Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer is in the process of starting a new Yeshiva based on the principles of Torah Im Derech Eretz and ideas addressed by Dr Nathan Birnbaum.
Below is a 1927 address by Dr Birnbaum with comments by Rabbi Bechhofer regarding how he hopes to implement these ideals.
Organized Orthodoxy is obliged to come together and create societal tools that will teach:
1. How to deepen our awareness of Hashem out of love for Him [Da’as].
2. How to dedicate ourselves to love our fellow human beings [Rachamim].
3. How to pursue modesty [hatznei’a leches] as a manifestation of the glory of our Hashem [Tiferes]…
We must admit that cold intellectualism has penetrated our relationship with Hashem. Following through with that metaphor, Ha’Olim cannot remain at ease with this frigidity. They must toil until within their societies, within each of their groupings and within each of their members there arise divine hislahavus and inner spiritual feeling.
To achieve aliya in Da’as Hashem there float before my eyes the following ideas:
1. Torah study in a more profound manner: Every “Oleh” is required to expand and deepen his knowledge of Torah and Chochmas Yisroel. Before all else, if he does not possess basic knowledge, he must acquire it upon entering the society. The society must constantly supervise its members to ensure that they are fulfilling this obligation. It must provide the opportunity to learn and grow through shiurim that it will conduct within its circle. The society shall campaign among its members, their children and their students to convince them to embark upon a term of study in a yeshiva or under a renowned talmid chacham for one to three years.
[Rabbi Bechhofer’s comments:
Although this first clause was primarily directed at the German-Jewish milieu for which it was written, it is readily translated to address the crying contemporary need of the day.
Good boys, who may do well in other subjects in high school, are often miserable when compelled to learn Gemara. They may have never had a Rebbe who gave them a geshmack in the profound analysis of a Rashi, the minute dissection of a Rambam, the intellectual challenge of a Tosafos, the scientific approach of Reb Chaim, or the philosophical profundity of Reb Shimon.
Some yeshivos teach from an axiomatic religious imperative; others from “subject among other subjects” – albeit, under the best circumstances, a “first among equals” – approach bereft of specialness. And so fine talmidim can go through twelve years of traditional Chinuch with but the most fleeting glimpses of the areyvus of Gemara, of its hod v’hadar, of that which makes one exclaim: Ma ahavti Torasecha!
Particularly in the T.I.D.E. milieu that Yeshivas HaOlim promotes, a solid one to three years Kodesh la’Hashem out of Simchas HaTorah, is an essential cornerstone for life-long exciting and uplifting pursuit of Talmud Torah k’neged kullam.]
2. Festive gatherings of Charedim, for spiritual purposes (such as the introduction of the Eastern European Shalosh Seudos, etc.).
3. Special instruction in the history and development of Hislahavus and Dveykus in Israel and its practice.
[Rabbi Bechhofer’s comments:
The davening in many contemporary yeshivos needs improvement. In some places, there is somewhat more of a sense of tzurah, of decorum. But ha’tzad ha’shaveh is that for all too many talmidim, davening is “down-time” – for shmoozing, at best for sleeping and/or sleeping.
Yeshivas HaOlim will strive to make davening meaningful and uplifting, and to ensure a talmid is not just “acting,” but knows and means what he is saying. This can be accomplished by shiurim and va’adim in Emunah, in the power of davening, and biurei tefillos.]
4. Great emphasis must be placed upon a stipulation that every Oleh to refrain from any excesses or immodesty in speech, clothing, deed and from any competitive sport or gambling.
5. The development of a pure esthetic that will free the architecture of our Shuls and the nature of our music from the influence of other religions…
To achieve aliya in bein adam l’chaveiro I consider:
1. Instruction in the issues of bein adam l’chaveiro and guidance in expanded practical applications. Both modern and classic texts should be employed, with a particular stress on current situations. To develop a greater sense of belonging to Orthodox society as a whole.
2. The obligation of every Oleh to engage in Cheshbon HaNefesh at least once a week, to ascertain if, and to what extent, he has fulfilled mitzvos and refrained from aveiros according to the instruction and guidance provided to him.
3. An outright ban on certain material pursuits.
4. Substantive and apolitical common counsel to resolve Jewish societal problems in the spirit of Torah and Mesorah.
Even if the manner in which we display the public image of our lives does not currently convey our glory as the Chosen Nation, even if we are uncertain how to properly become the glory [pe’er] of the world, Ha’Olim cannot allow the status quo to continue. They must attempt to rectify as much as possible.
To achieve aliya in the manners of creating public lives, I depict to myself:
1. Instruction in issues concerning glory [Tiferes] and its correlation to religion and Mussar… [and] practical guidance in the application of these principles to the creation of appropriate public lives.
2. The development of an independent Jewish social structure following Judaism and Mussar.
3. The development of arts, especially architecture, music and poetry, rooted in the spirit of true Jewish Mesorah, and the establishment of competitions in these areas.
4. The previously mentioned (in the section on Da’as Hashem) ban on excesses.
[Rabbi Bechhofer’s comments:
The Internet is here to stay. There is no way the bulk of Yahadus HaTorah can hide their collective heads in the sand. And if that means that a bachur today – even a “good” bachur – is exposed to pornography, we have to deal with it.
If it means they will be texting constantly, acting inappropriately on blogs and on Facebook, we also have to deal with it. Many of our talmidim are into “goyishe music,” are up on TV and movies (even if we have no TV’s in our houses! even if we have extensive web filters – amazing, right?! Are you aware, for example, of the existence of a site which helps yeshiva kids get around filters!!).
So we have to deal with it. Moreover, but we have hid our faces to our detriment for far too long from the problem that many bachurim with the prohibited behavior that we can delicately call ni’uf b’yad. So we must deal with it.
Part of the problem is that many of our talmidim find a certain sippuk in these pursuits that we are not giving them (in no small part because 75 years ago we failed to implement the vision of Dr. Nathan Birnbaum).
Yeshivas HaOlim will deal with it. (This is not the place to explain how, od chazaon la’mo’ed.)]
As a means of ascent in all three aforementioned areas I consider:
Involvement in the education of young men and young women according to the demands of Ha’Olim – an involvement that will become especially substantial when it will be possible to arrange such education among large groups of Ha’Olim or in their respective communities…
[Rabbi Bechhofer’s comments:
Maharal, Be’er Ha’Golah, end of Be’er 7 (free translation):
When an individual does not intend to scoff – rather only to state his belief – even if these positions stand against your belief and system, don’t say to him: “Don’t talk, seal your mouth!” For then the system will not be clarified. On the contrary, in such matters we should say: “Speak as much as you want, all that you want to say, so that you will not be able to say that were you granted permission to expand you would have spoken further and convinced me with your beliefs.” If, however, you do close the questioner’s mouth and prevent him from speaking, that points toward a weakness in the system.
This approach is the converse of the general impression, which is that it is not permitted to discuss the system, and that thus the system is strengthened. On the contrary! That approach undermines the system!…
It is only by inviting questioning that a person comes to the inner truth of matters… For any hero that comes to compete with another to demonstrate his might wants very much that his opponent muster as much strength as possible – then, if the hero overcomes his opponent, he proves that he is the mightier hero. What might, however, does the hero display if his opponent is not permitted to stand strong and wage war against him?…]