Vol. I, No. 8

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Let's Learn! is an exploration of Judaism, Zionism, the Jewish People, and God's world, guided by Yaakov Fogelman, who lectures on Torah and Religious Zionism; sets and disks of these studies, which include all the Torah readings and holidays, as well as his audio and video tapes, are available at TOP. See In the Service of God, by Shalom Freedman (Jason Aronson, $30 from TOP), for his views, together with those of 20 other teachers of Torah, on Judaism, Zionism and the Jewish People today.

On Shavuot, the Jews had to separate from their wives, from normal life, to experience God's Revelation on Sinai, bringing heaven down to earth. Immediately after, however, they are told to return to their tents, to be fully part of life while sanctifying it, raising earth to heaven, via the Torah. In Let's Learn #7, Passover 1998, we discussed two resultant eternal needs for observant Jews--

1) to separate themselves from much of the culture, values and influence of the rest of mankind, in order to survive as God's "kingdom of priests and holy nation" (Ex. 19:6).

2) to simultaneously be fully aware of, and helpfully involved with, the rest of God's world-- His Folk will also thereby understand His Torah, for which worldly knowledge is a prerequisite; they will then teach universal mankind His ways from His Holy Land.

Rav Norman Lamm comments: "With the Emancipation, this confrontation was no longer confined to a few individuals or even schools. The interaction between Judaism and the culture of the host people was now of major import to the Jewish community as a whole. The variety of responses to this massive challenge of Western Civilization is represented by the spectrum of Jewish allegiances extant even today. They range from a complete abandonment of Judaism and Jewish loyalties to an utter and complete rejection of Western philosophical and scientific ideas. In-between there exists a gradual fragmentation, a kind of Maxwellian distribution of interpretations".

THE MOST EXTREME RABBINIC POSITION, today, mostly hassidic-kabbalistic, completely bans Jews from partaking in secular culture and education. In Israel, most haredim to the right of Aguda follow this line. Rightly or wrongly, many have a siege mentality, that the predominantly non-observant Zionist society, with its discos and shabbat cinema, is out to destroy their Torah-based culture (as Ben Gurion & Co. indeed did to Sephardic Jews in the 50's); any contact, e.g. supervision by the Ministry of Education, is viewed as dangerous (cf. the Mennonites and Amish). Hassidic children begin cheder at 3 and are immediately taught to pray and to read holy texts, via old-fashioned but highly effective rote and sing-song methods; they can read well, well before their little TV addict counterparts open a book. But other than simple arithmetic, they get little secular education.

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The same haredi groups abroad, however, do not feel that the non-Jewish society, with which they have little social contact, is out to get them (nor do they try to change it); they thus tend to be more liberal towards "outside" education, especially where the local law requires minimal secular education. But even abroad, thousands of Hassidim, especially Satmar and Breslav, get very little secular education.

The more intellectual and traditional misnagdic society was generally much more open to the outside world; yet a similar position against secular studies was taken by Rabbis Baruch Ber Leibowitz and Chaim Soloveichik of Brisk, grandfather of Rabbis Aaron and J. B. Soloveichik. In 1892, the famous Volozhin Yeshiva indeed closed down rather than accede to the Russian Government's demands that secular studies and the Hebrew language be taught there. They feared that this seemingly innocuous request was the first step in a deliberate campaign to destroy the institution-- does this danger exist today? Volozhin's teachers and pupils went on to found other institutions which continued its path. Unlike Rav Nachman of Breslav, however, misnagdim didn't ban the works of great medieval Jewish scholars, tho they sometimes sharply criticized them. Rav Chaim's great-grandson, Rav Yosef Soloveichik of Jerusalem, claims that his great-grandfather only opposed secular studies as a standard curriculum; he permitted them to individuals whom he judged suf ficiently strong in their faith and Torah knowledge not to be thrown off the true path.

