Thursday, May 29, 2014

R' Abraham Joseph Rice

"Abraham Joseph Rice (born Reiss) (c. 1800 – 1862) was the first ordained rabbi to serve in a rabbinical position in the United States.

Rice was born in 1800 or 1802 at Gochsheim, near Würzburg, Bavaria. An injury in infancy left him with a limp. He studied at the Würzburg yeshivah, and was ordained by Rabbi Abraham Bing. He later continued his studies at the yeshivah of Rabbi Wolf Hamburger in Fürth, and then headed a small yeshivah in Zell. In the 1830s he married Rosalie Leucht, and in 1840 they immigrated to the United States. After a brief attempt at reviving the Jewish community in Newport, Rhode Island, he accepted an appointment as the first rabbi of Congregation Nidche Israel in Baltimore." Wikipedia

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

BTs are great candidates for Torah Im Derech Eretz.

Baalei Teshuvah are great candidates for Torah Im Derech Eretz. Most grew up in Western countries and Torah Im Derech Eretz. is designed for that. Here's a blog entry from a new BT that recently learned about Torah Im Derech Eretz.

"Sometimes I wonder….How will I ever find a community that fits my hashkafa?

I want a place that emphasizes Torah and its values- ahavas yisroel, treating others with respect, judging favorably, achdus, being a light to the nations.

I consider myself modern yeshivish but recently I started reading about Torah im derech eretz (I just learned about the difference between that and Torah uMadda) and I probably align with that a little more.

I think it’s important to be involved with the world and spread Jewish values to the world; not isolate myself in a frum community and shut out the rest." continue

Monday, May 26, 2014

A Threefold Cord

I just got back from the annual kollel breakfast at Breuer's and I'm going to have to amend my formula. I used to think German Orthodoxy, or more precisely the KAJ kehilla as based on Hirsch was the mid-point between Charedism and Modern Orthodoxy, containing the best features of each. It has the seriousness of Charedism and the engagement with life and the world of Modern Orthodoxy, it has the dedication to Torah study of the former but the interest in all parts of Torah of the latter. With every encounter at KAJ I see the truth of this. But now I realize that there's a third quadrant and that is Chasidus. KAJ has the community feeling of Chasidus. This is the KAJ community concept, the self-contained community with a beis din, a mikvah, a day school, a kashurs organization, and in Washington Heights, a senior center.

This was a kollel breakfast. And yet it seemed like a community event, not a kollel event with kollel graduates. At such events I usually feel like an outsider since I didn't go to the specific kollel or yeshiva. This was the community supporting its kollel. The co-rabbanim were there as was a dayan, as was the kehilla president. The head of the kollel was there and I know him from the shiur he gives to baal habatim in Monsey. The chazan from Shabbos was there. I saw there many of the men from minyan.

And they saw me. Several remembered me from Shabbos. People kept saying hello to me. Usually it's the opposite. I go to chassanos or parlor meetings and approach people, trying to get them to talk to me. Here it was the opposite. I became almost reserved after my usual desperation for human contact became nullified with the genuine community feeling. I couldn't decide if I was a chasid or a yeshiva man or modern orthodox, the latter one because I didn't feel ashamed sitting there knowing that I might listen to Beethoven on the way home and even get a spiritual feeling from it. And then it hit me, I'm not any of those three. I am a practitioner of Torah Im Derech Eretz.

A Threefold Cord is Not Quickly Broken says Koheles (4:12). I know many people that seem to bounce between charedism, modern orthodoxy, and chassidus. I can't know if KAJ is the answer for all, but I'm guessing that it could be for some, a blend of these three derachim that by themselves are not the answer, a threefold cord that is strong and beautiful.

The Blank Stare

Has anyone else ever experienced a blank stare from other Orthodox Jews when you try to explain that your hashkafah is neither Chareidi nor Modern, but something called Torah Im Derech Eretz?  Everyone has heard of Rav Hirsch and is familiar with the term Torah Im Derech Eretz but many seem not to comprehend what these terms mean as far as hashkafah is concerned.

As a mother of young children, I often find myself having this conversation with other women regarding educational methods and my desire to incorporate a Hirschian approach into secular education.  They generally nod their heads when I say I would like to see G-d brought into limudei chol but they do not seem to understand the bigger picture of what I am trying to explain.  For example, those who live a Chareidi lifestyle seem unnerved by the mention of secular studies.  And those with a Modern Orthodox viewpoint appear to pay only lip service to the idea of filtering out non-kosher ideas.

