The TIDEs They Are A-Changin'
The recent brouhaha at K'hal Adath Jeshurun's celebration of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch's bicentennial overshadowed the miracle on display that evening, namely that two centuries after the birth of the man credited with bringing Judaism out of the ghetto without sacrificing its authenticity, his movement, Torah Im Derech Eretz, is the primary representative of 21st Century Judaism.
I do not know the new rav of KAJ, Yisroel Mantel. I don't know his hashkafos. I don't even know precisely what he said, because he said it on Shabbos and nobody taped it or transcribed it on the spot. What we have is a Jewish Press report summing up his point that TIDE "is not viable in the absence of its chief advocate." Many took this statement as a direct quote from the rav, which, in absence of quote marks in the article, it was not.
Be that as it may.
Ironically, what seemed to upset people was the rav's contention that Jews must be directed by "The Gedolim." This was seen as codeword for "We must kowtow to chareidi hashkafos." However, in line with the principle of "Dor dor vedorshov," that G-d provides leaders for each generation appropriate to that generation, Rav Mantel's remarks were unobjectionable.
Rav Hirsch himself describes TIDE as fluid, in effect, a moving target, based on the "developments of changing times." Even in his own generation, Rav Hirsch refused to endorse Rav Azriel Hildesheimer's program for an orphanage in Palestine, writing him, "Just as only in Berlin is it possible to determine what is the best and most advantageous course of action for Berlin, and only in Frankfurt can it be known what is best for Frankfurt, so also only our brothers in the Holy Land and their rabbis can know what is beneficial and a source of blessing for them."
I believe Rav Hirsch would take one look at the 21st Century American Jewish community and be overjoyed at the success of the Torah community from left to right. It may have taken the better part of two centuries, but Hirschian Orthodoxy has emerged triumphant and dominant.
Most of us attend minyan daily, study Torah regularly, and spend enormous amounts of money to educate our children in our holy heritage. At the same time, we go to work, speak unaccented English, and are friendly and honest with the "outside" world. Even in Lakewood, contrary to the conventional wisdom, the vast majority of heads of households are not sitting in kollel but hold jobs that require them to deal with, and participate in, the outside world. Lakewood is not the ghetto that it is perceived (and, perhaps, perceives itself) to be.
So if Hirsch is reigning champion, why all the gloom in Washington Heights?
First, the incident is an embarrassment for the already fragile and fraying Washington Heights KAJ community. But the German-Jewish absorption into the melting pot of Orthodox Jewish America is tragic only in the nostalgic sense. It is time to recognize that TIDE is not necessarily the Yekkes' to define. As one of my rabbonim noted, let's not confuse the philosophy of TIDE with minhagei Frankfurt. If TIDE is an - some would argue, The - authentic representation of Torah living, then it never really was German to begin with. Even if it took a German rabbi to breathe life back into it.
Second, many, inside and outside the Yekke community, see TIDE as more, even much more, than the above description, and are dismayed to see its slide to the right. This version of TIDE, which includes a greater stress on secular studies and is akin to Torah U'Mada, and has been rejected by the KAJ rabbinate long before Rav Mantel came along, but his comments served to underscore the direction in which the community is going.
There is, however, a fundamental distinction between the two: While Torah Im Derech Eretz is a lifestyle, Torah U'Mada is a curriculum. That is why Torah U'Mada is the slogan of a university, while TIDE defines a community.
Even if one believes that Rav Hirsch was indeed a powerful proponent of secular studies in his day, it does not follow that he would have been equally passionate about the subject in our times. TIDE, by his own definition, evolves. To that end, several points are in order regarding secular studies.
I find that at work, I am the most educated and eloquent of my colleagues - and I barely went to college. I don't work in a factory or in a mall; I work for one of the largest banks in the world. Suit and tie every day. The secular world has been so dumbed down that one need not possess a classic Harvard education to fit in, or, even, to excel.
Furthermore, college today is not what it was even fifty years ago. Newsflash to the critics who disparage going to school "simply to make a living": that's precisely what the goyim are doing. The notion of studying for a higher purpose is happening at precious few institutions today - and one of them happens to be in Lakewood, New Jersey. Describing the "college experience," today's budding scholars are less likely to reference Kierkegaard and Newton, and more likely to focus on keg parties and Spring Break.
Lastly, the culture has deteriorated considerably. Few are rushing to see La Boheme at the Met. Instead it's the latest dreck from Judd Apatow & Co. that sells the tickets. America's crass culture is downright dangerous for the spiritually selective. Don't forget: the other side of Rav Hirsch's TIDE was his institution of Austritt. I'd hate to think what he might have said about youtube.
In the end, what we ought to glean from Rav Hirsch is his passion for uncompromised Judaism, his love of all Jews and his desire to reach out to them, and his positive outlook in the face of a picture much bleaker than the one we face today. He would be overwhelmed at the opportunities for outreach in America, both inside and outside the Orthodox community. With somewhere between three million and five million Jews lacking a basic Jewish education, and without any serious intellectual threat preventing their return, he would be ecstatic at the chance to impact them all.
Mark my words: if Rav S. R. Hirsch was brought back to this earth, the first thing he would do is learn to touch-type.