Monthly Archives: April 2012

Three Hirschian Novelists

When I was writing on other faiths,  I posted often on that topic. Now that I am working on Varieties of Modern Orthodoxy, I keep posting on interesting points in the German Orthodoxy chapter.

Hirschian Orthodoxy like novels about Orthodoxy.  Last year, we discussed those of Hirsch’s daughter Sarah Guggenheim and those of Rabbi Markus Lehrman.  I came across a wonderful article by Michael Brenner, East and West in Orthodox German –Jewish Novels. Leo Baeck Institute Annual 37/1 1992.  In the article, he deals with three authors who, unlike Lehrman , attempted to answer the issues of the day- Selig Schachnowitz, Pinchas Kohn, and Isaac Breuer.  I fleshed the post out with some material from Morgenstern’s book.

Selig Schachnowitz thought the world of urban Frankfort  and its Orthodoxy was ideal. In 1912 novel Luftmenchen, he paints a dystopic vision of Eastern European Jewry. They either have no education or only a Yeshiva education so they are assimilating and becoming communists. The only safe answer for a Yeshiva graduate is to come to the West and become Orthodox. The Russian Talmud bakhur needs to be turned into a civilized human being. Rude students need to be cultivated into Hirschian Orthodoxy, where Yosef Karo, Friedrich von Schiller, and Yehuda Halevi meet. The ideal is to be a successful businessman who keeps the mizvot and marries a day school teacher.  In other works, he anachronistically painted the 18th century as Hirschian and even painted the Hatam Sofer as Hirschian. Schachnowitz was uberHirsch is his writings.

Pinchas Kohn  was a key figure in the birth of the Agudah, anti-Zionist and anti-gemidne. In his 1915 novel he extols the pastoral life of rural Jewry. He yearned for old time 18th century Jewry–pre-Hirsch rural life without culture, refinement, or education. He glorified the magic and superstition of the 18th century Jewish rural life. The genuine Jew does not require German culture, sermons, or seminaries, but is a natural Jew.  He became the editor of the Hirschian Agudah journal.

Isaac Breuer  wrote several novels in the 1920’s were he expresses his disgust with the Hirschian community.  His protagonist criticized their concern with German culture and superficial ritual observance. Breuer paints the Hirschian community as living the same lives as the Reformers; they only differ only in the outer appearance of their lives.

He criticizes the Bourgeois culture of the Hirschian college associations who alternate between beer drinking bouts and Talmud study. He thinks finance and a Torah-true life do not, and can not, go together. He paints Hirsch as against his own will founding a bourgeois Orthodoxy.

For Breuer’s era, Schiller & Goethe had been replaced by crude materialism and nihilism, leaving little to emulate. Besides having anti-Semitic undertones, this new materialism bred skepticism. In addition, the middle class life was requiring more hours and greater commitment, leaving no time for any Torah study.  Breuer blamed it on the decadent superstructure of capitalism.  America was the worst. (AB- think of the Brecht-Weil Opera Mahogany.) He is disgusted by Hirschian materialism where Torah im Derekh Eretz means that on Shavuot people consume great quantities of cheesecake, rather than appreciate revelation.

In the story, Breuer glorifies Ost-Juden, he prefers a society of women and grandmothers to the mechanical observances of the Hirschian businessmen, and he creates a scene where a simple Ost-Juden dairyman teaches the protagonist Talmud in a way that the Hirschain community Rabbi could not.

He painted the opposite of the Hirschian philistinism the even worse community of nomads who need an organization to lead them. He saw the Agudah and Rosenheim as an organizer, a pejorative opposite of the need to be a living organism and people.  Breuer answer is to create a non-capitalist religious Torah state in Zion.

Already, in a 1907 story, an orthodox university student leaves university for a few weeks at home with his extended Hirschian family, a philistine among philistines.  He sees the only ones who care about Zion, anti-semtiism, Torah, ideas, and Sinai are the college Orthodox students. Hirsch in Deut 4:25 had warned against becoming part of the land and Breuer applies it not to Reform but to the Hirschian community.

I am not sure about the other authors, but since Breuer wrote dozens of books and hundreds of essays we can use a new anthology of his untranslated essays.

Jewish Solidarity in the Holocaust?

