Torah im Derekh Eretz – Torah uMada

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I wrote the following for a rather informal venue. Lots of acronyms to speed up typing. Given my son Aishey’s upcoming wedding, I don’t have the time to rewrite it, but I wanted to capture the content while it was still new enough for me to remember to do so.


Torah uMadda“, YU’s motto, doesn’t have a precise formulation. Rav YB Soloveitchik (RYBS) never used the phrase; it was coined by his student, then President of Yeshiva University, Rabbi Norman Lamm. There is far from consensus about what RYBS’s ideals were. Ramatayim Tzofim is the only time he discussed the topic directly but there are SO MANY other mentions that have to be folded into a single concrete picture.

Here are some observations though, focusing on what it means about Torah im Derekh Eretz (TiDE) in comparison and contrast.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (RSRH) thought that TiDE is THE ideal way to observe Torah. That ghettoization and withdrawal from the global community was foisted upon us. Derekh Eretz  (DE) is defined as being high culture, which Yefes was blessed with the talent to develop and perfect. “Im” is defined as making a single synthesis, one picture, centered on the Torah and embellished by what one understands of the world, the human condition, and personal refinement through DE. The role of higher secular knowledge is as part of being a cultured and well-rounded individual. Mensch-Israel.

There is sine overlap between Mussar, particularly Slabodka’s version, and TiDE. The difference is in approach to and definition of sheleimus. TiDE focuses on refinement through being cultured. Mussar focuses on Middos.

The ideal TiDE college would be Touro or Machon Lev.

RYBS, on the other hand, did not want a “Catholic College” (his term). He holds that there is no resolution between what we’ll call Torah and Madda. (Rabbi Lamm spoke about “synthesis”; but I didn’t understand his rebbe as expecting one to exist.) Rather, this is one of those unavoidable challenges in life that can only be navigated, not resolved. A “dialectic”, meaning — something that gets its meaning from the dialog between poles, not from a final answer.

So, RYBS didn’t want rabbeim to have control of the limudei chol curriculum (paralleling the curriculum in a Catholic institution). Rather, he saw the role of YU as being a place where a student is first exposed to this challenge while having the guidance of rabbeim. If we keep the yeshiva in the bubble, the limudei chol will suffer, and when the student leaves the bubble without a mentor’s help, Yahadus will suffer.

Notice that his focus isn’t on the high culture aspect of Western Civ, but on secular knowledge. RSRH is about being a cultured professional; RYBS is about being an educated academic.

Last, unlike RSRH’s notion of the ideal, it’s less clear what RYBS considered his ideal. Depending on your choice of quotes, some noted talmidim have made it sound like RYBS believed the Ramatayim Tzofim is Judaism’s ideal. While other talmidim, themselves Rashei Yeshiva of some renown, have argued the RYBS would have been happier if Volozhin or Brisk were still possible. But for the world we do live in… Not that TuM (again, using the term loosely) is bedi’eved; it is the lekhat-chilah way to live in this bedi’eved situation.

And your thoughts...?