Friday, June 14, 2019

The Rebbe and TIDE

This post appeared as a guest post at

I have responded to comments there. Although many of the comments are drivel, there are many substantive comments and it is worth performing the necessary borer to read them

See also the first comment there.

One point further:
I would not have chosen that title. 
My title, as you see in this post,
was "The Rebbe and TIDE."
Reb Herschel subsequently changed the post title.

A wealth of explanatory articles concerning TIDE is at Of particular importance for the purpose of this conversation is

I have added some images from that article and some other important additional information at the end of this post.

The Avner Institute presents a 1962 letter from the Rebbe to a Yeshiva University professor about the nature of today’s American Jewish youth and why they can no longer relate to Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch's philosophy of "Torah im Derech Eretz, where the Torah is maximized in partnership with worldly involvement."

Rabbi Samson (Shimshon) Rafael Hirsch (1808-1888) was the most influential rabbi of nineteenth-century Germany and the founder of the Torah im Derech Eretz school of Judaism, which stressed that “the Torah is maximized in partnership with worldly involvement.” Author of Horeb and Nineteen Letters on Judaism, Hirsch labored to win westernized youth back to Judaism and helped make Torah relevant to the modern era.

Rabbi Hirsch has been considered controversial among many prominent rabbis, who disapproved of his integration of secular and Jewish studies. Nevertheless, there are some who understand “Derech Eretz” to mean anything elevated through Torah study or practice, and therefore secular studies can be reconciled with practical knowledge or whatever was necessary to earn a living.

Other Jews, however, understand Rabbi Hirsch in the sense of Torah U’Madda, a synthesis of Torah knowledge and secular knowledge–each for its own sake. This is the prevalent philosophy of Yeshiva University, the New York campus noted for its blended curricula. In this view, it is considered permissible, and even productive, for Jews to learn gentile philosophy, music, art, literature and ethics for their own sake.

The following is a letter of the Rebbe. Written in 1962 to a Yeshiva University professor, the Rebbe explains the nature of today’s American Jewish youth and why they can no longer relate to Rabbi Hirsch’s philosophy of Torah im Derech Eretz.

My reactions to the Rebbe’s perspectives are interspersed below, in bold.

I must touch upon another, and even more delicate, matter concerning the teachings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch whom you mentioned in your letter.

There has been a tendency lately to apply his approach in totality, here and now in the United States. While it is understandable that the direct descendants of Rabbi Hirsch or those who were brought up in that philosophy should want to disseminate his teachings, I must say emphatically that to apply his approach to the American scene will not serve the interests of Orthodoxy in America. With all due respect to his philosophy and approach, which were very forceful and effective in his time and in his milieu, Rabbi Hirsch wrote for an audience and youth which was brought up on philosophical studies, and which was permeated with all sorts of doctrines and schools of thought and disciplined in the art of intellectual research etc. Thus it was necessary to enter into long philosophical discussions to point out the fallacy of each and every thought and theory which is incompatible with the Torah and mitzvoth. There was no harm in using this approach, inasmuch as the harm had already been there, and if it could strengthen Jewish thought and practice, it was useful, and to that extent, effective.

What the Rebbe is saying here applies with no doubt to many of RSRH’s works. But TIDE is a philosophy that transcends the writings of RSRH that no longer appeal in style and approach to today’s seekers. As I wrote in a footnote to my “Forks in the Road” article about Chassidus and Misnagdus:

A detailed treatment of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s philosophy as reflected in the writings of his grandson, Dr. Isaac Breuer, is presented in my essay: Dr. Yitzchok Breuer zt"l and World History. I believe it is accurate to state the following distinction: The schools of thought presented here focus on the Avodas Hashem that is the predominant aspect of life. Torah im Derech Eretz, on the other hand, focuses on the totality of life — of a person, of the nation, and of the world —and living that life in a manner consistent with what Torah im Derech Eretz understands to be Hashem’s will and purpose for the person, the nation and the world. Hence, it is entirely possible to not follow Rabbi Hirsch’s system of Avodas Hashem (as presented in Chorev and other works), following, instead, other approaches to Avodas Hashem, such as those presented here, and still be an adherent, on the more global or holistic level, of Torah im Derech Eretz. (Conversely, it is theoretically possible for someone to reject Torah im Derech Eretz yet adopt a Hirschian mode of Avodas Hashem.)

The Rebbe continues:

However, here in the United States we have a different audience and a youth which radically differs from the type whom Rabbi Hirsch had addressed originally. American youth is not the philosophic turn of mind. They have neither the patience nor the training to delve into long philosophical discussions, and to evaluate different systems and theories when they are introduced to all sorts of ideas, including those that are diametrically opposed to the Torah and mitzvoth, and there are many of them, since there are many falsehoods but only one truth, this approach can only bring them to a greater measure of confusion. Whether or not the final analysis and conclusions will be accepted by them, one thing is certain: that the seeds of doubt will have multiplied in their minds, since each theory has its prominent proponent bearing impressive titles of professors, PhDs, etc.

Here is where the Rebbe conflates TIDE with Torah u’Madda. The adherents of TIDE present secular perspectives as subordinate, yet essential, enhancements of Torah itself. It is TuM, especially in RYBS’s Ramasayim Tzofim perspective, that does not automatically clarify that secular perspectives are, perforce, subordinate to Torah and only validated thereby.

The Rebbe here is, to a very large extent, adhering to classic Chassidic perspectives that associate Chochmos Chitzonyios with kelipos. And not with kelipas noga…

This is very much counter to the Misnagdic perspective of the Gra, which is almost identical to TIDE. The following abridgment of the famous passage in the Introduction to the Pe’as HaShulchan is at

The following is from pages 148-149 of Judaism's Encounter with
Other Cultures: Rejection or Integration?