And on the rare occasion that I meet people who do feel comfortable with secular studies so long as they are presented in a kosher manner, they are usually not aware that a TIDE hashkafa even exists.  In that case, I direct them to this website : ) and to the writings of Rabbiner Samson Raphael Hirsch.

I'm wondering if anyone else has had similar conversations about TIDE vis-a-vis schooling or other topics and if so, how did you explain TIDE?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Even More on Separation

The blog has received several comments on my attempt to explain R' Breuer's view that Austritt was not limited to Hirsch's kehilla. I even go so far as saying that the idea can apply to Orthodox groups - on an organizational, not a personal level. To me this explains the avoidance of the official Breuer's kehilla from YU, even though the two are separated by 1/3 of a mile. Some commenters have countered that the cool relationship between the two had nothing to do with Austritt but to other factors. However, elaboration on what constituted those factors has not been forthcoming.

Owllake has pondered that disagreement between R' Solomon Breuer and R' Chaim Soloveitchik on the Agudas policy towards Zionism may have started off a kind of familial squabble that lived on in Washington Heights. I would hope that Hatfield and McCoy type hostility would not affect community policy.

Aaron Rakeffet tells the story of how R' Breuer was brought to the USA by Bernard Revel of YU and while appreciating that likely life saving gesture, R' Breuer was greatly displeased by what he observed on the campus, particularly the educational content in some of the classes. To me, this is the more likely explanation. YU housed one of the greatest collection of scholars in the world, in addition to Rabbi Soloveitchik. You'd think that the Breuer's yeshiva could have utilized this to attract students, rather than watch so many of its youth march off to Lakewood. I would argue that the Torah u'Maddah approach was not acceptable to R' Breuer and overtook any possible benefits from an educational association between the two places. I admit that this is conjecture.

Whatever the real story there, I still argue that a kind of separation, even if we don't call it Austritt, is necessary today and even to Orthodox groups. I thought of a metaphor to explain it. Remember Odysseus and the sirens from the Iliad? Here's how describes the story:
A siren call means something that is alluring. It is dangerous and potentially deadly. Even if you know better, the siren call is hard to resist. In Greek mythology, the sirens who allured were sea nymphs beguiling enough to begin with, but with even more enticing voices.
In Odyssey Book XII Circe warns Odysseus about the dangers he will face at sea. One of these is the Sirens. In the adventure of the Argonauts, Jason and his men faced the danger of the Sirens with the help of the singing of Orpheus. Odysseus has no Orpheus to drown out the lovely voices, so he orders his men to stuff their ears with wax and tie him to a mast so he can't escape, but can still hear them singing.
When a person opens his ears to the enticing voices of the larger world, he needs something to hold him back, lest he leap to his death in the sea. As I have written, the Chabad shliach is safe running a Chabad house in Madrid because his focus is exclusively on Chabad. His clothing, his look, his mindset is all Chabad, so he's not enticed by Madrid. The Torah Im Derech Eretz person is open to the good of Spanish culture, so he needs something to hold him back lest he get too drawn in as some groups in the Orthodox world do.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Wisdom from the Gentiles, from a cookie

"It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness."

Found in a fortune cookie in a Chinese restaurant in New Jersey. Is this not good advice for Hirschians who are troubled by the extremism of the times? It is unlikely that TIDE will over overtake the masses and will be anything but a movement (in its pure form) of the few. Nevertheless, we persist. I am tempted to make it the motto of this website.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Nothing New

"S. R. Hirsch insisted upon stressing his conviction that there was nothing new in his conception of Judaism. "I have not set out to create a new Judaism," he wrote to one of his disciples, a short time after the publication of his first books, "instead I want to grasp and describe- as far as is possible-the ideas of Judaism as it is." He was aware that the essence of his thoughts was contained in the ancient approach of the Torah, the Prophets and the Sages, and that it was his task merely to crystallize the ideas that had remained in the treasury of the ancient sources ever since."

Mordechai Breuer

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Rabbi Yitzchak Aryeh Sekel • “The Baal Shem of Michelstadt”

"Jews in Russia gave Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer of Okup, the founder of the Chassidic movement, the name “Baal Shem Tov”.

In Germany as well, Jews called Rabbi Yitzchak Aryeh Sekel of Michelstadt the name “Baal Shem”. Like Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem was a hidden Tzaddik and great scholar, and he was equally versed in the ways of the world. Many people came to see him to ask for advice regarding both spiritual and material concerns. The general public considered him to be a miracle worker, and they sought him out in times of distress. Even non-Jews addressed themselves to him, and he never sent anyone away empty-handed.

