Wednesday, May 16, 2007

more thoughts on YU vs. hesder

Some more thoughts on some of the issues raised in the past post on rav kook and comments. I cannot write much on the hesder/dat-leumi world because I live here in the US, but I think mixing it with the YU world is comparing apples and oranges. At the risk of oversimplification: the dati-leumi/hesder world springs from the ideology of Rav Kook, developed by his son and talmidim for three generations. There are many yeshivos which are part of the hesder network, many talmidim of Rav Kook who claim allegiance to some form of his ideology and who actively try to inculcate it in their talmidim. Dress does not define a person, but practically speaking, show me a kipah seruah wearing yeshiva bachur who can cite Orot, and I am willing to bet he is not learning in the Mir. As the number of yeshivot under the banner of this hashkafa has increased, their effect has spread to communities built around its ideological framework which in turn feed back to the yeshivot.

One would think I could just as quickly summarize the YU ideology considering that I attended the institution from HS through college, one of its grad schools, and got smicha there. But when I think of YU I think of ideological muddle. The philosophy has never spread to a yeshiva gavoha outside the original institution, with the exception perhaps of Chovivei Torah, which YU disassociates itself from. Rav Soloveitchik never formulated Torah U’Mada, arguably the defining philosophy of YU; that was left to Rav Lamm, someone who is certainly an intellectual and talmid chacham, but, without meaning any disrespect, not a gadol of the caliber of Rav Kook or even the Rav (a fact I think he would admit). The Roshei Yeshiva (at least while I was there) make no attempt to communicate any ideological framework – there is no positive spin to Torah u’Mada, never a discussion of the positives of liberal arts or Modern Orthodoxy, only derech shlili, a passive acceptance that certain allowances exist under the banner of MO. Very few, if any, of the Roshei Yeshiva will speak of the value of literature or liberal arts, issues like women taking a positive role in orthodoxy are increasingly downplayed (compare R’ Twersky or R’ Shachter’s approach to the issue with R’ Henkin’s), and there is little to distinguish the Yeshiva portion of YU from its chareidi counterparts. If there is an ideological mission to the institution, the “better” bachurim, aside from a small %, generally eschew fully identifying with it. As far as community impact, I have seen with my own eyes a 2/3 empty shule in my neighborhood when R’ Hershel Shachter and R’ Rozensweig came to speak, this in a community that is not usually identified with the far right. It is not that the message is disagreed with – it’s that modern orthodoxy embraces a passive nonchalance that undermines its own message. When they came to speak, R’ Rozensweig chose as his topic “Da’as Torah”. Why do I need YU for a da’as torah ideology – the RW offers the same thing in stronger doses without apologizing for it? Where is the YU equivalent of communities with kipa-seruga Orot quoting talmidim - i.e. talmidim with a distinctive derech of avodas Hashem that is the result of having been reared in YU's system? The community hosted R’ Alon a few years ago, and R’ Goldvicht earlier this year, and I heard unabashed enthusiasm for Eretz Yisrael beyond what the RW world offers. It was not RW-lite, but a completely different spin. One is not moved to embrace MO from any ideological fervor, but simply it offers a convenient set of heterim for things like college, and on a communal level, identifying onself as MO provides convenient cover for a host of halachic practices the movements leaders would condemn.

A commentator asked, if I send my son to a chareidi yeshiva, how will he learn of the Rav or Rav Kook? But I went to YU, and had it not been for my personal reading and growth since, I would have never been exposed to Rav Kook either, nor would I have any sense of the Rav’s distinctive ideology from what I heard from the Roshei Yeshiva. The ideology of Rav Kook animates the sichot and hashkafa writings of the Roshei Yeshiva of hesder; can anyone point to a single work of machshava from a YU Rosh Yeshiva that develops the hashkafa of the Rav? This is all by way of personal reflection, and there undoubtedly are communities where the YU world has made a greater impact in the ruchniyus and hashkafa (I never lived in Teaneck, but from what I understand it is such a community), and I hope I have not been too critical. However, it seems to me that while hesder has created passion and ideological fervor and communicated a distinctive ideological vision, YU has failed in the same task. At the same time, in the US, the RW world has grown and continues to grow, and sprout institutions which do communicate a fervor for learning, an clear ideology of Torah, and a committment to avodas Hashem, for which they deserve tremendous credit.


  1. Lots of good points but I would recommend breaking it up into smaller paragraphs for the benefit of the readership.

  2. "Why do I need YU for a da’as torah ideology – the RW offers the same thing in stronger doses without apologizing for it?"

