An Antescript to Rabbi Feldman

Rabbi Ilan Feldman’s piece continues to dominate in the popularity race of the new issue, both in terms of numbers of downloads, and in the responses come in. One reader, whose identity I do not know, offered a striking parallel from the works of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch. Klal Perspectives editor, Rabbi Dovid Goldman, was kind enough to scan it. It is delectable enough to present to our readership, and adds one more reason why I am proud to consider myself to some extent a Hirschian. It is from The Collected Writings, Vol.2, Kislev IV:

There is one other particular danger which is to be feared by a Jewish minority. It is what we would like to call a certain intellectual narrow-mindedness. This danger becomes especially acute the more closely a minority clings to its cause and the more anxious it is to preserve that cause. We have already pointed out that, by virtue of its weak position, a minority depends for its survival on whether it can further and foster within all its members the spirit of the cause it represents. In order to prevail, a minority must be wholly imbued with the truth for which it stands. We have already noted that such intensive spiritual concern with its cause is the essential prerequisite for the minority’s survival and have hailed this concern as the most significant advantage that a truth stands to gain when its guardians constitute a minority.

However, precisely such complete dedication to its cause may easily lead the minority into intellectual one-sidedness. This may well stunt to a degree the development of the minority’s unique intellectual life. Furthermore, it may make that minority incapable of representing its cause effectively to the outside world. Thus, such one-sidedness in a minority may do grave damage to the very cause that the minority seeks to preserve and to promote. The richer the minority’s cause, the more will the minority treasure it. But then it may easily come to regard all other knowledge in “outside” domains as unnecessary, or even as utterly worthless. It may reject all intellectual activity in any field outside its own as an offense against its own cause, as an inroad upon the devotion properly due to that cause and an infringement on its prerogatives.

Such a one-sided attitude does not stop at mere disregard for other intellectual endeavors. Once this attitude has taken hold in a Jewish minority, that minority will be unable to form a proper judgment and a true image of those intellectual pursuits which are not cultivated in
its own ranks but pursued mainly by its opponents. Then, as a result of simple ignorance, the minority will begin to fear that which at first it merely neglected out of disdain. Consequently the minority will begin to suspect the existence of an intrinsic close relationship between these “outside” intellectual pursuits and those principles to which the
Jewish minority stands in opposition.

Indeed, the minority may come to regard these “outside” pursuits in themselves as the roots of the spiritual error which it deplores in the majority. Eventually it may reach a point where it will fearfully shun all intellectual endeavors other than those directly related to its own philosophy as an enemy of its cause and as a threat to the purity and loyalty of its adherents.

Rather, it has cause to regard all truth, wherever it may be found on the outside, as a firm ally of its own cause, since all truth stems from the same Master of truth. Finally, the minority should not regard all disciplines that are compatible with its own principles as enemies. The cause represented by a Jewish minority is not purely theoretical but also involves the practical life of its adherents. It demands the dedication of all aspects of life to the realization of its principles. It can have real, true existence only to the extent
to which it can mold and dominate the most varied facets of everyday living. Thus, it is only natural that such a minority must attach maximum importance to the realization of its principles in practice.

Indeed, it will have to recognize its adherents by the extent to which
the latter fashion their lives in accordance with its principles.

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7 comments to An Antescript to Rabbi Feldman

  • Baruch Dov

    Wow, sounds prophetic, as though Rav Hirsch was shown large segments of charedi Judaism today and was asked for his observations.

  • mb

    “Baruch Dov
    December 25, 2012 at 8:56 am
    Wow, sounds prophetic, as though Rav Hirsch was shown large segments of charedi Judaism today and was asked for his observations.”

    Indeed. He also said this about them.
    “They are the party that has inherited uncomprehended Judaism as a mechanical habit, without its spirit. They bear it in their hands as a sacred relic, as a revered mummy. And fear to awaken its spirit”
    19 Letters.

  • YM

    I read Rabbi Ilan’s piece with great interest, and agree with him, to an extent. Authentic Torah Judaism requires each individual to have a Rav. With a Rav, and decent self-understanding, one can be guided to discovering his/her individual mission, and make good decisions about how to conduct ones life accordingly.

  • Raymond

    I wonder if one solution to this problem is to follow the model of the United States, at least the way it was before political correctness took hold of this nation and ruined it. What I mean is, that at the core of what makes the United States so very special, is its combination of the Judeo-Christian ethic, individual freedom, free market capitalism…and then added to this mix like spices to enhance this recipe, are the notable ways in which each ethnic group has excelled in their own ways, one mundane example of which is said to be French/Italian cooking. Perhaps in a similar way, our Jewish people have our strong Torah values of ethical monotheism and its attendant Jewish law, but what we can add to that strong core, are the spices of life, the best of what the gentile/secular world has to offer, such as at least some aspects of Ancient Greek philosophy, the literary works of Shakespeare/Dickens, the music of Bach/Mozart/Beethoven, the science laid down by Isaac Newton, and so on. Like spices added to food, these things can serve to help bring out some of the most provocative ways of applying Torah values to everyday life.

  • MK

    According to my edition The Collected Writings, the selected passage is from Volume II, Kislev IV.

    [YA – Thanks! We made the change on your say-so.]

  • Bob Miller

    Raymond,
    In your opinion, what factors have led The US away from the special model you described above, into the moral free-fall now apparent? Were these factors built-in from the start?

  • Raymond

    Bob Miller, good question. I wish I knew the answer to that. My understanding, though, is that the beginning of the end of this nation on a political level began a century ago with Teddy Roosevelt, with his war against successful businesses. Once the Democrats got hold of his so-called progressivism, things became exponentially worse, through Presidents such as Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and of course our current Administration. Franklin Roosevelt, for example, had actual Communists serving in his Cabinet. I think that having mandatory public school education has been the biggest contributor of all to our national downfall. But as to how things specifically became that way in the first place, I seem to recall that certain American intellectuals were strongly influenced by 19th century German philosophy. Think of Hegel and Marx, and how much damage their ideas have done to this world. Now, call me an idealist if you must, but I do think that the more solid one’s knowledge is of our Torah, the less prone any given individual is, to falling for such destructive ideas. So what might have happened, is that the Puritan influence on this country has simply faded with time, opening up the door for variations of socialism and Marxism. A similar thing happened in England, with the death of Queen Victoria.