human life to be so sacred is to be made evident immediately on taking possession of the land in the division of it by instituting the arrangement which the Torah had already referred to in the fundamental laws of Torah social life."(Ex. XXI, 13).

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch on Bemidbar 35:10

Friday, October 14, 2016

if you degrade your brother’s personality

“But if you turn into a sharp and lethal weapon this word which is destined to bring life and blessings; if you seek pleasure in mocking the inexperienced and less intelligent, in deceiving and embarrassing him instead of teaching and correcting him; if you ridicule the unfortunate whose troubled mind is longing for comfort from your lips; if you put your brother to shame in front of others even for the purpose of correcting him; if you degrade your brother’s personality by calling him bad names; if with icy scorn and fiery disdain in your barbed words you shoot sharp arrows into your brother’s heart and rejoice in his discomfiture - oh then, do not dare to look up to heaven! God sees your bother’s heart convulsed by the daggers of your words, frozen under your icy scorn, humiliated under your ridicule. With Him the rejected soul will find refuge, to His Throne tears always find the door open. And you? The Almighty is just!”

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb (paragraph 380)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

American Torah Im Derech Eretz

Does one need to be of German extraction to practice TIDE? Not at all. TIDE is from the Mishnah and Gemara.

"Rabban Gamliel the son of Rebbe Yehuda HaNasi says: Beautiful is the study of Torah with derech eretz, for the striving of both makes one forget sin. And all Torah that does not have work accompanying it is ultimately nullified and drags [in] sin. And all those who are involved with the community (engaged in communal work) should be involved for the sake of Heaven. For the merit of their forefathers assists them, and their righteousness stands eternally, and you -- I apportion reward to you as if you had done it (by yourself)." (Pirkei Avos, 2:2)

"Our Rabbis taught: 'And thou shalt gather in thy corn.' What is to be learnt from these words? Since it says, This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, I might think that this injunction is to be taken literally. Therefore it says, ‘And thou shalt gather in thy corn’, which implies that you are to combine the study of them with a worldly occupation. This is the view of R. Ishmael. R. Simeon b. Yohai says: Is that possible? If a man ploughs in the ploughing season, and sows in the sowing season, and reaps in the reaping season, and threshes in the threshing season, and winnows in the season of wind, what is to become of the Torah? No; but when Israel perform the will of the Omnipresent, their work is performed by others, as it says. And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks. etc., and when Israel do not perform the will of the Omnipresent their work is carried out by themselves, as it says, And thou shalt gather in thy corn. Nor is this all, but the work of others also is done by them, as it says. And thou shalt serve thine enemy etc. Said Abaye: Many have followed the advice of Ishmael, and it has worked well; others have followed R. Simeon b. Yohai and it has not been successful." (Berachos 35b, Soncino Translation)

As R' Shimon Schwab explained, “But Rav Hirsch also had behind him a solid mesorah from gadolim who showed him the way. From the time of Chazal through the period of the Geonim; the Rambam, the Chachmei Sepharad through the Talmidei Hagra all the way down to his own Rebbe the Oruch L’ner and his disciples. Rav Hirsch had his mesorah. (Selected Speeches, p. 243)

In my view, every period of Jewish history has had Torah Im Derech Eretz. Even Eastern Europe had its own version. It didn't include involvement in affairs of state (think Jack Lew) because the Czar didn't allow it. But most Jews worked for a living for most of the day. They were not Torah only. Maybe some of the Yeshivot were, but you are talking there about a few hundred people among millions.

Therefore, we must distinguish Hirschian Torah Im Derech Eretz from the others. As Isaac Breuer explained, Torah is eternal. TIDE changes in each era. You can say it changes for each society as well. R' Hirsch laid down a TIDE for the modern Western world. Yes, he did it in Germany, but in my view, his writing speaks to all of Western society. For example, consider the following:

"Derech Eretz includes everything that results from the fact that man's existence, mission and social life is conducted on Earth, using earthly means and conditions. Therefore this term especially describes ways of earning a livelihood and maintaining the social order. It also includes the customs and considerations of etiquette that the social order generates as well as everything concerning humanistic and civil education." (R' Hirsch on Pirkei Avot)

How is that Germany? That could be anywhere. It's quite general.