    I listened to the tape of RMR a while ago, but I recall that there was agreement with the idea in lesser degrees than the charedi version. To an extent, everyone agrees with a concept of Torah authority, whether they call it "Daas Torah" or not.

    I think that it's important that someone in the Right of YU offers a Daas Torah concept(or whatever other term one wants to use), to serve as an alternative to the charedi Daas Torah concept, for reasons of balance. For the same reason, I think that both the OU and Agudah should exist, to balance each other out; this is healthy for the Orthodox world.

  3. RJM, I took your suggestion and tried to add some breaks.
    Baruch, YU should not feel a need to defensively respond to the RW da'as torah spin before first articulating its own unique vision.

  4. I actually had a discussion about this topic this past Shabbos with one of my older Rebbeim who I am close with. He was a Talmid of Rav Moshe, and identifies with the Yeshivishe Olam (but does realize
    the importance of being "normal").

    As opposed to speaking about the differences between YU and Hesder, it was more about differences between YU and the Chareidim.
    The way he put it was that, Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch came up with his concept of "Torah Im Derech Eretz" and created a set path, before doing anything.

    YU on the other hand, kind of just morphed and formed, and was much more reactionary. (And when Rav Soloveitchik entered the scene, the concept of Torah U'mada was something that they latched on to). While I do believe that there is a concept of Torah U'Mada, like you said, it is not necessarily being conveyed or articulated to the hundreds of students in the MYP program.

    For anyone who has been following recent YU activities, it seems they are really trying to make a push to have a "derech" and spread it around North America. I recently was at a Shabbos table with Rabbi Kenny Brander, the head of the "Center for Jewish Future" at YU, who's goal is to basically do exactly what you said YU has not done.

    I am still currently in Highschool, and i often think about what I am going to do with myself later in life. And while I value the love and importance of Limud Torah that the Charedi world gives, I do not feel I could be apart of that Olam. On the other hand, I know that being in the MO world, the challenge will be much greater. (Especially because who knows where NCSY kollel etc. will be 10-20 years from now). Often I find myself interested in ultimately residing in one of these Religous Zionist Communities, that have that love for Torah, and the teachings of Rav Kook etc., and the Love for Israel, and is acutally reflected in the actions of adults and children alike.

    I don't mean to bore you with all of my personal thoughts, but because everything has become institutionalized and labeled, it is much harder to live with the unique identity that you create for yourself, and instill that identity in your children.

  5. >>>I am still currently in Highschool,

    You are way ahead of where I was at the same time in awareness of these issues. And you last sentence hits the nail right on the head.

  6. anon19:21 AM

    Ok - since I am the anonymous commenter who pushed the issue on, I will add my two cents. First, where I agree with you -- I agree with you that R'Kook's ideology has been much more fully developed and YU is a little more of an ideological muddle. I agree with you that the best in YU in the yeshiva part of YU are not so interested in the Torah umada part of YU (I admit to finishing college in 2 years, with every AP, CLEP and summer school along the way that I could, and cutting class to get more time in the beis medresh). I also recognize the whole MO-lite phenomenon -- which is a serious issue, but I don't think blaming YU for that is fair and that is a whole other discussion.

    Now -- why I think YU is still incredibly valuable and why I would still want my kids to learn there (in addition to the extremely high quality of the Talmud Torah there and the exposure to the Torah of the Rav ztl). First, I did grow up in Teaneck and large portions of my family live there and there, when R'Schachter or R'Twersky come to speak, it is a full house. For the serious people -- both adults and teenagers into learning -- in Teaneck (and places like that), the gold standard is the YU roshei yeshiva. On the other hand, I have lived for over a decade now in an out of town place, where there is a well known charedi yeshiva. I will admit that it has been good for me to be near a charedi yeshiva with influence in the community, to be exposed to serious Torah in the charedi world on a regular basis. I am even close with one of the roshei yeshiva, who is a very unique and special person and talmid chacham and with whom I enjoy talking in learning immensely. Notwithstanding all that, it's hard to miss that the charedi world creates a certain narrow view of the universe, about approaching all sorts of things - the state of Israel, relating to other non-charedi Jews, learning medresh, understanding science, not condenscending to women, etc. (i.e., many of the issues you have written about here and on mishmar -- and there are more issues, but my goal here is not to list all the issues with the charedi world) -- which, based on what I have been taught, seems to distort Torah true views -- or at least legitimate, if not exclusive, Torah true views on these issues. And even where the roshei yeshiva know better (which often personally they do and can tell you off-record), the nuances (or sometimes the basic points) are often lost or not conveyed from the generals to the foot soldiers. Sometimes intentionally. That bothers me a lot.

