Thursday, November 24, 2005

Hirsch's Nineteen Letters- A Model of Honest Kiruv that the Clowns Should Live By- Pt I


In my post the The 20th Letter, I made reference to Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch's famous work, The Nineteen Letters.

The book was written in the 19th century to address the so-called enlightened Jews of Germany who had left the fold of orthodoxy. Thus, this book is perhaps the first "kiruv" book! (Correct me if I'm wrong, Mississippi Fred.

However, while much of this blog has been devoted to pointing out kiruv clowns and their dastardly ways, I think it only fair to point out a heartfelt and straight from the heart kiruv approach from an established torah giant.

This book should be held out as a bright, shining torch to all the clowns in the kiruv world. Perhaps they will listen to a Rav from over 100 years ago, if they won't take Suggestions from the blogs of disgruntled BT's. If so, they could get rid of the "clown" part of their title.

Now, just because a kiruv book doesn't succeed in "converting" all its target audience does not mean it's a failure by any means. If the book or essay or blog or approach is honest and does not use bible codes and schroeder, specious arguments such as Gosse theory, or censorship disguised as "moderating", it's off to a great start. Ironically, all of these clowns pay homage to Rav Hirsch's ideas. Why don't they take his straightforward approach to kiruv as well, I wonder?

Next, if the book, essay, blog, or approach actually acknowledges the perspective of one who is either skeptical, or who became skeptical, and can even articulate that person's viewpoint, well- then you have a real Rabbi, who shouldn't even have "kiruv" as part of his appellation.

Rav Hirsch's Nineteen Letters, framed as a dialogue between a Rabbi and an off the derech former congregant/talmid, is actually written by Hirsch himself. In fact, he wrote it pseudonymously, which we bloggers can certainly appreciate!

When I read this book the first time, I wasn't ready to appreciate it. You see, I was a newly-minted B.T., and the first letter written by the OTD former talmid actually hurt to read. I felt an inner voice crying out, "hey this guy is right, not the Rabbi!" Well, I was in denial mode. Now, many years later, I can be more circumspect about the issues involved, and yet see the true merit of the author.

That letter really rings true to me now as a skeptic. And it also makes me wonder- how could Rav Hirsch write these things if he didn't feel them himself? Was he just parroting the pronouncements of the various and sundry enlightened reformers frequenting the local churches on sunday? I'm actually not sure; what do you think?

Well, without further adieu, I am going to go through the first letter, with my comments on why it hits home for me personally and perhaps a lot of you. [The book, which I recommend you get to make up your own mind as to Rav Hirsch's responses, is published by Feldheim and others.]

"My Dear Naftali [he's address Rav Hirsch]:

When, recently we met again after many years of separation you did not imagine what interest the subject of our conversation had for me. You found me so changed in my religious views and practices that, despite your usual tolerance, you could not help askin "Since when:" and "Why?" I answered you with a whole series of accusations against Judaism, based upon my reading and contact with the world since I had left home and my parents."


You listened quietly and then you said, "Do You really think you understand the subject which you are attacking? Have you tried by honest and earnest investigation, to acquire a real understanding of the most sacred and important aspect of our lives?" You pointed to the only sources of my own knowledge; the mechanical practice of parental customs, a few fragments of the Bile and Talmud taught me in an old-fashioned cheder, the writings of certain Christian authors and reformers, and, in general, a view of life based oupon a suppression of the inner voice of conscience in facor of the demands of superficial pleasure and comfort. [Now, I really don't like when kiruv Rabbis immediately comment that your problems with OJ are due to "your ignorance and that you therefore need a year or two of BT yeshiva to straighten you out", but be patient, there's more...]

I was forced to admit the gaps in my knowledge. I asked you for instruction. Then, the coachman called and you had only time to call out to me "I will write." ["I will post in my blog," that is...]
My dear Naphtali, while you have thus made me distrustful of my own views, you have neither refuted them nor given me better ones in their stead.

Every religion, I believe, should bring man nearer to his ultimate goal. What else can this goal be than the attainment of happiness and perfection? But to what happiness does Judaism bring its adherents? From time immemorial misery and slavery have been their lot. They were always either misunderstood or despised by the other nations. While the rest of mankind climbed to the summit of culture, prosperity and wealth, the Jewish people remained poor in everything that makes human beings great and noble, and that beautifies and dignifies our lives.
[It's interesting to have over 100 years of perspective on this complaint. It seems, religious or not, we remain "misunderstood and despised by the other nations," no matter how well some hide it. Clearly, reform didn't help much in this department, witness the Holocaust and world double standards towards Israel.

