A Brief Introduction to the Works of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch

By Rabbi Gershon Seif

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch lived over a century ago, and yet his insights into the Torah and his teachings of the Torah’s view of life remain very current.

This brief essay cannot do justice to an explanation of the times within which Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch lived, his battles, and his worldview. Nor can it provide a real appreciation of his writing which is comprised of commentaries on the Torah, Psalms, Siddur, Ethics of the Fathers, as well as Horeb, an explanation of Jewish Law and the meanings behind those laws, and The Nineteen Letters, Hirsch’s first published work, which serves as an amazing digest of all of Hirsch’s future writings and views. In addition, there are eight volumes of collected writings, mostly culled from his years of writing articles to his community on a wide variety of topics. I highly recommend reading the introduction to Horeb to get a more complete picture of what these works are about as well as appreciating Hirsch’s mission.

Hirsch was the leader of a community at a time in history when change was everywhere. The number of observant Jews in Germany was dwindling as the masses were being swept up with the birth of the Reform movement. Hirsch was the brave warrior who battled two simultaneous battles.

While the older generation of his time was to be commended for its staunch adherence to the Torah, nonetheless Hirsch felt that much of that observance was dry and lacking in depth and meaning. He felt that this was a large part of why so many observant youth had abandoned their faith. Hirsch was an inspired, poetic soul. He saw symbolism in every Mitzvah. He saw meaningful, relevant lessons in every page of history, both Biblical and current. He was forever exhorting the observant community to appreciate the depth and beauty that lies within our Torah.

Those same talents were put to use to stem the tide of Reform. Hirsch challenged those who were abandoning Orthodoxy to have another look. He mocked the Reform’s need for “Up-to-date Judaism”. They needed an education in the beauty and depth of the Torah. They needed to be shown that the Torah is authentic. Symbolism of Mitzvos is only meaningful if they are Mitzvos of God, and if those Mitzvos teach us lessons of how to live, not the other way around. At that time, many were discarding most of the Mitzvos, yet claiming to maintain the spirit of the Torah. Hirsch sought to develop a system of understanding the spirit of the Torah directly from the study of the minute specifics of each Mitzvah. He used his linguistic skills to show profound meaning in every nuance of the Torah’s wording. He wrote many articles debating the claims that the Torah was not God-given.

Perhaps the term that appears most often in Hirsch’s writings is that of Torah Im Derech Eretz. Much ink has been spilled in attempts to explain Hirsch’s take on this Midrashic phrase which became his mantra. Derech Eretz (the way of the land) is taken by Hirsch to mean engaging in the world in a way that will uplift the world and all Mankind. Torah with Derech Eretz means that the Torah guides us through all of our experiences in the world and teaches us how to do this. There are many ways that this manifests itself.

Mitzvah observance is one way. When I keep the laws of kashrus, I sanctify my body and imbue it with all the lessons of the symbolism of that Mitzvah. The Laws of Shaatnez do the same in the realm of the clothes that garb my body. When I make a blessing over wine for Kiddush, the wine becomes elevated, as does the one who makes the blessing. When I buy a home and consecrate the home at the Channukas Habayis, I have elevated the home and myself as well. The family is a further extension of this idea.

Building a community based on Godliness is another way. The Torah gives us a whole body of civil law and teaches us about charity and kindness to sanctify our community life. As Hirsch quotes on numerous occasions when he discusses this topic: “Ikar Shechina B’tachtonim” – God’s presence has descended to this world, and it is our task to raise this world up and allow space for God to fill it.

In this same context, history is understood to be God’s conversation with Mankind. It is our task to understand history and be an active part in that conversation. One needs to understand God’s plan for all of Mankind as well as how and why the Jews are to be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation – A light unto the world.

Earning a livelihood, expressing oneself through the talents of writing, art and music are all part of Derech Eretz. Of course we must always remember that it is Torah Im Derech Eretz. We are all to study Torah daily, and every community has its “Levites” who immerse themselves in the study of Torah completely. But Hirsch was convinced that for the average Jew on the street, his duty was to live a balanced diet of Torah study, communal involvement, and family life.