Or this:

"He will not be a stranger to anything which is good, true and beautiful in art and in science, in civilization and in learning. He will greet with blessing and joy everything of truth, justice, peace, and the ennobling of man, wherever it be revealed He will hold firmly to this breadth of view in order to fulfill his mission as a Jew and to live up to the function of his Judaism in areas never imagined by his father. He shall dedicate himself with joy to every true advance in civilization and enlightenment. But all this on condition that he be never obliged to sacrifice his Judaism at any new level but rather fulfill it with even greater perfection." R' Samson Raphael Hirsch, 1854, Quoted in Guardians of Our Heritage, p. 290

That would apply to any society that has advances in civilization and enlightenment.

Besides that America is a Germanic country. Aside from the fact that German Americans, some 50 million strong, are the largest ancestral group in the country, the USA was setup by Anglo-Saxons, who themselves descend from Germanic peoples that emigrated to the British Isles in the fifth century. "The Saxons were a confederation of Germanic tribes on the North German Plain, some of whom conquered large parts of Great Britain in the early Middle Ages and formed part of the merged group of Anglo-Saxons that would eventually carve out the first united Kingdom of England." (Wikipedia) Then Angles were likewise a group of Germanic tribes that invaded England. The very name England (and English) gets its name from the Angles. Even British Kings George I and II were born in Germany, spoke German, and belonged to the House of Hanover. English is a Germanic tongue with French frosting on top.  It should be no surprise that the British and the Germans have much in common and one sees it in their orderliness, rationalist mindset, ambition, intelligence, and cool demeanor. (I'm not saying that they are unfriendly, but you know what I mean.) So, too, does the American aristocracy that set up the country, laid down its primary culture, and continues to run the place.

Even though my ancestors are from the Ukraine, I am more Western and German than Eastern European as my family left Eastern Europe a century ago. America has many sub-cultures, some not Anglo at all. I can take you to all kinds of neighborhoods in Metro New York City, such as Chinatown in Manhattan, Little India in Jersey City, or Williamsburg in Brooklyn, to demonstrate the point. However, I was raised in the suburbs of New York, and my culture was defined by the public education system which takes it queues from the universities which themselves are Anglo-Saxon in style (picture the archetypal professor in a tweed jacket with elbow patches). So, too, are most corporations Anglo-Germanic in style with their command and control organizational structure.

Nevertheless, America certainly is not 19th century Germany. Even Germany is not 19th century Germany. We are a more casual society, not quite so punctual; although we are punctual. Certainly, we are a law and order society as they were. We are not nearly as classy. Over the last twenty years in particular, the society has become incredibly low class. If it keeps going like this, we will all have to revert to the Eastern European model. But one can still keep his radio tuned into WQXR, the classical music station of the New York Times, which still exists despite a near bankruptcy. One can watch videos of Charles Dickens' Bleak House.

It's not so simple as it was in R' Hirsch's day to take the best of general society without getting polluted. In his day, Dickens was new literature. That's what people were reading. But you can argue that it's even more important to address the outside world because it's nearly impossible to shut the wireless society out. So if you don't engage it proactively, it sneaks up behind you. If you don't know how to think for yourself, you are doomed because you are challenged every day. I see many people who follow the "shut off your brain" model of life getting very badly hurt. You need a nimble mind in this society. You need to understand the society in all its nuances, not just with dogmatic and sweeping condemnations.

Thus, I believe we need an American Torah Im Derech Eretz. Hirsch should be the foundation since he developed a model for the modern world.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Linked Article: Whatever Happened to German America?

"Berlin — WHAT is America’s largest national ethnic group? If you said English, Italian or Mexican, you’re wrong. Today some 46 million Americans can claim German ancestry. The difference is, very few of them do.

Indeed, aside from Oktoberfest, German culture has largely disappeared from the American landscape. What happened?