Yet, with the abandonment of orthodoxy, many Jews have attained the "summits of culture prosperity and wealth." It's kind of ironic when certain kiruv Rabbis point out our many Nobel Prizes, wonderful classical musicians, doctors and lawyers (ok, perhaps not the lawyers, but the Judges) as proof of "chosenness" they seem to miss the point in a profound way- none of this would likely have been accomplished were any of those folks frum. See the previous post on Rosh Yeshiva Einstein for that debate.]

The Law [halacha] prohibits all enjoyment. It is a constant hindrance to the enjoyment of life. For two thousand years we have been tossed about, driven from the paths of happiness. And as for perfection- what culture, what conquests have Jews wrought compared to those of the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Italians, French, English or Germans? [I cringe at the "Germans" part, but of course they have contributed quite a lot to the world other than genocide].

Robbed of all the characteristics of nationhood, we are, nevertheless, deemed a nation, and every one of us, by his very birth, is doomed to form a link in this endless chain of misery. It is the Law that is chiefly responsible for all this. It enforces our isolation and thereby arouses suspicion and hostility on the part of others. It invites contempt by its stress on humble submissiveness. It discourages the pursuit of the formative arts. Its dogmas bar the way to free thought. Through this enforced isolation, the Law removes every incentive to achievement in the sciences and arts. And what about our own Jewish lore? It perverts the mind by cramming it with petty subtleties until it becomes incapable of producing simple and straight thoughts and opinions. Thus, I have always wondered how you, who have sampled the beauty of the works of Virgil, Tasso, Shakespeare, and penetrated the ideas of Leibnitz and Kant, can find pleasure in the crude and tasteless writings of the Torah, or in the illogical arguments of the Talmud.

That last question is pretty interesting, but take the last paragraph as a whole. Things sure have changed, haven't they? I mean we are able to live in the modern world, even being "shomer mitzvohs" but on the modern side, one influential commentator notes he spends "98%" of his time in non-Jewish pursuits and environments.

That's the the first half of this letter. In many ways, once you read the whole first letter, you will see it could either be a template for all that's wrong in Judaism or for all that you think is wrong, but it really isn't that bad or that way nowadays. In any event, the letter could certainly be a template of questions a skeptical BT ought to have answered early on. The times may have changed enough so some of the questions are already answered, but we shall see...

I hope you find this endeavor fruitful.

28 Comments:

Blogger Hayim said...

You can find previous books addressing the challenges of the time vs. the eternal values of Judaism, but probably you cannot deem them "Kiruv" since they were not large communities of non-orthodox Jews back then. In post-haskalic times, you are probably right.

You forgot to mention that RSRH was very succesful in his endeavours, too. The Kehillah of Frankfurt grew tremendously under his tutelage.

11/24/2005 6:11 AM  
Blogger Rebeljew said...

"Rav Hirsch's Nineteen Letters, framed as a dialogue between a Rabbi and an off the derech former congregant/talmid, is actually written by Hirsch himself. In fact, he wrote it pseudonymously, which we bloggers can certainly appreciate!"

And then you have to go and "out" him. What were you thinking??!!! ;)

Great piece, BTA

11/24/2005 9:35 AM  
Blogger respondingtojblogs said...

Excellent post (although most of the credit goes to RSRH). Why can't I find a rabbi like that? I'm putting this book on my ever expanding list.

11/24/2005 12:07 PM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

I actually was looking online to see if i could find these letters.
I just finished vol. 6 of letters from RSRH on other topics, like his fight with Reform for secession from the state mandated religious representation.
His letter with a orthodox rabbi on this issue were mind opening.
When I read the rabbis letter to him, without thinking about it, i was convinced of his position. When i read the response, it blew me away.
The same i think was his intention here.
start with something so strong, that you think there can be no answer. Then destroy that assumption (i hope).
Looking forward.

11/24/2005 12:11 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

"You forgot to mention that RSRH was very succesful in his endeavours, too. The Kehillah of Frankfurt grew tremendously under his tutelage."

Hayim- you are 100% correct. And we mustn't leave out that that very community spawned the influx of yekke Jews to Washington Heights and gave us many legitimate gedolim like Rav Shach.

11/24/2005 1:47 PM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

rav schach?
i think you mean rav schwab.
Freudian slip?

11/24/2005 5:19 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

"i think you mean rav schwab.
Freudian slip?"

LOL, you are correct, sir! But my Freudian slips I hope would reveal more interesting flubs!

11/24/2005 5:46 PM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

I posted this on heshyhouse blog, but figured you may get to this faster.
Im embarressed for you! unless im totally misreading your comment, you fell for heshy bait, hook, line and sinker.
He is completely out of his mind.
I know him. I know what he used to do 20 years ago. I wish he would reveal it. He is a freakin lunatic.
You have his cell, posted on his blog. Call him. see for yourself!

