A Quest for a New Type of Yeshiva

Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer is in the process of starting a new Yeshiva based on the principles of Torah Im Derech Eretz and ideas addressed by Dr Nathan Birnbaum.

Below is a 1927 address by Dr Birnbaum with comments by Rabbi Bechhofer regarding how he hopes to implement these ideals.

Organized Orthodoxy is obliged to come together and create societal tools that will teach:
1. How to deepen our awareness of Hashem out of love for Him [Da’as].
2. How to dedicate ourselves to love our fellow human beings [Rachamim].
3. How to pursue modesty [hatznei’a leches] as a manifestation of the glory of our Hashem [Tiferes]…

We must admit that cold intellectualism has penetrated our relationship with Hashem. Following through with that metaphor, Ha’Olim cannot remain at ease with this frigidity. They must toil until within their societies, within each of their groupings and within each of their members there arise divine hislahavus and inner spiritual feeling.

To achieve aliya in Da’as Hashem there float before my eyes the following ideas:

1. Torah study in a more profound manner: Every “Oleh” is required to expand and deepen his knowledge of Torah and Chochmas Yisroel. Before all else, if he does not possess basic knowledge, he must acquire it upon entering the society. The society must constantly supervise its members to ensure that they are fulfilling this obligation. It must provide the opportunity to learn and grow through shiurim that it will conduct within its circle. The society shall campaign among its members, their children and their students to convince them to embark upon a term of study in a yeshiva or under a renowned talmid chacham for one to three years.

[Rabbi Bechhofer’s comments:
Although this first clause was primarily directed at the German-Jewish milieu for which it was written, it is readily translated to address the crying contemporary need of the day.

Good boys, who may do well in other subjects in high school, are often miserable when compelled to learn Gemara. They may have never had a Rebbe who gave them a geshmack in the profound analysis of a Rashi, the minute dissection of a Rambam, the intellectual challenge of a Tosafos, the scientific approach of Reb Chaim, or the philosophical profundity of Reb Shimon.

Some yeshivos teach from an axiomatic religious imperative; others from “subject among other subjects” – albeit, under the best circumstances, a “first among equals” – approach bereft of specialness. And so fine talmidim can go through twelve years of traditional Chinuch with but the most fleeting glimpses of the areyvus of Gemara, of its hod v’hadar, of that which makes one exclaim: Ma ahavti Torasecha!

Particularly in the T.I.D.E. milieu that Yeshivas HaOlim promotes, a solid one to three years Kodesh la’Hashem out of Simchas HaTorah, is an essential cornerstone for life-long exciting and uplifting pursuit of Talmud Torah k’neged kullam.]

2. Festive gatherings of Charedim, for spiritual purposes (such as the introduction of the Eastern European Shalosh Seudos, etc.).

3. Special instruction in the history and development of Hislahavus and Dveykus in Israel and its practice.

[Rabbi Bechhofer’s comments:
The davening in many contemporary yeshivos needs improvement. In some places, there is somewhat more of a sense of tzurah, of decorum. But ha’tzad ha’shaveh is that for all too many talmidim, davening is “down-time” – for shmoozing, at best for sleeping and/or sleeping.

Yeshivas HaOlim will strive to make davening meaningful and uplifting, and to ensure a talmid is not just “acting,” but knows and means what he is saying. This can be accomplished by shiurim and va’adim in Emunah, in the power of davening, and biurei tefillos.]

4. Great emphasis must be placed upon a stipulation that every Oleh to refrain from any excesses or immodesty in speech, clothing, deed and from any competitive sport or gambling.

5. The development of a pure esthetic that will free the architecture of our Shuls and the nature of our music from the influence of other religions…

To achieve aliya in bein adam l’chaveiro I consider:

1. Instruction in the issues of bein adam l’chaveiro and guidance in expanded practical applications. Both modern and classic texts should be employed, with a particular stress on current situations. To develop a greater sense of belonging to Orthodox society as a whole.

2. The obligation of every Oleh to engage in Cheshbon HaNefesh at least once a week, to ascertain if, and to what extent, he has fulfilled mitzvos and refrained from aveiros according to the instruction and guidance provided to him.

3. An outright ban on certain material pursuits.

4. Substantive and apolitical common counsel to resolve Jewish societal problems in the spirit of Torah and Mesorah.

Even if the manner in which we display the public image of our lives does not currently convey our glory as the Chosen Nation, even if we are uncertain how to properly become the glory [pe’er] of the world, Ha’Olim cannot allow the status quo to continue. They must attempt to rectify as much as possible.