The people of Michelstadt have said that all the Jews and non-Jews who prayed by the grave of the “Baal Shem” before being drafted into the army during WWI came back safely from the war. The local council placed a plaque on the house where he lived in memory of its “Baal Shem”.

Rabbi Yitzchak Aryeh Sekel was born in 5529 (1768) in Michelstadt. His father Matityahu was a simple and upright man who feared G-d and distanced himself from evil. He was a descendant of Rashi and King David."


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Argument for Distancing in Our Times

I found this interesting write-up on the web. The author summarizes the debate regarding succession (austritt) from the general community (grossgemeinde) that raged in Germany in the 19th and even 20th centuries; although he favors those that opposed succession and argues in defense of the contemporary multi-denominational Limmud conference. While the write-up is certainly intelligent, reading it, a student of Hirsch can become confused because of the author's leanings. He favors multi-denominational religious conferences. He defends this by naming several German Jewish scholars who opposed succession and saying that a multi-denominational gathering is similar to a grossgemeinde. As he doesn't cite their words, one is tempted to take his word for it. But the mind wonders: Did they all really oppose succession and are the two the same?  I am not accusing the man of making up sources, but perhaps reading them with an intent towards a conclusion, as driven by the Jewish heart in its desire for outreach. Beware the heart overtaking reason. The results seem wonderful in the short run, but the long run is another matter. It's like DDT, lead paint, or asbestos. Beware the magical short-term solution.

I'm not saying here that there's nothing good about the Limud conference. Same with Reform Judaism. If it is giving Jews some kind of a Jewish consciousness, then it's doing some kind of good. But should the Orthodox participate and thereby give non-observant practice some credence - that's another question. I'm not saying that I have the final answer to that question. But the concept of Austritt, and I mean post Germany Austritt, would argue against participation.

But the Limud conference isn't the main concern of my post. My concern is the effect of the influence of even Orthodox people on one another. What I find in the article is an argument against Austritt that's serves as an argument for something that perhaps shouldn't be called Austritt, as that has a very specific historical meaning as I have been learning, but perhaps we can call distancing. The author seems knowledgeable and well-meaning - and he likely is both of those things. Accordingly, he is persuasive in a way, and the reader may find himself buying into the argument. But the argument is superficial and unless you have time to really pick it apart, it can influence you. The mind is pliable and takes on different modes of thought, different outlooks, different personalities. We can take on different identities in life.The mind switches. This is how you get debate, how you get people on completely different sides of the fence. The mind is an amazing instrument, but most minds limit themselves to singular outlooks. We can use this power of change for the good, but we can allow it to confuse us too and take us to problematic places. We piece together arguments and facts and experience it as the truth. In our youth, we are particularly vulnerable. Isn't this what happened to the many people who left Torah observance in modern times? They took on a new identity, one with its own arguments, symbolism, and feeling, but one that was so tragic.

All of this is exactly why you need a kind of distancing in our day and age not only with the non-religious elements, as they are so far away from Orthodoxy, but with groups that have absorbed excessive amounts of problematic secular attitudes. By this I'm not talking about friendship or neighborliness. I'm talking about a mental distancing where one is careful to hold onto his or her vision and ideals. Problematic groups (and they can be on the right or the left or the center) speak a language similar enough to be persuasive but take one to the wrong places. You wind up confused, diffused, and weakened in your derech. Examples of this include the halahkic radicalism that has taken over parts of the frum community due to feminism. The same applies to the influx of rap and rock music that one finds in simchas. Once you open the gates to secular music, how do you keep out the rap? You have to be very careful. And when you associate excessively, or organizationally, with groups that are not careful, you lose your discipline.

In the end, it comes down here to trusting in your gadol. If R' Breuer and R' Schwab advocated distancing, which post Germany meant distancing oneself from official organizational association in theological matters with religious groups that themselves are hooked into non-religious groups or even religious ones who have taken on excessive amounts of secular attitudes, then one must trust them, their wisdom, their tzidkus, and their experience. They speak from a mesorah. As R' Hirsch told us often, Torah differs from science in that we rely on a mesorah, a tradition, a revealed truth, rather than one that is the product only of observation and reason, a home-grown truth, so to speak. You can grow your own tomatoes at home, but don't try growing your own penicillin.

