New York City – Speaking at the 200th birthday celebration of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch this past Shabbos, Khal Adath Jeshurun’s Rav Yisroel Mantel declared that the philosophical credo of Rav Hirsch, Torah Im Derech Eretz, is not viable in the absence of its chief advocate.
Rav Hirsch was a 19th century champion of Orthodoxy and the founder of Khal Adath Jeshurun’s parent community in Frankfurt, Germany.
Rav Mantel’s declaration, which angered many in the community, came at a sit-down kiddush at Dr. Raphael Moller Hall in Washington Heights after Shabbos morning services. He said that only Rav Hirsch, a great man who knew the fine boundaries between what is religiously permissible and what is prohibited, could make Torah Im Derech Eretz workable.
Our generation, he said, must follow today’s gedolei HaTorah (great Torah leaders).
After Shabbos, Dr. Eric Erlbach, KAJ president for over two decades, resigned.
The Torah Im Derech Eretz philosophy calls for the active engagement between Torah and culture and society.
Samson Bechhofer, a great-great-grandchild of Rav Hirsch, spoke first at the kiddush. The synagogue’s choir conductor and a lawyer by profession, Bechhofer lamented the educational policies of the community’s Yeshiva Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch school in recent years.
“If the goal of our kehilla and yeshiva is to have all of our sons and daughters end up in Lakewood – and I use Lakewood as a metaphor – then I submit that we are not being faithful to our founder’s philosophy or Weltanschauung, nor are we doing the future of our kehilla any great favors,” Bechhofer said.
Rav Mantel stood up and walked out of the hall at these words. He later returned and told the several hundred assembled that “grandchildren and lawyers” will not decide how to implement Torah Im Derech Eretz.
Other speakers at the 200th celebration Shabbos included Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Meir Tzvi Bergman (the son-in-law of Rav Elazar Menachem Shach), noted columnist Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum, and Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Klugman, Rav Hirsch’s biographer.
Among their many remarks, Rabbi Bergman praised Rav Hirsch for his Chumash commentary, which has recently been retranslated; Rabbi Rosenblum lauded Rav Hirsch’s philosophy of Judaism, from which, he said, many Jews can derive much-needed spirit and purpose; and Rabbi Klugman credited Rav Hirsch for teaching all of Orthodox Jewry how to live authentically Jewish lives in a world without ghetto walls.
Rav Mantel also highly praised Rav Hirsch during his sermon in shul, reminding the audience that Rav Yisrael Salanter (1810-1883) once said, “Where is there a Gan Eden big enough for Rav Hirsch?”
Speaking later at Seudah Shlishis, Rav Mantel credited Rav Hirsch for demonstrating definitively that Jews can plant the Torah in any culture.
Torah Im Derech Eretz, Rav Shimon Schwab (rabbi of KAJ from 1958-1995) once said, “means the Torah’s conquest of life and not the Torah’s flight from life. It means the Torah’s casting a light into the darkness rather than hiding from the darkness. It means applying Torah to the earth and not divorcing it from the earth.”