It was gratifying to see the interest in Rav Breuer’s derech halimud, which was described as “The Way of Old Ashkenaz”, in the wake of the previous post. ב”ה.
Brisker Derech vs. Old Ashkenaz Way
In the discussion of Rav Breuer’s derech that we referenced, the words Brisk, and Brisker derech, did not appear. However, there was nevertheless a significant response in an online forum to it that came to my attention, which, if I understand it correctly, believes that Rav Breuer’s old Ashkenaz derech has been overtaken and superceded by the way of Rav Chaim of Brisk.
Is that true? If so, to what degree? Is such a development desirable? Are the two ways necessarily always at odds?
Should the old way be cast aside and treated as a fossil or relic, a quaint remnant of a pre-modern era (for those who haven’t already done so)? Placed in display in a museum? Left to the Chasidic world?
I think that the old derech is emphatically not obsolete and is vital for Yiddishkeit today. As Rav Breuer z”l strongly declared regarding תורה עם דרך ארץ, when some claimed that it was only a הוראת שעה, a temporary exigency. I think he would similarly opine regarding the derech halimud we are discussing here.
Does that mean that the old Ashkenaz derech and the way of Brisk and related ways are necessarily always at odds? I think that there can be a modus vivendi actually.
I think that the concern of some about the Brisker derech is at times more due to tendencies among some for premature and excessive utilization of it, rather than the derech itself per se. If there would be some limits on it (okay, perhaps not to the extent of requiring one to wait until the age of forty before engaging with it, as with the study of Kabbalah ;-), perhaps their worries would be eased.
Brisker Derech and Psak Halocho
As it is, the Brisker derech/revolution is a mixed bag. While it has gotten some people excited about learning, there have been great associated costs as well. For example, the Modern Orthodox historian Rabbi Aaron Rothkoff (‘Rakeffet’) has stated that the Brisker derech ‘killed the Litvak psak halocho tradition’ (while there are Litvishe poskim in our times, such as Rav Elyashiv z”l, they are usually not heavy duty Briskers). Nowadays it is not uncommon to see some in the Yeshivishe world looking to the Chasidic world for direction in psak halocho, among other things, something which is not in accordance with their mesorah, and which can introduce practices not countenanced by their ancestors. Why is that? Because they have concentrated on lomdus at the cost of ways of learning which would be more conducive to developing ability in the area of פסק הלכה, causing them to look elsewhere for such. Would Rav Chaim Brisker be happy about that? I have my doubts.
So to sum up, נלע”ד that the old Ashkenaz derech, the derech of Rav Breuer, the Chasam Sofer, and so many others, is not something to be retired, looked down upon, or shunted aside, חס ושלום. Rather it is something which is vital, enduring, and beneficial.
אמת ויציב ונכון וקים וישר ונאמן ואהוב וחביב ונחמד ונעים ואדיר ומתוקן ומקובל וטוב ויפה הדבר הזה עלינו לעולם ועד
Disclaimer: As usual, what is expressed here is the opinion of the writer, and does not represent the opinion of all his fellow Jews with the different faces (כשם שאין פרצופיהן דומין זה לזה כך אין דעותיהן שוות- מדרש רבה, פינחס).