Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Torah im Derech Eretz and Lithianian Chareidi Orthodoxy

This post is in response to a series of comments to this post at Mishmar. It is very hard to fathom a movement which publicly espouses a certain position but privately tolerates actions which contradict and even undermine that selfsame position. The RW/Chareidi/Lithuanian yeshiva (the exact label is irrelevant) reaction to Hischian Torah im Derech Eretz is well documented. R’ Baruch Ber and three other gedolim (I forget all the names offhand) were asked their opinion of secular studies and the unanimous response was negative. R’ Dessler (Michtav vol III p 353) wrote that the Lithuanian yeshivos follow a different path than those of Frankfurt; it is better to sacrifice 999 bachurim who won’t make it through the system in order to produce one gadol b’yisrael through torah-only immersion. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. R’ Shteinman in a recent visit to the US reiterated, “In his concluding words, he spoke about the terrible danger of treif studies, including university studies, saying that this trend must be combated. He also spoke out against the ambition to educate youth for "tachlis." He said, "I've met rich people. They hadn't studied much and they did not study towards `tachlis.' Rather they merited siyata deShmaya."” Even R’ Schwab, the leader of the Breur’s kehillah, originally opposed TIDE, and later in life when he retracted still acknowledged that it was a separatist movement not adopted by Easter European Jewry or its educational institutions. It goes without saying that the major yeshivos like Lakewood, Mir, Chaim Berlin, and certainly yeshivos in Eretz Yisrael do not officially allow any secular studies by their students. I would challenge anyone to find statement of public disavowal for R’ Shteinman’s remarks or to produce an essay written by a gadol from a Lithuanian yeshiva that is at odds with the sources I cited above.

But, argue some, don’t we find tacit back-door unofficial OK to attend college? Don’t many turn a blind eye to those who train for a parnasa? This strikes me as a very strange argument. Usually, public disavowal of a philosophical position while privately embracing its fruit is called hypocrisy. If you believe secular studies are OK, then come right out and say so, even at the cost of social or political position (Isn’t that YU’s attitude?) The psychological result of this contorted thinking is evident – who wants to be the bachur who is embracing the b’dieved position? The fact that a program is labeled as being for those “at risk”, or is never publicly touted, or never given a formal haskama, speaks volumes about the attitude towards it, and speaks volumes about the social stigma that is associated it. And even if we acknowledge this tacit back-door acceptance, it amounts to no more than a pragmatic utilitarianism for the sake of “parnasa”, not an intrinsic acknowledgement of the value of the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake or the need for “y’geiya kapecha” as an ideal of avodas Hashem.

Rabbi Meyer Schiller put it best. Writing in the Torah U’Mada Journal (1995), he notes (p.28): “Outside of those various segments of Orthodoxy who seek to recreate largely authentic models of Eastern European Jewish life either in Israel or America, every other approach within Orthodoxy embraces the pursuit of worldly knowledge, beauty, and experience to a certain degree. However, there is little in the philosophy which they have inherited from their Eastern Eurpoean predecessors that can legitimate these pursuits.”

I’m afraid that at heart I am still an idealist who does not see pragmatism as a justification for what is intrinsically “treif” and philosophically objectionable. I find it hard to understand the public applause for R' Shteinman's remarks even as those listening to them hold dinners for their institutions which honor "frum" doctors, lawyers, and professionals who obviously have indulged in the "treif" study of secular knowledge. I guess others are less troubled by these inconsistencies or have found better answers than I to resolve them.

35 comments:

  1. yehuda R12:01 PM

    I'm not going to argue this point with you but I see zero hypocrisy in opposing secular studies and opposing bochurim who could be learning pursuing a degree but allowing older people who need the parnosah to study parnosah orientd things only.
    For example I became an accountant through Agudas Yisroel/PCS partenering with FDU to provide masters in accounting to those who have yeshive degrees.
    The program takes only one year teaches only accounting and other essential business related topics.
    To ensure that all student are only there for parnossah or other valid reasons all student must be either (1)married for 5 years OR (2)30+ OR (3)have permission from their former rosh yeshive prior to coming to Lakewood.
    The hypocrisy I see is in all these bloggers who scream endlessly about the lack of charedei vocational education but don offer to help Agudas Yisroel /PCS with these programs (either monetary or help for job placement contacts)
    PCS offers many other job training program and placements services and being a branch of Agudas Yisroel it definitly has the Moetzeses approval.