Hirsch himself attended a secular university as did many people in his community. Without a doubt, before Hirsch came on the scene, the people were already doing so in Germany. It is wrong to assume that it was Hirsch who introduced this notion into Orthodox living. Having been born into such a society and with his understanding of Torah Im Derech Eretz, he had no qualms advising his community to live by that model. Would Hirsch recommend that for today? That’s the subject of a big debate. I believe he would, provided that the students were well equipped to deal with the many challenges that confront a young, impressionable student that might otherwise shake his or her faith and level of observance.

35 comments on “A Brief Introduction to the Works of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch

  1. Hi Bob, Gershon and everybody.
    According to Rabbi Yoel Taitelbaum ZT-L there is no such think as Chasidus al pi derech Baal Shem Tov in our days… and basically I follow his teachings. When I use word Chasid or Chasidus I mean the communities and social structures build up on this which use to be Chasidus.

    I understand approach of most of the parents’ members of these communities who they prefer not to give their children broader English education as means to shelter them from tuma of the world. But there are many parents in these communities who, including myself, they want to have all advantages of Chasidic School and environment and at the same time prepare their children to live in open society. Due to the fact that class in Chasidishe hader may have all kinds of kids, also on different intellectual level, it is impossible, in my opinion, to live some parts of this preparation for the school. Some of this people will choose to live more or less secluded life and they have not only right to do so, but perhaps they are right at all, I can not exclude this option as wrong, it has precedent in Jewish history.

    I choosing for my self and for my children to be prepared and I see approach of RSRH very helpful. If I wont my children to know how world was created according to the other nations, I have mythology book for them. History they can learn form any book, but always remembering that general history books can change their content accordingly to the present political situation. I could tell them about significance of Bolshevik or let’s say Hippies revolutions. No matter what areas of foreign knowledge child is exposed to, parent have to be in control. That’s why I will not let my kids to read any of youth and not only youth magazines. They may know who were the Beatles or Elvis but they should not by any means participate in any thing what have connection with present “culture”. I may show them president’s speech and comment of Keith Olbermann on it, but they should never know any Hollywood stories.

    I accept at my home any thing that will help my children to be better Jews and conscious citizens. I reject on the other side all of this which will block their connection with H-Shem or bring any “noise” to it. See Macharal on science in Beer Hagola, Parts of Holvois Halvuvois where Rabaini Bachaya is saying that subjects like astronomy, mathematic and music enable us to know H-Shem better (I like only the music part:)). Than Rambam, and Yechuda Halevi and … so on. That’s how I see TIDE.

  2. “Very telling is that you will not find a chassidish school that encourages a solid knowledge of the host “foreign” language…”

    I agree with your point, but I note an interesting exception.

    There are some Chasidic schools that have boys who come from more American homes– I’m thinking of two such Yeshivos in Brooklyn. The parents want their children to benefit from Lithuanian lomdus, but also be exposed to some of the Chassidic “bren”, a la the synthesis of Rav SF Mendelovitz zt’l, who BTW, felt American yeshiva bachurim should read the Nineteen Letters.

    One of the above-mentioned schools has a program as part of the HS curriculum to train students to write their divrei torah/hashkafos in the vernacular. This program was featured in the Jewish Observer. The yeshiva is definitely considered chasidish(it’s not YTV), although not in the sense of Belz, Bobov etc.

  3. Regarding Rabbi Goldson’s last point:

    In yeshiva and outside, the Torah Jew has to be able to think coherent Torah thoughts, for his own clear understanding and to be able to communicate this clear understanding to others. If the languages this Torah Jew will be using are not taught properly, this can’t but impair the Jew’s thought and communication processes.

    In some school systems, English is singled out for second class status. We can debate the reasons for this, but I wonder: are Hebrew, Yiddish, and Aramaic really taught much more carefully in these systems than English is?

    No one wants the student to learn Torah itself “by osmosis”, haphazardly, with no structure or organizing principles! The languages the student will need to use also have to be taught systematically. Imagine if Rambam or Ramchal had no orderly preparation in language and logic. How much of their potential would have gone to waste?

    Here at Beyond BT, we’ve had a lot to say about kiruv. Are the schools that turn out graduates who speak poor English not interested in kiruv? Do they believe that their ideas will not resonate outside their own tight communities? Or do they regard contact with English-speaking Jews as toxic? Had the Baal Shem Tov ZT”L taken this tack, where would we have chassidim at all?