In last week’s Forward, we read the following in a review of a recent Holocaust encyclopedia.

In the village of Iwaniska, for example, we read with consternation that “Orthodox and liberal Jews continued infighting to such an extent that both groups assisted the Germans by preparing lists of their opponents, whom they claimed were not complying with the German orders.” Ultimately, however, as their situation grew more perilous, younger Jews from this community — contrary to the urging of their Hasidic elders — decided to slip out of the village and hide in bunkers in the forest.

This deep lack of solidarity among Jews is discussed in the important book Tzvetan Todorov’s Facing the Extreme: Moral Life in the Concentration Camps. The book discusses many of the important points obscured by Elie Wiesel stories. Todorov shows how people did not change immediately in a single “night,” they maintained many ordinary virtues. These ordinary virtues like art, music, religion, helped people survive (as Frankl and Berkovits claimed).

Todorov asks whether it is true the Nazi concentration camps and the Soviet gulags revealed that in extreme situations “all traces of moral life evaporate as men become beasts locked in a merciless struggle for survival”(31–46). However, in his reading of actual survivor testimonies, Todorov says the picture is not that bleak, that there are many examples of inmates helping each other and showing compassion in human relationships despite the inhumane conditions and terror. Survivors point out that survival always depended on the help of others. For example, righteous gentiles who saved Jews were usually husband wife teams, the husband had the virtue of courage to engage in smuggling and defiance and the wife had the virtue of compassion.

Those that survived needed people to help them. But Jews could not automatically rely on other Jews. All Jews were not saints, nor are they sinners for us to judge. People  are complex.(similar to Maus) We are all fragmented human beings.

On the topic of solidarity, Bulgarian non-Jews saw the country’s non-Jews as Bulgarians- showing that solidarity was not Jew vs non-Jew. Todorov says: Solidarity is no more than a quantitative extension of the principal of self interest; it is the selfishness of the collective. Acting with a group doesn’t make you moral to Todorov, but it does in Wiesel’s thought.  (Would you consider the solidarity activities of NYC Jews as moral?)

Todorov, the humanist, asks the difference between humanity and solidarity.  He shows that in troubled times/places, solidarity is important to survive.  But in ordinary times we need humanity not to have a paranoid or vengeful society. In the war, solidarity was important but Bulgarian non-Jews showed it with their Jews. However, Polish or Hungarian Jews had no solidarity at all with French or Greek Jews. They could leave them to die or considered them of little concern.   Wiesel creates this fuzzy idea that all Jews, especially Hasidism had great solidarity the world’s Jews and their suffering.  Todorov shows that none of the eyewitness or survivor stories show that. The secular Jew on a transport with orthodox Jews is left to die.

There are many other important discussions in the work, but the Forward quote clearly brings Todorov to mind.

Chava Weissler: Havurah Neo-Hasidism vs. Renewal

Chava Weissler who is writing a book about Jewish Renewal and was recently interviewed in Zeek. She offers a nice distinction between the cerebral Neo-Hasidism of the Havurah movement with their emphasis on textual study and the ecstatic approach of renewal where even Artscroll is emotionally moving.

CW: I often use the following metaphor: the Havurah movement represents the Misnagdim and the Renewal movement the Hasidim of the Jewish counter-culture. The style of the Havurah movement is more cognitive, and the style of Renewal is more expressive and devotional. Also, the Havurah movement has a deep aversion to the “rebbe” model, while the Renewal movement has seen it as a way into a heightened spirituality.

ZEEK: The Hasidim/Misnagdim analogy is a fascinating one, though I can see how some folks in the Havurah movement might have bones to pick there.

CW: Especially because we saw ourselves as reinstating Hasidism, or parts of it. Some years ago, a well-known Renewal teacher taught at the Havurah Institute. I asked him how he felt it compared to the Kallah and Renewal. And he said, ‘the havurah movement is so unspiritual, it really bothered me… when they have a study class, they go in, open the text, study, close the text and you’re done. When I teach a class, we sit in silence, we open our hearts to the text, we sing a niggun, we study the text, we process what’s happened to us, then we sing another niggun and sit in silence again to receive what we’ve received.’

My havurah friends were outraged that he would say the Havurah movement isn’t spiritual! But it’s a different model of spirituality and also of study. The point of the study is — and this isn’t so true in the higher-level classes, but — the point of the study isn’t primarily intellectual.

