Monday, November 29, 2010

Rav Dessler: Yeshiva should deny self-esteem to those not fully involved in Torah study


Rav Dessler (Michtav M’Eliyahu 3:356-357): [translation copyrighted ]The Frankfurt school system taught secular subjects and viewed going to university as an accepted part of education.  The price that they paid for this approach was the reduction in the number of great Torah scholars that came from their students. And even those who went on to learn in the Lithuanian and Polish yeshivas after learning secular subjects in Germany – only an extremely small number...went on to become great Torah scholars. On the other hand the advantage of this system was that only a very small number of the students ended up leaving religious observance. In spite of this minimal loss, there was a definite problem about the purity of religious faith in the Torah. Whenever there was a conflict between Torah and the sciences, they would make strange compromises. As if it was possible to have contradictory beliefs in one heart. Nevertheless almost all of them remained faithful to observing the mitzvos with dedication and self-sacrifice. And many were extremely careful to observe even the finer details of the mitzvos. In contrast the Lithuanian yeshivos focused on a single goal – to create great Torah scholars who were also G-d fearing people. To accomplish this they prohibited going to university. They realized that there was no other way to produce great Torah scholars except by concentrating all their students’ energies and desires exclusively to learning Torah. Don’t think that they didn’t realize from the beginning that this approach would ruin some who would not be able to deal with this extreme lifestyle and would consequently leave religious observance. But this is the price that they paid for the sake of producing in their schools great Torah scholars who were G‑d fearing. Obviously they tried their best to deal with those who could not remain full time yeshiva students – but not in a way which would encourage others to follow in their path of leaving yeshiva. For example, those who had to leave the yeshiva were advised to become storekeepers or other low-status jobs which were not professions. These were jobs which didn’t require training or studying and would not be attractive or interesting to the students. However those who had a strong desire to learn a profession and surely those were interested in become academics were completely abandoned and not dealt with at all. This rejection was done so that the actions of these students wouldn’t harm others by giving them any legitimacy by trying to help them in any way. I heard that they found support for such an approach by the statement found in Vayikra Rabba (2:10), One thousand students enter to study Bible and only one comes out as a posek and G-d says “that is the one I desire.” They also mentioned the words of the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim, “It is better that 1000 fools die in order to obtain one Torah scholar.”



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[It is important to note that the medrash cited by Rav Dessler does not support this program as it is simply describing natural attrition. It is not prescribing a program which might destroy the majority of students. Just as problematic, the Rambam never said the words attributed to him. The Rambam did say in Moreh Nevuchim that we teach the truth even if 1000 fools are messed up by misunderstanding the truth that we present them.The Rambam's words are the following: [translation by Prof S Pines] "To sum up: I am the man who when the concern pressed him and his way was straitened and he could find no other device by which to teach a demonstrated truth other than by giving satisfaction to a single virtuous man while displeasing ten thousand ignoramuses - I am he who prefers to address that single man by himself, and I do not heed the blame of those many creatures. For I claim to liberate that virtuous one from that into which he has sunk, and I shall guide him in his perplexity until he becomes perfect and he finds rest." The interpretation cited by Rav Dessler is actually from Shem Tov's commentary to the Moreh Nevuchim [page 10 of the standard edition] and is clearly not the intention of the Rambam.]


[Rav Sternbuch told me to append a note to this letter of Rav Dessler’s letter. He said that the halacha is clear that it is not allowed to produce gedolim if it causes others to stop being observant. He said that Rav Dessler doesn’t mean that it is certain that people will go off the derech because of this approach – but only that it can happen. In addition that going off the derech here refers to a possiblity of losing the yeshiva standard of observance  - not giving up religious observance entirely.]

14 comments :

  1. > It is not prescribing a program which might destroy the majority of students

    Yes it is.

    At any rate, it's amazing how Rav Dessler's recommended disregard for folks like me disappears the minute his spiritual descendants show up at my door looking for money to support their "Torah-true" lifestyle.

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  2. While I have no problem with those who choose Torah only, one needs to look at the current Roshei Yeshiva to see that very few of them came from such a background. Many, in fact, come from places like HTC (Skokie Yeshiva). I could easily name names.