  4. Rav Bulman once said to a group of rabbis-in-training: “Please don’t become like some of our most distinguished scholars who are inarticulate in three languages.”

    Of course, only Rav Bulman could get away with saying such a thing.

  5. Steve Brizel wrote that gave Rav’s Schwab’s pamphlet Elu vEilu gave TIDE an intellectual burial which set out to “kasher” TIDE for the American yeshiva world and to distance it as far as possible from TUM and YU, etc.

    I didn’t understand it that way but you’re a few years older than me and perhaps you have a better grasp of what was intended with the writing of Elu v’Eilu. I’ll have to reread it and rethink that.

    We’ve already had this conversation on Areivim and emails… I feel that there is great merit in reading the Nineteen letters with Rabbi Elias’ translation and his lengthy footnotes. Even if you feel he is trying very hard to overemphasize certain parts of RSRH’s Torah, there is much to be gleaned from his encyclopedic knowledge of Hirsch’s writings.

    Matys, It’s true, in a certain way Chassidim live a TIDE lifestyle. At least in theory, all aspects of life are to be elevated and made holy. Two areas where Hirsch’s version of TIDE differ to chassidus is in how much of the outside do we allow in, and how “laid back” our communities are.

    Very telling is that you will not find a chassidish school that encourages a solid knowledge of the host “foreign” language.
    Hirsch may have only attended one year in a university but he continued to read on a high level his whole life. Being equipped for life, according to RSRH means at the very least having reading skills and more than that >> being trained in how to address the issues of the day. (This last point is being ignored by most schools and yeshivos and has little to do with chassidus.)

  6. I agree with you about issue of vocational training. It is definitely not only and not even most important part of TIDE. As Rav Hirsh expresses it on page 88 of volume 7 of “Collected Writhings”, it is religious obligation of every Jew to give profession to his child. When I was talking about educational institutions attended by some of the Chasidim I have two things on my minds. First of them is fact that classic, “Pirkey Avos”, understanding of Derech Eretz is precisely profitable occupation. And although as I say rav Hirsh’s Derech Eretz does not limit it self to this interpretation, but it is part of TIDE. Second issue is the fact that moment when student is crossing the door of one of this educational institutions he is not only exposed to secular knowledge but most of the times this secular subject contain general information not necessarily connected to the subject of vocational education.

    Different problem exist in my humble opinion in Chasidic (this I know) elementary and high schools. It is matter of my dream to have heder with classic Talmudic education with some of this information which, for example, my daughter learn in hear also Chasidic school. What would be wrong for my boys to know some of science, social studies, history or politics? Would it harm my children to know who was not only Aristo (known from Sfurim), but also Socrates or Diogenes? Would it be wrong for them to know better algebra, geometry or astronomy? Would it be disadvantage for them to know names of generals of American Revolution and their major battles? I would answer for all this questions – no. But I could understand that some parents do not wont to “overload” their children with unnecessary information. So… due to the character of Chasidic schools where child of millionaire and that of shnorer (beggar), child of Talmid Chacham and simple Jew learning together it is impossible to give that type of education. Only thing that I may do and in fact I’m doing B-H is to educate my children some of the selected subjects at home, understanding that yeshiva must give them complete and necessarily Halachic bases for rest of the life.

    It is clear to me that it does not meet standards set by Rav Hirsh in his Frankfurt schools. Unfortunately we still did not raised our self’s from the ruins of haskala ( which in my understanding is the direct reason for counteraction of Jewish leaders negating in many cases any non Jewish education). Spiritual and physical disintegration of Jewish communities in first half of the last century did not help as well.

  7. Matys, great post and great perspective. You’re right on target about the number one issue with university eduction in our time: The social context is far more contrary to our values than the intellectual one. I must reiterate, however, that TIDE was not about vocational training.

  8. Beyond BT is number one on my favorites list, although I overlooked this fascinating essay on rabbi Hirsh, my rabbi Hirsh. Hope it is not too late to add some thoughts on you valuable comments as well as on essay it self.