ZEEK: I think that in a lot of Renewal retreat experiences, we’re trying to reach people who may not have access to the traditional model. I know that fifteen years ago if someone had handed me an Artscroll I would have been lost. These days I’ll happily daven out of any siddur, because if it’s in a Renewal context, I know there’s going to be a lot of heart even in the most traditional structure.

Rabbi Yosef Blau gives a Yom Haatzmaut D’var Torah at the Encounter Gala

On Yom Haatzmaut Last Year, Rabbi Yosef Blau gave a speech at the gala for Encounter. The Encounter program bring American Jews and Israelis to meet Palestinians in the West Bank- to get to know one another as people. They describe themselves as follows:

While the Jewish commu­nity continues to be one of the most influ­en­tial stake­holders in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, most American Jews have never met a Palestinian, nor seri­ously encountered Palestinian narratives or perspec­tives. Influential segments of the American Jewish community advo­cate for solu­tions to the conflict and educate the next gener­a­tion about it in complete isola­tion from Palestinian people and claims. This infor­ma­tion vacuum perpet­u­ates our failure to bring about real, viable solu­tions and further­more, research demonstrates that simplistic advo­cacy efforts are driving away our next generation’s engagement with the Jewish community and their commit­ment to Israel.

Underlying all of Encounter’s work is the core belief that inno­v­a­tive strate­gies for peace will be created only when influ­en­tial stake­holders in a conflict have oppor­tu­ni­ties to meet one another, toopen them­selves to previ­ously disre­garded points-of-view, and to develop rela­tion­ships across polit­ical and ideo­log­ical divides.

Rabbi Blau had recently been on one of their trips to the West Bank and describes as his Yom Haatzmaut message what he learned from a Palestinian businessman in Ramallah. Note his conclusion in the last paragraph.

D’var Torah by Rabbi Yosef Blau at the Encounter Gala

Judaism is a complex blend of partic­u­larism and univer­salism. As a Religious Zionist leader, committed to Israel as a Jewish demo­c­ratic state, I felt it impor­tant to learn directly from the Palestinians with whom we share living in the Land of Israel — to broaden my under­standing of the land so central to my passionate and reli­gious concern. Encounter created this opportunity.

I want to share a message of Torah by opening with a corre­spon­dence that I had with a Palestinian leader I met on my trip. After the attacks in Itamar, I exchanged emails with Sam Bahour, a Palestinian American busi­nessman living in Ramallah. We did not always agree, but the dialogue was conducted in a spirit of mutual listening and respect. I wanted to know his response to the massacre. His response captured the danger of demo­nizing an entire popu­la­tion, the impor­tance of seeing our so-called enemies person-by-person and one-by-one. He wrote me that when in 2004–5 the Israeli Defense Forces was bombing Ramallah with F-16s during the second Intifada, he told his young daugh­ters that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was piloting each bomber plane flying over their heads. It was the only way he could think of to convince them that this was not being done by “Jews” or “Israelis”, but rather one indi­vidual political/military figure who was respon­sible. He wanted to teach them to direct their anger at one man and one man only; he refused to allow his daugh­ters to perceive all Israelis as war-mongering and violent.

This message is espe­cially rele­vant today, on Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day, preceded yesterday by Yom Hazikaron,

Remembrance Day, commem­o­rating those who fell in the wars fought to create and main­tain the state of Israel. How are we guided by our Sages to cele­brate mili­tary victory and Israel’s Independence? What is the Jewish atti­tude toward our adver­saries in a time of war and loss on both sides?After the split­ting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptian soldiers Moses and the Israelites sang Az Yashir, a song of celebration. According to the Talmud, the angels want to sing as well, but G-d stopped them. “My crea­tures are drowning and you want to sing.” G-d teaches His chil­dren to affirm the humanity and dignity of our adver­saries, even in the face of violence and war.
Our foun­da­tional Biblical story of being freed from slavery sensi­tizes us to the humanity, dignity and suffering of all other human beings. In the context of war and grief, our foun­da­tional commit­ment is most tested and stretched. Many of us begin to reduce the world’s complexity to black-and-white terms. But to do so is to forget G-d’s message that all humans are His crea­tures. Encounter forced me to confront the humanity of those who had been “other”- to inter­nalize their humanity emotionally. This is perhaps one of the greatest expres­sions of this core message of our Torah.