At the turn of the last century, Germans were the predominant ethnic group in the United States — some eight million people, out of a population of 76 million. New York City had one of the world’s largest German-speaking populations, trailing only Berlin and Vienna, with about a quarter of its 3.4 million people conversing auf Deutsch. Entire communities, spreading...."

continue reading Whatever Happened to German America?

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Maharal's Derech HaLimud Similar to that of Hirsch Kehilla

"The Maharal also had a lasting influence on the famous darshan Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Luntschitz. For instance, the influence of the Maharal's approach to Torah learning can be clearly seen in Rabbi Luntschitz's sermon. recorded in Amudei Sheish: "All the teaching in the yeshiva comes down to the empty arguments of chilluk. It is terrible to think that some elderly rabbi teaches this, even though he and everyone else know that the true meaning is different. Can Hashem really want that we should sharpen our minds with such false teachings? .. This type of study [of chilluk-pilpul] has an especially negative effect on the students. There might be a student who, if he had been able to learn Tanach, Mishnah, Talmud and Halachah in a regular, orderly fashion, would have shone as one of the best. But if this student does not excel in empty chilluk, he is looked down upon to the point that he is practically forced to stop learning. I myself have known intelligent young men who, when they couldn't shine in pllpul, were considered inept by their fellow-students and so gave up learning altogether upon getting married."

"One of the first things the Maharal did upon returning from Posen to Prague was to help Rabbi Yosef Heilperin of Posen publish Elm Hayeled, a Hebrew grammar for seven year-old children. In his preface, Rabbi Hellperln wrote that the Maharal had urged him to produce this work, and the Maharal himself added a line that one is obligated to teach one's children the Holy Tongue in a clear manner, just as was done in previous generations.

"In the meantime, the Maharal continued his campaign for the learnmg of MiShnah by both children and adults, those who knew little and those who were learned. The Maharal wanted that adults and learned people learn Mishnah, and thus he established Chevros Mishnayos that learned one chapter of Mishnah a day. In this way, one could go through the entire six orders of the Mishnah in a few years and gain a comprehension of and familiarity with the basic concepts discussed in the entire Talmud. The flrst such group was organized in Prague, but gradually this institution spread across all of Europe. The Maharal wished that the Mishnah be learned with comprehension. As his student Rabbi Yom Tov Heller wrote, the intent was "to teach Mishnah with attention to its reasons and commentaries."


The Maharal of Prague, Yaacov Dovid Shulman, CIS Publishers, pp. 210-212.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Two for One

"Judaism leaves other disciplines to teach that by renunciation of this world one wins the next world. It reserves for itself the teaching that by a life of God-acknowledging duty one can attain beatitude in this world and Paradise, life in the next world can begin here in this one. And this teaching preached by the Succoth Festival for Israel throughout the ages makes itself the universal prospect for the future of all nations by its group of Moed·offerings. From the summit of its national joy the People of God look to the future happiness of all mankind. According to the Jerusalmi Succa V.I it was also just the summit of joy of this Festival of Succoth embracing the hopes of Israel and the whole of mankind, on whose heights the "Well of Happiness and Salvation" sprang out of which the young disciples of prophecy drew the spirit, which enabled them to prophesy. (see on V.19). " (R' Samson Raphael Hirsch, Commentary on Bamidbar 29:13)

Here we find two points of Torah Im Derech Eretz that are very important to me: the idea that happiness is for this world too and the idea that we care about the happiness of the rest of the world. With gratitude to the Almighty for directing me to this commentary which I found simply by opening a Hirsch Chumash.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The queen of Bais Yaakov: The story of Dr. Judith Grunfeld (Great women, great stories)

 by Miriam Stark Zakon


Dr. Grunfeld was one of the founders of the Bais Yaakov movement. She was educated at Hirsch's realschule and was the wife of Dayan Grunfeld, the famous translator of Horeb and Judaism Eternal II.

