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.