To achieve aliya in the manners of creating public lives, I depict to myself:

1. Instruction in issues concerning glory [Tiferes] and its correlation to religion and Mussar… [and] practical guidance in the application of these principles to the creation of appropriate public lives.

2. The development of an independent Jewish social structure following Judaism and Mussar.

3. The development of arts, especially architecture, music and poetry, rooted in the spirit of true Jewish Mesorah, and the establishment of competitions in these areas.

4. The previously mentioned (in the section on Da’as Hashem) ban on excesses.

[Rabbi Bechhofer’s comments:
The Internet is here to stay. There is no way the bulk of Yahadus HaTorah can hide their collective heads in the sand. And if that means that a bachur today – even a “good” bachur – is exposed to pornography, we have to deal with it.

If it means they will be texting constantly, acting inappropriately on blogs and on Facebook, we also have to deal with it. Many of our talmidim are into “goyishe music,” are up on TV and movies (even if we have no TV’s in our houses! even if we have extensive web filters – amazing, right?! Are you aware, for example, of the existence of a site which helps yeshiva kids get around filters!!).

So we have to deal with it. Moreover, but we have hid our faces to our detriment for far too long from the problem that many bachurim with the prohibited behavior that we can delicately call ni’uf b’yad. So we must deal with it.

Part of the problem is that many of our talmidim find a certain sippuk in these pursuits that we are not giving them (in no small part because 75 years ago we failed to implement the vision of Dr. Nathan Birnbaum).

Yeshivas HaOlim will deal with it. (This is not the place to explain how, od chazaon la’mo’ed.)]

As a means of ascent in all three aforementioned areas I consider:

Involvement in the education of young men and young women according to the demands of Ha’Olim – an involvement that will become especially substantial when it will be possible to arrange such education among large groups of Ha’Olim or in their respective communities…

[Rabbi Bechhofer’s comments:
Maharal, Be’er Ha’Golah, end of Be’er 7 (free translation):
When an individual does not intend to scoff – rather only to state his belief – even if these positions stand against your belief and system, don’t say to him: “Don’t talk, seal your mouth!” For then the system will not be clarified. On the contrary, in such matters we should say: “Speak as much as you want, all that you want to say, so that you will not be able to say that were you granted permission to expand you would have spoken further and convinced me with your beliefs.” If, however, you do close the questioner’s mouth and prevent him from speaking, that points toward a weakness in the system.

This approach is the converse of the general impression, which is that it is not permitted to discuss the system, and that thus the system is strengthened. On the contrary! That approach undermines the system!…

It is only by inviting questioning that a person comes to the inner truth of matters… For any hero that comes to compete with another to demonstrate his might wants very much that his opponent muster as much strength as possible – then, if the hero overcomes his opponent, he proves that he is the mightier hero. What might, however, does the hero display if his opponent is not permitted to stand strong and wage war against him?…]

18 comments on “A Quest for a New Type of Yeshiva

  1. A bit of a spin, but my take on:

    תלמוד ירושלמי מסכת תענית דף ג/א
    דאיתפלגון רבי ליעזר אומר אם אין ישראל עושין תשובה אין נגאלין לעולם שנאמר בשובה ונחת תושעון אמר לו רבי יהושע וכי אם יעמדו ישראל ולא יעשו תשובה אינן נגאלין לעולם אמר לו ר”א הקב”ה מעמיד עליהן מלך קשה כהמן ומיד הן עושין תשובה והן נגאלין מ”ט ועת צרה היא ליעקב וממנה יושע אמר לו רבי יהושע והא כתיב חנם נמכרתם ולא בכסף תגאלו. מה עבד לה ר’ ליעזר. תשובה כמה דאת אמר צרור הכסף לקח בידו וגו’ אמר לו ר’ יהושע והא כתיב אני ה’ בעתה אחישנה. מה עבד לה ר’ ליעזר. תשובה כמה דאת אמר ועתה ישראל מה ה’ אלהיך שואל מעמך כי אם ליראה וגו’. רבי אחא בשם ר”י בן לוי אם זכיתם אחישנה ואם לאו בעתה כיון שאמר לו ר’ יהושע וירם ימינו ושמאלו אל השמים וישבע בחי העולם כי למועד מועדים וחצי וככלות נפץ יד עם קדש תכלינה כל אלה איסלק ר’ ליעזר. מתוך חמשה דברים נגאלו ישראל ממצרים מתוך הקץ מתוך צרה מתוך צווחה מתוך זכות אבות מתוך תשובה. מתוך הקץ הדא ה”ד ויהי בימים הרבים ההם וימת מלך מצרים ויאנחו בני ישראל מן העבודה ויזעקו. מתוך צרה וישמע אלהים את נאקתם. מתוך צווחה ויזכור אלהים את בריתו. מתוך זכות אבות וירא אלהים את בני ישראל. מתוך תשובה וידע אלהים. מתוך הקץ וכן הוא אומר בצר לך מתוך צרה. ומצאוך כל הדברים האלה באחרית הימים ושב’ מתוך תשובה. כי אל רחום ה’ אלהיך מתוך רחמים. לא ירפך ולא ישחיתך ולא ישכח את ברית אבותיך מתוך זכות אבות. וכ”ה אומר וירא בצר להם מתוך צרה. בשמעו את רנתם מתוך צווחה. ויזכור להם בריתו מתוך זכות אבות. וינחם כרוב חסדיו מתוך תשובה. ויתן אותם לרחמים מתוך רחמים.