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  2. I think you are over-stating your case. The 'official' position is All Torah All The Time. However they recognize that pragmatizally this isn't for everyone. However they still need to push ATATT as the 'default'. Same thing with some of the 'kefirah' positions. Officially, its Young Earth Creationism. Unofficially, you have some leeway. Every system of rules and regulations has this kind of thing. There's the official line, and then there's some leeway which is kept quiet. When the gap between Official and Unofficial becomes seriously wide, then it can become hypocritical. But I don't see a seriously wide gap here.

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  3. XGH, I guess we disagree as to our tolerance level for a gap between public policy and private acceptance of a norm.

    Yehudah, if secular studies are 'treif' (R' Shteinman's words, not mine), does needing a job allow you to eat 'treif'?

    P.S. You won't here me scream about the chareidi lack of vocational training because I think vocational training is a poor excuse for education and highlights the worst of the pragmatism that substitutes for a philosophy these days.

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  4. Yehuda R1:57 PM

    Secular studies as an end to themselves or at the expense of limud h'Torah is what most of the charedei world opposes.Learning practical, technical, parnossah skills in the right setting is a different story.
    Not having heard R' Steinmans comment directly (or in proper context) and not trusting Ha'aretz to relay them I won't comment on them.

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  5. "And even if we acknowledge this tacit back-door acceptance, it amounts to no more than a pragmatic utilitarianism for the sake of “parnasa”, not an intrinsic acknowledgement of the value of the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake or the need for “y’geiya kapecha” as an ideal of avodas Hashem... I guess others are less troubled by these inconsistencies or have found better answers than I to resolve them."

    For my part, I fully acknowledge such inconsistencies(and did so in the comments to the post you referenced).

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  6. "Not having heard R' Steinmans comment directly (or in proper context) and not trusting Ha'aretz to relay them I won't comment on them. "

    Yehuda has a good point about the need to take Haaretz with a grain of salt. I therefore link below to a Yated article(although the Israeli Yated is not representative of the entire Yeshivah world).

    The part about "context" is also true. Rav Shtienman might have spoken in the US against college,or is against setting up in France such a frmaework, but the fact is that he has advised Israelis looking for an alternate framework such as Nachal Charedi, and is not exactly banning US yeshivos that allow college, even if he has given an anti-college speech(which is nothing new in the charedi world).

    I don't have a problem saying that Rav Shtienman is opposed to college and to TIDE, as long as one provides some context to that opposition. Touro and Lander get students from the RW world, and have not been banned. There are RW gedolim, in private, who still advise people to go to college(others can confirm my experience).

    One should also mention that Lakewood, in connection with Agudah, has a program to lead towards CPA's for Kollel students. I am not saying that there is no room to critique the yeshivah world, only that one should provide the full picture when doing so.

    http://chareidi.shemayisrael.com/archives5767/emor/arshtnmnemr67.htm

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  7. I know you guys would dismiss Ha'aretz out of hand, which I why (if you click the link) you will see I chose my quote from Dei'ah veDibur, the online voice of the chareidi world. Even if they got the quote wrong (which i doubt they did), their marketing of R' Shteinman in this way is itself informative.

    Lander is Touro, and its Roshei Yeshiva (R' Parner, R' Bronspeigel) are both products of RYBS/YU, not the far right. What gedolim have openly approved of such a program? What yeshivos will openly encourage it? Where have these approbations and essays in support been printed?

    I will write seperately on the CPA issue.

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  8. Anonymous5:28 PM

    I’m afraid that at heart I am still an idealist who does not see pragmatism as a justification for what is intrinsically “treif” and philosophically objectionable.

    So how do you justify YU?

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  9. I think he means, from their perspective...

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  10. Anonymous5:52 PM

    How does RHS justify YU?

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  11. See "Torah u'Madda" by Norman Lamm for a justification. You may not agree with it, but the spoken and written message is consistant with the values of the institution. RHS still teaches in YU, has a degree from there, and has never written anything undermining the core value of the institution. YU allows for many competing voices within the institution each offering different nuances on its mission. A university by definition embraces intellectual diversity. I am still waiting for any mareh mekomos to sources in the RW that challenge the longstanding tradition of anti-TIDE I set out. Justification is only necessary when deeds in private are inconsistant with public posturing.

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  12. Anonymous9:59 PM

    "It is very hard to fathom a movement which publicly espouses a certain position but privately tolerates actions which contradict and even undermine that selfsame position.."

    It's very easy to fathom. Are you a Yekke or only by marriage?:)


    "It goes without saying that the major yeshivos like Lakewood, Mir, Chaim Berlin, and certainly yeshivos in Eretz Yisrael do not officially allow any secular studies by their students."