    It is true that TIDE approach has many interpretation and reinterpretations. But some of those interpretations remind me approach of some reform communities which for example build the coed swimming pool with attached school and call it Maimonides institute. This swimming pool has as much with Rambam as some of justifications derived from writings of RSRH or from his live for all kinds of… simply sinful activities. His children received education on academic level, it is fact, but Rav Hirsh him self attended Bonn university only for one year, and schools at this time was no coeducational. It is fundamental difference between challenges of his time in academic live and that of today. Personally I would not hesitate to send my children to university today if the challenge would be only evolution (My Chasidic children know more about it than their American contemporaries) or philosophies, but there is a lot more to think about than this.

    I disagree that TIDE approach did not find fertile ground on the new continent after the war. It may be fact regarding direct successors of RSRH but indirectly no where else than in some brunches of Chasidic communities this way of life is working very well. We are not talking obviously about manners part of derech eretz :). There is Machon le parnasa institute in Williamsburg and Boro Park; there are hundreds of Chasidic students in Touro College, Thousands of people taking professional education up to the level where they still may life their moral values. There is countless number of Chasidic electricians, plumbers, carpenters, drivers, people of all possible professions who take any job which help them support their families and do not cross line marked for them by their leaders. What it is if not TIDE? One of the stories about Satmarer Rebbe ztz’l is saying that when He came to Williamsburg in late forties and found over there one collel, He send its attendants to get a job. Nothing to wonder, just recently I heard from somebody who knew Rav Yoel that when He referred to RSRH He was saying “heilige” or “hakudoish”. And nothing to wonder again. There are maybe not citation from writings of RSRH in sefer “Vayoel Moishe” but general idea of what is Golus and Geula is strikingly similar with poetic almost explanations by rav Hirsh on this topics. It is true that when you ask an average Chasid on the street who was RSRH some of them may say that he was some reform leader. But I know as a fact that in many Chasidishe yeshivos there are rabbies who not only know about rav Hirsh but they teaching many of his Toirois. My own son attend Chasidic yeshiva where on the trip to Europe, there was in its program stop at yiddisher bays oilom (cemetery) in Frankfurt to visit kaiver (grave) of heilige (holy) RSRH.

    PS. My low English skills are not due to the fact that I’m part of Chasidic community, but result of the fact that I’m immigrant without opportunity to take any English education.

  9. It should be noted that TIDE really did not transplant itself well to American shores. The Washington Heights “Kehillah” has not has a true disciple of RSRH as its rav since R Joseph Breuer ZTL. One can certainly maintain that R Schalb ZTL, to whom R Baruch Ber ZTL wrote a teshuvah to in Birkas Shmuel that viewed TIDE as horas shah, gave TIDE an intellectual burial in Elu vElu which set out to “kasher” TIDE for the American yeshiva world and to distance it as far as possible from TUM and YU, etc. Consequently, the Kehillah evolved into a Charedi kehillah with Yekke minhagim, no more no less. The one legacy of RSRH in the US is the shita of Austritt ( Orthodox autonomous communities, without relying on the heterodox Jewish communal world). There is nothing in today’s Torah literature that really discusses RSRH’s views on culture, education and the appreciation of nature, etc. The foregoing aspects in TIDE that would be of immense positive value-esepcially for those who seek a principled middle ground other than the Charedi or MO world view.

    Yet, I would suggest the following observation. RSRH’s TIDE was also influenced by his own exposure to German culture, philosophy, etc which was pre WW1 European in outlook. The question is how much of TIDE can be applied to the 21st Century AMerican secular Jew’s life. IMO, the best crystallization of RSRH’s thought are The Nineteen Letters and The Selected Letters of RSRH. I would certainly advise anyone interested to obtain the old translation in English, as opposed to a version that R Danziger critiqued as a surrendur to the Charedi world.

    The other issue that I haven’t seen discussed anywhere is that TIDE and the Hildesheimer Seminary, its hashkafic rival, in the words of both RYBS and R Dessler Zicronam Livracha, produced observant Jews, but not Talmidie Chachamim and Gdolim.

  10. David Schallheim – That last paragraph of yours about the Chazon Ish not walking to the beis medrash by day is amazing. Of course, the Chazon Ish would not be proud of being labeled a Torah Im Derech Eretz Yid! But as Michoel pointed out, within the Yeshivish world, there is room for this perspective in many areas of life.