Given what the GRA said below, one can only wonder why music is not
taught in all of our yeshivas. For the record, a friend of mine who
is the secular studies principal of a Mesivta in Brooklyn wrote to
me that his school does have a course in music appreciation. YL

R. Israel of Shklov (d. 1839) wrote:

I cannot refrain from repeating a true and astonishing story that I
heard from the Gaon's disciple R. Menahem Mendel. It took place when
the Gaon of Vilna celebrated the completion of his commentary on Song
of Songs... He raised his eyes toward heaven and with great
devotion began blessing and thanking God for endowing him with the
ability to comprehend the light of the entire Torah. This included
its inner and outer manifestations. He explained: All secular wisdom
is essential for our holy Torah and is included in it. He indicated
that he had mastered all the branches of secular wisdom, including
algebra, trigonometry, geometry, and music. He especially praised
music, explaining that most of the Torah accents, the secrets of the
Levitical songs, and the secrets of the Tikkunei Zohar could not be
comprehended without mastering it... He explained the significance
of the various secular disciplines, and noted that he had mastered
them all. Regarding the discipline of medicine, he stated that he
had mastered anatomy, but not pharmacology. Indeed, he had wanted to
study pharmacology with practicing physicians, but his father
prevented him from undertaking its study, fearing that upon
mastering it he would be forced to curtail his Torah study whenever
it would become necessary for him to save a life... He also
stated that he had mastered all of philosophy, but that he had
derived only two matters of significance from his study of it...
The rest of it, he said, should be discarded." [11]

[11.] Pe'at ha-Shulhan, ed. Abraham M. Luncz (Jerusalem, 1911), 5a.

This translation actually excludes a key line, and misses a key line elsewhere in the Talmidei HaGra – see'רבי_אליהו_מוילנא:

דעת הגר"א על לימוד חכמות החול

תלמידי הגר"א מעידים שהגר"א ראה חשיבות וערך בלימוד חכמות החול. רבי ישראל משקלוב, תלמיד הגר"א, מביא (בהקדמתו ל'פאת השולחן', ד"ה ומצידה ביאור ארוך; - מובא להלן בהרחבה) בשם רבו

כל החכמות נצרכים לתורתנו הקדושה[31] וכלולים בה[32]

דברים דומים, אך חדים וחריפים יותר, נוכל למצוא בהקדמה לספר "אוקלידוס" המתורגם לעברית על ידי רבי ברוך (בן יעקב) שיק משקלוב, (האג תק"ם), בה מספר המתרגם[33]

"והנה בהיותי בק"ק (- קהילת קודש) וילנה המעטירה, אצל הרב אצל הרב המאור הגאון הגדול מ"ו (- מורנו ורבנו) מאור עיני הגולה החסיד המפורסם כמוה"ר אלי' נר"ו (- הגר"א), בחודש טבת תקל"ח, שמעתי מפיו

כי כפי מה שיחסר לאדם ידיעות משארי החכמות — לעומת זה יחסר לו מאה ידות בחכמת התורה, כי התורה והחכמה נצמדים יחד

וצִווה לי (- הגר"א) להעתיק מה שאפשר ללשוננו הקדוש מחכמות [החול][34], כדי להוציא בולעם מפיהם[35] וישוטטו רבים ותרבה הדעת[36] בין עמנו ישראל

The Rebbe continues:

Besides, the essential point and approach is “Thou shalt be wholehearted with G-d, thy G-d.” The surest way of remaining a faithful Jew is not through philosophy but through the actual experience of the Jewish way of life in the daily life, fully and wholeheartedly. As for the principle “know what to answer the heretic,” this is surely only one particular aspect, and certainly does not apply to everyone. Why introduce every Jewish boy and girl to the various heretics that ever lived?

This, too, is a straw-man argument. Indeed, the approach of RSRH is much less about philosophy and certainly not about heresy. The following controversy does exist, but is not at all in line with the Rebbe’s assertion. I have written elsewhere:

Of course, not everyone may agree with Prof. Levi's perspective (that Hirschian TIDE is expressed in the study of mathematics and the sciences, not in the study of secular literature). In a recent essay published in Judaism's Encounter with Other Cultures: Rejection or Integration?, Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion takes a very different view (see also Avodah Mailing List 3:107 at

In his essay, Torah and General Culture: Confluence and Conflict, Rabbi Lichtenstein argues that the madda that complements Torah includes the humanities as well:

And yet at bottom, the notion that Shakespeare is less meaningful than Boyle, Racine irrelevant but Lavoisier invaluable, remains very strange doctrine indeed. Rabbi Lichtenstein writes:

To those who extol chemistry because it bespeaks the glory of the Ribbono Shel Olam but dismiss Shakespeare because he only ushers us into the Globe Theater, one must answer, first, that great literature often offers us a truer and richer view of the essence – the Inscape, to use Hopkins' word – of even physical reality… Can anyone doubt that appreciation of God's flora is enhanced by Wordsworth's description of: A crowd/ a host, of golden daffodils;/ Beside the lake, beneath the trees,/ Fluttering and dancing in the breeze?

Rabbi Lichtenstein continues to assert:

Whether impelled by demonic force or incandescent aspiration, great literature, from the fairy tale to the epic, plumbs uncharted existential and experiential depths which are both its wellsprings and its subjects… Hence, far from diverting attention from the contemplation of God's majestic cosmos, the study of great literature focuses upon a manifestation, albeit indirect, of His wondrous creation at its apex… To the extent that the humanities focus upon man, they deal not only with a segment of divine creation, but with its pinnacle… In reading great writers, we can confront the human spirit doubly, as creation and as creator.

But how does this approach complement Torah?

The dignity of man is not the exclusive legacy of Cicero and Pico della Mirandola. It is a central theme in Jewish thought, past and present. Deeply rooted in Scripture, copiously asserted by Chazal, unequivocally assumed by Rishonim, religious humanism is a primary and persistent mark of a Torah weltanschauung. Man's inherent dignity and sanctity, so radically asserted through the concept of Tzelem Elokim; his hegemony and stewardship with respect to nature, concern for his spiritual and physical well-being; faith in his metaphysical freedom and potential – all are cardinal components of traditional Jewish thought… How then can one question the value of precisely those fields which are directly concerned with probing humanity?

But cannot sources for religious inspiration be found in Torah?

An account of Rabbi Akiva's spiritual odyssey could no doubt eclipse Augustine's. But his confessions have been discreetly muted. The rigors of John Stuart Mill’s education – and possibly, their repercussions – are not without parallel in our history. But what corresponds to his fascinating Autobiography? Or to the passionate Apologia Vita Sue of his contemporary, John Henry Cardinal Newman? Our Johnsons have no Boswells.