The Torah Im Derech Eretz person needs this general distancing more than the Charedi. One reason Chabad sluchim hold on so well even in remote communities is because they look, dress, and think so differently from their environs that they are much less at risk from absorbing negative attitudes then a Torah Im Derech Eretz person would be, as TIDE people are by definition open to the positive parts of the general culture. This is why the Torah Im Derech Eretz needs to be able to distance him or herself. If you are going to be open, then you have to know how to close the door.

Baruch ben Isaac

"Baruch ben Isaac (fl. 1200) was a Tosafist and codifier who was born at Worms, but lived at Regensburg; he is sometimes called after the one and sometimes after the other city.

A pupil of the great Tosafist Isaac ben Samuel of Dampierre, Baruch wrote Tosafot to several treatises (e.g., Nashim, Nazir, Shabbat, Hullin); nearly all those extant on the order Zevahim are his. A. Epstein believes that the commentary on the Sifra contained in the Munich MS. No. 59 is the work of this Baruch. He is the author also of the legal compendium, Sefer ha-Terumah (Book of the Heave-Offering, Venice, 1523; Zolkiev, 1811), containing the ordinances concerning slaughtering, permitted and forbidden food, the Sabbath, tefillin, etc. The book is one of the most important German codes, and was highly valued by contemporaries and successors. It is noteworthy by reason of the author's attempt to facilitate its use by presenting a synopsis of its contents, the first attempt at making a practical ritual codex in Germany."


Friday, May 9, 2014

1st Gathering in Washington Heights

On Shabbos May 24, we are going to have our first TIDE get-together in Washington Heights, NYC. Details are in the works. It's pretty hard to do TIDE alone in a world of extremes. Here's a chance for all the virtual friends to meet and share ideas and encouragement. Please write to if you'd like to participate.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Avoiding Confusion: "Don't let anybody mess with your swing."

The modern world mixes together cultures. Mass immigration started it. Technology completed it. When I was a kid in the 1970s one could still live in an Italian neighborhood or even a Polish one. Today, it's all mixed together. One can get confused. You have to know that it's dangerous to mix together religious styles. This is not to say that you can't study them all, get tips from them all. But you generally have to pick one or create a new one that has a consistent style.

As an example, take the mix of Chassidus and Yeshivishness. In my view, it has been problematic. For Chassidim to be conformist is not so terrible since their essence is community and emotion. Conformity can help in the formation of communities. If you are having a Western square dance, it helps if everyone shows up in cowboy boots. A disco shirt confuses people. But when people who try to make intellect their essence - eg. the Yeshiva world - become conformist, the result is dogma. That doesn't happen with Chassidim because they historically didn't take their intellect as seriously. They are actually less dogmatic than yeshiva people can be. With intellect, you need a certain freedom. Not surprisingly, Litvachs historically thought for themselves. There are many stories that demonstrate this. Consider this one with Rav Ruderman as told by one of his grandchildren:

"I sat down to learn with my grandfather zt”l, and continue from where we had ended the previous day. He had left me with a long list of questions that he wanted me to answer. “Zaidy, I’m sorry, but I looked all over numerous Sefarim and couldn’t find an answer,” I shamefully admitted.
“Did you daven today?”
“Of course!”
“You said the blessings of Shema?” he asked.
“Of course!”
“Did you believe what you said?” he asked.
“Of course,” I answered, despite knowing that I was about to receive a spiritual beating.
“In His goodness renews daily, perpetually, the work of creation.” “Why,” asked my grandfather, “does God renew each second of existence?”
I was too cowardly to respond.
“Because He wants His power of Chiddush, renewal, to permeate each detail and each second of creation. He wants you to connect to Chiddush, and not run to the books already printed to find answers, but to be Mechadesh your own answers! Use the blessings of Shema to connect to the power of Chiddush in your learning and in your Middos! We’ll learn when you find your own answer.” He closed his Gemara.
I was back in less than half an hour with my own answer, which he, of course, cherished, then ripped apart, and then reconstructed as a masterpiece.
I continue, more than forty years later, to keep a list of unanswered questions to review before I connect through the blessings of Shema to God as the Mechadesh, empowering my own power of Chiddush."

See what I mean, thinking for oneself is Litvish. The blend of chassidish comformity and Yeshivish Torah centrality has created an intense almost unlivable pressure on people.

