Monday, December 31, 2007

Hirschensohn III

R' Adam Mintz has a full lecture on R' Hirschensohn. He more or less agrees with R' Brill, but he goes a bit farther into the nature of, and reactions to R' Hirschensohn's halachic program.

R' Hirschensohn's critics are right - he did want to find lots of leniencies. However, the critics are wrong about motivation. It was not simply a search for leniency (and anyone who does all the kulos is a fool), but part of his program to make religion a part of life, rather than something in tension with daily life. There is a sequence of letters in the short-lived periodical HaMetzapeh, available at, in which he lays out his desire to find leniencies, and is roundly criticized by many correspondents. And he couldn't really find all the leniencies he might have liked - as R' Soloveitchik says, sometimes one must surrender to the halakhah.

R' Mintz did a Bar-Ilan search for Hirschensohn, and only found one reference, in a Mishpetei Uziel. Clearly, then, halacha has rejected R' Hirschensohn's approach. But he's a major figure in American Jewish history, as well as Zionist history, as an approach that was not taken, but had such promise.


Rabbi Arian said...

It's neat to see a burst of interest in R' Hirschensohn.

More than twenty years ago Professor Michael Meyer at HUC urged me to write a thesis on R' Hirschensohn. I considered it but realized at the time I didn't have the background in rabbinic literature to really do it well. Although I think I did a good job on the topic I ultimately came up with, and my thesis is occasionally cited as a reference in academic publications, writing on R' Hirschensohn would have had more lasting impact.

It is a shame though that he didn't gain more mainstream acceptance. The project of being fully Jewish and fully a citizen seems more and more to be that of a distinct minority. Most American Jews want to be Americans and are only marginally committed to Judaism. Of those Jews fully committed to Judaism, only a minority try to fully participate in American society, namely, the MO and observant C.

thanbo said...

And a minority of a minority at that. You were on Micha's lists for a while, weren't you? You know his distinction between "MO-lite vs. Serious MO" (he makes a similar distinction between charedi-lite and serious charedi) - those who are MO for the kuladik lifestyle in a community that supports observance, vs. those who are philosophically MO.

And even more so among Conservatives - the observant Conservatives seem to be a tiny minority, maybe 3-5% really shomrey kashrut and shomrei shabbat. My observant-Conservative cousin, looking to marry another observant Conservative person, found a rabbi, so now he's a "rebbitzer" as he calls himself. Because most really observant Conservatives become rabbis, and there's otherwise little to no community to support personal observance. So my cousin and his wife Rabbi Paulette belong to, and daven at, an MO synagogue, where a lot of JTSA faculty also daven.

Another C rabbi of my acquaintance, upon leaving the rabbinate, found himself gravitating to a MO synagogue, again because the C movement is not a happy place to be personally observant.

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