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Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi Hirsch’

The Difference Between ‘Non-Jewish’ And ‘Un-Jewish’

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

     Not long ago posters appeared in a number of synagogues in Brooklyn banning a recently published book that, according to the posters, contained misleading halachic rulings. It certainly was not the first time a book was banned by some in the Orthodox community, and it won’t be the last.
      While it is not the purpose of this article to take a stand on whether a given ban is or is not justified, there is no question that observant Jews need to be careful about what they read.
      We have seen, over the past couple of decades, a tremendous increase in the number of books by publishing houses that cater to the Orthodox market. This is a wonderful development, as Orthodox readers can now choose from many more “appropriate” books and periodicals than was the case fifteen or twenty years ago.
      This does not, however, mean that every book available for purchase in a Jewish bookstore meets the standard of acceptability for every family.
      The situation calls to mind the multiplicity of products sold in “kosher” grocery stores. Fifteen years ago there were fewer items available under supervision than there are today, but not every product in these stores necessarily conforms to an individual’s particular kashrut standards.
      In short, there is no question that observant Jews have to be careful about being influenced by ideas that are not compatible with Judaism. We live in a decidedly non-Torah culture and are bombarded with messages and products that clash with our religious values. We must be discerning about what we accept from the outside world.
      But does this mean that everything from that world is to be rejected? We’ve all heard some people go as far as to categorically condemn anything that they consider to be “goyishe.” Are observant Jews really required to completely turn their backs on the culture around them? Must they shut themselves off from the entire gentile world?
      Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) lived in Germany at a time when many Jews were abandoning their religious observance. When he came to Frankfurt in 1851, he found a Jewish community controlled by “reformers” who had done their utmost to introduce non-Jewish influences into the life of a community that had once been a bastion of Jewish tradition and learning. He had to confront the issue of those influences head-on.

      Rav Hirsch did not condemn everything found in the surrounding culture. In an essay entitled “Religious Education” he writes,


         Our children need not forego the benefits of a worthwhile secular education; they need not sacrifice opportunities for the study of the arts and sciences in order to obtain all the treasures of truth and wisdom that Judaism holds for their lives. If both studies are nurtured hand in hand, there will be ample room for both; the one will reinforce the other and the result will be a Jewish education that will find favor in the eyes of both God and man.

         Of course, problems are bound to arise if your children receive the main part of their education at non-Jewish or (what is even more detrimental) at un-Jewish* institutions where the Jewish element in the curriculum is at best ignored or, as is mostly the case, presented from a distorted non-Jewish or un-Jewish vantage point. (Collected Writings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Volume VII, page 21.)


      The curious term “un-Jewish” has an asterisk next to it that refers to the following footnote: “R. Hirsch uses the term ‘un-Jewish’ (unjudisch) to mean not in the spirit of Torah Judaism, as distinct from ‘non-Jewish.’”
      Rav Hirsch does not lump all things of gentile origin into the same class. Some things that come from non-Jewish sources are indeed completely incompatible with Judaism. These he classifies as “un-Jewish” – to be avoided at all costs.
      There are, however, many things that stem from outside the Jewish world that are to be considered as “non-Jewish” – that is, their source is not from Judaism, but they are compatible with Yahadut.
      A simple example of something from the non-Jewish world that is entirely compatible with Judaism is the Pythagorean Theorem, which, while named after the Greek mathematician Pythagoras, almost certainly predates him. Here we have a non-Jewish piece of useful knowledge that in no way contradicts anything in Judaism. It is non-Jewish but not un-Jewish and therefore completely “pareve” when it comes to Yiddishkeit.
      But what exactly defines something of gentile origin that is un-Jewish and hence unpalatable for Orthodox Jews? Admittedly, it’s difficult to give clear-cut, definitive parameters. In his excellent biography Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Architect of Torah Judaism for the Modern World, Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Klugman writes about the relationship that Heinrich Graetz, who eventually became a famous historian, had with Rav Hirsch (pages 242-243).
      In 1836 Graetz wrote to Rav Hirsch asking to become his student. Rav Hirsch agreed and Graetz lived in the Hirsch home for three years. In his diary “Graetz describes how he and Rabbi Hirsch began the day at four o’clock in the morning with the study of Gemara and Tehillim. He also studied Kant with Rabbi Hirsch.”
      In addition, “together they once read The Salon by Heinrich [Chaim] Heine, a book about the history of religion and philosophy in Germany.”
      Rav Hirsch obviously considered portions of the writings of these authors to be non-Jewish but not un-Jewish. For the record, Graetz eventually broke with Rav Hirsch. Indeed, Rav Hirsch eventually wrote a scathing criticism of some of Graetz’s writings, pointing out their errors and making it clear that they stemmed from Graetz’s anti-Orthodox prejudices.