Unless youre also looking for some fun, like rebeljew. But then youre tone needs to be more heresyhater like (ie a complete joke). As BTA, it comes off like you take him seriously.

11/24/2005 5:52 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

how could I know it was a joke? there's nothing witty about it. it just sounds like a fundamentalist spouting off about thanksgiving.

it's not so hard to parody that, but what's the point? there's tons of people who really think like he does.

i just heard of his site through dovbear.

oh well, it's more embarassing that I believed other things than heshy.

so he doesn't host people for shabbos in nyc?

what a waste of time.

11/24/2005 11:57 PM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

i dont know if he knows he is a joke.
But he is a nutcase.
Call him. Let us know.

11/25/2005 8:54 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

Happy- just tell us what you know about this guy. We know you're dying to.

Or maybe someone "anonymous" can tell us the same things that Happy knows... ;)

11/25/2005 4:26 PM  
Anonymous Holy Hyrax said...

Hey BTA, Im back from my vacation. I just wanted you to know since I know you would be worried about me :) Looks like an interesting post, I shall read it motzei Shabbat.

11/25/2005 6:12 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

BTA - Excellent post. I'd love to see the rest, and response... Hayim already made a key point (about Frankfurt).

By the way... does anyone have a copy of "Anatomy of a Ban"?

11/26/2005 6:45 PM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

BTA
i was dying to. but i realized afterwards that it just wouldnt be right.

I do wish someone would call him and then report back on what it was like to spend shabbos with him.

My goal is to let everyone know he is out of his mind. Therefore dont take him seriously.

P.S. I disagree with your comments to him that he represents a view out there.

11/26/2005 7:44 PM  
Blogger happywithhislot said...

Oh, where is part 2?
You got me reading other books i can get my hands on regarding RSRH.
I found a 2 volume set in someones house called Judiasm Eternal. In it, on one letter he was called upon to defend the talmud against slander from antisemites in russia.
He makes a point which i had been thinking of as well.
The point is that the talmud or oral law has been slandered now for 2000 years.
You have hellenism, sadducism, the christian church, the humanist and now on blogs.
At what point do people give up and say, lets move on.

11/26/2005 7:49 PM  
Blogger Lvnsm27 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11/26/2005 10:16 PM  
Anonymous Dude said...

This is unrelated to this particular post, but is in regard to your blog in general.

Do you really think that you will have honest debate and discussion when this blog is one big bile-fest? You havent made a single point in a rational and respectable way. Everything is extreme and absolute. Torah Judaism isnt just quaint, it is evil and sick. BTs arent just going through regular life, they are suffering miserably in the hell those kiruv clowns duped them into. Those you disagree with arent just wrong, they are sickos and pedophile supporters.

You have zero credibility when you write this way and you will not receive any constructive opposition because not only do those who disagree with you not wish to subject themselves to your spittle filled rants in return to their posts, but your initial points themselves are unconvincing and shallow due to the extreme vitriol.

You betray your lack of balance and honesty by your tone. You also betray the obvious fact that your beef with Judaism is likely fueled by more than just intellectual disagreement.

You want people like me to take you seriously? You want the Kiruv community to hear your issues? Good, then make your case. Be honest, forthright and mature.

This is nothing more than a childish tantrum in the form of a blog.

11/26/2005 10:49 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

This comment is directed at BTA & Dude... *and upon finishing it, is somewhat preachy. Sorry.

Dude's right and wrong. Likely, he perused a few of the posts - but not all. BTA started this blog in a way that seemed intent on giving things a fair shake: Present issues that BTs [and others] face [plus more], from a perspective of someone who has lived through them.

His first few posts did that; the guest posts were fascinating. Then, he had a few posts similar to the ones you complained about - in fact, until the last couple, he'd done that for a number of posts. If you read through the comments, I and others criticized him for just that. The last 2 posts, however (the letters posts - actually this one and the next one), were back to what this blog was about. I think they were presented fairly, with his own comments and thoughts on them.

It also leads to far better discussion: The quality discussions on this blog have been by the well presented, non-"hateful" posts. I honestly did not have the patience to read through the other ones well - it just wasn't worth the time. Clearly, discussion on most of it was moot.

What I'm trying to say is obvious: Dude - you're wrong. But you're right. He has made many points in a respectable way; but he's also made many in a "hateful" way. When he does it properly, though, he's actually a very good blogger.

BTA - Dude was being extreme, but making good points. When you slip into the super-sarcastic posts, you lose credibility. It's hard to find your real points, or even determine if they're worth discussing. When you are "honest, forthright, mature", though, your stuff is top-notch. Not only does it encourage better discussion, but your points on either side are that much sharper.

Just my long two cents.

Have a great night!

