A friend of mine recently came back from visiting her son and his family in Israel. As a bunch of her friends joined her for coffee and an update – several of them also have children who made aliyah – she shared with us her frustration at not being able to communicate with her school-age grandchildren. Since both her son and daughter-in-law grew up in English speaking countries, our puzzled expressions must have been obvious. “The children only speak and understand Ivrit,” she stated, shaking her head sadly, “and even though I can read and daven lashon kodesh, I’m not fluent in actual Hebrew.”
“Don’t their parents speak English at home?” someone asked.
No, our friend answered, explaining that her son had asked his rav after the birth of their first child whether they should speak English to her. The rav told him that only Hebrew should be spoken until their kids are older and in school. Something about English could be a “foreign” influence and might negatively impact the children’s love for Eretz Yisrael. Once the kids were entrenched in limudei kodesh, it would be OK to introduce English.
But now, with the passing of years, none of the grandchildren were interested in hearing and learning English, she lamented.
We all expressed our sympathy for her frustrating situation and went on to speak about other matters, but I was deeply disturbed by what I had heard. This idealistic couple who had made aliyah had deprived their children of a golden opportunity to effortlessly pick up a second language, simply by speaking to them. And even worse, the language was English, whose mastery is desperately sought by millions of people globally, despite its innate difficulty.
The day would perhaps come when as young adults, they would want to visit relatives or go touring, or attend school or look for work in Canada or the USA (since they are citizens through their parents) and knowledge of English would have been a priceless asset. The window of opportunity was closed since toddlers are especially adept at acquiring language, but not older children.
But what I found especially disturbing was that the decision to refrain from speaking English to their children was not the parents’ decision – but their rav’s. Rather than discuss the pros and cons of teaching their kids English between themselves, or with input from their parents and others who are in a similar situation they asked their rav, and of course, his opinion became the psak.
And this is what I find so disconcerting – what I rightly or wrongly perceive as a growing trend amongst too many people to cede decision-making on personal, not halachic or hashkafic, matters to the Rav.
In the not too distant past, heimishe people would call their rav when there were halachic issues that needed resolving, like what to do about a meat skillet that a cheese omelet was cooked in. At times, the rav also was approached to be a mediator, or an impartial participant in a dispute; or to give an eitzah to help someone make an informed decision on some important issue.
But nowadays, it seems that people are asking the rav to make the decision for them – on matters both big, small and in between.
One could almost conclude that there is a new form of co-dependence, with seemingly intelligent, capable men and women asking to have their lives micro-managed by a rav, and the rav unhesitatingly obliging them.
Getting advice or some clarity about an issue from a learned spiritual leader has been a time honored tradition in our community, but what is happening is that many individuals are abdicating their responsibility to make choices for themselves and their families.
My friends tell me of their 20- and 30-something year old single children, who when a shidduch is redd will run to their rav to ask if they should go out with that particular individual – often leaving the parents out of the loop.
I am not saying that a rav shouldn’t be asked for some input, but what is happening is that he will decide for the person. Why can’t young people, who for most part are mature, educated and bright – and highly decisive at work – formulate their own conclusion?
Whatever happened to taking responsibility for your own life? Why are more and more Yidden afraid to make the hard and even the easy decisions that can impact their day to day lives, and/or their future, preferring instead to “passing the buck” and defer to someone who though very learned, can never quite “walk in their shoes?” And why would a rav want to take on the tremendous responsibility of micro managing someone’s life? Why willingly put yourself in a position that has the potential to undermine someone’s emotional and physical well being, or a family’s shalom bayis or one’s kibbud av v’aim?