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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Jewish Education’

Avigdor Lieberman Warns US Jews ‘You Are Facing a Catastrophe’

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

American Jews are facing nothing less than a demographic catastrophe, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman asserted on Tuesday in a speech at the Jerusalem meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.

He quoted recent surveys that show that there are 6.1 million Jews in Israel and slightly less than 5.5 million in the United States, not including those who claim affiliation or identity with Judaism.

Lieberman emphasized that no Jew – whether in the Diaspora or in Israel and whether Reform Conservative or Orthodox – “is illegitimate and should be placed outside of the tent,” but he added. “There is a significant rise in those who have little or no Jewish content in their lives, marry outside the faith and are not raising their children Jewish.”

He pointed out, “The intermarriage rate has reached a high of 58% for all Jews, and 71% for non-Orthodox Jews, a huge change from before 1970 when only 17% of Jews intermarried.”

Attachment to Israel is markedly higher among older Jews, with only 32% of respondents under the age of 30 sharing the idea that “caring about Israel as an essential part of what being Jewish means to them.”

Lieberman then put the cards on the table and categorically stated they are stacked against the Diaspora.

“For many years, Israeli officials have called on our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, like many of you gathered here tonight, to donate your time, energies and funds to Israel,” he said. “However, I turn to you today and say that, while we are enormously and forever grateful for your assistance, we believe it is now time to concentrate on the challenges facing your own communities, especially those emanating from the dangerous trends in the Jewish community demonstrated in the recent survey.”

Lieberman was being kind. He could just as easily have said, “You American Jews sit as armchair generals for Israel, undermine our government’s struggle by deciding how we should deal with the Palestinian Authority and the Arab world while you don’t see that the ground in the Diaspora is crumbling under your feet.”

In more diplomatic language, he said, “Above all discussions on Iran and the Palestinians, your discussions with the Israeli Government and the Jewish Agency should be focused on saving future generations.”

Lieberman stated that education is the key to fighting “assimilation, intermarriage and disengagement” but that “Jewish children are being kept from the Jewish classrooms because of the exorbitant and prohibitive costs of Jewish education in the United States.”

“On my last visit to New York, I met with a Russian Jewish family in Brooklyn,” Lieberman told his audience. “They told me that for their three children to attend good Jewish schools it would cost them around $100,000. They simply could not endure such costs. They are not alone. This situation is being replicated across the Jewish world, whether in the United States, Russia, France, Argentina, or elsewhere. If this situation persists, we will lose another six million Jews in a generation or two.”

He said that most Israeli diplomats abroad shun local Jewish schools and instead send their children to learn at international schools because the standard is higher.

“Sadly this is also reflective of the general Jewish population in places like the United States, where only around 12% of Jewish children attend Jewish schools, and when the Orthodox children are removed from the equation; it drops down to no more than a few per cent,” he added.

Lieberman proposed the creation of a global network of Jewish schools with a superior standard, and he committed the Israeli government to budget $365 million a year in matching funds for the project.

He also is looking forward to massive aliyah “The creation of an international network of Jewish schools is only the first part of my vision,” Lieberman declared. “In addition, my goal is to bring an additional 3.5 million Jews from the Diaspora in the next ten years so that the Jewish population in Israel will exceed 10 million.”

Jews are undoubtedly a major influence in American life, but the number of Jews who are Jewish “in name only” spells a dismal future for the Diaspora.

One of the most self-serving ways to deny the future is to accept the definition of a Jew as anyone who considers himself Jewish. That kind of identity is temporary, at best.

Jewish institutions and organizations maybe boasting larger numbers, but the meaning of Jewish is becoming emptier.

What Lieberman essentially told the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem Tuesday was, “Wake up. It’s later than you think.”

The Secret of Orthodoxy’s Success

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

There is a little known fact (outside of Lubavitch) about the founder of Chabad Chasidus, Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi (the author of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav – also known as the Baal HaTanya). He supporeted the Czar of Russia in opposition to Napolean. R’ Shneur Zalman reasoned that the freedom that would result via Napolean’s emancipation from the Czar would cause Jews to go Off the Derech (OTD). He wasn’t entirely wrong.