      Insight into the basis for Rav Hirsch’s approach may perhaps be gained from the following:


         The realm of Jewish learning is not insular, remote from nature, from history, from the world and from the realities of life. On the contrary, it calls upon its disciples to study the heavens and the earth, to reflect on the connections that link the events and developments of history, to take an active part in every phase of physical, intellectual, moral and social life, and to gain the clearest, sharpest possible insight into all things and their relationship to one another. Moreover, consider that Hebrew, the language of the sacred literature of Judaism, because of the simple construction of its roots and forms, is singularly suited, as hardly any other, to stimulate and develop the powers of the human intellect and the aptitude for languages. As a consequence, Jewish learning can relate to every field of secular studies, helping and furthering their aims even as, in turn, it may look to secular learning for help and furtherance.

         And so these two areas of learning do not hamper one another, are not mutually detrimental. Rather, they can strengthen and reinforce one another in such a manner that the lofty goal toward which we strive in the education of our young can be promoted and achieved in the framework of normal school hours, without subjecting our young students to undue mental strain. And what is that goal? It is to educate our children to satisfy all the just demands that will be placed upon them by the age in which they live, on the one hand, and by Judaism, on the other. Equipped with the best of all truly humanistic training and guided by the Jewish Law of God and the heritage of our Sages that will constantly give them new strength, light, counsel, admonition and inspiration, they will be able to meet the challenges that life will hold for them. (Collected Writings VII, pages 24-25.)


      Rav Hirsch indicated how we should view the gentile world:


         The Jew knows that the good and righteous men among nations are working alongside him to build the Kingdom of God on earth. He also knows that the best seeds of the Jewish spirit have been implanted and taken root not only to rescue mankind from heathendom more than two thousand years ago but for the benefit of manifold areas of human endeavor. And then the Jew is heartened to develop all his energies in the service of God. He welcomes each new truth as a valuable contribution to the ever more penetrating revelation of God in nature and history. In each new art form, in each new science he sees a welcome addition to the means for perfecting the service and worship of God.
         Hence the Jew will not be opposed to any science, any art form, any culture that is truly ethical, truly moral, truly contributing to the welfare and progress of man. He will measure everything by the eternally inviolable yardstick of the teachings of his God. Nothing will exist for him that cannot stand up before the Divine Will. The more firmly he stands on the rock of his Judaism, the more conscious he becomes of his Jewish destiny, the more he will be inclined to accept and gratefully absorb all knowledge, wherever he will find it.

         Never at any time will the Jew sacrifice one iota of his Judaism, at no time will he bring his Judaism in conformity with the times. But he will gladly accept all values that his time will have to offer as long as they conform with the spirit of Judaism. In every age he will regard it as his task to evaluate the time and its conditions from the Jewish viewpoint in order to develop the spirit of his “old” Judaism to ever-fresh vitality, applying the new means produced by every age, with the new circumstances created by every period of history. Thus, with ever-renewed faith and devotion, he will be fully equal to the great tasks of his beloved Judaism. (Collected Writings VIII, pages 9-10.)