Contains this gem:

In many ways, Frankfurt was a lovely place to live, and judit had good friends and good times there. But one thing upset her very much, and that was the way many of her friends talked about the "Poylisher," the Polish Jews who had moved to Germany.Life in Poland was very hard for the Jews at that time.There was a lot of anti-Semitism. Polish Jews did not have a lot of opportunities open to them, and many of them were very poor. To escape the hatred and the poverty, many Polish Jews made their way to Germany, where things were better.
There were many differences between the Polish and German Jews. The Polish Jews spoke Yiddish rather than German. Their dress was more old-fashioned, and they were- usually much poorer than their German brothers and sisters. German Jews generally were quieter and more disciplined, and some of them looked down on the high spirits and loud voices of the Polish refugees.
In Judit's home there were no prejudices against the unfortunates who'd come from Eastern Europe looking for a better life. When Mama was a young girl, her parents ran a guest house, and some wealthier Polish Jews came to stay there. As a teenager Mama often watched these Polish chassidim. They talked with their hands. They stroked their beards. They yelled at each other as they learned a piece of Gemara. On Tishah B' A v, in contrast to the German Jews who sat quietly reading about the Temple's destruction, the Polish Jews cried out loud and wailed and lifted their hands up to Heaven, begging for Hashem's mercy. Mama didn't find these strangers disgusting or primitive or silly. She thought they were interesting, and she liked their open, friendly ways. 
Now that she was a grown woman, Mama still respected the Polish Jews. She felt sorry for many of them, too, since most of the refugees were very poor. Every Shabbos the Rosenbaum home was full of Polish Jews enjoying a good, hot meal. Some of the poor people were dressed in ragged, dirty clothing that looked strange next to the sparkling, starched white tablecloth and gleaming silver candlesticks. 
Quite often the refugee children, who didn't eat well and whose parents couldn't afford doctors, had runny noses-or ugly sores. Mama Rosenbaum, always polite, never seemed to notice anything unpleasant. She would simply urge the little ones to eat more of her steaming chicken soup. Later,
after Shabbos was over, she might offer some of her children's outgrown clothing to a poor Polish mother and add on a basket of eggs or a special medicine as a gift.
From her end of the table Judit would watch her mother speak cheerfully and pleasantly to these guests. Mama never made them feel that they were not as good as she was. Judit, following Mama's example, went out of her way to be friends with the Polish girls. Like her mother, Judit didn't see the differences between her and the poor refugees. Instead, she saw what made them the same. They were all Jews.
Judit's school friends soon learned not to ask her why she insisted on playing with the ragged Shlomowitz children or why she shared her schoolyard treats with the Katzenstein girls, who spoke German so badly.

Around her crowded Shabbos table, Juditt learned important lessons in tolerance and true ahavas Yisrael, love for a fellow Jew. It was a lesson that would serve her well in years to come, when she faced a challenge her Frankfurt friends would never have imagined. 

pp. 21- 23

You see this shining example of the Frankfurt community caring about the needs of Jews in general and Eastern European Jews in particular.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Hester Street