THE OPPOSITE EXTREME From the 1800's, secular Maskilim (intellectuals, e.g. Achad Haam) often adopted alien education and values whole hog (sometimes literally), disregarding Jewish law and custom. Some attempted to substitute Yiddish language and culture for Judaism, which they viewed as a relic of ages past; ironically, the only young Jews who still speak Yiddish as a living language are the extreme Chassidim, who have nothing but contempt for profane 2nd Avenue Yiddish secular culture. The descendants of the Yiddishists, however, have either returned to Torah or assimilated into western universal culture.

THE GOLDEN BALANCED PATH Today, as in most ages, most thinking observant Jews try to follow Avraham's delicately balanced path, to be both "a settler and a stranger" in the general society (Genesis 23:4)-- part of it and apart from it. Within this framework, there's disagreement both as to the extent of secular involvement and how to do it. Some permit males to take time off from Torah study only for professional education, preferably in "safe" fields (per a ruling of Rav E. Wasserman, who also fought Zionism and urged the Jews to remain in Europe-- Rav J. Soloveichik was sure that he, as Joseph's brothers, would have admitted his error, had he survived Hitler); per Maimonides et al, one may not earn one's livelihood from Torah.

Others, e.g. Hirsch, also allow or encourage non-professional study of science and nature, to appreciate God, to get closer to Him and to better understand His Torah. Some, as Rav J. B. Soloveichik and Yeshiva University (Y.U.), even permit and encourage humanistic studies, e.g. literature, art and philosophy-- they help a Jew be part of and relate to the "outside world"; also, by definition, creative products of Man, himself created in God's Image, contain innate sparks of wisdom and holiness, tho hidden. But those more rigid compare the search for the true and holy amidst secular culture to exploring a large garbage dump, hoping to find a pearl. This seemingly contradicts the talmudic definition of a wise man as one who learns from Everyman.

GOD BLESS AMERICA! In Europe, universities and professions were often closed to Jews and baptism was the horrible price of professional achievement. So in pre-WWII America, the price of career and social success was not to over-Jew it, to pretend to be like all other Americans.

In 1934, M. M. Kaplan wrote: "For the Jew the primary need of earning a livelihood is beset with humiliating obstacles ... brought to the point where they see the chance of bettering their condition, of attaining social standing and a relative degree of security, they are told these things are not for them ... the prospect of the Jew's attaining social and economic equality is ... remote ..." (he was as wrong about this as his pipedream of a religious civilization without Divine authority). But American society broke open to Jews after WWII, especially since 1960-- equality is now a fact, not just an aspiration-- one no longer has to deny his identity to obtain a good profession (Charles E. Silberman keenly expAmerican Jews and their ltoday in depth in A Certain People).

So, many American haredi Yeshivot gradually began to at least look the other way when their students attended secular universities in the evening or during the years prior to or after their yeshiva studies. But Rav Y. Chait claims that Torah study demands undivided absorption and attention and an atmosphere of sanctity, of God awareness; thus Torah study should not be combined with any other simultaneous activity, including university. The emerging Torah-true professionals often became the backbone of their yeshivot's fundraising and outreach programs to the general community.

Yet the roshei yeshiva still viewed secular study as the realm of the profane, with no place in holy institutions of Torah-- Heaven is Heaven and Earth is Earth and ne'er the twain shall meet; as God Himself, they divided between holy and profane, as between the workaday world and the Sabbath. Others disagreed-- they preferred to have secular studies within the schools of Torah, where content, teachers and environment could be controlled and influenced by Torah-oriented leaders.