Click here to see a video of the speech and for the introduction he was given by the head of Encounter, Rabbi Miriam Margles.

Any Thoughts on that last paragraph?

Lost Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan part III

Continued from part I and part II.
Ari Kahn has provided another link in Kaplan’s biography, which led to an article that provides everything up to 1965. Now our only gap is 1967-1970. (Ari- Can you ask Fleer about those years?)
Kaplan address a question to Rav Moshe Feinstein when he took a job teaching at the non-orthodox community day school in Louisville, KY. The school was the Eliahu Academy in Louisville, it was the liberal community school, so he could assume his students would come by car on Shabbat. There was also the Orthodox day school called Talmud Torah.
Rav Aharon Lichtenstein commented on the Teshuvah
Rav Moshe Feinstein relates to our issue in Igrot Moshe OC vol.I, responsa #98 and #99 (pp. 159-160). Rav Moshe writes [in response to a question (#98) posed by Rav Aryeh Kaplan] that one who invites people who drive on Shabbat to participate in a minyan, transgresses the prohibition “Lifnei iveir lo titein mikhshol” (Do not place a stumbling block in front of the blind) because of his involvement in their Shabbat desecration. He goes a step further in responsum #99 and claims that besides transgressing lifnei iveir, one who invites another to do something that inevitably involves desecration of Shabbat is defined as a “meisit” (one who incites another to sin). For the rest see here

This factoid allowed the following biography to show up in google.

Mason City Globe Gazette , April 3, 1965 

Welcome Rabbi and Mrs Leonard Kaplan Joseph and Ronald

They came from Maryland

Welcome to the Kaplans

Books were an important part of the belongings which Rabbi and Leonard M Kaplan brought with them when they moved to Mason in Februrary.

Not only were there books of general interest religious books scientific books but cook books Mrs Kaplan is a cook book collector

The with children 21 month old Joseph Michael and 10 month old Ronald Myer came from Hyattsville Md when Rabbi Kaplan began his service with the Adas Israel congregation

He is a nuclear physicist as well as a rabbi and was engaged in research in Washington DC.

This is his first pulpit Rabbi Kaplan received his BS degree from the University of Louisville Ky

His theological training was at Yeshiva Torah and Mirrer Ye in New York He was ordained in Israel While in the seminary he taught for a time at Richmond Va and in the Bronx.

Following his ordination he was engaged in religious teaching at Eliahu Academy in Louisville.He accepted position with the US Bureau of Standards in Washington and continued his education as a predoctoral student in research grants from the National Science Foundation and the US Air Force

The Bronx is Rabbi Kaplans hometown Mrs Kaplan is from Marigold Miss..

Reading and photography and making scrapbooks are hobbies with Rabbi Kaplan.

The Orthodox Jew as Intellectual Crank- David Singer

The writings of Rabbi Isaac Breuer and his student Barukh Kurzweil bring to mind an interesting article from twenty years ago on the idea of someone formulating their Orthodoxy as simultaneously sectarian counter-society and at the same time an advocate for secular society. This approach avoids conjunctives and synthesis; it also avoids two complimentary but non-concordant realms. Those two options of synthesis or irreconcilable, we discussed in an earlier post. In this options one goes in both extremes on the same topic- secular literature is demonic but we devote ourselves to it as a religious quest, Zionism is forbidden but we must build up the material base of a Torah state. The article deals with both Kurzweil and Leibowitz, but I have culled out the discussion only about the former. There seem to be a variety of younger Orthodox rabbis who are cultivating forms of this positions.

The Orthodox Jew as Intellectual Crank- David Singer

First Things aug/Sept 1990

The question I want to raise is this: Is the crank element—what I shall hereafter refer to as “crankitude”—that manifests itself in the work of Kurzweil and Leibowitz merely a reflection of personal idiosyncrasy or does it point to something more significant?

At the same time, one cannot help but notice that being a crank helps them to function more effectively as Orthodox thinkers— crankitude provides them with nothing less than a full-fledged intellectual stance. In short, my thesis is that Kurzweil and Leibowitz have elevated personal idiosyncrasy into a stylized cultural response—a response that permits them, at once, to take modernity with full seriousness, but also to reject modernity in the name of Jewish faith.