11/27/2005 1:46 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

Dude- I think you have a bit of a projection thing going there. You are the bile-man, you are the vitriol-man, you are the one with no credibility.

"You want people like me to take you seriously?"

Not sure what you mean by "people like me," but to answer your question, no- I don't care if you think I'm "credible" or if you "take me seriously." Why should I care? Am I a lawyer putting on a case for you to judge?

Anyway, you probably just read the Mencken post and blew a gasket.

11/27/2005 3:15 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

Thanks Ezz- I know what you're saying.

11/27/2005 3:15 AM  
Anonymous Dude said...

The problem is BTA that you folks write these blogs and feel that it is so amazing that no-one intelligent can come along and challenge you or dispute you...ergo you must be correct.

The real issue is that intelligent and mature people just dont bother to respond to you or engage you in discussion since all you are doing is engaging in an extremist rant. You end up attracting primarily those who your rants comfort. You basically acquire a group of 'yes-men' whose comments amount to 'right on'.

When I say 'people like me' I mean those who might have engaged you in discussion from a different perspective.

11/27/2005 9:27 AM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

Dude - so read the other posts (without the vitriolic hate) and engage in serious discussion.

11/27/2005 11:57 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

"The real issue is that intelligent and mature people just dont bother to respond to you or engage you in discussion since all you are doing is engaging in an extremist rant."

Dude, you keep saying that, but it's 1) untrue that I mostly "rant" and 2) it's an insult to all the people that post opposite points of view to mine, such as Chardal, On the Main Line, Ezzie, Happy w/ his Lot, and others. Even Mis-nagid has taken issue with certain things I've said!

Thus, this is the essence of a blog where a debate is taking place. You are of course correct that the blog has a built-in bias. I won't be going head to head with Rav Sternbuch, Rav Feldman, or Rav Elyashev, but we've all seen just how well they do, even when they have time to think these issues out.

They all write illogical fundamentalist nonsense that would pursuade no one.

Here's a couple of classics:
"These same scientists who tell you with such clarity what happened sixty-five million years ago – ask them what the weather will be like in New York in two weeks’ time!" [Rosh Yeshiva of Woodlake Yeshiva said that gem]http://www.zootorah.com/controversy/ravreich.pdf

And then, this classic statement the gaon Rav Sternbuch:
"Furthermore having scientific writings in your house, that are incompatible with the Torah, violates the prohibition (Deuteronomy 4:26): “Do not bring disgusting things in your house.” Simple calculations from the Bible concerning the generations from Adam lead to the clear conclusion that the world is less than 6,000 years old. Having such heretical scientific books in the home causes much troubles to those who possess them and it is obligated to get rid of them."
http://www.zootorah.com/controversy/RavSternbuchEnglish.pdf

So, who exactly should I be "debating" on this site? Cross-currents totally distorts or deletes any posts from my perspective. Gil would delete anything controversial.

I think you should just admit you find it unpleasant to read this stuff, yet you are attracted to these sites, especially Godol Hador's like a moth to a flame. If you think it's all shtuss, go play with Gil. He agrees, and you guys can talk about how to cut challa al pi the meforshim and have a great day.

Or, stick around and post a thought out response, not a Roger Ebert critique, as you so often do.

11/27/2005 12:24 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

"vitriolic hate"

Where's the virtiolic hate, Ezz? DOn't let Dude shape the debate with this characterization.

I've been sarcastic about several kiruv clowns and they deserve it. I don't hate these guys. Menken I don't like because he's a cheap shot artists and a censor.

If he were "moderating" my blog, Dude's comments would be long gone. I don't believe in that, so I sarcastically nail Menken to the wall for it. And for his response to my post, which was full of verifiable mistakes, yet which was so self-assured.

11/27/2005 12:27 PM  
Anonymous Dude said...

"I've been sarcastic about several kiruv clowns and they deserve it."

You've been sarcastic about all of Judaism, all of Kiruv, and the Torah itself. You arent fooling anyone.

You engage in lies (implying that much or most of kiruv focuses on 'proofs') and in general argue in bad faith.

My point remains..

11/27/2005 5:37 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

Dude, didn't you get the memo? Please look up the definition of sarcastic and then the definition of skeptical. Hint- I'm being sarcastic towards you, and skeptical towards the kiruv clowns, a lot of OJ claims, etc.

Now I see why Godol and others just ignore you. You don't play fair. I'll adopt the same stance forthwith.

11/27/2005 6:34 PM  
Anonymous Dude said...

Yes, that would be a good pretense for why you would ignore me.

Feel free to use it and ignore my criticism. It wont improve your blog and attitude, but it will make you feel better...

11/27/2005 6:37 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

Last word.

11/28/2005 1:55 AM  

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