      It is clear that according to Rav Hirsch one should not reject something out of hand simply because it has a non-Jewish source. Instead, one should evaluate it to see if it is non-Jewish (simply of gentile origin) or un-Jewish (not in the spirit of Judaism). One must be most careful to stay away from all things un-Jewish. Not to do so could well lead to a lessening of one’s commitment to a Torah way of life.
      On the other hand, there are clearly things that come from the gentile world that need not – perhaps should not – be rejected. If something of gentile origin is non-Jewish, as opposed to being un-Jewish, then one need not reject it. On the contrary, one might very well incorporate it into one’s Torah weltanschauung and end up strengthening one’s Yiddishkeit. All gentile culture and knowledge should be evaluated in this light. The Torah does not require us to reject something of gentile origin simply because of its source.
      It bears repeating that the greatest care should be taken in deciding what is un-Jewish and what is non-Jewish. Such decisions have never been easy and are even harder to make today, given the moral deterioration all around us. Many things now considered acceptable by the gentile world would have been labeled scandalous thirty years ago.
      Indeed, there are many non-Jews who express deep and eloquent concern about the violence and immorality promoted by the media and the entertainment industry and the effect that has had on societal values.
      The challenge of ascertaining what is non-Jewish and what is un-Jewish is one that each of us has to deal with on one level or another. These decisions have to be made while exercising a goodly amount of seichel.

      Bottom line:Just because something is Jewish doesn’t make it kosher, and not everything gentile is to be considered treif.


              Dr. Yitzchok Levine is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. His regular column, “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at  llevine@stevens.edu.

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, July 26th, 2006

Thanks, Fox News
   As I sit here in Jerusalem writing, a fierce battle rages in Lebanon as our dear sons fight for the life and safety of the Jewish people in their homeland.
   Because Israel doesn’t broadcast news all day, I sometimes turn to the foreign networks. As I sat and watched Fox News reporters describe the war we fight, my heart was warmed in a way it has not been for a very long time.
   I want to thank Shepard Smith and Fox’s excellent Jerusalem-based correspondent, Jennifer Griffin, for their thorough, fair, and informative reporting.
   I want to thank Sean Hannity for his forthright and stirring defense of Israel in this current crisis. I want to thank Greta Van Sustern for her excellent, sympathetic and fair coverage.
   For the first time since the intifada started, I felt I was hearing the truth from the news media. I am grateful to them for leading the way out of the darkness sown in the world by CNN and BBC and The New York Times, who have let us all down time and time again, foisting off liberal editorializing as news reporting and ignoring the inconvenient facts. We are where we are because of their brainwashing propaganda.

   All of Israel’s friends should be watching Fox. And we should all be sending our thanks:

   foxreport@foxnews.com (Shepard Smith)

   hannity@foxnews.com (Sean Hannity)

   comments@foxnews.com (general comments)

Naomi Ragen


   (Editor’s Note: Ms. Ragen is the author of a number of bestselling novels including The Covenant and The Ghost of Hannah Mendes.)

Unconscionable Behavior
   In the June 23 Rebbetzin’s Viewpoint column there was a letter from a reader who was going through a difficult divorce situation. The reader described how, because her ex-husband had failed to pay their daughter’s tuition, the child was sent home from school, causing the poor girl untold humiliation on top of everything else that was happening in her life. And this was after the mother had begged the principal to just let her child finish the day and not be humiliated.
   Yes, tuition must be paid and schools need to meet all sorts of obligations. But menschlichkeit must come first. There are just too many hair-raising stories of a total lack of compassion on the part of principals and school administrations for poor suffering children caught in a situation not of their making.
   We cannot fix the world, but I think one way to possibly curtail this kind of behavior is to publicize the names and schools of those who engage in it.

Leora Myers

(Via E-Mail)

Difficult Questions
   As I took a stroll on Kings Highway last week I felt harassed by Jews for Jesus missionaries. But since we live in a country that allows freedom of speech and freedom of religion for all, what can we do about this nuisance?
   After all, I know non-religious Jews who complain about Lubavitchers asking male pedestrians on Kings Highway and other busy streets if they’re Jewish and, if the answer is yes, urging them to stop and put on tefillin. And what about all the store flyers constantly thrust at people out for a leisurely stroll, or Army recruiters who stand outside subway stations? Where do we draw the line?
   What some people consider acceptable may be a real annoyance to others, but is it right for frum Jews to spit on representatives of Jews for Jesus, taking their literature and ripping it up in front of them? How, in a democratic society, do we deal with those whose message or tactics anger or annoy us?