This approach was quite prevalent in misnagdic Lithuania, long before the Jews reached the New World. The Yavneh school network, encouraged by Rav Bloch of Tels, taught both Torah and secular subjects to many future great Torah leaders, including Rav Aharon Kutler. The yeshivot of Lida (founded in 1905, by Rav Isaac Rhines, a graduate of Volozhin) and Bialystok included some secular subjects in their curriculum; Rav Solomon Polachek, a brilliant disciple of Rav Chayim Soloveichik, taught in both yeshivot before coming to Y.U. in '22; Rav Chayim's son, Rav Moshe, joined Polachek in 1929. Rav Wasserman refused to set foot in Y.U., but Rabbis Shimon Shkop, Avraham Bloch, Aharon Kotler and Baruch Ber Leibowitz all lectured there. The Vilna Gaon himself studied both mathematics and music; he and his pupils authored mathematical and scientific texts; but subsequent generations of his followers gradually left his path for more insular pastures.

Y.U. embodied the approach of co-existence, de facto, tho advocating a true synthesis of both worlds, de jure. But today many who are learned in Torah also possess worldly erudition; so Y.U. and other institutions are beginning to return to true Jewish tradition-- a sanctification of the profane by contact, connection and synthesis with the holy. This reflects an outlook that secular studies have value per se, either as a means of improving the quality of human life (yishuv ha-olam-- a mitzva; see M.T. G'zela 6:2, Edut. 10:4) or as an intrinsic value, regardless of any pragmatic results.

RABBI NORMAN LAMM, President of Yeshiva University, puts it succinctly: "We are committed to secular studies, including our willingness to embrace all the risks that this implies, not alone because of vocational or social reasons, but because we consider that it is the will of God that there be a world in which Torah be effective; that all wisdom issues ultimately from the Creator, and therefore it is the Almighty who legitimates ALL knowledge" (Modern Orthodoxy's Identity Crisis, Jewish Life, May-June 1969, P. 7). Rav Lamm explores the relationship between Torah and secular studies in both Faith & Doubt and his more recent comprehensive overview Torah U'Madda. He opts for a hassidic model, which sees God and holiness in even the most mundane physical realm-- how much more so in man's pursuit of knowledge and creativity in so-called secular wisdom and arts.

Rav Yonason Rosenblum of Jerusalem attacked Lamm and his work in Agudat Israel's anti-Religious Zionist magazine, THE JEWISH OBSERVER. He himself, raised Conservative, is obviously highly sophisticated and fluent in secular culture, as are many who write in that publication. He criticizes Lamm for theoretically equating the value and importance of secular and Torah studies, tho Lamm does not do so. His critique of Y.U.'s de facto failure to fill the secular realm with holiness has validity, but might also be applied even stronger to his own world, which often profanes the study and practice of Torah itself-- e.g. election time in Bnei Brak, haredim who won't eat from each others' kosher supervision and who make a living from the Torah, and Roshei Yeshiva who nix suitable matches for their outstanding talmudic students because the girl's parents cannot give them enough money. Only a small % of people in all camps are truly holy. Rosenblum reflect s the ghettoized world of Eastern Europe and its religious leaders in opposing Lamm, but does not consider that that world itself was a deviation from the mainstream Jewish historical tradition of interaction with the rest of the world. Rav J. B. Soloveichik indeed described the haredi community as trying to restore a shtetel that never existed! Lamm is simply going further back in our tradition.

Under his english name, Jonathan, Rosenblum writes a weekly column in The Jerusalem Post with a heavy litvashe haredi orientation; he often eloquently portrays the misconceptions and biases regarding Torah and religious society held by Israel's secular society, e.g. Abba Eben, who, on the same page of the Post, displayed his ignorance of both. But Jonathan also often, Shas style, attacks and belittles the non-hardei world, especially religious Zionism, in illogical, but highly emotional, articles-- he recently wrote that Israelis should support and promote haredi culture, despite the lack of haredi involvement in the country (with notable exceptions such as Yad Sara and Ezer Mitziyon), because they are the only Jews truly fulfilling God's Torah, which may be Israel's only ultimate protection; but he completely ignores religious Zionists, e.g. those of hesder yeshivot, who are just as involved in Torah learning and observance, w/o disengaging themselves from the rest of Israel and its army.