To better appreciate the nature of the enterprise that Kurzweil and Leibowitz engage in as Orthodox intellectual cranks it would be useful to consider the categories employed by sociologist Peter Berger, the leading academic analyst of the modernization process. Berger argues that religious thinkers have available essentially three types of response to the challenge of modernity: “cognitive retrenchment,” “cognitive bargaining,” and “cognitive surrender.” Cognitive retrenchment is the sectarian option, calling for a conscious rejection of modernity as a dangerous heresy. The thinker taking this position in effect states, as Berger puts it: “The rest of you go climb a tree; we believe this, we know this, and we are going to stick to it. And if this is irrelevant to the rest of you, well, that is just too bad.” In cognitive bargaining, in contrast, “there are two conflicting views of the world and they start to negotiate with each other”; an “attempt is made to arrive at a cognitive compromise.” Finally, there is cognitive surrender, in which, in Berger’s terms, “one simply accepts the fact that the majority is right, then adapts oneself to that point of view.”

Most Orthodox thinkers operating in a modern framework have engaged in one form or another of cognitive bargaining. In sharp contrast, Kurzweil and Leibowitz offer us the model of Orthodox intellectuals managing to combine—in equal measure no less—cognitive surrender and cognitive retrenchment. This, to put it mildly, is an astonishing intellectual feat… at one and the same time, embrace and reject modernity.

On the bibliographical side, it is important to note that only a very small sampling of the writings of Kurzweil and Leibowitz are available outside the Hebrew language. This has begun to change, however, with the appearance of James Diamond’s very fine English-language study Baruch Kurzweil and Modern Hebrew Literature This fact underscores the point that the work of these two Orthodox thinkers, in its origin—though certainly not in its reach—is inseparable from the Israeli context.

Proposition 1: The Orthodox intellectual crank centers his work on a religious problematic defined in rigidly either/or terms.

In Kurzweil’s case, this problematic is the absolute gulf separating the world of pre-modern religious faith from the secular outlook of modernity. For Kurzweil, modern and secular are synonymous, and it is the rise of secularization that has made modernity an age of permanent crisis. The starting point of Kurzweil’s thinking is the assumption, as Diamond puts it, that the “only absolute in human life, human history, and human culture is faith in the living transcendent God.” In the absence of faith—which is what secular modernity has brought about—human existence loses its one sure anchor, opening itself to what Kurzweil variously calls the “void,” the “absurd,” and the “demonic.” (These are key terms in his lexicon.) The meaning of this change, as Kurzweil sees it, is described by Diamond in the following manner:

In this new setting man is thrust into a cosmos bereft of certainty. He lives now not in the presence of God but of the abyss, of Nothing. The individual ego becomes the center and gradually enlarges to fill the void. Man for the first time conceives of himself as an autonomous being who is self-sufficient. There is no transcendent source for values and morality, nothing to hold in check man’s instinctive capacity for self-aggrandizement, hubris, domination and destruction. . . . Now man is utterly alone, beyond all values and all relationships with society or his fellow-men—yet he is unsatisfied. He has lost his soul but failed to gain the world, for the demons are insatiable.

A key element in Kurzweil’s thinking is the notion of “late return,” which occurs when an individual, caught in the web of modernity, seeks to escape his situation by turning back to a life of pristine faith. It is just here, however, that the either/or element comes to the fore, in that Kurzweil takes it for granted that no such return is possible for the vast majority of moderns. Kurzweil is not an evangelist calling for the restoration of religious faith; rather, he is a diagnostician of secular unbelief, describing what he takes to be the permanent condition of modern man. If Kurzweil devoted his career to the study of modern literature, it was because he saw it as offering telling testimony to this very condition.

Kurzweil’s interpretation of modern Hebrew literature is clearly set forth in Our Modern Literature: Continuity or Revolt? In this work, now a classic in the field, he argues decisively for the latter position. The emphasis here is on radical discontinuity, on modern Hebrew literature as a product of secularization and the collapse of religious faith.