Gisele Strauch

Brooklyn, NY



Whither Modern Orthodoxy?

Readers Respond To Rabbi Saul Berman


Erudite Overview
      Rabbi Saul Berman is to be commended for his erudite overview of the rise and decline of Modern Orthodoxy and the efforts of Edah to counteract that decline (“The Emergence, Role, and Close of Edah,” front-page essay, July 14).
      I also wish to thank The Jewish Press for not only running the article but featuring it as the front-page essay. Given the fact that you’ve never hesitated to take issue with elements of Edah’s program, your decision to so prominently feature Rabbi Berman was refreshing, to say the least.

Rifkie Kemmelman

(Via E-Mail)


False Assumptions


      Although Rabbi Berman means well, his theories are based on false assumptions. For example, he misunderstands the chumrah approach. The Torah mandates precautionary measures to guard against transgression and offers high praise those who are scrupulous in their mitzvah observance.
      Such conscientious observance is codified in halacha as indicated in Berachos 20b, with regard to Birkas Hamazon. In fact, the aforementioned Gemara explicitly affirms that such sincere devotion pleases Hashem. (Of course, each person should follow the guidance of a competent rabbi or posek with respect to the halacha decision-making process.)
      I disagree with Rabbi Berman’s belief that the Israeli government should be classified a monarchy according to halacha. Proponents of this view misinterpret the Rambam’s treatise in Hilchos Melachim where he is referring to a religious Jewish government. Rabbi Kook’s theory as explained by Rabbi Berman has no halachic basis. Building the land without a religious purpose is not virtuous. Our ancestors built the land and had a monarchy, but they nonetheless lost the land because they did not comply with the Torah.
      Rabbi Berman incorrectly describes Rabbis Jacob Ettinger and Samson Raphael Hirsch as forerunners of Modern Orthodoxy. In my humble opinion, that is a simplistic description. Rabbi Hirsch, unlike modern theologians, did not compromise any of his principles. In fact, he boldly pursued a policy of austritt, secession, in order to preserve the religious integrity of the Orthodox community at that time.
      Finally, I do not understand why Rabbi Berman and his colleagues assume they have a monopoly on the ideals of kovod habrios and ahavas Yisroel. It is presumptuous for them to reach that conclusion. Instead of establishing schismatic ideological institutions, it would be better to support our yeshivas and kollels.
Chaim Silver
(Via E-Mail)


No Comparison


      I would like to take issue with Rabbi Berman’s favorable comparison of current Modern Orthodox leadership with gedolei haTorah such as Rabbi Yaacov Ettlinger and Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch.
      Rabbi Hirsch, a disciple of Rabbi Ettlinger, took extreme Torah-true and malachi measures to maintain Orthodoxy in trying times. The Reform movement threatened the essence of Yiddishkeit and in an uncompromising fashion Rabbi Hirsch and his small congregation in Frankfurt am Meine remained true to halachic Judaism. He believed that “style” and externals could be changed but did not allow changes in religious law. He regarded Torah as the ultimate purpose of the Jewish people.
      To favorably compare modern day organizations and yeshivas such as Edah and Chovevei Torah to the organizations and yeshivas championed by Rabbi Hirsch is a misrepresentation of his legacy.
      May Hashem grant each of us the wisdom to become better Torah-true Jews.

Martin S. Katzenstein, M.D.

(Via E-Mail)