Tonight, I am taking the long way home after work, feeling no strength to board the commuter train as I do night after night, sitting with people to whom I have never spoken despite years of travel together, each of us alone in our seats hiding behind newspapers that continue to shock us as the world raises the ante on sin. I read last night what seemed like the fourth article this month about a cannibal not in the Amazon jungle but in an American city. America, the most advanced society on earth. Where have we heard an expression like that before?
Rather, I wander west on Chambers not sure why, but then realizing why as my heart warms to the sight of street signs that mean something so different to me than they do the current residents on Hester, Essex, and Delancey.
I think of my bubbe who walked these streets upon her arrival to these shores shortly after the Russian Revolution. I think of the elderly Rabbi Eisenbach who sold me my first pair of tefellin a lifetime ago. I am old enough now to feel no shock in being called Sir other than the shock that young people even know the term anymore. Few do.
The world marches along with its sub-molecular engineering, seedless watermelon, and gay marriage but I retreat, spending a good portion of my day in the decades before I was born, trying to be with people who are no more.
I recall my grandparents bemoaning the changing world, sometimes with anger at the wildness and recklessness that characterized the only world that I knew with its neon lights, push button phones, and bucket seated cars. I confess they sounded like aliens to me, my grandparents, who always looked like they didn’t quite belong. Only now, half a century later, I too am an alien in this place and my grandparents and even their grandparents and I have become Mahjongg partners, our values all lined up like tiles. My sole concerns in life are to earn a living while battling the pressure to login on during Shabbos and to keep the children frum. Some things change and some do not change at all.
People on the street are chatting away and I don’t understand a word. It is Chinese? Maybe it’s Korean. I can’t read the signs either. I don’t know a lawyer’s office from that of an accountant. I feel this way in shopping malls too, despite the English, lost, out of my element as the rap music pounds my ears and the new fashions bring me nearly to tears.
In the office it’s the same. I pass the cubicles and overhear chatter about reality television and layoffs. I hear gossip. I hear betrayal. It might as well be spoken in Chinese because it makes no sense to me how this society treats the people who comprise it. Earlier tonight, I passed a homeless man who was screaming at the sky, “I am a human being!” And I muttered, “I might be one too, but don’t tell my boss I said that.”
I’m trekking down East Broadway now. The neighborhood is 99% Asian as far as I can see. I’m passing a building that clearly was a shul back in the day, but now houses Buddhist statues.
Yes, I know we moved on to new places and such nachas I feel when I visit Lakewood, Monsey, Passaic, Teaneck, Flatbush. “The Jews are the most tenacious people in history,” wrote gentile historian Paul Johnson. We’ll never quit. If Moshiach doesn’t come for another 150 years, we’ll carry on building day schools. But my feeling is what’s the point? Haven’t we proved ourselves by now, surviving everything the world has thrown at us, including the ikvisa d’meshicha, modern times, the quintessential wolf draped in sheep’s wool? We have shown the goyim what happens when a people says twice a day “Hashem Echad” and means it. We have shown ourselves too.
Any Orthodox Jew today can list the reasons why we need Moshiach now, why we can’t live with these people anymore, why it’s time to go home and end this long, long workday. It is time for Shabbos and for me to see my grandparents again and to say, Bubbe, Zeyde, we made it across the finish line. Moshiach is here and we have kippas on our heads.
I’m sitting in MTJ now, just outside the beis midrash, near the Pepsi machine. Reb Moshe can you hear me? Will you tell Tate that we want to come home? We’ll carry on if we must, but must we? We want to come home.

A voice enters my head and says that I should tell Him myself. So I do.

(written in 2013)

Saturday, October 1, 2016

KAJ WH - Praise and a little criticism

"Hirsch was not moved to formulate the policy of Austritt in the 1870s because of disinterest in the welfare of the nonobservant. His teachings and writings were addressed to that constituency and his concern for them was very real. However, if there is a shortcoming to be ascribed to the remarkable kehillah in New York City that has inherited the traditions of Frankfurt: am Main, it is an insularity and isolationism, which is not the cause, but the product, of Austritt. Lack of contact over a period of years is bound to decrease a sense of concern and ongoing interest. With the passage of decades the kehillah has increasingly focused in an inward direction and has had little contact with individuals of different religious outlook and orientation. The result has been a sad loss for the wider Orthodox community. The standards, integrity, cohesiveness, and faith of the kehilla have produced outstanding educational and communal institutions greatly benefiting both residents of its environs and the entire city. But the general Orthodox community in the United States, not to speak of those beyond the pale of Orthodoxy, has not had the benefit of its guidance or leadership. On the other hand, the ability of the kehillah to recreate itself on these shores after dislocation and war, despite relatively meager financial resources during its early years, and to develop into a community that is a model kehillah, stands as a tribute to the staunch advocates of Torah im derekh eretz among its adherents and to their total commitment to its religious ideals. It is a singular community in which the word of Rav remains unquestioned law, k’vod ha-rabbanut is a meaningful phrase, and the label of the community, K'hal Adas Jeschurun, stands for a level of religious probity and reliability that is acknowledged by the entire spectrum of Orthodox Jewry."

Judith Bleich, “Rabbinic Responses to Nonobservance in the Modern Era,” In J. J. Schacter (Ed.), Jewish tradition and the nontraditional Jew (pp. 37-115), Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc. (1992), p. 93, footnote 123