 Kurzweil mocks those who fail to see the “difference between the sacral world of traditional Judaism, in which the Divine Torah structures the totality of life activities, and a world which has become secularized in its totality but still preserves individual corners of interest in religious elements and subjects.” The former—the “sacral world of traditional Judaism”—is the domain of the “vision,” while the latter—a “world which has become secularized in its totality”—is the place of the “void.” Modern Hebrew writers, in Kurzweil’s view, sort themselves out most fundamentally by their varying responses to the confrontation with the “void.”

Proposition 2: The Orthodox intellectual crank displays radical openness to key aspects of the modern experience.

In Kurzweil’s case, this is the openness he shows to modern literary expression in all its forms. Far from spurning modern writing as the illicit fruit of the secularization process, Kurzweil lavishes endless attention on it, producing a body of literary criticism that is nothing short of massive. More importantly, it is also first-rate. Kurzweil’s critics are legion, but even the severest of them would have to admit that he was the very model of the engaged literary scholar.

Consider, then, the strange phenomenon of an Orthodox intellectual identifying the realm of heresy and then settling in for the lifelong study of it. A study, moreover, carried out in loving detail and with a considerable amount of imaginative sympathy for the heretics. That certainly is what Kurzweil offers us in his literary criticism, which yielded brilliant analyses of the work of, among others, Bialik, Brenner, Tchernichovsky, Greenberg, and, of course, Agnon. All that Kurzweil asks of his writers is that they testify honestly to the confrontation with the “void” and the “demonic”—wherever that takes them. What he could not abide, however, were attempts at evasion, such as he saw in the younger generation of Israeli writers. Kurzweil took it upon himself—as if. he needed any prodding!—to expose their “snobby immaturity and inflated nothingness.” With a straight face, he declared Amos Oz’s My Michael to be more dangerous to Israel as a nation than all the Arab armies.

Proposition 3: Despite his receptivity to key aspects of modernity, the Orthodox intellectual crank’s ultimate allegiance is to a version of Orthodox Judaism that negates the basic thrust of the modern experience.

In Kurzweil’s case, this is the meta-historical vision of Jewish history advanced by Samson Raphael Hirsch and his grandson Isaac Breuer. Kurzweil first befriended Breuer during his years in Frankfurt, when, in addition to attending the university there, he enrolled in the yeshivah that Hirsch had founded in the nineteenth century.

Breuer affirmed this model as well, but more importantly, he taught Kurzweil to oppose all attempts at the secularization of Jewish life. When Kurzweil argued that “Jewish existence without God is the Absurd with a capital ‘A,’“ he was directly echoing Breuer. More generally, Kurzweil followed the Hirsch-Breuer school in regarding Judaism and the Jewish people as meta-historical realities. In this view. Diamond explains, the Torah is “God-given, a timeless absolute that transcends the limitations of human history. The Jews, therefore, exist for the sake of Judaism; Judaism does not exist for the sake of the Jews.” “Kurzweil’s commitment to a meta-historical fideism,” Diamond rightly concludes, “is antipodal to the perspective [of] most Hebrew literature in the twentieth century.”

It is precisely here that Kurzweil’s famous attacks on Ahad Haam and Gershom Scholem come into the picture. Kurzweil saw these two “arch culprits” aiming at a secularization of Jewish life, an enterprise he saw as nothing short of “demonic.” To struggle within the world of the “void,” as did modern Hebrew writers, was one thing; to establish the “void” as the new foundation for a Jewish life, as did Ahad Haam and Scholem, quite another. Against this tendency, Kurzweil was unsparing in his criticism, referring to the “palpable absurdities of the Ahad Haamist philosophy.”

 This was child’s play, however, compared to his polemic against Scholem, whose sins, in Kurzweil’s view, were threefold. First, he employed historicism as a tool to relativize the Judaic absolute. Second, he assigned “demonic” mysticism a position of importance in the framework of normative Judaism. Third, and most important, he legitimated secular Zionism as an expression native to Jewish history. “There is no more penetrating proof of the absurdity of our time,” Kurzweil railed, “than the fact that Scholem is today the spokesman for Judaism.”

Proposition 4: Crankitude is a coping mechanism that enables the Orthodox intellectual crank to maintain a reasonable equilibrium in a situation of extreme stress.