Not that an anti-Semitic dictatorship like the Czarist Russia or the Soviet Union didn’t do the same thing or worse. Most Jews in the anti Semitic/anti religious Soviet Union were unable to remain observant. But it cannot be argued that too much freedom will result in the masses opting out of observant Judaism – or even Judaism altogether.  At least that is what the recent Pew study revealed. A shocking 70% of non Orthodox Jews marry out and only 20% of their children are raised with any semblance of Jewish identity.

Why is that? There are many reasons mostly having to do with a lack of any significant Jewish education. But that is only part of the story. An Interesting observation was made by Bethamie Horowitz in a Forward article that had a positive spin on that survey. Sort of positive – that is.

She noted that marrying out is not so much a function of going OTD as it is the result of an overwhelming sense of acceptance of Jews into American society of Jews and Judaism. That should be obvious to anyone who is paying attention. Here are some examples of that:

Yiddish words are increasingly seeping into the English language.

The Holocaust is perhaps the most revered subject in the public square today. Hollywood – which is probably the most influential component of American culture – will not let us forget it. Every year there is another Holocaust movie or documentary. Which is often nominated for an Academy Award.

The number of Jews winning the Nobel Prize was immense this year it seems. I believe that 22% of all Nobel Prize winners are Jews (Whereas only .2% of the world population are Jews.)

In fact there are so many indicators of our acceptance that it would take up too much space to include them all. I recall reading about a poll recently that said that Judaism is the most respected religion in America.

Not only are Jews no longer hiding their Judaism by changing their names; not wearing a Kipa in public (if they are male); and keeping  their religious practices completely private – if at all, they are now proudly proclaiming their Jewish identity.

It is now ‘cool’ to be Jewish in this country. But it is not cool to be observant. That is a burden that a proud assimilated and not religiously educated Jew can do without. Without a religious education the freedom to assimilate can and probably will lead you astray. Why be observant, an assimilated Jew might ask? Just be a proud Jew. The next generation will ask why even bother even being Jewish at all? ‘I don’t even like bagels’ they might say. ‘I prefer lobster!’  Intermarriage? What’s the big deal? It is completely accepted now.

The ultimate demonstration of that was one of the most famous intermarriages of the modern era. Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of a President married a Jew. Her wedding highlighted many aspects of a Jewish wedding, including a Chupah and a Kesubah. Her husband even wore a Kipa under the Chupah. And the media was all over this fawning over it like it was a royal marriage. As Ms. Horowitz points out:

A cartoon from the October 1, 2012, issue of The New Yorker depicted a couple and a wedding planner with the following caption: “No, we’re not Jewish. But we think it would be fun for our reception’s theme to be ‘A Jewish wedding.’”

So is R’ Shneur Zalman right? Should we be praying for a government that will oppress us? Is oppression the only thing that will keep us Jewish? Apparently that is what the Baal HaTanya believed. The Judaism of his generation was apparently very shallow. A Jew would not remain a Jew if given the chance – and the anti Semitic Czar would never give a Jew that chance.

He preferred persecuting us. And Jews remained Jewish and for the most part observant. Why observant? The communities were tight knit and going OTD meant being ostracized. Which of course meant that an OTD Jew would have no place to go since he was still a Jew and not accepted by Russian gentiles. He was worthy only of persecution.

What a sad commentary on Judaism if the best way to keep Jews observant is by keeping them oppressed. This is what R’ Shneur Zalmen wanted and it is why (I am told) he supported the Czar.

But I have to disagree with him and the entire premise of blaming freedom for the masses going OTD. It isn’t the fault freedom. It’s the fault of lack of a proper religious Jewish education. The vast majority o those of us who were properly educated are today observant… in an era of complete freedom and total acceptance by general society.

As Noah Feldman’s article in Bloomberg  pointed out, one need only look at Lakewood to see just how well religiously educated Jews are doing. Their growth has been exponential over the last couple of generations. That Noah Feldman  – a once Orthodox but now assimilated Jew who married out pointed this out – does not detract from the reality of what he said. (Ironically he was given a religious Jewish education. But he is the exception that proves the rule. Unfortunately there are a lot of exceptions. The reason for that is beyond the scope of this post.)