To be sure, Rabbi Lichtenstein's arguments are impassioned and eloquent. I cannot speak for Prof. Levi, but I imagine that he would argue that in the absence of solid and conclusive evidence from Chazal and other classic sources, Rabbi Lichtenstein's position cannot be considered normative.

It is well beyond the scope of this review to contrast Rabbi Lichtenstein… with Prof. Levi… It is tantalizing to reflect on the different statements with which they approach the gap between the perspectives they champion and the dominant Torah-only school.

Rabbi Lichtenstein:

Advocates of Torah u-Madda can certainly stake no exclusive claims. It would not only be impudent but foolish to impugn a course which has produced most Gedolei Yisrael and has in turn been championed by them. Neither, however, should exclusionary contentions be made by its opponents. While Torah u-Madda is not every one's cup of tea, it certainly deserves a place as part of our collective spiritual fare.

Prof. Levi (p. 251):

I cannot conclude without addressing the sharp contrast between what we have learned here, concerning the centrality of the Torah Im Derech Eretz principle, and what we see in the yeshiva world… I have heard from several great Torah scholars that this opposition is a temporary injunction (hora'ath sha'ah). In time of emergency, it is indeed sometimes necessary to deviate from the Torah's demands in order to save the Torah itself… This was especially important after the terrible Holocaust that visited European Jewry.

To Rabbi Lichtenstein, his approach is an available option. Prof. Levi, on the other hand, sees his approach as normative. To me, Rabbi Lichtenstein’s approach is only an option because he subscribes to his illustrious father in law’s Ramasayim Tzofim perspective of TuM. In my opinion, RSRH, on the other hand, would see Rabbi Lichtenstein’s approach as modified by TIDE as normative. After all, RSRH was an admirer of Friedrich von Schiller (see The Lord of the Rings has its place in Hirschian TIDE, although perhaps not in the TIDE of the Gra.

The Rebbe continues:

The whole problem is a delicate one, and I have written the above only in the hope that you may be able to use your influence with certain circles in Washington Heights, that they should again re-examine the whole question and see if the Rabbi Hirsch approach should be applied to the American scene. My decided opinion is, of course, that it should not, and I hope that whatever measure of restraint you may accomplish through your influence will be all good. I hope to hear good news from you also in regard to this.

I don’t know to which side of Washington Heights the Rebbe was referring, but I believe he would have received strong-worded rejections from both the east and west sides of the Heights.

The Rebbe continues:

Enclosed is a copy of my message to the delegates of N’shei Chabad, which I trust Mrs. Goodman will find interesting, since the contents of the message are intended for all Jewish men and women.
I was gratified to read in your letter that you recall our conversation with regard to your writing of your memoirs, and, as in case of all recollections in Jewish life, the purpose of which is to give it expression in actual deed, I trust that this will be the case also in regard to your memoirs.

I want to take this opportunity to mention another point which we touched upon during our conversation, and which I followed up in writing. I refer to the movement of Torah im Derech Eretz, which has sometimes become a doctrine of Derech Eretz im Torah, alluding to the saying of our Sages that derech eretz came before Torah. However, the term derech eretz is interpreted as a college education, and it is claimed to be the doctrine of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch of blessed memory.

This is such a simplistic understanding of TIDE that it is staggering to me that the Rebbe could have written such a distorted statement.

Rabbi Joseph Breuer, A Unique Perspective, pp. 387-388:

Generally, the superficial student deduces from the TIDE precept… the necessity of acquiring secular knowledge, i.e., the training and proficiency in worldly cultures and professions… a broader sense, Derech Eretz embraces the “earth way” of a Yehudi, who seeks self perfection in all his actions and strivings under the rulership of the Will of God.

The Rebbe continues:

As you will recall, I made the point in my previous letter on this subject that in my opinion, with all due respect to this policy and school of thought which had their time and place, they are not al all suitable for American Jewish youth and present times and conditions, especially in the United States. I even made so bold a move as to try to enlist your cooperation to use your influence to discourage the reintroduction of this movement on the American Jewish scene, since it is my belief that your word carries a great deal of weight in these circles here.

I want to note with gratification that on the basis of unofficial and behind the scenes information which has reached me from the circles in question, the point which I made with regard to this school of thought has been gaining evermore adherents. It is becoming increasingly recognized that a college education is not a vital necessity and is not even of secondary importance. Many begin to recognize that the Torah, Toras Chaim, is, after all, the best sechorah (reward), even as a “career.” In the light of this new reappraisal, attendance at college is being recognized as something negative and interfering with detracting from the study of Torah. So much for the younger generation.

Again, the simplistic, reductionist understanding of TIDE.

The Rebbe continues:

However, the older generation, especially those, whose own character and background has been fashioned overseas, in Germany, still cling to the said school of thought. The reason may be because it is difficult for a person in the prime of his life, or in a more advanced age, to radically change his whole outlook and reexamine the whole approach in which one has been trained and steeped, in the light of contemporary conditions in the United States, or it may simply be due to inertia and the like.
In view of the above, and inasmuch as a considerable impact has already been made in the right direction, I consider it even more auspicious at the time that you should use your good influence in this direction. All the more so since, judging by your energy and outlook, I trust you can be included with the younger generation and not the older one. For the younger generation is not only more energetic and enthusiastic about things, but is more prone to take up new ideas which require an extra measure of courage, to be different from others and to face new challenges. I believe that you have been blessed with a goodly measure of these youthful qualities.

It is indeed a tragedy that the younger generation did not receive education in precepts of TIDE. Every time a Jew alleged to be Torah-true gets caught in fraudulent and deceptive dealings the tragedy is manifest. Rabbi Breuer penetrating aphorism concerning Glatt Yosher comes to mind. As he writes (ibid., p. 369):

God’s Torah not only demands the observance of kashrus and the sanctification of our physical enjoyment; it also insists on the sanctification of our social relationships. This requires the strict application of the tenets of justice and righteousness, which avoids even the slightest trace of dishonesty (emphasis in the original) in our business dealings and personal life.

I might conclude that this subject is timely in these days, on the Eve of Shavuot when the first condition of receiving the Torah was the unity of the Jewish people so that it could be receptive to the unity of G-d, as expressed in the first and second of the Ten Commandments. For the unity of G-d means not only in the literal sense of the said commandments, but that there should be no other authority or power compared with G-dliness, until there is the full realization that “There is nothing besides him.” And this idea is brought about by the One Torah, which is likewise one and only and exclusive, so that when we say that it is Toras Chaim, it means that it is literally our very source and only source of life in this life, too, and that there can be no other essential source or even a secondary source next to the Torah, even as far as our daily resources in the ordinary aspects of the life are concerned.

