Sunday, January 24, 2010

R' Samson Raphael Hirsch's Position: Torah and Derekh Eretz Was Not A Hora'at Sha'ah

A friend once asked me why it was that I affiliated myself with the Torah U-Madda perspective within Judaism. I had never really considered it before, and my friend argued that this perspective was recent and not really supported throughout our tradition. I was disturbed by this idea but didn't really know how to argue it. In a quest to learn more about this, I read Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm's book, Torah UMadda (and wrote about it here). Always curious, however, I was elated to discover that Professor Shnayer Z. Leiman had written a book entitled Rabbinic Responses to Modernity (the full text is available for download in PDF format here). I read it tonight in Gottesman (it's fantastic) and found a section that particularly resonated. You see, victim of a Bais Yaakov education, I had been taught that R' Samson Raphael Hirsch's perspective on Torah u'derekh eretz was, in R' Hirsch's point of view, a situation of horaat sha'a (timebound stance). Under other circumstances, I was assured, Hirsch would never have supported such an idea. Leiman proves this is totally incorrect.

I've scanned the relevant pages so that you can see his argument, but more importantly, see the footnotes where he directs you to further sources regarding the rebuttal of this point. He makes a distinction between others disagreeing with R' Hirsch and claiming that R' Hirsch himself believed his actions were dictated by hora'at sha'ah.

Rabbinic Responses to Modernity- Samson Raphael Hirsch

Here is Dr. Leiman's explanation of the purpose of the book (from his introduction):
    The aim of this essay is to present, if only in outline form, a representative account of gedolei yisrael in the early modern period (i.e., the nineteenth century) who sought to relate Torah teaching to general culture. Our focus will be primarily, if not exclusively, on their differing viewpoints vis-a-vis general culture, on the institutions they engendered, and on their impact on the Jewish community at large. This essay does not purport to be an exercise in either history or biography; nor does it make any claim toward comprehensiveness. Rather, it is an attempt to engage in intellectual prosopography, i.e., to present a portrait of one aspect- albeit a crucial one- of the attitudes of a select group of gedolei yisrael who confronted modernity with an openness to general culture. Any attempt to portray all gedolei yisrael in the modern period who, in one form or another, reacted positively to general culture would have resulted in a lengthy monograph, at the very least. Such a volume would surely have tested the patience of most readers, and - in any event- would have moved well beyond my ability.

    No hidden agenda need be sought in the presentation. It is intended to be largely descriptive and, hopefully, accurate. Wherever possible, the positions of the gedolei yisrael will be presented in their own words.

    One final word. Feelings run high about some of these figures and their respective positions on Torah and general culture. In the heat of argument, their positions have often been misconstrued and misrepresented. It will be no small accomplishment if their views are set out dispassionately and accurately. To the extent that there is an agenda in this presentation, it is a transparent one: to demonstrate that the positions described in this essay are real, not imaginary. They are legitimate alternatives within Orthodoxy, to be accepted, rejected, but not ignored by those genuinely committed to traditional Jewish teaching.

    ~"Rabbinic Responses to Modernity" by Dr. Shnayer Z. Leiman, pages 9-10


inkstainedhands said...

Thank you for this post... I have had discussions on this subject with a few people and everyone seems to interpret it differently.

I will have to read that book sometime.

The Shipper said...

Rabbi Rakeffet discusses this as well and comes to a similar conclusion. Here is a link to his lecture on Rabbi Hirsch.

Anonymous said...

mada v'torah is NOT torah im derech eretz.

Anonymous said...

hora'at sha'ah - necessary due to circumstance. all what those excepts show is hirsch felt it was need at that time in lithunia, hungary, etc. on the contrary, those letter are proof in hand hirsch only felt it to be a necessary galus tool to be activated when need arises to combat the cultural draw from the outside.

yitznewton said...

See also R' Shimon Schwab's These and Those... it was reprinted in part in one of the CIS trilogy; I was fortunate enough to get my hands on the original. R' Schwab has a unique perspective, having grown up in Germany, initially writing off TIDE as horaas shaah, learning in Lita, and then later coming back to TIDE, at least in some form. It's not clear to me how different RSS's perspectives would be from RSRH.

Toviah said...

This attitude comes from the Chiddushim of Rav Baruch Ber Leibovitch (I think on Kiddushin). I think Rav Rakeffet mentions that in his lecture.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

Even though I'm not Haredi per-se, I admit that much of what Rabbi Lamm says and writes is disturbing. ..especially on this topic.

J. said...

Have you seen Rav Lichtenstein's article in JJ Scachter's book on Judaism's encounter with other cultures? If you could get hold of it in PDF form, I would be forever indebted to you. I think you would find it very interesting.