Take Religious Zionism and Yeshivishness. Also a bad result. It puts way too much pressure on a person. It's hard enough to make aliyah, now you have to do it in kollel. It used to be that making aliyah and settling the land was the goal. That was hard enough. Today you have to do the impossible of making aliyah and somehow not work at the same time. Families get ruined like this. It's too much. It crushes the parents. It does something worse to the kids. They start to look at the religion like it's impossible to keep.

Same with Carlebachism and Yeshivishness. If you want to be musical and emotional, go for it. But to attach intellectual significance to the whole thing, you can become quite odd this way and that is bad for children. True hippies were easy going. Many Carlebach types try to be intellectually intense about emotion and song. They wind up being really strange and the children don't get a solid foundation. Quite to the contrary, abnormal behavior becomes a kind of norm.

So pick one. If you are Hirschian, you can read up on kabbalah, but when you put the book down go back to your German Orthodoxy. Don't let all the heebee geebee people affect your day. You go about your life with meticulousness, if you try that with concepts of tuma and tahara you'll go bonkers. Kabbalists are not so meticulous so when they talk about the universe, it's loose talk. If you are a precision kind of person, you'll wind up trying to fix the cosmos if you take the kabbalistic talk into your regular day.

As baseball legend Ted Williams often said, "Don't let anybody mess with your swing." He also said, "Bat according to your style and wait for the right pitch." R' Breuer was very good at this. He kept true to the Hirschian vision while maintaining relationships with the Yeshiva world. R' Leo Jung was the same. After all, what is a German Orthodox person if not self-disciplined? Today it's easy for the TIDE person to get drawn into Haredism or Modern Orthodoxy since they are the dominant paths. Don't get drawn in. Switch over if you like, but pick one.

Kids raised TIDE may go and switch some day. That's fine. At least they know what it means to go by one path. They'll have normal minds and will be successful in whatever they do.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Study for Women

“No less should Israel’s daughters learn the content of the Written Law and the duties which they have to perform in their lifetime as daughter and young woman, as mother and housewife. Many times have Israel’s daughters saved the purity of the Jewish life and spirit” Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb 494

Sunday, May 4, 2014


R' Abraham Bing

"From 1769 to 1778, he served as "Klaus" rabbi (rabbi of a small synagogue) in the town of Offenbach am Main. Between 1778-1796 he served as dayan (rabbinical judge) in Frankfurt, and from 1796 to 1814 he served as rabbi of the town in Heidingsfeld, near Würzburg (Bavaria). In 1813 he was able to overturn previous a 250-year old decree banning Jews from settling in Würzburg proper, and in 1814 he assumed the rabbinate of the city, where he also served as the head of a large yeshiva (rabbinic seminary)." Wikipedia continue

Rabbi Bing Headstone.jpg

Friday, May 2, 2014

Wisdom from the Gentiles: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Do not give in too much to feelings. A overly sensitive heart is an unhappy possession on this shaky earth.

I call architecture frozen music.

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.

The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become.

Being brilliant is no great feat if you respect nothing.

Many people take no care of their money till they come nearly to the end of it, and others do just the same with their time.

Correction does much, but encouragement does more.

None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.

Trust yourself, then you will know how to live.

We are never deceived; we deceive ourselves.

Whoever wishes to keep a secret must hide the fact that he possesses one.

The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes.

What is not started today is never finished tomorrow.

There is nothing in which people more betray their character than in what they laugh at.

If you must tell me your opinions, tell me what you believe in. I have plenty of doubts of my own.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Thursday, May 1, 2014

TIDE in secular studies could bring Hashem into the picture

In his article, "Return to Basics: A Call to Revitalize R. Hirsch's Torah im Derech Eretz", Daniel Adler makes many good points, including an excellent explanation as to why the teaching of secular studies would be best approached with a Hirschian derech.  "In order to prevent confusion and conflict in a student's mind, secular studies must be approached from a Torah perspective."  He gives the example that by teaching history through the lens of Torah, "we can see Hashem's guiding hand throughout time."

Sadly, most of the secular studies teachers in our Yeshivos are teaching from a purely secular perspective, with no mention of Hashem or Torah in their classes.  R. Hirsch recommended that Torah observant Jews should primarily be teaching secular studies.  Even most of those who are Orthodox Jews teach in a way that is indistinguishable from the gentile and secular Jewish teachers.  If they were following or even simply aware of the Hirschian approach, they would certainly find ample opportunity to bring in Hashem's Hashgacha.  While it may be impractical for schools to employ only Orthodox limudei chol teachers, I would love to hear that they are occasionally sending in frum teachers to bring out the Torah perspective in each subject.