    But it’s not the whole Torah Im Derech Eretz story…

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I think one of the reasons Mark Frankel asked me to write about RSRH in this forum is because he felt that many baalei teshuva could benefit from the ENTIRE approach, not just a yeshivasation ™ of Hirsch. (ie use Hirsch for inspiration in performing mitzvos, but stay away when it comes to college or getting a job as a l’chtchila). (I’ve heard from very reliable sources that Rav Bulman zt”l felt the Artscroll biography of RSRH did just that)

    I agree, to the best of my knowledge there is a dearth of TIDE leaders. I never had a TIDE rebbe. Whatever I know about Hirsch’s Torah is from my own reading what he said and speaking to individuals fro tht community. But I think that there some places for BTs that come close. One place that comes to mind is Machon Shlomo. The founder of that yeshiva was Rav Schwab’s son in law. Everyone I meet that learned there learns, works, has attended college, and has a mature and wholesome approach to life both in and out of the beis medrash. And it is a place that is for BTs.

  11. Gershon,
    As I’m sure you know there are many alleged “Torah Only” rabbanim that are actually very cabaple of TIDE perspectives on an individual basis. If someone wants a real TIDE Rav I don’t think it exists but Steve Brizel should be hear any second to berrate me for saying that. :-}

  12. Thank you, Gershon, for a very inspriring and thoughtful post.

    David added:

    >Gershon, I think there’s strong support for your view of Rav Hisrsch’s philosophy emphasizing viewing the world itself, G-d’s handiwork, as something to contemplate, appreciate and enjoy and grow from.

    There certainly is strong support! That was always the approach, from Adam HaRishon in Psalm 92, to Job (by Moshe Rabbeinu, according to some opinions), to David HaMelech, to the Sages in the Talmud who said to learn from all the living creatures (modesty from a cat, etc.), and the Yerushalmi that takes us to task for not tasting a new fruit, to Chovos HaLevavos, in Shaar HaBechinah, the Rambam in Hilchos Deos, specifically the mitzvah of ahavas Hashem, the Chazon Ish in Emunah U’Bitachon, Rav Avigdar Miller, the list goes on and on.

    After devoting eight chapters to a review of the wonders of creation that lead to an recognition and appreciation of Hashem, the Chazon Ish writes the following inspiring words:

    “When a person’s intellect recognizes the truth of His existence, Blessed be He, immediately an unbounded joy enters him and his soul feels great pleasure. The imagination unites with the intellect to experience pleasure in HaShem. All the pleasures of the flesh slip away, pass away, and his refined soul is enveloped in holiness as if it withdrew from the turbid body and roams in the highest heavens.

    “When a person is elevated to these holy values, a whole new world reveals itself to him. For it is possible in this world to be like an angel for a moment and to have pleasure in the Divine Radiance; all the pleasures of this world become like naught compared to the pleasure of a person devoted to his Maker, Blessed be He.”

    A maggid shiur once told me that the Chazon Ish would not walk to the local Beis Midrash in the light of day to prepare his shiur, because when he saw plants and flowers on the way it filled him with such a huge amazement and excitement (hispa’alus) he could not focus properly anymore on the Gemara!

  13. Well done, Gershon.

    Watch for my article on JWR next week on Rav Hirsch’s yahrtzeit.

  14. Gershon, I think there’s strong support for your view of Rav Hisrsch’s philosophy emphasizing viewing the world itself, G-d’s handiwork, as something to contemplate, appreciate and enjoy and grow from.

    There is the famous story of how Rav Hirsch very late in his life exerted himself to visit the Alps. When asked why he responded (I’m paraphrasing): “After 120 years when I appear before Hashem and He asks me ‘Have you seen my Alps’ I want to be able to answer in the affirmative.”

    I’ve heard the following vort attributed to Rav Hirsch:

    In tehillim, it says:

    Mah Rabu Masecha Hashem, kulam bechochma asisa, malah ha’aretz kinyanecha.(We say this in shacharis) This is generally translated as:

    How manifold are Your creations, Hashem, You’ve made them all with wisdom, the
    earth is filled with Your creations.

    Another way of translating it is by putting a comma between haaretz and kinyanecha and translating kinyanecha in the imperative. Then the verse reads:

    How manifold are Your creations, Hashem, You’ve made them all with wisdom, the earth is filled with them, (you, man) acquire it! Meaning that one should increase his awe of Hashem and his appreciation for His world by taking the time to observe and appreciate nature.