In similar romantic fashion, he rejoices over his family, his many children, in contrast to the professional success of his fellow law school students, leaders of the secular world-- but there is no law or reason for successful lawyers not to have just as fine families and many children! Jonathan might have had even more Jewish impact were he a high level judge or Professor of Law.

Lamm draws upon earlier works, such as Secular Studies and Judaism by Rav David S. Shapiro (Tradition 8:1, 1966), THE WORLD OF THE YESHIVA-- An Intimate Portrait of Orthodox Jewry, by in-depth sociologist William Helmreich and Leo Levi's writings. Helmreich reveals a little known plan for a hardedi alternative to Y.U., which illustrates the gradual polarization of our black brethren concerning secular studies. In 1946, a detailed program for the American Hebrew Theological University was submitted for government approval by Yeshivot Torah Vodaat and Chaim Berlin; it included the usual secular college courses (but taught by Orthodox Jews, unlike most of Y.U.'s) and 3 graduate schools. Rabbi Harold Leiman's justification was that Yeshiva students not waste time going to Brooklyn College (at night, as I did, while learning at Chofetz Chayim) and be exposed to contrary philosophies (I was!). Tho the charter was granted, almost a year later (June 1947) the application was withdrawn-- apparently on orders of Rav Aharon Kotler.

POINTS TO PONDER (& PROTEST?): HERMAN WOUK (in This Is My God) writes about over-Jewing it: "How can we sensibly isolate ourselves? The world around us is where we live. The peoples of the world are our brothers under God. Our scripture teaches that God made all men, not just Israel, in His Image.

"Are we to stay out of planes because the Wrights were not Jews, or keep our hands from electricity because we have no share in Faraday, Maxwell and Edison? Does this absurd misconstruction of Judaism not collapse into powder at a touch? (does ANYONE advocate this?) "Our place in the world, I believe, depends on what we contribute to mankind. We have contributed the Torah, the Mosaic vision of right conduct and of first and last things. It is our life and the length of our days. As we keep that flame burnin ... we earnour right to survive as a people before God and men.

"The emancipation, the enlightenment, the shift to America, Zionism, Hitler, the birth of Israel-- these tremendous events have whirled the Orthodox body dizzily. There has been heavy attrition.

"The battle was locked between old and new (in the early 1900's)-- it was yeshiva or haskala, Jewish OR Western knowledge. The laws of the land quickly ended the argument. The children had to go to public school and they went. Religious studies were pushed to the afternoon and night.

"It was the yeshivas, the higher schools of the old learning, that took the worst beating at first. They offered the ancient curriculum. By contrast there was the glittering array of Western arts and sciences beckoning from public high schools and colleges ... to many a Jewish thinker the end of a road of 3000 years seemed at last in sight.

"The Jews have a way, when all is lost, of finding a path thru the Red Sea ... What if the yeshivas took the new knowledge within their walls? Then they might mark out the hours so that both learnings could go forward. They asked the public authorities and found them willing ... the learning of the Western world, after 2000 years, officially crossed the threshold of the yeshiva ... It was the triumph of the credo of Maimonides, 7 centuries delayed.

"The graduates of the day-school system ... have had success in life, proportioned to their gifts. They possess Jewish knowledge that the last generation lacked. That is the difference. "Capping the pyramid is Yeshiva University, a Torah school taking all human knowledge as its domain ... The new American Orthodoxy is a spreading experiment. Orthodoxy, with the usual maelstrom of conflicting opinions and emotions, is painfully taking hold in Israel as a modern way of life. It disconcerts both the old people with its changing manners and the agnostics with its firm stand on mosaic law.

"The hasidim today defend the place in Jewry once occupied by their angriest opponents, the diehard leaders of the old learning. Of all the diverse branches of Jewish opinion, only certain Hasidic groups hold out in a mass against Western education (cf. Rav Shach-- YF) ... But in general, Hasidism has yet to meet the shock of the enlightenment, which the rest of Jewry has absorbed and moved beyond.