  2. “The geulah will only come when Ba’alei Teshuvah – and those who are mispa’el from them – become the leaders of Am Yisroel.”

    Rabbi Bechhofer, that’s a nice sentiment, but what’s your basis for making such a statement?

  3. BTW, it perhaps goes without saying that we need funders for this yeshiva. Right now all we have is idealists. :-)

    Dr. Nathan Birnbaum was one of the most famous Ba’alei Teshuvah, and his disillusionment with contemporary Orthodoxy was similar – almost identical – to the disillusionment suffered by his spiritual descendants in our day and age. What set him apart – which we must see again in our day – is the quest to revamp and elevate Orthodoxy. What Reb Yisroel’s Mussar was for individuals, Dr. Birnbaum’s was for societies.

    The geulah will only come when Ba’alei Teshuvah – and those who are mispa’el from them – become the leaders of Am Yisroel.

  4. There is a tendency to conflate Reform with Haskalah. They are, however, two different trends. Reform was uniquely German, while Haskalah was uniquely Eastern-European. It is true that both movements point to Moses Mendelson as their spiritual forefather, but that does not make them congruent: Reform had little to do with secularism; Haskalah had little to do with radical modifications of religion. The “Chiloniut” of the Israeli type is the heir to the Haskalah of Eastern Europe, while the Cons, Ref and Recon movements of the Diaspora are heirs to the Reformers of the Hamburg Temple.

  5. “Didn’t the original Haskalah emanate largely from Berlin, as in Moses Mendelssohn’s circle?”

    Some people disagreed with RYGB at the time on Avodah regarding “Haskalah, AFAIK, was *never* a force in Germany” (see some comments below), so I would be interested in hearing RYGB explain the point in depth(perhaps he did on Avodah, at some point, which I haven’t seen):

    http://www.aishdas.org/avodah/vol16/v16n029.shtml#14

    http://www.aishdas.org/avodah/vol16/v16n036.shtml#13

    http://www.aishdas.org/avodah/vol16/v16n033.shtml#04

  6. Like a lot of terms we use, TIDE has come in variety of flavors, depending on the exact time and place. The degree of engagement with the non-Jewish and non-religious-Jewish worlds and their ideas has varied, as has the degree to which secular subjects had to be taught “through the prism of Torah”. What do we make of “Torah U’Mada” or “Centrist Orthodoxy” or “Open Orthodoxy”? Are they within TIDE or not? It gets rather involved and confusing.

    I say, let’s help this school get off to a fast start so we can see what comes out.

  7. Didn’t the original Haskalah emanate largely from Berlin, as in Moses Mendelssohn’s circle? It made enormous inroads at that time. And wasn’t Rav Hirsch’s program and writing largely designed to overcome the massive negative effects of this early German Haskalah?

    Did Rav Hirsch truly immunize all Orthodox German Jews from the further ravages of Haskalah? After all, many in his time remained attached to their general communities, against his advice.

  8. This is an old debate, despite the fact that it is also true that there are a number of differences between today’s times and Germany of RSRH, and therefore complete comparisons wouldn’t be valid:

    RYG Bechhoffer wrote in Nov, 2005 on Avodah(which was debated there):

    “Haskalah, AFAIK, was *never* a force in Germany. Indeed, there was no room for it to attract adherents *because* of the philosophy of RSRH which successfully brunts its force. It was only in Eastern Europe that Haskalah made inroads.