    True, R'Twersky (for e.g.) did not develop a full theory of the value of Torah umada -- and I don't know that he does agree with it. In a word, to me, the value of YU for me is not about Torah umada but about developing a Torah true hashkafa. Sitting in R'Twersky's shiur for 4 years, I felt I had a very good picture of what a ben Torah is supposed to strive for, and how a ben Torah should think -- just one e.g., I wonder whether the charedi roshei yeshiva spent a week after both Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir, decrying the tremendous chilul Hashem and explaining where wrong thinking like that comes from. It's just sensitivity to a whole slew of issues which I think really matter a lot in avodas Hashem -- and I don't think you get that in the charedi world.

    So yes, you run the risk your kids will be friends who have cable TV and you will need to monitor that. Absolutely. But your kids will avoid a lot of other issues which I am concerned could distort their quest for emes and developing a derech in avodas Hashem. I think they have a better shot at avoding that with YU. And going the YU route, as you know, is not mutually exclusive with Talmud Torah and avodas Hashem. All right, I have now rambled for too long. Sorry for the very long comment.

  7. anon19:23 AM

    In rereading my comment, I realize there is one line that smacks of gaavah and bothers me -- where I write that the best in YU are not interested in college and then I say how I rushed through college. I did not mean to imply in any way (nor do I believe) that I am of the best in YU -- I was just a guy that was trying to take learning seriously (and still am trying). Just needed to clarify

  8. Anon1,
    I agree wholeheatedly with everything you wrote, and precisely because I agree with it deciding on the best path for my son's future education is a difficult choice - is the danger of cable TV (halevei that should be the worst of it) worse than the danger of a narrow parochial worldview? Is it possible to achieve some balance that satsifies the best of both worlds? I don't know. And it's not just about chinuch - it's about my world as well, as I am still struggling with the issue myself.

  9. "Baruch, YU should not feel a need to defensively respond to the RW da'as torah spin before first articulating its own unique vision."

    The shiurim that I've heard from RMR and RHS on Daas Torah didn't sound like they were being apologetic in any way, but I am not familiar with YU philosophy as much as you are. As I said, a vision which is closer to the RW can add balance to the charedi world by offering competition, but I suppose that's a somewhat selfish concern.

    I agree, in general, that YU should not feel a need to look over it's shoulder, although practically that's probably what happens to an extent. Because the RW is vibrant, self-confident, and influential, I think that MO will always be looking over it's shoulder, to an extent. That's also part of being in the "middle".

    Someone mentioned YU's "Center for the Jewish Future", which I think is an attempt to perpetuate MO. In a different way, some separated to create Edah/YCT to promote a more leftward vison of MO.

    On another note, I heard a radio interview with Marc Shapiro, and he said to the effect that Rabbi Lamm's Torah Umaddah is really not alive in YU either, and people are more interested in the practical aspects of college; he assoiated MO with "Dougies", which was a term used in R. Dr. Brill's article in the Edah Journal(but see R. Yitzcahk Blau's response; also, I don't know how well Dr. Shapiro knows the situation in YU, and he's probably generalizing).

    We are really replaying, with some differences, what happened in 19th Century Germany; the Right of YU is probably the segment most close to TIDE, which was adopted only in part by the "moderate" charedi world, such as in the phenomenon of American High Schools with secular secular studies or charedi professionals. While "Torah im Parnassah" is certainly part or TIDE, for the most part, it is only alive in an apogetic, b'deved, sense in the charedi world. On the other hand, I think that those to the left of RSRH, would probably today associate more with the Jewish Studies/Jewish academic part of YU, but this is a generalization as the Hildesheimer Seminary did not have a uniform hashkafa.

  10. "I wonder whether the charedi roshei yeshiva spent a week after both Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir, decrying the tremendous chilul Hashem and explaining where wrong thinking like that comes from."

    There was criticism of B Goldstein in the JO and of Y Amir at the Agudah Convention(something like "it was a chilul Hashem of cosmic proportions"). Also, one of Agudah's spokespeople was interviewed on the radio immediately after Rabin's assassination, and I if recall correctly, the Moetzes also made a statement in the New York Times at the time.