And we conclude with the words of Rabbi Breuer (ibid., pp. 534, 536):

RSRH, together with his contemporary rabbinic leaders considered TIDE, as he enunciated it, a necessity, and declared emphatically that it was not a הוראת שעה. His eminent successor, Rav Dr. Salomon Breuer, said just shortly before his passing that he was convinced that this approach “will be מקרב הגאולה"

...The TIDE approach is the right one for ארץ ישראל and the Disapora. The waves that rush over the TIDE approach at the present time will run out and they will also take their victims with them. As we have stated, the TIDE approach must unfortunately expect to suffer losses, with its demand of perseverance and dedication to Torah. This will be true until the time of Moshiach, when the Prophetic promise (Yeshayahu 60:21) ועמך כולם צדיקים will be realized, במהרה בימינו.

See also the discussion at:

Some more information I found this evening about the Rebbe and Chabad vs. TIDE:

1. It is fascinating to me that the Rebbe equated RSRH with the Drush Ohr HaChaim of the Tiferes Yisroel:

ו) ועוד להעיר - שהפליאה אדרבה על אלה שאין רוצים להסתפק בהפירושים שקדמונו - עכ"פ בהנוגע לפירושים ע"ד הפשט, שלמדו בהם את התנ"ך וביארוהו כל צרכם. ואפילו בהביא בחשבון התגליות וכו' הרי לזה מספיק הערה בשולי הגליון, ואין כל צורך בעריכת פירוש מחדש. ובהתבונן להמצב בדורנו וכו' וכו'- הנה פלא הדבר שדוקא בני דור הצעיר רוצים לחזור אל המקורות, אלא שאותם שנלחמו במשכילים בצעירותם- נדמה להם שגם דור החדש רוצה להלחם, ובמילא אוחזים בתכסיסים וכלי זיין שאין בהם כל צורך כלל. ואם בכלי זיין גשמיים מתוך שאינו צריך אינו נאה (שבת ס"ג א') - הרי בהנוגע לרוחניים הוא גם מזיק. וכנראה במוחש מכל הספרות, שבסגנון החדש קורין לזה אפולגטית, האט מען דערפון צרות עד היום [לרבות הדרוש אור החיים של בעל תפארת ישראל, ספרי הרב הירש ועוד, ועד בדור דורות לפנים - פרושי פילון (ידידי') האלכסנדרי שרצו להתאים אף כי בכוונה טובה, ליפיפותו וכו' - אך שאינה שייכת ואינה אמיתית בכגון דא] וד"ל.

2. I think this page says it all. In the final analysis, the Rebbe was following the path of his illustrious predecessors. We adherents of TIDE must therefore not be surprised at the Rebbe's distaste for TIDE:

Finally, from Our Way:

and from Glatt Kosher - Glatt Yosher:

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

The schedule for my upcoming Shavuos at
Cong. Etz Chaim
147-19 73rd Ave
Flushing, New York

The "Tikkun Yom Shavuot" is on the first day of Shavuos, Sunday, May 8th.
The Panel is on the second day of Shavuos, Monday, May 9th.

Image may contain: text

Professor Lev's Response to Rav Dessler's Letter on Frankfurt vs. Volozhin

Image result for torah im derech eretz

This post originally appeared in my blog on January 15, 2007. I was looking for it for an upcoming Shavuos shiur and found it badly formatted. This is a do-over.

Avodah V4 #239

Some remarks on a letter of Rabbi E. E. Dessler
William Z. Low

ABSTRACT: IN A LETTER written in B'nei B'rak a few years before his death
Rabbi Dessler discusses the relative merits of the Torah im Derech Eretz
and Lithuanian yeshivah systems of education. William Low investigates the
points Rabbi Dessler makes, and considers the fundamental question of how
Gedolei Torah are nurtured.

Bio: WILLIAM Z. LOW (or Ze'ev Lev as he is called in Ivrit) has been Professor
of Experimental Physics at the Hebrew University since 1961, having joined
the staff when he emigrated to Israel in 1950. He has had a distinguished
research career, having been awarded the Israel Prize in Science in 1956,
when he was only thirty-four years old, for his work on paramagnetic
resonance, and the Rothschild Prize for Exact Sciences in 1963. But he
is best known in Torah circles for his part in establishing the Jerusalem
College of Technology (popularly known as Machon Lev) which enables young
men to combine Torah study with a career in technology. For ten years he
served both as Rector and President while the College increased in strength
and numbers. In addition to his numerous scientific publications, Professor
Low has published halachic articles of importance, particularly relating to
halachah and modern technology. He is the author of a book in this area, Beirur
Musagim Koach Kocho V'koach Sheni B'halachah, published by Mossad Harav Kook.

1. Introduction

I HAD THE privilege of knowing the late revered Rabbi Dessler during the
period when he lived in Israel, and I often attended his mussar talks
given to professionals, and in particular to physicians, in private homes
in Jerusalem. Many of those invited were of German-Jewish or Anglo-Jewish
background, or had studied Torah in Lithuanian Yeshivot, and had later studied
in academic institutions. In addition, I had many private conversations with
Rabbi Dessler in Jerusalem and in B'nei B'rak, and he mentioned to me during
the later years of his life when he was living in B'nei B'rak that he had
changed some of the ideas that he had formed in England. When one studies
Rabbi Dessler's writings, one should be careful to note during which period
of his life the discourse referred to was delivered. It is possible that
this change in his ideas was due partly to repercussions of the Holocaust,
and partly to the effect of life in B'nei B'rak. The letter to which I wish
to refer was written in 5711 in B'nei B'rak a few years before his death
(in 5714), and is reproduced in vol. 3 of Michtav Me-Eliyahu (p. 356). In
it Rabbi Dessler discusses the relative advantages and disadvantages of the
religious educational systems of Frankfurt, commonly referred to as Torah im
Derech Eretz, and that of the yeshivot in Lithuania and Poland. His argument
can be summarized as follows:

The Frankfurt school supported an educational system in which the students
were exposed to the study of secular subjects[1] and later went on to
Universities. At the same time it paid attention to the strict observance
of all the mitzvot. The advantage of the system was that the vast majority
of its adherents stayed Orthodox and carefully observed the ordinances of
the Shulchan Aruch, despite the fact that they were exposed to a general
non-Jewish intellectual environment. The price paid for this was that few,
if any, Gedolei Torah emerged from such an educational system. In addition,
exposure to non-Torah ideas affected to some extent the purity of their
faith in the absolute truth of Torah, resulting in strange compromises.
The Lithuanian Rashei Yeshivah, on the other hand, set as their main objective
to educate Gedolei Torah, discouraging all contact with the intellectual
world outside the yeshivah. The price they paidalbeit willinglywas also heavy,
since many of the yeshivah students strayed from such an austere and difficult
path, and became irreligious in their encounter with the Haskalah and other
revolutionary movements.[2] Those who left the yeshivah world were advised
to take simple non-professional jobs, for example as small businessmen,
rather than study for an academic career.[3] Those yeshivah students who
did go on to study at University were therefore disregarded. The connection
between Rashei Yeshivah and these Orthodox university students was severed
in order to prevent their exercising a detrimental influence on the the rest
of the yeshivah students.[4] The heavy price, the sacrifice of many for the
sake of a few potential Gedolei Torah, was based possibly on a midrash in
Vayikra Rabbah 2:1, One thousand students enter to study Mikra [Bible]...and
only one emerges to hora'ah [halachic decision-making].[5]

The question discussed by Rabbi Dessler is of great interest to all who are
concerned with Torah education. There will be general agreement that it is of
paramount importance to create the conditions that enable the Gedolei Chachmei
Yisrael (great Sages of Israel) to develop and flourish. This elite is the
backbone of the Jewish people in each generation, and any deterioration in
the level of Torah learning, or any significant decrease in the number of
this elite group, has serious repercussions for that particular generation,
and probably even for future generations.

We have used the term Gedolei Chachmei Yisrael following Rambam (Hilchot
Lulav 8:14), who clearly differentiates between Gedolei Chachmei Yisrael
and Rashei Yeshivah or members of the Sanhedrin. The first category is the
top of the elite structure and takes priority over all other categories. In
his introduction to the Mishneh Torah, Rambam lists the names of Rabbis
in successive generations until Rav Ashi and calls them Gedolei Chachmei
Yisrael. Thousands of others, according to Rambam, studied in the yeshivot
during that period.

The emergence of a genius is a matter of chance, but it is possible to
create conditions which enable him to flourish. It is obligatory in each
generation to foster an atmosphere in which such a genius, should he emerge,
can develop his full potentiality. In a sense any assistance which can be
given to such personalities should be classified as pikuach nefesh ruchani,
spiritual salvation of the Jewish people.

Over thirty years have elapsed since Rabbi Dessler wrote this letter.
We now have more information available about the two systems of education
so clearly outlined by Rabbi Dessler, and their results, and we can suggest
a number of pertinent questions which need objective examination.

Is it true that the Lithuanian yeshivot constituted the main cradle of
outstanding Gedolei Torah? What are the precise conditions needed to foster
and nurture such personalities? Is there a correlation between the decline
of Torah scholarship and the methodology of Torah im Derech Eretz? What is
the influence of general surroundings on yeshivah students? Do yeshivah
students also harbor two sets of cultural attitudes? What lessons can be
learned from the experience of the systems of education which can serve as
a guide to the current situation in the Torah world?

An exhaustive treatment of these questions is clearly beyond the scope of a
short article. But I do hope to make a number of points which may stimulate
others to think more deeply about these vital matters.

2. Factual Analysis of the Emergence of Gedolei Torah in Different Jewish
   Centers of Population

Although no detailed analysis has ever been undertaken of the conditions needed
for Gedolei Torah to develop to their full capacity, some tentative conclusions
can be drawn from a careful study of Jewish history. The Almighty has in His
wisdom looked after the spiritual welfare of our nation. In several periods
of our history, when there was a decline in the level of Torah study and its
deeper understanding in some existing major centers, new powerful centers
emerged in other locations. For example, at the end of the Geonic period in
Babylonia, the yeshivot there were in considerable disarray. New centers of
Torah leadership emerged in North Africa, Spain and Italycountries that had
no previous tradition of yeshivot or Torah centers. (The story of the four
captives who were redeemed, each of whom established a new Torah center,
is well known.)

When the Jewish centers of learning in Southern Germany and Northern France
were destroyed during the Crusades, Torah scholarship began to decline. A
single person, R. Yaakov Polak (together with his son-in-law R. Shalom
Shachna), established a new center in Lublin. Poland at that time (the early
sixteenth century) had a population of amei ha'aretz (people ignorant of Torah)
and no yeshivah. Within two generations, Poland had become the main center
of Jewish learning, producing giants of the caliber of Rabbi Shlomo Luria
(the Maharshal) and Rabbi Moshe Isserles (the Rama). Torah study spread from
this center to all Eastern Europe, where it remained until the twentieth
century. Recently, when all centers of Torah study were annihilated during
the Holocaust, and there was a danger that serious Torah study would cease
within a short time, new centers emerged in the U.S.A. and Israel.

The growth of yeshivah students in Israel during the past twenty years is
quite remarkable. If we take all types of yeshivot and kollelim into account,
the number of full-time yeshivah students in Israel is about four or five
times that in the U.S.A. The Jewish population in Israel is only half that of
the U.S.A., and the relative standard of living is much lower. On the other
hand, the number of shomrei Shabbat in Israel is about twenty-five percent
of the population or over 800,000 as compared with a few percent in the
U.S.A. and Canada. These facts should be borne in mind when assessing the
current Torah situation. It is of particular importance in our generation
and the next generation to strengthen these centers which are so vital to
the future of our people.

Let us focus attention on Western Europe. Rabbi Dessler is undoubtedly
correct in stating that for several generations it had not produced any
Geonim (Torah geniuses) of the stature of R. Aryeh Leib ben Asher (the
Sha'agat Aryeh), R. Aryeh Leib HaCohen (the Ketzot), R. Yitzchak Babad
(the Minchat Chinnuch), R. Meir Simchah (the Ohr Sameach) or R. Yosef Rosen
(the Rogatchover). However, to conclude that Torah im Derech Eretz was the
main factor contributing to this decline may well be simplistic.