  15. Beautiful blog, it’s so reassuring to know in this world where people are assimilating, there still are those who stick out and stand up/out for what is true; Torah =] yesher koiach

  16. Steg, I was including that in: 5) Secular literature such as Harry Potter or something more palatable. But Harry Potter was a bad example.

    I didn’t give the possible reasons for permitting or prohibiting each, but that’s definitely a worthwhile exercise. Are you up for a guest contributorship?

  17. So R’ Gershon, I know I’m stirring up a hornet’s nest here, but with Rav Schwab’s passing — and as it is, as you say, he had largely retired from the field of battle — does TIDE have a “patron” among recognized gedolim today?

    I’m afraid I don’t want to know the answer.

  18. “Mark, According to my understanding of Hirsch’s derech Eretz, there’s a large area of wisdom you’ve left out: “the world.” A flower, a mountain, how the body or an eco-system works, electricity…”

    There are two aspects of the world that you might be alluding to here, understanding how the world works and appreciating the world.

    Understanding any aspect of how the world works is necessary to gain a deeper understanding of some area of Torah. So I would include the understanding of the world as necessary to understand Torah at a deeper level.

    Appreciating the brilliance of creation would be used to increase Love of Hashem (as per the Rambam and others) which I would broadly classify as deeping ones appreciation of Torah.

  19. Was that a philosophical, hashkafic decision…?

    I believe that much of it had to do with the fact that Washington Heights never had its own major Yeshiva Gedola. So the boys would go out of town, and adopt the approach of the yeshivos they attended.

    In the 60’s Rav Schwab wrote a pamphlet called “These and Those” where he showed the sources that espoused working as a Torah-true approach. He ended the piece by appealing to the Roshei Yeshiva to please let our boys come home. It seems they didn’t do that. Eventually the pamphlet was sold out and it wasn’t reprinted. I asked someone who knew Rav Schwab why and he said that Rav Schwab gave up the fight. My friend’s take on it was that Rav Scwab felt that the “haskafic pendulom swinging in another direction and he ws not going to fight it.

  20. As I’m told, the community of Washington Heights has pretty much abandoned the approach of Torah Im Derech Eretz. I kind of have that sense, too, but what does that mean? They don’t assertively develop non-Jewish cultural education? Was that a philosophical, hashkafic decision or just the result of an overall decline in the community’s autonomy or its self-confidence?

  21. “Mark, According to my understanding of Hirsch’s derech Eretz, there’s a large area of wisdom you’ve left out: “the world.” A flower, a mountain, how the body or an eco-system works, electricity…”

    Some/most/all of that I would include in category 1) Secular knowledge that is necessary to understand Torah.

  22. Michoel,

    I’ve read that piece from Rav Schwab and I understand exactly where you’re coming from. But when you write “I think it better to try to adapt some specific aspects of Rav Hirsch’s chachma with guidance of current Torah leaders.” I need to ask the following. As I’m told, the community of Washington Heights has pretty much abandoned the approach of Torah Im Derech Eretz.

    Who are the Torah leaders that will teach us which parts of TIDE we should ascribe to? Those very same leaders (coming from Mir, Lakewood, Telshe, etc.) that never ascribed to it in the first place? Should someone who is inclined to this approach get advice about it from a “Torah only” Rav? What will likely be advised is saying over nice divrei Torah at the shabbos table in the name of Hirsch but not a lifestyle that Hirsch was talking about.

  23. Mark, According to my understanding of Hirsch’s derech Eretz, there’s a large area of wisdom you’ve left out: “the world.” A flower, a mountain, how the body or an eco-system works, electricity…

    In my opinion, that area is the heart and soul of Hirsch’s concept of Derech Eretz. When a frum doctor has that perspective, his work becomes a religious experience. Same goes for a frum musician, accountant, engineer, etc.

  24. See in the Selected Writings of Rabbi Shimon Schwab where he mentions that it was the minhag in his youth to give a bar mitzvah boy the major German works of phylosophy and literature along with seforim. He writes very emphatically that they learned later on (form the Holocaust) that it was wrong to do that. Yet we say that Rav Schwab still championed Torah Im Derech Eretz according to his understanding. So TIDE can have different meanings and benefits in different times in places. Rather than trying to adapt the concept by name, which is nebulous, I think it better to try to adapt some specific aspects of Rav Hirsch’s chachma with guidance of current Torah leaders.

