Sunday, June 16, 2013

Rav S. R. Hirsch: Need for both Torah & Secular education

Rav S. R. Hirsch (Collected Writings Volume VII pp 413-417): Who among us did not know Mr. Y that wonderful man who was so thoroughly imbued with the true Jewish spirit, with Jewish learning, Jewish punctiliousness and Jewish religious fervor? His home was a well-known shining example of a pious Jewish abode in which the Torah was studied and the commandments were practiced so that it stood out like an oasis in the wilderness of present-day moral and spiritual corruption. Anything that bore even the faintest tinge of un-Jewish thought or un-Jewish belief was kept far away from the threshold of that home. Is there anyone who does not remember this father as one of the outstanding and devoted champions of tradition in Jewish communal life, how he fought against all forbidden innovations at the synagogue and at our school, and saw to it that the religious institutions of our community should remain painstak­ingly faithful to the requirements of Jewish law? He regarded ignorance of things Jewish as the greatest of all evils. He viewed so-called modern education as the worst threat to Jewish survival because he felt it would supplant Jewish learning. Mr. Y. therefore regarded it as a sacred matter of conscience not only to get his sons to perform the duties of Judaism most scrupulously but also to make them competent Torah Jews by seeing to it that the sacred writings of Judaism should remain virtually their only intellectual and spiritual nourishment. Moreover, in order to protect them from the poison of modern education, he not only anxiously isolated them from every contact with the "moderns" but filled them with arrogant contempt for all other knowledge and scholarship that he deemed as nothing compared to the study of the knowledge given us by God.

It is said that this man died of a broken heart, grief-stricken because not even one of his sons remained Jewish in feeling and practice. All of them, as youths and later in manhood, had been spiritually ruined by the very tendencies from which he had so zealously sought to protect them in their education. Anyone who knew this man and knows his sons today will see no reason to doubt the truth of this tragedy.

But anyone who would have evaluated his father's educational approach by the standard of Train a lad in accordance with the path he will haw to follow (Proverbs 22:6), our maxim of education, could have predicted these sad results from the outset. The best way tohave our children catch cold the very first time they go out of doors is to shelter them most anxiously from every breeze, from every contact with fresh air. If we want our children to develop a resistance to every kind of weather, so that wind and rain will only serve to make them stronger and healthier, we must expose them to wind and rain at an early age in order to harden their bodies. This rule holds good not only for a child's physical health but equally for his spiritual and moral well-being.

It is not enough to teach our children to love and perform their duties as Jews within the home and the family, among carefully chosen, like-minded companions. It is wrong to keep them ignorant of the present-day differences between the world outside and the ewish way of life, or to teach them to regard the un-Jewish elements in the Jewish world as polluting, infectious agents to be avoided at all costs.

Remember that our children will not remain forever under the sheltering wings of our parental care. Sooner or later they will inevitably have contacts and associations with their un-Jewish brethren in the Jewish world. If, in this alien environment, they are to remain true to the traditions and the way of life in which they were raised at the home of their parents; if we want them to continue to perform their duties as Jews with calm, unchanging determination, regardless of the dangerous influences and, even more dangerous, the ridicule and derision they may encounter; indeed, if the contrast they note between their own way of life and that of the others will only make them love and practice their sacred Jewish heritage with even greater enthusiasm than before, then we must prepare them at an early age to meet this conflict and to pass this test. We must train them to preserve their Jewish views and to persevere in their Jewish way of life precisely when they associate with individuals whose attitude and way of life are un-Jewish. We must train our children, by diligent practice, to be able to stand up against ridicule and wisecracks. We must train them so that they may be able to draw upon the deep  wellsprings of Jewish awareness and upon their own sound judgment based on true Jewish knowledge in order to obtain the armor of determination and, if need be, the naked weapons of truth and clarity, from which frivolity and shallowness will beat a hasty retreat.