"The ? is-- what will that light do-- shrivel it, or stimulate it to its greatest growth? At present the dynastic leaders seem to answer the ? by rejecting it. They see a large measure of withdrawal as the price of continued integrity and they are willing to pay it. Whether time will accept even such a high fee for the continuance of Hassidism in its old form remains to be seen.

"In Maimonides, Europe does not conquer Judea, but by altering the measuring rods of the mind, it enters our tradition once for all ... Had the Rambam won the place he sought, Judaism might have become a more open body of thought from the middle ages onward; or again, it might have been locked into a rigid version of science and philosophy, destined to become obsolete in a few centuries. The main body of Jewish thinkers never had to backtrack and abandon the science of Maimonides, never having committed themselves to it ... His credo was plain: no part of human knowledge belonged outside of Judaism or could be left outside of it (but see his prohibition against studying idolatry). If the Torah was God's Word, it was linked in every sentence to the natural world; and as knowledge of the world broadened, Torah study had to expand ... today the credo of Maimonides rules all serious Hebrew study (Lakewood? Ponovitz?)".

"We have to evaluate how any action, e.g. secular studies for Jews, helps achieve the goals and ideals of halacha ... different times and situations demand different approaches in accordance with the dynamic character of the Torah. Within the limits of the Torah, there is a place for divergent views, each of which is true in its time and place"-- Rav David Shapiro

In Israel, the Religious Zionist movement has taken the lead in blending torah and modernity at all educational levels, from pre-kindergarten to yeshivot hesder and Bar Ilan University; unlike Aguda, it did not separate ashkenazim and sefardim, considering all Jews part of one united nation; its spokesmen, e.g. Chanan Porat, Rav Amital, Israel Rosen and former Chief Rabbi Shapiro even addressed the recent R.A. Conservative convention here. So all folks of good will were shocked and distressed by Shas Rav Ovadia Yosef's recent vicious attack on their schools (JP, 4/19/98), which have done so much for his sephardic community, for far longer than his own recent insular El Hama'ayan school system-- he labeled state religious education "worthless" and its religion a "sham". Do his remarks stem from senility or venality?-- his arch-rival and replacement, Mordecai Eliyahu is rapidly becoming the Sephardic spiritual leader of Mafdal, the religious zionist party, whom Yosef calls "fools who will believe anything".

Rav Yosef has now lost virtually all credibility as a religious leader with tolerant people of good will, especially with modern Orthodox Jews, who, thank God, have so many truly great and open leaders, e.g. Rav Lamm, Rav Riskin and Rav Lichtenstein; but Ovadia Yosef remains the beloved leader of Machane Yehuda & Co., tho Amnon Yitzchak and Kol Hanashama radio are growing influences there, of similar insular charismatic black-and-white ambiance.


In principle, Agudath Israel's great enemy is secularism and apostasy; in practice, an Orthodoxy that is not intransigent enough for its taste. Thruout our history it has been the stubbornly pious who have resisted the persuasions of self-interest and idealistic universalism ... this has kept them and their descendants from becoming idealistic killers. The moral account of those who yielded to self-interest or what seemed to be idealistic universalism-- the two temptations often appear to be one-- is not so clean. In the 20th century, we are less impressed with Jewish achievements in general culture. The edge is off our hunger and we worry now about the cost of the achievements.

German Jews (e.g. Heine, Hess, Kafka and Rosenzweig) ... respected backward East European Jewry for its Jewish and human authenticity more than they did German Jewry, with all its modernity ... The philosophically naive Ashkenazim of the Middle Ages preferred a martyr's death to apostasy; the Sephardim were too philosophical for that ... skeptics are not the martyrs' breed. Buber was for encounter and openness, not for law. His opposition to halacha as the enemy of openness and spontaneity made him unusable for the Orthodox, of course; but also for the non-Orthodox who affirm the principle of halacha (tho not the halachot specifically!) ...