For many generations before R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, Western Europe had to
import Gedolei Torah from Eastern Europe. Examples are R. Yaakov Yehoshua
Horowitz (the P'nei Yehoshua), Rabbi of Frankfurt, who came from Galicia;
R. Aryeh Leib (the Sha'agat Aryeh), Rabbi of Metz, who came from Russia;
R. Yechezkel Landau (the Noda BiYehudah), Rabbi of Prague, who came
from Galicia.[6] The number of Geonim in Western Europe has decreased
steadily during the past 400-500 years. The decrease was accelerated
after the French Revolution by the breakdown of ghettos and the impact of
Emancipation. Religious society was ill-prepared to cope with the confrontation
with Western civilization.

It was only much later, with the advent of R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, that
this trend of assimilation was partially halted. The impact of Torah im
Derech Eretz was not limited to his Austrittsgemeinde (independent Orthodox
community), but had an important influence on Orthodox and non-Orthodox
society within the general Jewish communities. These included many of the
Eastern European immigrants to Western Europe before and after World War I,
including many Chasidic adherents who could not, and probably did not wish to,
be integrated in the Austrittsgemeinde. Such communities, while not adhering
to the philosophy of Torah im Derech Eretz, practiced it pragmatically as
businessmen or semi-professionals.[7]

Hence, although it is factually correct to say that the educational methods
of the Frankfurt school in its German-Jewish setting did not produce Gedolei
Torah, there is no proof that it might not be more successful in another
setting. One can infer that the method was not successful in the framework
of Western Europe where the vast majority of Jews had become assimilated. In
Western Europe before World War I, there were no advanced centers of Torah
study of the quality of Lithuanian yeshivot, and in the time span of one
hundred years no exceptional Gedolei Torah appeared.[8] Although some Gedolim
moved to Western Europe, their influence was not very significant.

An exception seems to have been R. Yechiel Weinberg, who taught at the
Rabbiner-Seminar in Berlin. Rabbi Weinberg's influence on Orthodox Jewry
in Germany was profound, and possibly in time a much higher level of rabbi
might have emerged from this seminary. Rabbi Weinberg himself was favorably
disposed to the method of Torah im Derech Eretz, and even had a high respect
for German culture. Also German yeshivah students who went to study at the Mir
Yeshivah might have changed the pattern of the Frankfurt school considerably.
But the Holocaust put an end to such possibilities.

There was one experiment in Lithuania involving the establishment of a
yeshivah high school which included secular studies, and which nevertheless
produced Gedolei Torah. R. Simchah Zissel Ziv (Broide) of Kelm, the leading
disciple of R. Yisrael Salanter, established this school, and although the
idea was attacked by a number of contemporary rabbis, the school lasted
for twenty years, and was an outstanding educational success (for details
see R. Dov Katz, Tenuat Hamussar, vol. 2, p. 68, 192). Among its pupils
were leading Rashei Yeshivah of the last generation including the father of
Rabbi E. E. Dessler, R. Natan Zvi Finkel (the Alter of Slabodka), R. Moshe
Mordechai Epstein (of Slabodka and later Hevron), R. Naftali Tropp and others.

The inference by some people that, since R. Yisrael Salanter did not visit
the school, he disapproved of it, can be discounted. It is inconceiv-able
that R. Simchah Zissel, who adhered to all the teachings of his mentor,
would establish something of which his rebbe disapproved. In any case R. Dov
Katz quotes the personal evidence of Rabbi E. E. Dessler in the name of his
father that when the possibility arose that the school might have to close,
R. Simchah Zissel sent to ask advice of R. Yisrael Salanter and was told
that its closure would represent a type of churban Bet Hamikdash. There
is evidence that R. Yisrael himself, after his visit to Germany, was not
averse to some aspects of Torah im Derech Eretz (see R. Yechiel Weinberg,
Seridei Esh, vol. 4, p. 294).

The reasons for the eventual closure of the school were not educational but
personal and individual, and are described in detail by R. Dov Katz. We can
infer from this experiment and another abortive experiment by R. Yaakov
Reines in Lida that some Rashei Yeshivah and rabbanim in Lithuania were
sympathetic to educational programmes that included secular subjects.

It is clear that Torah im Derech Eretz was helpful in stopping the inroads
of assimilation in Western Europe. On the other hand, the effect of general
assimilation, the impact of socialism, the Bund, secular Zionists, in addition
to the mass exodus to the U.S.A, were beginning to have a disastrous effect on
Jewry in Eastern Europe despite the existence of Gedolei Torah. Despite the
growth of yeshivot in Lithuania, religious society on the whole in Eastern
Europe was ill-prepared to cope with the onslaught of Western culture and
civilization. In the long run it is doubtful whether even these yeshivot
would have stood their ground and attracted the elite element from which
Gedolim can emerge. The Holocaust in Europe stopped this development.[9]

The discussion of Gedolei Torah and their origin at the beginning of this
section inevitably leads to the confirmation of the thesis implicit in
Rabbi Dessler's remarks (that Gedolei Torah were concentrated in places
where Torah study abounded). The majority of Rashei Yeshivah did originate
in Lithuania, and to a smaller extent in Russia and Poland. As a result of
this, the Lithuanian method of study has conquered the majority of yeshivot
both in Israel and the U.S.A.

3. Does the Yeshivah System Produce Gedolei Torah?

This question has never been raised previously, to the best of my
knowledge. Rabbi Dessler takes it as axiomatic that there is a direct
relationship between Gedolei Torah and yeshivot. There is indeed a definite
correlation; in the communities that had many talmidei chachamim who had
studied in yeshivot one would be likely to find Gedolei Torah. However,
a deeper analysis shows that the majority of real Geonim had not received
their important training in yeshivot. If we look at the outstanding scholars
of the last generation, we see that the Chazon Ish, R. Yitzchak Halevy Herzog,
the Rogatchover, R. Meir Simchah, R. Yosef Engel, R. Chaim Brisker, and the
majority of Gedolim of Galicia and Poland, had spent little time studying
in educational institutions like Lithuanian yeshivot.

