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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 4/14/06

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Dear Rachel,

I am finding it exceedingly difficult to hold back my rage and sadness (in regard to the letter written by “A parent who represents many, many others”). You, and other parents like you, whose sons have not been brainwashed (I am not afraid to say the word), who somehow managed to raise sons to live up to the responsibility of taking care of themselves and their families, are quickly becoming the exception.

My parents worked like dogs and sent my brothers to a yeshiva that originally had the reputation of turning out fine bochurim who both learned and went to college and joined the workforce. But things have changed, and that yeshiva, like many, quickly took a swing to the right. Most of their boys do not end up going to college. (But for girls, it’s perfectly fine!)

I’ve regretfully come to view the yeshiva system in this respect as a necessary evil. In Judaism, as in any other religion, the power held by authority can be corrupted and misused. I believe that many roshei yeshivos and rebbeim are corrupt in this sense – forming yeshivos with young impressionable followers that border on cults. The more they enlist, the greater the power.

This is not to say that all rebbeim are corrupt. As a matter of fact, many know they have become part of a sick and failing system and feel powerless to do anything. There are many rebbeim who are genuine, involved in doing wonderful mitzvos and who are helping to rear fine bochurim with proper values. But there are also those who (like cult leaders) help only in maintaining a facade of authentic Jewish values.

The rebbeim (and their wives) psychologically mangled my brothers and stripped them of their self-confidence, rendering them fragile and dependent – to the point where they cannot make a single life decision for themselves without running to ask the rosh yeshiva. Three of them did not go to college, did not get jobs and probably never will, and they show no signs of ever being able to help my parents as they age. My parents are physically, financially and emotionally drained. They never dreamed they would be sabotaged by the yeshiva system. They were lured in by good yeshivos that accepted their sons (Hooray! We all know how horrible the acceptance game can be) and even offered them free meals and partial scholarships. These parents had no inkling that they’d need to keep watch over their sons to counterbalance everything the rebbeim fed them, if they were to develop into normal young men. And I am sure they were concerned about appearing hypocritical if, after sending them to this yeshiva, they’d take drastic measures and insist my brothers work at acquiring careers and an occupation – or perhaps they feared that the introduction of such conflict would only add new psychological problems to the total dependency already engendered by the yeshiva.

I wish I could march into these rebbeim’s offices and demand they undo the years of damage, but I’d probably be laughed at and regarded as nothing more than a silly female – a child-bearer of their next “victims.” If confronted, the roshei yeshivos and rebbeim would throw up their hands and claim that they “never told your kids what they should or should not do with their lives.” But what of being locked up from sunup to sundown in a Torah learning environment, surrounded by rebbeim and rebbetzins and all that they preach? They don’t advocate going to college, and they don’t take the kids on field trips to show them that one can be a Ben Torah as well as a professional who is capable of supporting his family and contributing to the community. And let’s not forget the obstacles this has introduced into the shidduch scene.

Should the many of our great Talmudic sages who worked in various trades be condemned? (Has anyone noticed that quite a few of the prominent roshei yeshivos have Ph.D’s? Goodness, maybe they should have publicly burnt their diplomas!)

We need to take a united stand against this system. It’s hard to believe that this is what the founders of the Kollel movement foresaw. There certainly is a need for intensive long-term Torah study for those bochurim who have the potential to be the roshei yeshivos and gedolim of tomorrow (though how they can adequately fill such roles with little secular knowledge escapes me).

At a time when Jewish families require two incomes, yeshivos need more money, and we live in a country where our children can be both frum and go to college and have a career, why are our rebbeim trying to push us back into the shtetl and turn our children into paupers? Who do they think will support their next generation of “victims?” What of money needed to pay yeshiva tuitions? What about tzedakas and helping our brethren in Eretz Yisroel)?

I have a toddler, and I want him to have a good Torah education, but my husband and I will be watching him very closely and will hock it into him that whatever the profession he chooses, he will take responsibility for his life and those he shares it with, and that this is the right thing to do. If this will present a problem for yeshivos, I’ll sooner find an alternate means of educating him in Torah and in what it means to be a Jew.

As for the rebbeim, I hope I get a front row seat in the Heavenly Court when they are judged for the pain they caused their fellow Jews in the name of Torah. Most parents are afraid to speak out, for fear that they and their children will be rejected as rebellious and hypocritical.

I guarantee you, Rachel, if there was a way to start an anonymous petition taking a stand against the institutions and leaders promoting this insanity, the number of signees would be staggering.

No son of mine…!

About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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