Sunday, December 27, 2009

Is one's Da'as Torah diluted or enhanced by youthful ventures into the thought of Kant?

Time for an old-style On the Main Line Artscroll post.

I was rereading Artscroll's adaptation of Ohr Elchonon, the biography of R. Elchanan Wasserman. This, from the intro, jumped out at me. Penned by Rs. Meir Zlotowitz and Nosson Scherman (1982):

I actually remembered the following footnote from the last time I read this book, which was in high school. It was even more interesting than I remembered:

Note, this shows that the influence of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason on R. Elchanan's thinking is a clear possibility. By the way, Kant advocated a severe reform of Judaism, including the abolition of most mitzvos as a prerequisite for granting Jews civil rights. I suppose this may be construed as some evidence that R. Elchanan was of the opinion that one may accept the good and discard the bad of thinkers. Secondly, he read the newspaper in the beis midrash?!

I see I was preceded in the second part of this post by two years (link).


  1. Having studied much of Kant's work I am unfamiliar with the quotes you cite regarding his opinions about Judaism. I am certain that he says nothing about Judaism qua Judaism in the Critique of Pure Reason, which was the work which R' Y.E. is quoted as studying. Please: cite your sources .

  2. Jacob Katz, "Kant and Judaism," Tarbiz 41 (1971) 219-37. Of course his comments about modern Jews and emancipation do not come from the Critique of Pure Reason, which has nothing to do with Jews, and doesn't even mention them.

  3. Kant says this in his late book "Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone"; and maybe again in his Anthropology, I forget.

    Where is Kant of the First Critique evident in the writings of Reb Elchanan? Any clues? ej

  4. Isn't this the same R' Elchanan who told a talmid that it was better to risk his life with the Nazis than go to the US and risk his soul with some Torah-and-secular (YU? Torah vaDaas?) yeshiva?


  5. Yes, but in fairness, even though this is bought as a maaseh rav (I think) you can't really hold people to what they were doing when they were 20. Also, although this is obscured from public view, the real classical Misnagdish position on secular stuff is - well, you know what it is.

  6. Who was 20? REW was already the man's rebbe, the Nazis were a threat to survival in someplace where REW was "the rav to ask"... This was probably after REW's exposure to Kant.

  7. I mean the sins of his youth (reading newspapers and Kant etc.)

    But the truth is, I didn't reread the passage. It says he read Kant in Baranowich, and he was certainly not a youth then.

    However, I don't see why this is any contradiction. His opposition to seminaries as beyond the pale was that they put the both under one roof. He certainly could not have thought too highly of the Hildesheimer seminary, but he spoke there, where (I believe) the secular component of the curriculum was off premises at a university.

  8. S, I think you're correct. REW had nothing against limudei chol; his problem was with institutions that to him looked like they watered down fealty to Torah over it.

    In other words, REW might have approved of exposure to mada with one's Torah, but not a movement that would make "Torah uMada" a slogan.

  9. I'm not entirely sure. I get the impression that he did not approve of youths involved in secular education - in other words, he probably would not have tolerated his own youthful self in Baranovich. The classical position is, fill your belly and then come secular studies in an ad-hoc and autodidactic manner.

    Yeshiva College didn't use the slogan Torah U-madda then, I think, nor did it espouse a philosophy yet. I don't think he was opposing an "ism."

    That said, it's hard to see what he wanted with Kant if it didn't somehow inform or shape his views in some way. I wonder if he (like others in a similar position) felt that Torah-only gedolim were exceedingly precious because he observed that they were very wise even without having ever read Kant and the like. I'm sure the Chofetz Chaim could critique pure reason with the best of them. To them this could only be proof that the Torah needs nothing else.

  10. S: I'm not sure it was Yeshiva College. Could just have well been Torah vaDaas. But in either case, YC had an Ism already; even if R' Lamm didn't actually coin the slogan yet. There is a reason why they attracted R' Moshe Soloveitchik in particular.

  11. It makes a huge difference if it was RIETS or YTV; the latter did not have a college, although in most respects I would think the yeshivos were pretty similar in the 1930s.

  12. The Chofetz Chayim read the newspaper in bet misrash and commented daily to the talmidim in the Dreyfus and Beilis cases

  13. i heard the russian newspaper story re RAKotler. its in MOAG.



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