  25. Furthermore, regarding “secular”, we have

    A. “secular in the sense of being in direct opposition to religion”

    and also
    B. “secular in the sense of having no overt religious content”.

    Of these, only B. can have elements amenable to adaptation for use in a Hirschian sense.

  26. One problem in discussing this is the use of the term secular. I was pilpuling (discussing) this recently with a relative and I came to the following distinctions in the term secular.

    1) Secular knowledge that is necessary to understand Torah.
    2) Secular knowledge necessary to earn a living.
    3) Secular wisdom such as the “7 Habits of Highly Successful People”.
    4) Secular activities like Browsing the Internet and reading/hearing the main stream news.
    5) Secular literature such as Harry Potter or something more palatable.
    6) Relatively pareve secular culture like I Love Lucy.
    7) Mainstream secular culture like current TV, Movies and Music.

    Where one draws the line(s), even if one assumes a Hirschian world view, is far from pushut (simple).

  27. That’s a great point, Bob, but based on my reading of Hirsch (I was fascinated with the topic in my earlier days) the validity of his worldview as such cannot be dependent on the quality or level of the “host” culture. Agreed, in terms of what can and should be adopted from that culture, the challenge is greater than it seems to have been in Hirsch’s time.

    Yet on the other hand, that “beautiful” and “high” culture was, we learned too harshly, a mask for a society eminently capable of the most debased violence and oppression in human history. Hirsch would have been horrified, yes; but my point is that modern Western culture, for all its considerable demerits, may well have virtues at its core that we should appreciate. I am sure it does, if in some cases they exist to a painful fault. But you are absolutely correct that this engagement must be with done with a spirit of chochma, not passion. Unfortunately if there are bona fide Torah leaders (i.e., committed to halacha and the values of normative traditional Judaism as we have clearly enunciated and clarified on Beyond BT ;-) )today interested in or capable of leading in this effort or providing guidance at all, I am not aware of them.

  28. In principle, the Hirschian method can relate us in some way to any host culture, but the method’s only documented application so far has been to a Central/Western European culture that has now vanished.

    The cultures surrounding us today (often combining ultra-low morality and ultra-high tech), are so varied and fragmented as to be difficult to speak of or deal with in a broad fashion. It’s worth our while to try to renew Rav Hirsch’s approach, but by no means easy.

  29. Hirsch provided the philosophical grounding for the Torah-with-secular-engagement way of life lived by the majority of haredi-identifying non-Hasidim today, even though our roshei yeshiva by and large look askance at the TIDE philosophy. It is a mistake to focus on the parnassah-training aspects of Hirsch’s worldview. Many Hasidim and perfectly culturally disengaged Litvaks rationalize nearly anything for parnassah but maintain a view of contempt, at least in theory, for secular culture or even, in my experience, of the suggestion that non-Jews or secular Jews are deserving of empathy or admiration. (I recognize the latter is a problem per the gemarah in A.Z.)

    As Rabbi Seif says, however, “Earning a livelihood, expressing oneself through the talents of writing, art and music are all part of Derech Eretz.”

    Granted that the Lithuanian yeshiva movement has not ever really reconciled itself to Hirschianism as anything but a horas sho’oh, a temporary jeasure, this opposition is far more formal than practical, and seems to be rooted in a legitimate fear of engagement with what is today fairly described as a well-nigh deeply debased host culture. The demands of the “Torah only” hashkafah, however, look fine on the mantel, but very few of us are capable of living up to them. A true Hirschian, of course, rejects the concept that the “Torah-only” approach is “up” from Hirschianism at all, and argues to the contrary.

    This is a great place to have this discussion — it’s not taking place in any major bais medrash, I believe.

  30. There is a crying need for more Jewish-oriented trade schools. Some trades generate significant income. When you need a plumber or an electrician, some PhD won’t do.

  31. Is anybody saying that Hirsch would recommend that everybody go to college? Even in the non observant world, there are some people who are better served by learning a trade rather than by going to college.

    A teacher of mine summed up Hirsch’s philosophy as “If you use something for Torah and getting closer to Hashem”, then it’s good.

    I think understanding Hirsh is important, because it properly frames the debate in Eretz Yisroel and here on the proper role of secular studies for a Torah Observant Jew.

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