― 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 119:99Today 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. 221But 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).
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.
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.