I have discussed this fact with many Rashei Yeshivah of the last generation,
and the general consensus was that yeshivot served the good and very good
student, but not the brilliant student. The brilliant students went their
own way. This was best clarified for me by the late R. Chazkel Sarna, Rosh
Yeshivah of Yeshivat Hevron in Jerusalem. His policy was not to limit the
exceptional students in any way. He let them study anywhere they wished,
in any bet midrash (not necessarily the yeshivah's), at their own pace,
according to their own timetable, and with anyone they wanted, having to
report to him only once a week. He felt that even Yeshivat Hevron would hinder
their progress. A genius is usually restricted by a structured atmosphere.

R. Dessler does not actually state that the yeshivot produce Gedolei Torah,
but says that it is their stated goal to do so. The inference that the yeshivot
actually produce Gedolim does not seem to be borne out by the facts. Yeshivot
produce, at best, Rashei Yeshivah of the same pattern as the yeshivot in which
they studied. However, it is possible that in order to produce Gedolim a total
environment is required that puts great value on our elite system, and this
environment is undoubtedly produced by yeshivot. The graduates who are talmidei
chachamim appreciate and revere a Gadol baTorah and hence encourage a latent
genius to achieve his potentiality. One can therefore perhaps interpret the
midrash that a thousand enter Mikra, a hundred Mishnah, ten Talmud, and only
one emerges to be a Ba'al Hora'ah as saying that statistics show that only
one out of a thousand has the potentiality for genius, and the atmosphere
of the many is needed to nurture the one. However, to base on this midrash
an ideology that it may be necessary to sacrifice hundreds if not thousands
of students for the sake of one, is far-fetched and dangerous, and probably
not in accord with Chazal and halachah. Rabbinical and lay leadership have
to be as watchful over the thousands as over the one genius, and should be
held responsible for failure to do so.

We can also learn a good deal from the growth of Torah learning in the
U.S.A. during the present century. The Lithuanian rabbis, graduates of Slabodka
and Telshe, who emigrated to the U.S.A. before World War II, were not very
successful. They established hardly any yeshivot, and the communities which
they established assimilated rapidly to the American way of life.

Even after World War II, the main organized Jewish communities in the
U.S.A. were the German Jewish community in Washington Heights, New York,
and the various Hungarian communities. These communities established the
main framework of Jewish communal life, kosher products, mikvaot, etc.

The greatest architect and builder of Torah learning was a Hungarian
Rabbi, Mr. Shraga Mendlovitz. He founded Yeshivat Torah Vodaath and took
on Lithuanian Rashei Yeshivot to head his institution, even though he may
have disagreed with some of their philosophies. It is doubtful whether the
growth of Lithuanian-type yeshivot and kollelim would have been possible
without the background of strong integrated Orthodox communities.

It seems reasonable to conclude that it has yet to be proven that the
present yeshivah system produces Gedolei Torah. What does seem to be true
is that the yeshivah system produces many new competent Rashei Yeshivah,
and an environment that can support a Gadol baTorah, should one emerge.

4. The Influence of Non-Jewish Culture on Torah Study and Observance of Mitzvot

Rabbi Dessler states, It is true that they [the Frankfurt School] benefited
in that the number of defectors from mitzvah observance was small. On the
other hand, their weltanschauung was somewhat imperfect as far as complete
acceptance of the Torah point of view is concerned. Whenever there was a
conflict between sciences (Wissenschaften) and Torah, they resorted to a
strange combination of the two, as if the two systems can be combined as a
unity (free translation).

Rabbi Dessler essentially states that German Orthodox Jewry lived in two
worlds of culture. On the one hand they strictly observed the mitzvot,
and in that sense the ethical principles underlying them, and on the other
hand they culturally assimilated to their surroundings. The conflicts were

Even nowadays, there is more than a grain of truth in this statement. It is
probably valid for many Orthodox Jewish scientists, and even more so for Jewish
sociologists, psychologists, economists and lawyers. (It has been difficult
for me to understand how an Orthodox Jew can become a lawyer or a judge;
he practices law according to a system based on a non-Jewish philosophy of
justice, and I am doubtful whether this is permitted by halachah.)

Only a few religious scientists have created a viable synthesis. Many thinking
professionals who were formerly yeshivah students find themselves struggling
with problems at different times. Their doubts and questions have not been
resolved even after discussions with their Rashei Yeshivah, who often do not
appreciate the depths of the problems. In my view there is nothing wrong with
this as long as these people stay within the Orthodox fold and maintain the
basic tenets of our faith. No one dies from honest questions and the search
for solutions to real problems, as long as his basic faith in the eternal
validity of Torah remains unshaken. It is only the naive, the ignorant, or
the person who consciously closes his eyes and ears to his surroundings who
has not at some stage of his life experienced problems with belief.[10] It is
only when a person stops believing in Torah min haShamayim that questioning
becomes biased and skeptical, and even though he may still observe mitzvot
technically, his attachment to the Torah community has been severed.

It should also be noted that the above criticism by R. Dessler may apply
to many yeshivah students today. It is virtually impossible even for a
cloistered person not to be aware of the multicultural surroundings in the
State of Israel or the Western World. The secular radio, the newspapers, even
contact and conversation with people who are not religious or do not have
a yeshivah background, must exercise an influence. This can easily be seen,
for example, in an American yeshivah student when he is put in a different
setting, say in a yeshivah in Israel. His cultural attitudes from eating to
reading are American, and his homeland in a deep sense is the U.S.A. He feels
at home there, whether because of baseball or business, food or newspapers or
politics. In a sense he is an American who is an Orthodox Jew and a budding
talmid chacham, and is not basically different from the prewar German Orthodox
Jew, except (and this is important) that he is far more of a yeshivah student
and has far more desire to increase his Torah learning. However, deep inside,
he does not consider the U.S.A. as galut, and in this sense he is strongly
culturally assimilated. Although studying in a yeshivah, he combines two
different sets of values. Some of the consequences can be seen today in the
advent of the women's liberation movement in Orthodox circles, and the rapid
increase in the divorce rate even among yeshivah graduates. Because of the
permeating influence of the outside world, educational methods which were
applicable in the yeshivot of Lithuania and Poland may not be sufficient
for the second or third generation of American or Israeli yeshivah students
and graduates.

However, there is one significant difference between the modern yeshivah
student and the Frankfurt schoolthe latter carried a banner, an ideology. The
present generation of yeshivah students in the galut disavows this ideology
in theory (much more than R. Dessler does), while in practice they themselves
behave along similar lines.