So there you have it. The real fault of why the vast majority of Jews in this country are not observant lies mostly with the lack of any significant religious education for the masses of Jews who immigrated here in the early 20th century. Jewish education was practically non-existent then. Coupled with the melting pot climate of assimilation and the requirement to work on Shabbos in order to keep your job…  the children of these immigrants ran away from observance in droves. They wanted to be Americans. Not Jews. Those 90 percent of Jews who are today are not observant are their offspring. Through no fault of their own – being completely bereft of any Jewish education – they do not know the definition of Judaism and see no value in it. As can be seen from the Pew study.

The good news is that many of these Jews do not have the biases of their parents or grandparents. Their parents and grandparents hated the burdens of being observant and ran away from observance. Their children don’t know enough about it to hate it. Of course this is not true in all cases. Many of these young people do not want to give up the freedom that non observance affords them. But a surprising number of them do.  That’s where organizations like NCSY comes in.

So, all is not lost. The lesson we should take from all of this is that we should appreciate and even cherish the freedom this great country of ours affords us. And  that oppression is not the way to keep Jews in the fold.  Being Jewish because circumstances force you to be is not a prescription for Jewish continuity. Education is. And that is the secret of Orthodox success in this – the free’est country in the world.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah .

Jewish Schools Advocacy Bringing Hundreds of Millions in Public Funds

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013

By Uriel Heilman, JTA

Each year, when Frank Halper is faced with the state tax bill for his accounting business in Providence, R.I., he has a choice.

He can write a check for the amount owed by his company or, as part of a state tax credit program, he can send a check to a foundation that provides tuition scholarships to students at Providence’s two Jewish day schools. His tax bill will be credited for 90 percent of the contribution.

For the last five years or so, his firm has opted for the latter.

“We’re in favor of supporting these schools,” Halper said. “We feel Jewish education is the future of the Jewish people.”

Tax credit programs are among the growing number of ways that private Jewish day schools and yeshivas nationwide are collecting hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer dollars annually. The money is helping to defray operating costs, provide teacher training, assist students with tuition bills and enhance educational offerings.

A decade ago, few Jewish schools were aggressive about pursuing federal and state funding. But as day school tuition rates have climbed, outpacing inflation and the ability of recession-weary parents to pay, schools have become much more effective not only at accessing government money but in lobbying state government for more.

“The financial crisis of 2008 had a huge effect on tuition and affordability — I think that was really the game changer,” said Darcy Hirsh, director of day school advocacy at UJA-Federation of New York, which in October 2011 became the first federation in the country to create a position for day school advocacy. “Families that were able to afford day school are no longer able, and schools’ financial aid has grown tremendously over the last five years.”

Cincinnati Hebrew Day School students attending a rally for school choice in front of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, April 10, 2013.

Cincinnati Hebrew Day School students attending a rally for school choice in front of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, April 10, 2013. Photo: Agudath Israel

The Haredi Agudath Israel of America has long taken the lead in lobbying for government aid for Jewish schools. Two years ago it was joined by the Orthodox Union, which began hiring political directors in a half-dozen states to organize Jewish schools and lobby legislators.

In New York, the state with the largest day school population, Agudath Israel and the OU have been joined in their lobbying efforts by an unusual coalition that includes UJA, the Sephardic Community Federation, the Jewish Education Project and Catholic groups.

While media attention has focused on the alleged abuse of government funding programs by Jewish schools, suspect allocations represent just a trickle of the government funding flowing to Jewish schools.

The methods used by private schools to get government money differ from state to state and range from the complex to the Byzantine.

In Rhode Island, the tuition scholarship tax credit, which is available to families with incomes of less than the federal poverty level, is capped at $1 million statewide and open only to corporate donors. The credit is calculated at 75 percent for a single year and 90 percent if they donate for two, up to a maximum of $100,000 annually. The statewide cap is usually reached annually on July 1, the first day applications may be submitted.

In Florida, a similar program last year was capped at $229 million.

In New York, a lobbying effort two years ago resulted in legislation extending an exemption from a transportation payroll tax of 0.34 percent to private and religious schools — a seemingly small change, but one that saved an estimated $8 million per year.