From everything that I have said thus far about Kurzweil and Leibowitz it should be evident that theirs is not a placid synthesis of Orthodoxy and modernity à la Samson Raphael Hirsch.

 On the contrary, their encounter with modernity is characterized by sharply conflicted feelings, by powerful attraction on the one side and violent rejection on the other. The crucial factor here is the element of simultaneity—the fact that Kurzweil and Leibowitz feel drawn to and repulsed by modernity at one and the same time. It is no exaggeration at all to state that the measure of their attraction is the measure of their repulsion, and vice versa. It is precisely this tension that makes the work of these two Orthodox intellectuals so fascinating, and, I would contend, that accounts for their crankitude.

Rabbi Isaac Breuer on Rabbi SR Hirsch

In the discussion of Rabbi Grunfeld in a prior post, the contrasts with Rabbi Isaac Breuer were not immediately obvious to my readers. To further discussion, Rabbi Isaac Breuer wrote a 15 page essay on the importance of his grandfather Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch.  (Jewish Leaders ed. Leo Jung, pp 163-177). The essay does not claim to be Breuer’s views but those of Hirsch.

Breuer paints Hirsch as a revolutionary great man directing history to move forward.  In fact, Breuer declares every great historical personality is a revolutionary figure. True Jewish revolutionaries do not rebel against God’s law but against the material social conditions, which have to be overthrown to change. The revolutionary masters the new conditions – and then break the mold in advance of the rest of his generation.  Other nations may rebel against their religion or law but the Jewish revolution keeps the law as eternal. The law is Divine, not the will of the people. Just as one cannot rebel against the laws of nature we cannot rebel against the Divine law.

Breuer reminds us that at the close of 18th century and start of 19th century there was a change in society with astonishing new modes of living. There was a Renaissance of individualism and granting of rights to the individual. Liberalism, capitalism, and science were each a challenge to the old order.

Mendelssohn was only a puny evolutionary and not a revolutionary who overthrew the system. The old rabbis denounced enlightenment and Emancipation which was futile before the change in the material culture and Reform was an illegitimate incorrect revolution.

According to Breuer, revolutionaries are never theoreticians; they work with facts and proceed with actions. Therefore, Hirsch does not set out a presentation of his views or a justification. He did not even have to articulate or develop his views. And he did not need “far-fetched” halakhic justification.

Breuer removes the conjunctive from Hirsch’s legacy – there was no combining of Torah and Western culture. Hirsch did not try for balance, synthesis or the richness of a fuller education.  According to Breuer,  Hirsch wanted absolute domination of the divine precept over the new tendencies of civilization. There can be no collateral rule, and no tolerance of anything else after the revolution Hirsch took liberalism, capitalism, and science and led them to flames of Torah.

Only his epigones, his second rate imitators turned Torah and Derekh Eretz into byword or motto. There is no time when derekh eretz was not the province of Torah- it is prerequisite for Torah, so there is no need for coordination or synthesis.  (In our contemporary language, everyone is embedded in culture , in the manifestations of that civilization).

What was revolutionary about Rabbi Hirsch was the incomparable courage he displayed in detecting the dwindling of one civilization (derekh eretz), and in grasping the need for a new one…” and then judging it by Torah. He was revolutionary in that he prevailed over centuries old custom which thought of Torah as part of a different derekh eretz. He is to be judged therefore not by his relationship to externals like secular studies or socio-politcal realities but by his revolution.

Hirsch  was not bound to a new derekh eretz or a definite derekh eretz. Hirsch’s new derekh eretz meant a new way of life. His achievement was the “re-conducting” the Jewish people into its own history- the aim of which is no other than the establishment of the Divine state.”

For Breuer, Hirsch was the first national Jew of modern times- before Herzl. The middle ages was a civilization of wailing and suffering- absolute passivity.  Only a small part of human life was used.Hirsch saw the need to create scientists and physicians and businessmen for the operation of the state.  To most people looking at his work with a naked eye, his work in the diaspora (galut) had no connection to Jewish national history. In reality, it was working toward the establishment of a divine state based on divine law on Zion. The spread of Torah over all of life can only exist in a divine state. Hirsch’s vision is a renewal of the ancient proclamation of the Divine sovereignty over Jerusalem and new Jewish individual  with a new many sided derekh eretz under the sole rule of divine precept for the coming divine state.

