“I don’t care what group you identify with, as long as you are ashamed of it.” There is much wisdom in the throw-away line with which Dennis Prager frequently challenges audiences to admit to the flaws of the groups with which they identify.
Of the many labels that doggedly pursue me, there is only one that I am not ashamed of at all. I am a Hirschian, and proud of it without reservation. I believe that his vision for living a Torah life is at least as viable today as when he described it, if not more so.
It took me decades to realize it, and years more to openly embrace it in a community sometimes hostile to its implications. Today, I can think of no more honorable distinction than to be considered a follower of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (RSRH) zt”l.
The bicentennial of the birth of RSRH, brought many tributes, although with much hedging. According to one report, a rav at Khal Adath Jeshurun argued that in the absence of RSRH himself, his teaching could not be followed, and Torah Jews should turn to contemporary gedolim for guidance (presumably different) on those issues. A cover story in Mishpacha implied that RSRH served as a role model primarily for scientists and doctors, and placed far more stress on his impact on organizations like Agudah, Bais Yaakov and the Eidah HaCharedis. Even the forever-insightful Rav Moshe Grylak saw the need to move on. “Although Rav Hirsch’s Torah and his worldview are still relevant to portions of our community even today, they have lost their relevance for some. A new generation…requires a new language to kindle in its heart the flame of Torah that is barely flickering.”
I do not understand the hesitation. “Still relevant” is a wussy understatement. To many of us, RSRH has no peer in giving voice to the way we understand our role as Torah Jews, and how Torah works to better ourselves and the world. Lost its relevance? All those I know who have studied RSRH seriously are struck by how much more relevant his thought is today than when he committed it to paper a century and a half ago. If his thought hasn’t kindled the hearts of some of the at-risk adults about whom Rav Grylak speaks, it is only because they have not been exposed to it.