We’ve been there before. But then, as now, we had to open our eyes to the real danger.
In 1892, the Russian government ordered the Volozhiner Yeshivah to teach secular studies. Harav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, zt”l — the Netziv — refused. Rather than compromise, he allowed the government to close down what was the center of Torah in Lithuania.
Surely, his reaction struck many people as extreme. What could be wrong with teaching some language and math? In fact, according to most sources I found, the yeshivah was already teaching some secular studies. So why the defiance?
The Netziv saw beyond the surface. He understood that the government-imposed curriculum was merely an opening to eventually destroy the yeshivah and everything it stood for. As Rabbi Moshe Sherer, z”l, pointed out, the ancient Greeks contaminated the oil in the Beis Hamikdash in order to shed a false light. And the Jewish Hellenists who sided with them knew that to degrade Yiddishkeit was to ultimately destroy it.
We face a similar situation now. Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel summed it up (“Last Call From the Trenches,” Hamodia Prime, August 28): the threat from New York State “affects the very core of what we are as Jews. Government wants to interfere … and there’s nothing more dangerous than this.”
Our way of life is under threat. But it’s not too late. There’s still time to daven.
YEHUDAH HAMMER, SYRACUSE, N.Y.