    Chaim Berlin does allow secular studies. They can't disown R Hutner's policy.

    I think the Mir example is instructive. For years, Mir had top guys in college unofficially. The purpose of that was simple and it was not to stigmatize those who attended. They had an official policy anti college, and an unofficial policy of turning a blind eye to college so long as it didnt affect one's learning, because the main concern was bitul torah. The idea was that the powers that be should not be able to tell you were in college due to laxity showing up in yeshiva. Unofficial tolerance meant that very good guys didnt get caught up in college, but still went, and I think it was a policy that worked. Trends have changed and there are no longer so many younger haredi guys in college, but I think the change is largely due to more going to E"Y in the years that they used to go to beis midrash and college.

    "This strikes me as a very strange argument. Usually, public disavowal of a philosophical position while privately embracing its fruit is called hypocrisy. If you believe secular studies are OK, then come right out and say so, even at the cost of social or political position (Isn’t that YU’s attitude?)"

    I think a main reason that fewer haredim go to college today at a relatively young age is that more spend years in Israel and more inlaws seem willing to support kollel. What is making it progressively a more bedieved option at a younger age is that fewer good guys go - this is not all imposed from above. It could change overnight, though not officially.

    "P.S. You won't here me scream about the chareidi lack of vocational training because I think vocational training is a poor excuse for education and highlights the worst of the pragmatism that substitutes for a philosophy these days."

    Who goes to college for education today? Almost no one in the secular world. In the past, when more people went for education, more haredim did too.

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  13. Anonymous10:06 PM

    "I am still waiting for any mareh mekomos to sources in the RW that challenge the longstanding tradition of anti-TIDE I set out. Justification is only necessary when deeds in private are inconsistant with public posturing."

    They are not interested in working out elaborate shitas on TUM. They are interested in doing what works for the aims they wish to achieve.

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  14. "They are not interested in working out elaborate shitas on TUM. They are interested in doing what works for the aims they wish to achieve."

    True, they feel that "eis lasos l'hashem", so sources are irrelevant(one can discuss if our generation is indeed in a worse situation that the pre-Holocaust generations).

    However, just as "Torah-Only" is a "horaas shaah" on the widespread level, reality can force the RW to re-balance, unless one posits Divine intervention(eg., a real estate boom); the Jewish people are not neurotic, and on a whole over history, have adapted, or have been affected and influenced by reality.

    The re-balancing, if indeed done, will be evolutionary and be done quietely, especially since the RW is divided on the subject. So of course, there will be mixed signals in the RW world, unlike in MO, about TIDE.

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  15. Anonymous8:15 AM

    Chaim B: If you havent already I think you might want to read evanston Jew's blog. he writes from a secular perspective on orthodox sociology and i think did a good job on explaining the old world aspect of haredi life and why the public rhetoric is distinct from what goes on "on the ground." Maybe it would help give a more positive perspective on what you see as hypocrisy.

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  16. I thought I was going to duplicate here my comment on Mishmar, but it is really a different thread here.

    My relevant comment here is complete endorsement of the position of the commenter that college ba'zman ha'zeh and appreciation of the greater world have nothing to do with each other.

    Rabbi Schiller, the most TuMmy fellow I know, never even finished HS. I, who among the MTA teaching staff is probably the next most TuMmy person (albeit a distant second) never went to undergraduate college. And our most accomplished host, for all he might say, is largely an autodidact, who being so utterly brilliant has mastered any subject he has taken up.

    I suspect that you will have a harder time digging up anti-secular studies statements among the RW than anti-secular institutions statements. I think everyone feels in some measure that if the GRA mastered secular knowledge, they should too - but cannot find the time because of chulshas ha'dor.

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  17. >>>My relevant comment here is complete endorsement of the position of the commenter that college ba'zman ha'zeh and appreciation of the greater world have nothing to do with each other.

    I have not seen a comment to that effect, but I agree. I would just add that even in the secular world you will find the situation of the loss of true liberal arts bemoaned (e.g. Alan Bloom's work).

    >>>I suspect that you will have a harder time digging up anti-secular studies statements among the RW

    Birchas Shmuel end of Kiddushin was not discussing college, but was speaking of the value of taking time to pursue secular wisdom. In R' Schwab's response to R' Dessler (republished in Tradtion 1997) and his essay "These and Those" he refers to Eastern European yeshivos "negelecting all secular disciplines and pursuits" and argues in favor of TIDE by pointing to the geonim who combined secular knowledge with Torah. Pointing to the Rambam as a model for TIDE as opposed to TO clearly assumes TO not only rejects college, but rejects secular knowledge. Of course, you could say R' Schwab misformulated the whole debate, but I'll leave that argument for you to pursue.