Finally, it would be most perverse and criminal of us to seek to instill into our children a contempt, based on ignorance and untruth, for everything that is not specifically Jewish, for all other human arts and sciences, in the belief that by inculcating our children with such a negative attitude we could safeguard them from contacts with the scholarly and scientific endeavors of the rest of mankind. It is true, of course, that the results of secular research and study will not always coincide with the truths of Judaism, for the simple reason that they do not proceed from the axiomatic premises of Jewish truth. But the reality is that our children will move in circles influenced and shaped by these results. Your children will come within the radius of this secular human wisdom, whether it be in the lecture halls of academia or in the pages of literature. And if they discover that our own Sages, whose teachings embody the truth, have taught us that it is God Who has given of His own wisdom to mortals, they will come to overrate secular studies in the same measure in which they have been taught to despise them. You will then see that your simple minded calculations were just as criminal as they were perverse. Criminal, because they enlisted the help of untruth supposedly in order to protect the truth, and because you have thus departed from the path upon which your own Sages have preceded you and beckoned you to follow them. Perverse, because by so doing you have achieved precisely the opposite of what you wanted to accomplish. For now your child, suspecting you of either deceit or lamentable ignorance, will transfer the blame and the disgrace that should rightly be placed only upon you and your conduct to all the Jewish wisdom and knowledge, all the Jewish education and training which he received under your guidance. Your child will consequently begin to doubt all of Judaism which so, at least, it must seem to him from your behavior) can exist only in the night and darkness of ignorance and which must close its eyes and the minds of its adherents to the light of all knowledge if it is not to perish.

Things would have turned out differently if you had educated and-raised your child in accordance with the path he will have to follow;if you had educated him to be a Jew, and to love and observe his Judaism together with the clear light of general human culture and knowledge; if, from the very beginning, you would have taught him to study, to love, to value and to revere Judaism, undiluted and unabridged, and Jewish wisdom and&scholarship, likewise unadulterated, in its relation to the totality of secular human wisdom and scholarship. Your child would have become a different person if you had taught him to discern the true value of secular wisdom and scholarship by measuring it against the standard of the Divinely-given truths of Judaism; if, in making this comparison, you would have noted the fact that is obvious even to the dullest eye, namely, that the knowledge offered by Judaism is the original source of all that is genuinely true, good and pure in secular wisdom, and that secular learning is merely areliminary, a road leading to the ultimate, more widespread dissemination of the truths of Judaism. If you had opened your child's eyes to genuine, thorough knowledge in both fields of study, then you would have taught him to love and cherish Judaism and Jewish knowledge all the more.


  1. [sarcastically] Rav Hirsch did not realize that Jewish Communities would arise with such powerful socialization, such excellent rain, snow and wind protection, such excellent political savvy at soliciting funds and raising mobs, that his broken hearted father could have averted his sad fate.

  2. Probably should also post his intro to the "Relevance of Hebrew Education". I think it's the most explicit place where he says that mixing Torah and DE as part of the curicullum isn't Kilayim or anything.

  3. As someone who learned for 7 years in the elementary school that bears his name, I can tell you that I personally do not understand the current approach in 'Haredi' education. Especially in today's world.
    And this is important, because there are those who claim that Rav S.R. Hirsch was writing for a specific time and population, but that his piskei Halacha and Haskafa cannot be applied broadly.
    As those who learn daf yomi are finishing Meseches Eiruvin, I still don't understand how anyone without a basic understanding of geometry can understand the Gemara, never mind Rashi and Tosafos.

  4. When I spoke to my Rosh Yeshiva about my leaving to go to work, I was expecting a lengthy mussar schmooze. Instead, he said that we learn that Yakov dwelt in yeshiva for 14 years from a series of seemingly irrelevant and superfluous pessukim detailing the ages and families of Yishmoel. I was asked, the Torah which is so careful not to have any extra words dedicates an entire chapter from which we are able to discern the years Yakov was learning in yeshiva, why did it not simply say that Yakov left Beersheva and went to yeshiva for 14 years before continuing on to Choron? A few extra words to one possuk and save an entire chapter with the added bonus that if it were explicitly mentioned, what a boost it would be for the Yeshivas?

    He then told me that to be in Yeshiva for 14 years and come out being Yakov is not a kuntz. We don't need the Torah for that. The chochmoh is to be with Lovon for 20 years, to meet Eisov and his men, to encounter Shechem and their depravities, etc., and to remain an erlicher Yid, a Yakov, that is what the Torah wants from us.

  5. He also discusses this idea in his commentary on the Torah, where Avraham and Yitzchak are dwelling in Gerar.


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