Monday, June 30, 2008

Creative leadership - Syrian Takana and Rav Hirsch - One size doesn't fit all

R' Bartley Kulp has left a new comment on your post "Recipients and Publicity attacks the Syrian Takana...":

Recipients and publicity said...

"One thing is for sure, the present Belzer Rebbe is different to most others and he certainly does not hold that Belz should follow in the steps of the notorious "Syrian takana" banning the acceptance of any geirim (especially by marriage) into the Syrian community and that he (the Belzer Rebbe) understands the deep significance and merit of accepting true geirei tzedek bazman hazeh."

I think that the leaders of the Syrian community also understood the important mitzva of ahavat hager. However, unlike the current Belzer kehilla the Syrians were grappling with the issue of intermarriage. You might say that this is a ramification of embracing open society. Not that I am being critical of this approach. Every approach has its advantages and disadvantages. It is up to the leaders of each community to act in accordance with their own unique circumstances.

This is why Rabbi Sampson Raphael Hirsch was respected by his contemporaries in Eastern Europe. Even though Rav Hirsch advocated an embracement of modern culture (something that was anathema to them), they understood that the German kehilla was different in a social demographic kind of way. They understood that they lived in a different reality, meaning that a different approach was necessary in leadership.

Ironically it was Rav Hirsch who successfully petitioned the government to allow separate public representation for the orthodox community. This action was subsequently copied afterwards by kehillot all over Europe. There was now a situation where you had an Orthodox kehilla embracing its modern cultural surroundings while seemingly kicking its secular brethren in the butt. That does not sound very utilitarian does it?

Rav Hirsch was fighting for the spiritual life of his kehilla. Germany was the place birthplace of the reform and conservative movements. They had made deep demographic inroads in the kehilla and were threatening to make Torah extinct there. Rav Hirsch had to be mavdil bein kodesh l'chol for the sake of his followers.

Over 100 years later Rav Yoseph B. Soloveitchik (example of another Rav who embraced modernity)poskined that the Orthodox leadership in the United States should cooperate with the reform and conservatives visa-vi for public policy and government issues. He said that while we (the Orthodox) do not recognize the reform and conservative rabbis as religious leaders, they are in fact community leaders and we should cooperate with them in matters of public policy.

Does this mean that Rav Soleveitchik learned shas different from Rav Hirsch? I do not think so. Just their situations were different. I also do not think that the actions of the Belzer rebbe and the Syrian chachamim necessarily bare any insight on how they learned shas respectively.

What is appropriate in one time and place is not necessarily appropriate for different one.


  1. Here we go...

    So the opinions and actions of Rav Y B Soloveitchik and Rav Hirsch were acts of horaas shaah?

  2. Fascinating issue - are you saying that all gedolim (e.g. R'YBS and R' Hirsh) would come to the same conclusion if faced with the same circumstances?
    Joel Rich

  3. Joel Rich asked...

    "Fascinating issue - are you saying that all gedolim (e.g. R'YBS and R' Hirsh) would come to the same conclusion if faced with the same circumstances?"

    My answer is not at all. I believe that Rav Soleveitchik's approach was rejected by most of his contemporaries in the United States.

    Whether or not they disagreed with his psak that one can compartmentaly separate status of being a religious leader or a community one, or whether they felt that giving any respect to a conservative/reform rabbi would give them legitimacy in everybodies eye's is unclear to me.

    No to poskim agree on everything when it comes to Ikkar psak. Nor would they necessarily have the same take on whatever situation they are in.

  4. Both Rav Hirsch and the Rav understood something that the main Torah Jewry leadership today does not - the title of this post.

    Jews have and continue to find themselves in a variety of conditions throughout the world. To say that one approach, and today it's the mythical "this is how we did it in the shtetl" approach, fits all will lead to failure since each environment produces its own needs that must be responded to.

    Rav Hirsch's genius was to create a form of Chareidism that embraces parts of German culture and prevented Jewish dropout as a result. The Rav, on the other hand, understood that Jewish life had changed since the 1850's and that there were some values (ie private schools, support for Israel) that transcended religious/non-religious lines and saw the need to cooperate on them.

  5. Concerning Judaism in the contemporary age: of course reforms need to be taken... and the reforms don't necessarily need to be secularization. For instance, I live in Los Angeles and, living amongst the most secular and the more Chassidic, there still some sort of bridge of similarity. And it might just be that we both know what matzah ball soup is... or something more transcendent. And secularization may have been a response to public scrutiny. And Rav Hirsch, in large part, paved the way.


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