Breuer acknowledges that what he says does not appear in the vast Hirschian corpus. He finds a hint in one in 19 letters of a restored Torah government.  Breuer sees Hirsch’s Commentary on the Pentateuch as a blueprint is for the coming divine state. It has a history that shows modern decadence stemming from the  Falls of Adam in the misuse of his free choice, Noah’s story shows on cultural decadence, and the story of Babel shows usurped state sovereignty by a collective.-It shows the dangers of universal history without divine precept.  Hirsch’s  explanations of sacrifice, purity, and social law are as blueprint for the state. (AB-On this one he would have to cite examples because the simple reading of these explanation is for the ideal bourgeois life of education, work, and family life. Also notice how much Schopenhauer weltschmertz pessimism Breuer accepts, compared to Grunfeld’s liberalism).

Breuer writes that only fools cold think that those who freed us to perform the divine precepts are could fetter us with German derekh eretz. Hirsch did not accept German culture alongside Torah. If Torah ve derekh eretz was Torah and Western civilization, then if the later fell in WWI there would be a revolt against the combination. Hirsch’s derekh erets is now further revealed in the derekh eretz of the land of Israel. If you view the tragic events of WWI Germany as marking the collapse of Hirsch’s thought – then you don’t know Hirsch. Hirsch was a call for a return to Zion long before our people were ready.

Now the only choice is the materialism of the Zionists, including the Religious Zionism who only look at the material causality or the meta-Historic Divine state. There is no third way. It is either a Divine state as envisioned  by Hirsch’s meta-historic identity or if the materialists win we will need Divine grace.

As one can see from the opening of this essay, Breuer owes a debt to his reading of Marxist texts and theory.  He was so enamored of Marx that he called him the Kant for economic/social theory. Breuer uses direct quotes from the Manifesto and other famous works.  (In contrast, Dayan Grunfeld thought that all a Jew needed was Kant ). He is somewhat of a Leninists in expecting the leaders to be in the vanguard of the nation.  Elsewhere in his writings Breuer writes that the revolution will come from the workers, hence his concern with the Ost-Juden. For Breuer, Marxism as just materialistic- whereas we have a divine service when the revolution comes. At this same time, the Frankfort School was meeting regularly in Frankfort. Leading Orthodox rabbis such as Nechimias Nobel and S B Rabinkow preach a Jewish socialism.

Breuer’s Divine state is a bit more indigestible if it had come to be. On one hand, it is Spengler meets TS Elliot’s Christian culture, but on the other hand Sayyed Qutb uses similar Marxist arguments to bolster an Islamicist revolution against the West.  For more on Breuer’s Marxist background, see Matthias Morgenstern, From Frankfurt to Jerusalem Isaac Breuer and the History of the Secession Dispute in Modern Jewish Orthodoxy; On the warm personal relationship of Breuer and Franz Rosenzweig, both of whom believed in an eternal Israel, were ahistoric, and anti-Zionist , see Rivka Horowitz,  “Exile and Redemption in the Thought of Isaac Breuer,” Tradition 26 (1992)

Breuer’s son became mainstream Mizrachi, albeit of a more Torani variety, teaching German Jewish History at Bar Ilan after a stint teaching in the Horev school in Jerusalem. But Breuer’s thought was continued in the literature department of Bar Ilan by his disciple Barukh Kurzweil who characterized his mentor as abounding in “paradoxes and contradictions.”

Barukh Kurzweil studied at Solomon Breuer’s yeshiva in Frankfurt and the University of Frankfurt. He founded and headed Bar Ilan University’s Department of Hebrew Literature until his death.

Kurzweil saw secular modernity (including secular Zionism) as representing a tragic, fundamental break from the premodern world. Where before the belief in God provided a fundamental absolute of human existence, in the modern world this pillar of human life has disappeared, leaving a “void” that moderns futilely attempt to fill by exalting the individual ego. This discontinuity is reflected in modern Hebrew literature, which lacks the religious foundation of traditional Jewish literature: “The secularism of modern Hebrew literature is a given in that it is for the most part the outgrowth of a spiritual world divested of the primordial certainty in a sacral foundation that envelops all the events of life and measures their value.”  Kurzweil wanted a society grounded in religious values.