There are at present several different attitudes towards fundamental
questions when modern science seems to contradict some of our beliefs. One
group, as mentioned above, strives to grapple with the problems. A second
tries to compartmentalize; the deep belief in Torah min haShamayim gives
one the strength to feel that the difficulties will be resolved, if not
immediately perhaps later, possibly during the next generation. A third
group does not wish to be aware of such problems, and a sub-category of this
group pushes unresolved issues into the sub-conscious.[11] In a sense they
become technocrats in learning and may be exposing themselves to a serious
danger. A member of this sub-category who is exposed to tension, as in an
environment which cannot support his beliefs and behaviors, may have such
problems that he drifts away from the Orthodox Jewish way of life.

A story may help illustrate this last point. A well-known rabbi in Jerusalema
former student of R. Shimon Shkopasked me once whether I really believed
that the astronauts had reached the moon and set foot on its surface. When
I answered affirmatively he said that he did not believe it; he considered
that it was all propaganda since the Rambam states that the moon is a
spiritual object. (Incidentally, this is a complete misunderstanding of
Rambam's position.) I asked him what he would do if two deeply religious
Jews would come to him and declare under oath that they had walked on the
moon. He answered that this would, in his opinion, throw doubt on all the
sayings of the Rambam, and this would have serious consequences for his
personal religious commitments and beliefs.[12] He would not entertain the
possibility that Rambam projected the knowledge of science in his time,
and that if he had lived today he might have made a revision of the first
four chapters of Yad Hachazakah.

It seems to me therefore, that one cannot avoid tackling such fundamental
problems even in the yeshivah or in the kollel. Indeed, if one wants to
preserve the purity of derech haTorah (the Torah way), if a person wants
to strive to be a perfect Jew, he has only two possibilities; either to be
unaware of problems and to be a tamim (a person of simple faith), something
very difficult to maintain in our society, or to strengthen his belief in
Torah min haShamayim so much that he can grapple with the many different
problems that society imposes on us.

The implication is that the Rosh Yeshivah or Mashgiach in our generation
has to combine deep emunah and yirat Shamayim (faith and reverence) with an
awareness of the problems and ability to resolve them from a Torah standpoint.

[In his own approach to conflicts presented to him by his students, Rabbi
Dessler was never satisfied with superficial reconciliation. By in-depth
analysis both of the contemporary challenges and basic Torah principles,
he showed how the challenge disappeared when viewed from a proper Torah
perspective. Many examples of this approach may be found in the pages of
Michtav Me-Eliyahu. A.C.]


1- Rabbi Dessler uses the word mada. However he did not mean Science but
rather the equivalent of the term Wissenschaften. The majority of German
Orthodox academicians studied humanities, such as philosophy or law. Study
of fundamental science was at the time considered problematic. All of this
changed after World War II in the U.S. with the emergence of Orthodox Jewish

2- Many Lithuanian yeshivah students took an active part in the Russian
revolution. Some had already become irreligious before the revolution,
others during and after the revolution.

3- A different attitude was taken by the venerable Rabbi Y. M. Gordon,
Rosh Yeshivah of Lomza, and later of Petach Tikvah. He once told me that
I was fortunate to be a salaried person and not a businessman. A modern
businessman, according to him, has to transgress many sins mentioned in
Choshen Mishpat nearly every day.

4- There were exceptions to this rule, but on the whole Rashei Yeshivah
followed this trend during the fifty years before World War II. However,
should a former yeshivah man be very successful and stay a talmid chacham
he would then be considered as von unsere meaning he is one of ours.

5- Those emerging to Hora'ah should not be identified with talmidei
chachamim. It refers to a ba'al Hora'ah, to a person who is a posek, whose
decisions are accepted by the majority of the population. Another citation
in the letter is from the introduction to Moreh Nevuchim which says, Let a
thousand fools die and let only one wise man benefit. However the present
writer thinks that this reference refers to the philosophical problems of
the Rambam and has no relevance to the present discussion. (This quotation
is not actually from Rambam but from the commentary of Rabbi Shemtov.EDS.)

6- An exception is R. Moshe Sofer (the Chatam Sofer) who came from Frankfurt in
Germany to Pressburg in Hungary. However it is doubtful if Pressburg would have
accepted him as Rabbi if not for his predecessor, R. Meshulam Igra, who had
come from Galicia, and prepared the ground for the Chatam Sofer. Incidentally,
the latter was not opposed to the ideas of pragmatic Torah im Derech Eretz
and proposed the establishment of a Jewish Medical University and Hospital.

7- The interplay between Eastern European congregations in Western
Europe and the older established congregations is worthy of study. The
interchange of ideas and the dissonances between the two groups are of
particular interest. Regarding halachic aspects of the creation of the
Austrittsgemeinde, in particular the differences between Rabbi S. R. Hirsch and
Rabbi S. B. Bamberger, see the letter of R. Chaim Ozer Grodzienski regarding
permission to transfer from the general community to the Austrittsgemeinde
(Sefer Hazikaron for R. Yechiel Weinberg, p. 10).

8- We exclude Hungarian yeshivot from this discussion since their system
was very different from those of Lithuania.

9- R. Yisrael Salanter seems to have foreseen this situation
developing. Initially he directed the Mussar movement towards the general
Jewish population rather than to yeshivot. When he saw that he was not
successful in stemming the influence of Western culture, he hoped that he
could combat its influence better from outside Russia, and moved to Memel. But
again, he was unsuccessful. (See Tenuat Hamussar, vol. 1.)

10- One should not conclude from this that a mashgiach has to create doubts
in the minds of his yeshivah students. However, many students do have problems
which are normally submerged and surface only in times of crisis.

11- I have found, incidentally, that among full-time adult kollel students,
the Holocaust poses a severe religious problem, and often lurks as a major
challenge to their beliefs which they are reluctant to discuss with the
Rosh Kollel.

12- The conversation continued as follows: I asked him whether he believed
all that is written in Rambam, and he answered yes. I asked him then whether
he goes to a doctor or follows the medical advice of Rambam. He countered
that he goes to a doctor because he does not understand these portions of
Rambam. I pointed out that he has another portion of Rambam regarding the
moon which he does not understand.