TIDE, variants on a theme

In an earlier post, I raised one very fundamental difference between Rav Hirsch’s “Torah im Derekh Eretz” (Torah with culture, hereafter “TIDE”) and Rav JB Soloveitchik’s attitude toward the secular, which YU titles “Torah uMadda” (Torah and other knowledge, “TuM”).

TIDE is a lifestyle that is wholly Torah and wholly derekh eretz, in that the Torah is what gives form and function to a cultured life, and culture is the substance to which one applies Torah.

Rabbi JB Soloveitchik, on the other hand, spoke in terms of unresolvable dialectics…. One of his few talks on TuM is commonly referred to as “Ramatayim Tzofim” — two peaks from which to look out over the landscape, using a phrase from Shemu’el I 1:1. Man is torn between two peaks, which stand distinct. And in fact, it is the free will that emerges from choosing between these alternatives that is man’s “image of G-d”, our entire calling.

… Rav Hirsch speaks in terms of theory, defining the ideal human being as one living a life that is entirely Torah and yet composed of Derekh Eretz, whereas Rav Soloveitchik describes the reality, and living with the conflicts that we actually confront. The ideal may be one of unity, but life is a process of reaching for an ideal; not actually ever getting there. Thus, the two perspectives need not be taken as contradicting.

(At least, not on this point. TIDE and TuM differ in other ways. A topic for another entry.)

This is “another entry.”

There is something deeply in common between TIDE and the Slabodka school of Mussar. Both focused on self perfection in all ways. Slabodka students took care in dressing with dignity and according to the latest style. (Students of other yeshivos would poke fun at it.) And while Slabodka did not have secular classes, it was presumed that students learned such things informally. Rav Avraham Elya Kaplan describes his peers’ heated debates on the merits of Kant, Hegel, Freud and Marx. The ideal Slabodka student had a character refined by Mussar, spent most of his day studying Torah, was admirable even in the secularly cultured person’s eyes, and dreamed of revolutionizing the world.
We also explored Rav Hutner’s notion of living a broad life. In the contrast made above, this idea is clearly more akin to Rav Hirsch’s unity than Rav Soloveitchik’s coexistence. Perhaps this is because of the similarity (and yet quite different!) between Slabodka, which was where Rav Hutner studied, and Hirsch’s TIDE.

A second fundamental difference is rolled into the definitions I gave above for derekh eretz and mada respectively – culture vs. secular wisdom. Rav Hirsch is idealizing a person who is a refined and upstanding member of his society. Rav Soloveitchik is speaking about knowledge. It was quipped on Avodah once that both want to produce the “Rabbi Dr.”, however TIDE wants an MD whereas TuM’s doctor would be a PhD.

Derekh Eretz’s refined member of society is not merely phrased in terms of taking the ennoblement that society has to offer. It also means contributing back to it. In Rav Hirsch’s ideal, the Jewish people are to be society’s moral voice. As Noach blessed his sons, “The aesthetics of G-d are with Yefes, and dwells in the house of Sheim.” We, carriers of Sheim’s mission, are to bring G-dliness into the social structures Yefes gifts to society.

This question isn’t directly addressed in R’ JB Soloveitchik’s TuM. Academics are known for their challenge of having to escape the ivory tower and live in the real world, and so this question isn’t central to the whole TuM formulation. However, we already discussed his brother Rav Aharon’s outspokenness on Vietnam and Biafra. I would therefore judge universalism to be part of the American Soloveitchiks’ worldview, but from the concept of kavod haberios (the dignity of man) and not necessarily a direct expression of TuM. (Or perhaps someone can show a significant rift between their understandings of TuM, something I am taking for granted is minimal.)

Then of course there are other “Torah and” models:The Chazon Ish promoted “Torah va’Avodah” (used to mean something different than the Bnei Akiva motto) — “Torah and productive work”. The fusion of Torah with earning a living. In his utopia, not everyone is in kollel.

The Chazon Ish’s notion is pragmatic. As the gemara puts it, there was a debate between R’ Yishmael and R’ Shim’on bar Yochai as to how to live. R’ Yishmael advised getting a job, and Rashbi advocated full time study. The gemara concludes “many tried to live as R’ Shim’on but few succeeded”. Life isn’t designed to be Torah only, thus it can’t be its Designer’s ideal that a full time life of learning is for all but those few.

The Vilna Gaon argued that all knowledge had essential unity. That it’s impossible to know Torah without knowing what one can of everything else — it’s all one thing.

It was usual (or perhaps: a pearl) in [the Vilna Gaon’s] mouth, that a measure that a person is lacking in the treasured knowledge of the forces of nature, will be lacking 100 fold of the wisdom of Torah.

– Qol haTor pg 123

Thus theGaon’s ideal is also shaped by the pragmatic, but in a very different way than the Chazon Ish’s. The Chazon Ish speaks of how to succeed at living. Vilna Gaon is asserting that there is no way to succeed at Torah while pursuing a “Torah only” curriculum.

Perhaps related to the Gra’ position is the Rambam’s identification of ma’aseh hamerkavah (Ezekiel’s vision of the Divine Chariot) with metaphysics and theology, of a ma’aseh bereishis with the study of natural philosophy (roughly what we today would call “science”).

Rav Kook dismissed “Torah and” as being fundamentally illusory. Everything is from G-d and therefore inherently holy. There is only the obviously holy and that in which the sanctity is less visible. Everything one does that further’s Hashem’s goals are therefore of value. Even if the person doing it doesn’t realize his aims in those terms. This is how Rav Kook spoke of the holiness of the non- and anti-religious chalutz, who served Hashem’s aim of returning us to our land even while r”l denying His Existence.

And so, in Rav Kook’s worldview, harmony reigns, not Rav Soloveitchik’s notion of halakhah guiding one on how to choose between conflicting values. Secular knowledge is only seeming secular; in truth it is holy. Thus the conclusion is much like the Vilna Gaon’s — the unity is inherent in the material. However, Rav Kook provides a mystical explanation for the unity, whereas the Vilna Gaon’s was a pragmatic one about the nature of being knowledgable.

Rav Kook similarly sees that underlying holiness in participation in the best of contemporary civilization. Of course, he would say the best would be to do so in the context of developing Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael, a factor not addressed by TIDE or TuM.

My own inclination, for what little it’s worth, is that the ideal is one of unity. I am not sure a human being can ever reach that ideal, but in any case, I am not there. And so I must recognize that to me Torah, mada and derekh eretz will at times yield conflicting priorities, and I must follow halakhah to decide among them.  Going beyond the Brisker outlook, I would say that I must also follow mussar, an awareness of where I need to grow at this point in my life, to provide guidance where halakhah does not.

I do not see how mada has value in and of itself, I am more inclined to value it as the Vilna Gaon does — knowledge is all one piece, and knowing more of one thing makes you more able to understand everything else.

Similarly, once one listens to mussar’s call to be a mentch and mada‘s call to be a knowledgable one even beyond the boundaries of the Torah, the call to derekh eretz to Yefes style refinement, has already been heard.

I am similarly unsure of the inherent value of derekh eretz. Derekh eretz, though, overlaps greatly with both with mussar and being a mentch and with mada. And in terms of high culture, much of it s mada

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