Authentic Modern Orthodoxy


      No doubt authentic Modern Orthodox Jews were very surprised by Rabbi Berman’s article on the closing of Edah. According to Rabbi Berman, to be Modern Orthodox is to be willing to join with non-Orthodox Jews on even the organizational communal level. HaGaon Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik, zt”l, forbade the association of Orthodox rabbanim with non-Orthodox clergy in religious and spiritual endeavors. (The article, in English translation, appears at yuweb.addr.com/archives/v62i9/features/rav.html.) Was he not Modern Orthodox?
      According to Rabbi Berman, to be Modern Orthodox is to be believe that public policy decisions are not the exclusive purview of our best and brightest, the gedolim. (This is an unprecedented limitation to Da’as Torah, by the way.) In what Rabbi Lawrence Kaplan labeled “an elegant expression of the Agudah ideology of Daas Torah,” Rav Soloveitchik taught that public policy questions are no less the domain of the gedolim than technical questions of Issur V’Hetter. (“Daas Torah,” by Rabbi Lawrence Kaplan, in Rabbinic Authority and Personal Autonomy, pp. 8-9.) Was he not Modern Orthodox?
      According to Rabbi Berman, to be Modern Orthodox is to advocate the expansion of women’s roles in tefillah. Rav Soloveitchik was incontestably opposed to women’s tefillah groups and women’s pseudo-krias haTorah. (Many sources are listed at EineiHaEdah.blogspot.com.) Was he not Modern Orthodox?
      Finally, how can Rabbi Berman imply that HaGaon Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, and otherharedi gedolim were lacking in their love for all Jews because they forbade any organizational bonding with non-Orthodox clergy?
      I wish Edah’s ideological sympathizers much hatzalacha and bracha as they strive to attain the madreiga (level) of being genuine Modern Orthodox Jews.
Eliyahu W. Ferrell
(Via E-Mail)
      Rabbi Berman Responds: I would like to express my appreciation for the mutual respect reflected in these letters. I will offer brief responses but since space is limited I urge readers to avail themselves of the extensive resources of the Edah website and its Modern Orthodox Library, at www.Edah.org, to uncover Orthodoxy’s rich diversity on the matters my article and these letters raise.
      To Chaim Silver I would say the vast majority of Talmudic references caution against p’sak le’chumrah lest they reflect badly on prior generations, discourage correct observance, or represent a failure in intellectual consistency. Conscientious observance is our duty, say Chazal, but they clearly and broadly discourage elaborating restrictions beyond what halacha requires.
      Rav Kook’s religious Zionism is consonant with Rambam, Ramban, Ran and most other rishonim, as well as with sugyot in Shas Bavli and Yerushalmi. We are, as individuals and as sub-communities, entitled to privilege the positions of some gedolim over those of others. We are, however, not entitled, just because we personally have chosen to reject the positions of some of those gedolim, to disqualify their positions as illegitimate or to demean them.
      To both Chaim Silver and Dr. Martin Katzenstein I would suggest Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s vision of “Torah im derech eretz” is today more fully realized in the Modern Orthodox community than it is in the haredi. His embrace of the secular world – an embrace that at the same time fully preserves the integrity of halacha and Torah thought – explicitly and roundly rejects the impulse to sequester Orthodoxy away from the wisdom, science and culture of non-Jews. Read his writings carefully and you will see even his opposition to Orthodox participation in the overall Jewish community which was then dominated by Reform was strategic, not absolutist.
      I found Eliyahu Ferrell’s objections charming but weak. He cherry picks isolated statements of Rav Soloveitchik’s and so misrepresents the true thrust of the Rav’s thinking. First, Rav Soloveitchik presided over the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) for over thirty years during which tenure, with the Rav’s active approval, both the RCA and the Orthodox Union participated as full members of the Synagogue Council of America, an inter-denominational body of synagogue and rabbinic organizations.
      Second, after living through the Shoah Rav Soloveitchik left Agudah and joined Mizrachi – and in so doing altered and downgraded his position on the extent to which the community should grant unquestioned authority to the political and social judgments of gedolim. The Rav would, for example, frequently inform his students they were not bound by his public policy conclusions.
      Third, Rav Soloveitchik vehemently supported Torah study by women, including Talmudic learning. He himself was reluctant, for various reasons, to approve modification of the standard synagogue practice, but he upheld and respected the privilege of any mara d’atra to adopt halachically permissible practices that would help transmit Torah to his local congregants, including the use of women’s tefillah groups so long as those groups omitted devarim sh’b'kedusha.

      In sum, I believe, despite ideological differences, our common Orthodox vision of Torah, our common duty to support all institutions that uphold and spread Torah, our common efforts to enable all of Am Yisrael to understand and live lives filled with Torah – these common threads bind us together with love and respect. That is what Edah has been teaching for close on to ten years now, and it will, with God’s help, forever be true.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/letters-to-the-editor/letters-to-the-editor-147/2006/07/26/

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