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  18. "B'tsel hahochma b'tsel hakassef". Shelomo Hamelech wasn't talking about Gemara.

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  19. For an American attending a Hesder Yeshiva, many times the Rosh Yeshiva or the Mashgiach, or Rabbeim, will emphasize how, in reality, the Jew has no place in the US and all of the Bnei Chu"l should make Aliyah. Of course, there is the NY dinner honoring the alumni and parents thereof who live in the US and make money and support the Yeshiva, despite being told that their life-choice to remain in America is "K'mi She'ain Lo Elo'ah", and sinful like the Meraglim.

    Hypocrisy?

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  20. A parent had a son whom he thought should be in learning full time, and he told him so, saying that this was his life's calling. He decided not to do so, instead becoming a very successful businessman. The parent grew old and relied on his financial support that he was able to give because of his career choice. Is that hypocritical? I don't think so.

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  21. The new defense against hypocrisy I guess is to tar the other guys with the same brush. Worth thinking about for another time...

    Bari, in my experience in KBY I have never heard the sentiments of hesder expressed in the way you report. Lets not rely on hearsay - I gave you mareh mekomos. Surely you can point me to something in writing from a hesder R"M or R"Y that backs up your point? Can you find a sicha of R' Amital, RA"L, R' Greenberg (Gush and KBY having the largest American programs) that matches your report?

    Your last case begs the question, as I don't see why it is not hypocritical.

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  22. Lets not rely on hearsay

    Were you in KBY under Rav Greenberg? I was. And I heard it. (Haaretz didn't report it.)

    It isn't hypocrisy in the second case because the son had a right not to listen to the father, they still love each other deeply, and there is no Halachah against taking such money - that the son willingly gives and the father desperately needs.

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  23. Sorry, but I neither trust your report nor accept the tactic of using others faults as a defense for one's own. Let's say R' Greenberg is s hypocrite too - feel better? Chareidim can be hypocrites as long as you can point your finger at what other people do wrong? Sheesh, Bari, I'm afraid I have a completely different moral compass than you do.

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  24. Listen to this Shiur - all you need is the last 30 seconds - those (B'nei Chu"l) who have Parnassah issues should go back to the US, go to college, and then come back to Israel - "Zeh Davar Pashut U'Muvan".


    http://www.kby.org/torah/audio.cfm?id=1748

    Sorry, but I neither trust your report

    That's your prerogative, but I fail to see why not absent evidence to the contrary or me being proven untrustworthy.

    nor accept the tactic of using others faults as a defense for one's own.

    I'm the one saying it isn't hypocrisy, as I explained! I'm asking L'Sheetas'cha - Do you consider this hypocrisy too?
    Does it make you rethink that perhaps it isn't?

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  25. "Chareidim can be hypocrites as long as you can point your finger at what other people do wrong?"

    Communities are complex, especially RW ones, and send mixed signals. The fact is that every community has its weaknesses. MO may have a benefit over the RW that it might more readily acknowledge them publicly, but it's still not perfect either.

    I once saw an anonymous quote in Haaretz about the charedi world's position towards openess in press:

    "There are many different layers to the Haredi community.... Some people are very sophisticated intellectually - for them [insularity] won't work. But other people need the insularity - they couldn't handle things that might undermine their faith. So how do you balance a sophisticated worldview with the need to keep things under wraps? This balancing act requires a certain amount of control, to protect the general public from harm... But a totally free press - you can't have it. So you have an official line, and reality, and they balance each other out."

    Having an "official line" is not bad, as long as one acknowledges it in private. The same is true on an individual level. If a father tells a child to learn more, but he is not perfect himself, he might be inconsistent, but I don't think he is a "hypocrite", as long as he acknowledges such inconsistencies at least in private.

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  26. YGB - great comment, and important point. As Mark Twain once put it, "I never let my schooling interfere with my education." I don't think any institutional 'program' can produce true TuM.

    Chaim - the speed limit is 55, but cops won't pull you over for anything under 65. hypocrisy?

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  27. >I think everyone feels in some measure that if the GRA mastered secular knowledge

    Strong caveat: the Gra did not read anything besides Hebrew. In his time there weren't a lot of Hebrew works on secular subjects, and almost nothing reflecting contemporary 'chochma.' In other words, the Gra's actual knowledge of secular subjects was fairly limited by what he was able to study.

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  28. What evidence is there that the GRA only READ Hebrew?

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  35. Maybe there's the goal and ideal, and then there's the practical

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