Thursday, June 26, 2008

The TIDE Turning?... could be forgiven for thinking so.

From the Jewish Press:
Controversial Moments At Rav S. R. Hirsch Memorial Celebration

By:Elliot Resnick, Jewish Press Staff Reporter Wednesday, June 25, 2008

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.

Rav Mantel also highly praised Rav Hirsch during his sermon in shul, reminding the audience that Rav Yisrael Salanter (1810-1883) once said, "Where is there a Gan Eden big enough for Rav Hirsch?"

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. Unfortunately, this doesn't surprise me in the slightest. True followers of the Torah Im Derech Eretz philosophy are a dying breed; the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of "the kehilla" (as it's called in the neighborhood) are living in Monsey, Brooklyn, Passaic, Lakewood. They are yeshivish, some perhaps with a few Yekkish minhagim (though some, I'm sure, have long since abandoned the traditional 3 hours between meat and milk that Germans have long held in order to be just as strict as their neighbors). YRSRH is pretty much a regular yeshivish boys' school these days; the girls' high school had to close for lack of students.

    I don't think that it's true that it's impossible to live a life of Torah Im Derech Eretz without Rav Hirsch, but I do think that the sad truth is that the KAJ community has assimilated into regular yeshivish/Litvish culture to the point that they cannot truly carry the banner anymore. Their children are not followers of Rav Hirsch and his philosophy; they are, as Rabbi Mantel so clearly demonstrated, followers of "the gedolim".

    I think that's rather sad.

  2. I sent this as a link to someone we are quite friendly with who is an old time Breuer's Yeki. His answer just came back to me. "If Rav Lanter thinks that the Torah Im Derech Eretz philosophy is not viable for him, then let him resign. Such an attitude, displayed in public, shows a leader who has already given in rather than fighting the good fight."

  3. What's TIDE?

    Last I heard, it was laundry detergent or bleach or something.

  4. Note: the above was written by a ghost person.

  5. As someone whose child attends the school, I'm glad that the people running the elementary don't agree with Rabbi Mantel.

    Scraps - there are (somewhat vague) plans to eventually re-open the girl's HS, as I understand. The average class size is up and they're getting a lot of families from outside Washington Heights again.

  6. As a former Breuer's girl, I am saddened, but not surprised. It is still such a wonderful community. Simple, cultured, principled Jews.

  7. I just don't uunderstand why everyone is celebrating the 200th anniversary of his BIRTH.
    Usually we reflect on the yahrtzeit...
    Is there a minhag I'm unaware of?

  8. While the incident is another setback for the already fragile and fraying Washington Heights/KAJ community, Rav Mantel said nothing that any Torah authority would argue with: We must be directed by the leaders of our time. "Dor dor vedorshov."

    The German-Jewish absorption into the melting pot of Orthodox Jewish America appears now to be nearing completion. Much of the Washington Heights community blended into Monsey(which has its own KAJ) and other communities. For the most part, all the yekkes I grew up with are, today, indistinguishable from all the other yeshiva guys I went to school with.

    Yekkes are barely any longer a distinct "community," not because they haven't tried, but because the culture of the United States, in all its democratic glory and fiscally upward mobility, does not lend itself to those sorts of enclaves.

    Fortunately, none of that matters. What the Yekkeshe community can take pride in - and this is, lulei demistafina, the ultimate trophy - is that Torah Im Derech Eretz is the de facto standard of American Orthodoxy.

    Most of us go to work, speak unaccented English, and are friendly and honest with the "outside" world. Again, that's most of us. Even in Lakewood, the vast majority of heads of households are not sitting in Kollel but hold jobs that require them to deal with the outside world. Lakewood is not the ghetto that it is perceived - nor that it perceives itself - to be.

    Two centuries later, Rav Hirsch has won not only the battle, but also the war.

  9. Cloojew, with respect, get a clue. Yeesh. Are the values being stuffed down the average black hatter and sem girl's throats in line with those advocated by Rav Hirsch?! Come on.

  10. The best article ever written on Hirsch’s everlasing impact is by Rabbi Y. Frankfurter which was recently published in Mishpacha Magazine. I enjoyed it immensely. Click here:

  11. >I just don't uunderstand why everyone is celebrating the 200th anniversary of his BIRTH.
    Usually we reflect on the yahrtzeit...
    Is there a minhag I'm unaware of<

    Who wants to wait that long?