  11. It seems to me that the usage of the term "MO" to define the TuM ideology is in a sense a concession of authenticity to the RW world, as the term "modern" appears to imply a break with the mesorah; if one wishes to authenticate TuM, the way to do it would be to emphasize how it is merely a new codification of a method of using the world in one's avodah, rather than viewing it as an entirely new ideology.

    I believe that the term "MO" itself was first used to describe the community of American Jews of the interwar period who were for the most part frum, but put an emphasis on fitting into secular society and, amongst the rank and file, tended towards a significant imbalance between valuing Torani intellectualism and secular intellectualism (in favor of the latter). Although YU did ultimately spring forth from this community - whose religious leaders included Rabbi Joseph Lookstein and Rabbi Leo Jung - I'm not sure that its ideals do or should reflect those of this earlier community (which is described in detail in /New York's Jewish Jews/, by Jenna Weissman Joselit).

  12. Baruch,

    that is good to know, seriously, but your comment leads me to believe that my comment didn't convey the full point I intended - I will try to explain a little more. There are, unfortunately, too many things that are a chilul Hashem (more than zero is too many, but you understand what I mean). Especially a chilul Hashem of either of those proportions, I think just about everyone had a soundbite that it was bad, very bad. And I never would question that Agudah and the Moetzes genuinely felt that those were chilul Hashem. The point I was trying to make though is that it was not only a condemnation -- my rebbe gave week of shiurim on the topic to his regular shiur, drawing the lessons to be learned from it (based on maameri chazal, etc.), spoke about this in the main bais medresh, made a big deal about it-- because, in his mind, it was a very important point to convey to the talmidim. If I'm your average 19 or 20 year old in yeshiva, do you think I am reading the JO or the NYTimes to see what the Moetzes has to say? That's why I ask if the roshei yeshiva made a big deal about this to their talmidim, and why I feel, that although TuM may not be developed as a hashkafa in YU, there clearly is a distinct derech -- because when you are in yeshiva and your rosh yeshiva takes time from talmud Torah to make a point about something, it makes an impression on you. My guess is to this day, the way I would react to current events, and what bothers me, is different from your average person who went through the charedi system -- in large part due to this.

    (Maybe I am wrong about all of this and the charedi roshei yeshiva did speak to their talmidim about this. That's why I wonder -- but it is not my impression that they did.)

  13. "my rebbe gave week of shiurim on the topic to his regular shiur, drawing the lessons to be learned from it (based on maameri chazal, etc.), spoke about this in the main bais medresh, made a big deal about it-- because, in his mind, it was a very important point to convey to the talmidim."

    I see what you are saying. This has bothered me as well as I went through the charedi system. I suppose it varies with Yeshivos and rebbeim in the RW, and also bachurim can pick up some Torah perspective on current events from the Yated or the JO.

    To the extent that discussion of current events is avoided in yeshivos, perhaps it is to give a perspective of insulation from the outside world. Or, it might be that people might not like what Rabbonim will say anyhow(eg., a position in favor of territorial compromise ),or there is conflict in the charedi world on issues, so silence is best in order not to alienate anyone, and instead, yeshivos just concentrate on their ikkar purpose, which is limud hatorah.

    Note that R. Mendel Kaplan taught talmidim how to read a newspaper, while at the same time, IIRC, he personally did not advocate HS secular studies for everyone in his family, so this whole issue is probably just a reaction of the RW, as opposed to a core hashkafa.

  14. anon15:39 PM


    as usual you put things well. Anyway, I think I am boring people with this -- just to sum up, I think this highlights the point that I care less about TuM per se and more about understanding life. Even if YU does not provide the former, I think just being there provides the latter.

  15. Anon1,

    "Even if YU does not provide the former, I think just being there provides the latter. "

    Every system has its strengths and weaknesses.

    On a general note, I have come to realize(someone made a similar point on Cross Currents) that some people are able to admit to weaknesses in their shittah, and others can not. I obviously prefer talking to the former type. With the latter type, one can present an argument, but it is futile to try to force such a person to admit to a weakness, if they are not comfortable doing that; I admit this is not always easy facing that reality.

  16. I'm curious if anyone has ever done an historical study of the evolution of the slogan TuM. I suspect some fundraiser (Dr. Belkin?) made it up for the new YU logo in 1946 and they've been trying to "fill in the blank" for the meaning ever since.

    In any event, the greatest paragon of TuM that I have ever met is R' Mayer Schiller.