    BTW, as one of my former bosses at Artscroll astutely pointed out to me, the time is ripening for a new Haskalah movement to make new inroads precisely *because* our contemporary Charedi milieu is *not* emulating German Orthodoxy, but Eastern European Orthodoxy. V’hu davar pashut…

    TIDE addresses *all* problems of Judaism with far greater hatzlachah than the shittah which promulgates isolation from goyim. The one *issue* -not problem – that it does not address as successfully as *some* other shittos is the production of Gedolei Torah.”

    http://www.aishdas.org/avodah/vol16/v16n027.shtml#08

    See also R. Shimon Schwab and R. Dessler’s discussion in Michtav Meliyahu:

    http://www.stevens.edu/golem/llevine/rsrh/Yeshiva&Frankfurt.pdf

  9. Judy – I respectfully disagree. TIDE is the only approach that combines the following ingredients necessary for “going forward” – all of which are sorely needed right now in the Torah-true community:

    1)Engagement of the larger world
    2)Framing service of G-d as more than full-time Torah study
    3)Positing paths of spiritual intimacy without the excesses and superstitions of Kabbalah or Chasidus
    4)Bringing back Mussar – personal responsibility and ethics as cornerstones of Jewish life (there is a direct connection between corruption in our communities and the abdication to “Da’as Torah” – think about it)

    It combines all this with something no modern movement has:

    5) Impeccable Torah credentials that go before it, and ease its acceptance in the frum world.

    I admit I am biased – to my great good fortune, my parents became frum through the old Hirchian kehillah (K’hal Adath Yeshurun) that used to occupy northern Manhattan alongside the YU campus. From the start I was exposed to deeply frum, ethical people – who matched this with first-rate intellectual and professional achievements, strong community loyalty, and self-effacing generosity and chesed.

    From the start, this was my idea of what Torah life should be – and it still is. I still believe it’s a better plan for our future than “circle the wagons” frumkeit or “me too” modern orthodoxy.

  10. Rabbi Birnbaum’s 1927 vision of Torah Im Derech Eretz was mostly fulfilled in the founding and growth of Yeshiva University from the single rabbinical school of RIETS into a renowned university offering multiple secular undergraduate and graduate degrees.

    We should move forward, not backward. Rabbi Birnbaum’s TIDE vision of 1927 was certainly apropos to the tradition of German Orthodox Jews of that era, 1852 to 1932, as expressed in the writings of Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch zatzal in Frankfurt and later continued by the “Yekkie” community of K’hal Adas Jeshurun that was led by Rav Breuer zatzal in Washington Heights, New York City. It might not necessarily translate precisely into the blueprint we need for Orthodox Judaism in the 21st century. But why should the ideal of C.E. 1927 be entirely valid for C.E. 2011, especially after earth-shattering events like the wholesale destruction of Jewish communities in Europe and the revival of Jewish communities in Israel? Rabbi Birnbaum certainly could not have foreseen that only eighteen years after his remarks that great European cities like Berlin, Warsaw, Amsterdam, Budapest and Vilna would no longer be important Jewish centers.

    Just one example: The influx of Russian Jews into Germany following the downfall of Communism and the unification of East Germany and West Germany has led to a new era for German Jewry, with very different traditions and ways of practicing Judaism. Talk to a German Jew in Berlin today, and you’re more likely to find out that his grandparents lived in Moscow rather than in Berlin.

  11. This is an excellent project. I pray that Rav Bechoffer will have much success! It is only a bit sad that it seems so new and innovative on today’s scene. But those who will toil on this fine idea mustn’t waste time on sadness or regrets. Their energies should be positively focussed on this great avodat Hashem, and may Hashem bless and be with them!

    It is interesting how this vision coincides in certain key ways with the visions of the Piacezner, and Rav Kook and Rav Neriyah. We should hope that this not only succeeds, but helps to bring about similar yet alternative places that will suit each according to his inclinations and needs. Hazak v’ematz!

  12. Bob, I don’t know about anyone else, but as for me, I also sorely miss those very important Central European Orthodox ideas and traditions from which our people have been severed. I hope and pray that this school is enough of a throwback.

  13. An outright ban of anything? In this generation?

    Who will teach at this yeshiva, and what special qualifications do they need to have?

  14. The Shoah and its aftermath largely severed our people from some very important Orthodox ideas and traditions, such as those of Central Europe. This school’s concept seems like a throwback to something we sorely miss.

  15. 3. An outright ban on certain material pursuits.

    So what will be banned and who will be paying for this new yeshiva?

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