Wednesday, July 2, 2008

R' S. R. Hirsch's approach declared irrelevant today

Jewish Press reports:

Speaking at the 200th birthday celebration of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch this past Shabbos, Khal Adath Jeshurun’s Rav Yisroel Mantel declared that the philosophical credo of Rav Hirsch, Torah Im Derech Eretz, is not viable in the absence of its chief advocate.

Rav Hirsch was a 19th century champion of Orthodoxy and the founder of Khal Adath Jeshurun’s parent community in Frankfurt, Germany.
Rav Mantel’s declaration, which angered many in the community, came at a sit-down kiddush at Dr. Raphael Moller Hall in Washington Heights after Shabbos morning services. He said that only Rav Hirsch, a great man who knew the fine boundaries between what is religiously permissible and what is prohibited, could make Torah Im Derech Eretz workable.
Our generation, he said, must follow today’s gedolei HaTorah (great Torah leaders).
After Shabbos, Dr. Eric Erlbach, KAJ president for over two decades, resigned.
The Torah Im Derech Eretz philosophy calls for the active engagement between Torah and culture and society.
Samson Bechhofer, a great-great-grandchild of Rav Hirsch, spoke first at the kiddush. The synagogue’s choir conductor and a lawyer by profession, Bechhofer lamented the educational policies of the community’s Yeshiva Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch school in recent years.
“If the goal of our kehilla and yeshiva is to have all of our sons and daughters end up in Lakewood – and I use Lakewood as a metaphor – then I submit that we are not being faithful to our founder’s philosophy or Weltanschauung, nor are we doing the future of our kehilla any great favors,” Bechhofer said.
Rav Mantel stood up and walked out of the hall at these words. He later returned and told the several hundred assembled that “grandchildren and lawyers” will not decide how to implement Torah Im Derech Eretz.
Other speakers at the 200th celebration Shabbos included Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Meir Tzvi Bergman (the son-in-law of Rav Elazar Menachem Shach), noted columnist Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum, and Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Klugman, Rav Hirsch’s biographer.
Among their many remarks, Rabbi Bergman praised Rav Hirsch for his Chumash commentary, which has recently been retranslated; Rabbi Rosenblum lauded Rav Hirsch’s philosophy of Judaism, from which, he said, many Jews can derive much-needed spirit and purpose; and Rabbi Klugman credited Rav Hirsch for teaching all of Orthodox Jewry how to live authentically Jewish lives in a world without ghetto walls.[...]

Speaking later at Seudah Shlishis, Rav Mantel credited Rav Hirsch for demonstrating definitively that Jews can plant the Torah in any culture.

Torah Im Derech Eretz, Rav Shimon Schwab (rabbi of KAJ from 1958-1995) once said, “means the Torah’s conquest of life and not the Torah’s flight from life. It means the Torah’s casting a light into the darkness rather than hiding from the darkness. It means applying Torah to the earth and not divorcing it from the earth.”


  1. Rav Mantel stood up and walked out of the hall at these words. He later returned and told the several hundred assembled that “grandchildren and lawyers” will not decide how to implement Torah Im Derech Eretz.
    Actually they will, what they need is guidance. How many times do you hear that the gedolim would do "X" but the people wouldn't accept it.

    Joel Rich

  2. Although I am not a member of the German Jewish community, I am disturbed by Rabbi Mantel's remarks.

    Obviously, Rav Hirsch's philosophy needs to be properly applied to every generation and locale (the same is true about Rav Aharon Kotler's philosophy, or any other). But it is an entirely different matter to dismiss "Torah Im Derech Eretz" as irrelevant in our time.

    For one thing, in a generation where tuition is so expensive and, therefore, the need for "Derech Eretz" cannot be minimized, it is essential that the Derech Eretz be balanced with Torah learning and practice. One could, in fact, argue that "Torah Im Derech Eretz" has never been more relevant.

    Furthermore, with Rav Hirsch gone almost 120 years, why is it first being said now that “Torah Im Derech Eretz” could only be properly implemented in his lifetime?

    It would have been more politically savvy (and, I believe, more accurate) to say that "Torah Im Derech Eretz" is alive and well today, although it is essential that the philosophy be properly applied to every generation and locale.

    The downside to such candor would have been the need to acknowledge (at least implicitly) that, by no stretch of the imagination, could learning in Kollel indefinitely be deemed consistent with "Torah Im Derech Eretz."

  3. TiDE was declared irrelevent when KAJ felt it could hire Rabbi Mantel 2 years ago despite his not being a TiDE adherent.

    If anything happened 10 days ago, it's that the Breuer's community got a wake up call. I don't think much will come of it. But having their version of the "slide to the right" exposed and open to discussion could only push toward TiDE, not away.


  4. I'm pretty sure nothing will come of this one way or the other, but I think the event is being misinterpreted.

    First, Dr Erlbach was already talking about resigning before this.

    Second, TiDE was declared irrelevant when R' Mantel was hired despite his not being a TiDE adherent. Just like the folks on the other side of Washington Heights, KAJ has experienced a "slide to the right". At least now R' Mantel brought the subject to public discussion. Someone might now be motivated to reverse the trend.

    Again, I don't think anything will change. It's one of those events that the cyberkehillah gets all excited about and won't be noticed by people with less free time to discuss news and get each other worked up.



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