    I suppose that the Torah only proponents would argue that being a Rosh Yeshiva doesn't make one a Gadol, but the number of Gedolim is astronomically small.

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  3. R' Eidensohn, I remember seeing one time on Avodah that you suggested that perhaps R' Dessler was only talking about the post-holocaust period, and you had some kind of evidence, but I can't find it. Can you explain this?

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  4. > It is not prescribing a program which might destroy the majority of students

    Yes it is.


    It most certainly is NOT. Reading the midrash will reveal that of those 1,000 who study mikra, 100 go on to mishna (in other words, all 1,000 are assumed to be expert in Tanach - likely according to R' Yisroel Salanter's understanding of such knowledge - not a bad foundation for a Torah life and hardly destructive. Those 100 baalei mishna are more specialized than the others in their life-long learning and of those, 10 will specialize yet further in gemara. Finally, from among the other 999 Torah-learning and observant individuals, one more hora'ah will emerge. No one necessarily loses.

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  5. This issue reminds me of the debate, in American constitutional law, about public aid to religious schools. Thomas Jefferson, in
    1803, wrote a letter to Baptists in Danbury, CT, about the need for a wall of separation between church and state. The US Supreme Court, in 1947, in the Everson case, cited that language with some approval, but definitely not as a strict, authoritative rule. Nevertheless, both in popular culture, and to a lesser extent, the legal world, those words have been elevated to near constitutional text. Many people actually believe the words appear in the US Constitution, which they do not.

    We add human hands to Divine Law at our peril. The Torah is clear, Do not add to the Torah, do not subtract from the Torah. Some people never learn.

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  6. What I find strange about R. Dessler is that his father made sure that he had a secular education, since his father had studied in Kelm where secular studies were part of the yeshiva curriculum.

    I have no idea on what he bases these assertions. "On the other hand, their weltanschauung was somewhat imperfect as far as the complete acceptance of the Torah point of view is concerned. Whenever there was a conflict between sciences and Torah, they resorted to a strange combination of the two, as if the two systems can be combined as a unity". Therefore, exposure to non-Jewish ideas affected to some extent the purity of their faith in the absolute truth of Torah, resulting in strange compromises.

    Would he say that the same thing happened to the Rishonim who studied secular subjects?

    Yitzchok Levine

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  7. R' Eidensohn -

    The words in [brackets] are you own interpolation, or are part of what Rav Dessler wrote/said?

    Thanks

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  8. Rav Shimon Schwab zt"l penned a direct response to the very article by Rav Dessler zt"l that R. Eidensohn posted in this post. Rav Schwab's response is available at the following sites:

    http://www.stevens.edu/golem/llevine/rsrh/Yeshiva&Frankfurt.pdf

    http://www.traditiononline.org/news/article.cfm?id=104767

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  9. I'm not sure when Rav Dessler wrote his above letter (he was niftar in 1953), but it appeared in print in 1963. Rav Schwab responded in "HaMa'ayan" published in Eretz Yisroel in 1966.

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  10. Maybe Professor Levine can check this out. We were told in yeshiva that the Alter fun Kelm ran a yeshiva in Jerbin that had secular studies. On account of that, R' Yisroel Salanter would not speak to him for 5 years. When he later opened the yeshiva in Kelm it did not have any secular studies.

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  11. I DONT BELIVE RAV DESSLER WROTE THIS. at least with the currant translation cited above.

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  12. I once heard that a man asked rav aaron kotler . if his son (who clearly did not enjoy learning) could go to college ? rav aaron said no . The man asked why . " my son will not learn anyway" rav aaron answered " vehn mir fearet ah milchomoh si faltsach unshuldike suldaten" in english now we are fighting that all should learnfull time and become gedolei torah and therefore those who fall to the wayside are part of the casulties of the battle.

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  13. OrthodoxJew - Why don't you believe R' Dessler said this when you you quote the same approach from R' Aaron Kotler? Besides, look in the Hebrew Michtav M'Eliyahu. It's there in black and white - and is very chilling.

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