Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Torah Im Derech Eretz for Kiruv

We have all heard of Torah Im Derech Eretz (TIDE) but may have not all considered what an excellent tool for kiruv it can be. R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch crafted TIDE for a generation much like ours. As R’ Shimon Schwab wrote:

The approach of R. Samson Raphael Hirsch enables us to educate and produce God-fearing and Torah loyal young men, and righteous and valiant young women. Indeed, this is the “Frankfurt” approach, also known as the “Torah and Derekh Eretz approach.” It is a tried and tested method. It is especially appropriate in this country, at this time, which has much in common with the Haskalah period in Germany during the previous century. (“A Letter Regarding the ‘Frankfurt Approach’”)
R’ Schwab explained that it is irrelevant whether TIDE was an emergency measure or not (according to R’ Hirsch and R’ Joseph Breuer it was meant for all time) as we are still in that emergency. When it comes to kiruv we are arguably in a much more intense state of emergency as 19th century assimilated German Jews were incomparably more traditional in values and lifestyle than assimilated Jews today.

So what is TIDE and how can it help? In the words of R’ Hirsch:
The term Derekh Eretz includes all the situations arising from and dependent upon the circumstance that the earth is the place where the individual must live, fulfil his destiny and dwell together with others and that he must utilize resources and conditions provided on earth in order to live and to accomplish his purpose. Accordingly, the term Derekh Eretz is used primarily to refer to ways of earning a living, to the social order that prevails on earth, as well as to the mores and considerations of courtesy and propriety arising from social living and also to things pertinent to good breeding and general education. (Pirkei Avos, Chapter Two, Mishnah Two, Hirsch Siddur)
In this one paragraph R’ Hirsch addresses many of the major frustrations assimilated Jews experience with Torah life as it is typically presented to them. Let us briefly address them:

Parnassah - In addition to Torah life being expensive (tuition bills in America for 5 children typically exceed total median income), baalei teshuvah often receive no financial support from family. Besides that, the idea of not earning a living sounds completely alien to people who have been raised to build their entire lives around careers. TIDE addresses this concern by presenting parnassah as an appropriate part of Torah living whereas some of the derachim in our community seem almost hostile to it, a posture which can scare people away from Torah observance.

Social Order and Courtesy - Most Western countries are Germanic societies (English is a Germanic language) where order and courtesy are highly valued. While the musar movement also stresses good middos, TIDE stresses as well a sense of contributing to one’s society in a civilized manner. Many in the frum world advocate a general hostility not just to popular culture but anything whatsoever connected to gentiles. This attitude, which is arguably a byproduct of persecution experienced in Eastern Europe, can be a turnoff to Jews who feel they were well treated by their gentile communities in America, Europe, and South America or to Jews - and there are many - with a gentile parent. R’ Hirsch wrote numerous beautiful passages that offer a non-antagonistic outlook on the role of gentiles in the scheme of human history while still maintaining a Jewish identity and strict loyalty to commandments.

General education - College for most assimilated Jews is central to their life plan. They work for it from grade school and stay connected to their colleges throughout their lives. A total discounting of the value of all secular studies is just too much to take. TIDE allows for careful acceptance of the best of secular thought while keeping Torah central.

In addition to these topics, R’ Hirsch also offered a beautiful philosophy of commandments and presented many engaging benefits of commandments. His thousands of pages of writings are a library of kiruv material.

At the Torah Im Derech Eretz Society (www.tidesociety.org) we can help you to find materials to aide your kiruv efforts. R’ Hirsch’s writings have haskamas from the greatest of our gadolim including R’ Yitzchak Elchanon Spektor and R’ Chaim Ozer Grodzinski. R’ Yisroel Salanter was an ardent admirer of R’ Hirsch and believed that his writings would be of enormous use to stem assimilation and attract Jews to Torah.

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