Yeshivos do not seem to be equipped to deal with this. Mechanchim tend to avoid these questions like the plague. For example a typical response by a teacher or Rebbe is to push the student away by telling them that such questions are Assur. You might as well just tell them there is no God! But even telling them you don’t know the answer is not really good enough.What ought to be happening in Chinuch these days is for teachers to face this challenge head on. They ought to be trained and fully prepared to deal with these issues. Instead of focusing the entire energy of Yeshivos on Gemarah or on academics – there ought to be Shiurim on Machshava… or Jewish philosophy.
When I was in Telshe, I never heard of the Moreh Nevuchim, the Rambam’s great philosophical work. But when I transferred to HTC, I encountered Dr. Eliezer Berkovits. Once I was in the Beis HaMedrash he opened up the world of Machshava for me. HTC offered many courses in Jewish philosophy then. (I don’t think they do now. Which is very sad – but off topic.)But waiting to offer these course post high school is waiting to long. These courses ought to be part of every Yeshiva high school and Beis Yaakov curriculum – starting in 9th grade. In our era of instant information, it is more important than ever to try and provide answers to questions raised by accessing websites that generate the kind of skepticism Ari now feels. Not everyone becomes a skeptic. But enough do to make it a major concern for Jewish education.
These courses are not necessarily fool-proof. But they will help. The one thing we cannot afford to do is ignore the problem and hope it doesn’t happen to us or our children.Nor is trying to shelter our children from the internet really going to help. The web is too easy to access these days.
Bans clearly do not work. Those who issue them are completely blind to reality. In this day and age of handheld devices that have internet access – if someone wants to surf the net they will find a way – and will very likely get away with it. And in some cases they will become skeptical about the very essence of the beliefs they have been taught.
There has to be a change in the educational paradigm that exists in both Charedi and Modern Orthodox Yeshivos. We no longer have the luxury to ignore it. Continuing to do so will only make matters worse.
One person who agrees with me is Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer. He is very aware of the problem and has been receiving and trying to answer increasing numbers of questions about faith. To that end he has started to deal with it in his own time-limited way.
Rabbi Bechhofer is the right man for the job. He is a Baal Machsahva and very knowledgeable in dealing with these matters. To that end he has started posting on this issue on his blog. He has also spoken extensively on these subjects and has recorded many of those lectures. They are available to the public. I would urge anyone with difficult questions to seek out those lectures and listen to them.
As for Ari, all is not lost. Here is how he puts it:
[T]his might not be the end of the story. I come from a family of searchers. My parents went through various levels of religious commitment and thought before they settled on Orthodoxy. My three older brothers all went through similar ordeals, and they all eventually returned to the path. The only thing I can do is keep on open mind.
So, even though I’m not using my tefillin much these days, I’m keeping them on the shelf in their army-approved carrying case, because I might not be done with them quite yet.
I sure hope he finds his way back to Judaism. We need people like Ari. People who think!
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