Samson Rafael Hirsch condemned proposals "to bring Judaism up to date, to adapt it to the needs of the time ... Instead of complaining that it is no longer suitable to the times, our only complaint must be that the times are no longer suitable to it". Yet he wanted to eliminate Kol Nidre!

Louis Finkelstein describes the world of his Chabbadnik mentor Shneur Zalman (Solomon) Schechter, born in 1847 to a Chabad Chasid and shochet (ritual slaughterer) in Focsani, Rumania (why is there no Nusach Sfard conservative siddur?):

The aspirations of the Jewish people, especially of the intellectual elite, in Eastern Europe had remained the same as thousands of years ago-- the highest possible perfection in the art and science of life; respect for learning, piety and good deeds; the conviction that no matter how difficult man's fate on earth, mortal life was eminently worthwhile if it led to the true life of the hereafter. The home, the school, the synagogue, and the organized community were all based on these premises, expressed far more clearly in the existence and influence of these institutions, than in verbal propositions. Leading figures usually, and lesser figures frequently, made their life decisions in a frame of reference of eternity.

In that society, one might, without arousing comment, delchoose poverty for oneself and one's children in order to inherit the world to come. The spirit of man was far more real than his body; mastery of Torah and compliance with its dicta far more urgent and important than success in any aspect of mortal life. The Kingdom of God was at once distantly future and immediately present. It was distant in the sense that the vast majority of mankind lived outside it. It was present in the sense that one spent almost all one's life within it. The belief that the Torah was the revealed word of God could scarcely be challenged by those who spent most of their waking hours mastering its intricacies and discovering its joys. To suppose that the Torah did not emanate from God was far more unrealistic than to suppose that the material universe had just "happened", and far more incredible.

This society had no need for a systematic theology based on verbalized assumptions and theories of contemporary science ... the concepts were real, and the propositions true, because without them life, as it was lived, made no sense. This milieu was intellectually and spiritually far closer to that of the Talmudists of the age of Hillel and Rabbi Akiva, than to that of Saadia and Maimonides.

Our task is to renew the old and sanctify the new (Rav Kook, the radical, tho establishment, first chief rabbi of Palestine)

Both Neophobia, an obsessive fear of change and originality, and neophillia, an obsessive passion for change and newness per se, for the fad of the moment, can destroy the religious way of life (Rav Lamm)

God wrote a book-- the world; then he wrote a commentary on that book-- the Torah; He constantly innovates in both-- so should we (Rav Tzadok Hacohen)

It is seduction, not rape, that (American Jews) fear the most (L. Fein)

The central issue facing Judaism in our day is whether a long-beleaguered faith can endure the conclusion of its perilous siege (J. Neusner)

By some remarkable chemistry of spirit and will, Israel has neutralized the acids of every new modernity, and Jews have been able to function creatively in relation to a multitude of alien cultures ... faith and observance were the hallmarks of authentic Jewishness ...the temptations to modify hallowed tradition beyond recognition, engendered by shifting opportunities and hostilities, even the nihilism of the holocaust, operate powerfully ... it has never been comfortable to sing the Lord's song in any Babylonia, ancient, medieval or modern (A. Leland Jamison, editor of "Tradition and Change in Jewish Experience").

Formerly, a man, his son and grandchild lived in one age. Today each of us lives thru several eras in a lifetime. Many of the peoples and faiths of the world are now in contact with diversified and often conflicting influences at the same time ... no one lives in isolation. In Judaism, the tradition and the People are inextricably bound together. As "a child of the Covenant", a Jew inherits both the Tradition and the historic experience of all the generations who lived by that tradition (Moshe Davis ibid).

As tho (!) arranged by a cosmic dramatist, a series of tragic incidents during the 19th century (The Damascus Affair, the Dreyfus Case, etc.) reminded most Western Jews that they shared an ineluctable Jewish destiny (Robert Gordis ibid)

The new nationalism adopted by America proclaims that each race or people, like each individual, has the right and duty to develop, and only thru such differentiated development will high civilization be attained (L. Brandeis ibid).

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