“Figuring out how to do better at this is going to be one of the big keys to the whole tuition crisis,” said Rabbi Binyamin Krauss, principal of SAR Academy, a large Jewish day school in Riverdale, NY, where tuition and fees can run as high as $30,800 a year. “We’re looking to provide a quality education, Jewish and secular, and I think the solution will have to be to increase revenues. Government funding is going to need to be a major piece.”

School Choice, the Government, and You

Saturday, May 4th, 2013

As Jews, we assume a myriad of financial obligations in order to ensure that we live in accordance with the tenets of our faith. We give generously to our shuls and make charitable donations to various organizations that service the Jewish community. But one of the biggest investments we make is in our children’s future, as we enroll them in one of the many quality yeshivas our community boasts.

It is no secret that the cost of yeshiva tuition is of great concern to numerous parents in our community. Often the subject of conversation at Shabbos tables, it is always on the minds of every family with children in yeshiva.

There have been extensive discussions and debates over the years about finding ways to alleviate the financial burden borne by tuition-paying parents. Much of the conversation has focused on the role of government in the business of educating our children. It is an age-old question: Should the government play a part in assisting parents of private and religious school students? More important, is the government permitted to do so?

It is not every day that a courthouse in Middle America takes center stage in the school choice movement. But on March 26, the justices of the Indiana Supreme Court unanimously upheld the state’s progressive voucher program.

The court’s decision rebuffed a 2011 challenge to Indiana’s voucher program brought by the Indiana State Teachers Association. In the court’s decision, Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote that the voucher program did not violate the constitution because the state monies “do not directly benefit religious schools but rather directly benefit lower-income families with school children.”

This was a monumental decision, in that it provided the state of Indiana with the legal justification necessary to continue its voucher program – one of the most ambitious in the United States. Unlike voucher programs in other states that focus primarily on lower-income families, the Indiana program allows parents with an annual household income of up to $64,000 for a family of four to participate.

By providing lower- and middle-income families with the necessary funds to cover tuition costs, the Indiana voucher program enables them to enroll their children in private schools, as opposed to having to send them to public schools.

Since Indiana established its voucher program in 2011, approximately 9,000 families, most of which chose to educate their children in private schools, have benefited from the program.

The decision to uphold Indiana’s voucher program is somewhat consistent with the progress that recently has been made on the school choice issue across the nation. There are a number of states – including Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Arizona – that either presently have or are considering the implementation of tax-credit or voucher programs that benefit parents of private school students,

Closer to home, Governor Christie has been supportive of creating a voucher program in New Jersey by allocating state funds in order to enable lower-income families to send their children to private school, if they so choose. In addition, there is a bill pending before the New Jersey State Legislature that would expand the current law in order to permit special needs students to be assigned by their respective school districts to a private religious school, such as a yeshiva.

In New York, Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature recently passed a budget that includes a $14 million increase in funding for non-public schools. That includes a more than 30 percent increase in funding for the Comprehensive Attendance Policy and a boost in state funding for the Mandated Services Reimbursement.

With momentum in the school choice arena perhaps shifting a bit in favor of private school parents, now is the time for our community to become further engaged in the process.

Let us not forget for a moment that powerful teachers’ unions, which typically oppose the utilization of any state funds that would benefit non-public schools in any way, wield a tremendous amount of power in Albany and Trenton and enjoy longstanding relationships with many New York and New Jersey state legislators. Relief for private school parents is not just going to fall into our laps. In order to bring about the aid we as private school parents need and deserve, we must stand up and make our voices heard.

Dept. of Education Outreach Plan May Include Orthodox Groups

Monday, March 18th, 2013

The U.S. Department of Education outlined new efforts to bring non-profit schools into federally funded programs, an initiative that had been sought by Orthodox Jewish groups, among others.

State and local educational agencies “must ensure the equitable participation of eligible private school students and, as applicable, their teachers and parents” in such programs, the department’s Office of Innovation and Improvement said in its proposed plan for such inclusion, posted on the department’s website on March 14.

Such schools, including religious schools, must also be included in programs falling under disabilities education law, it said.

The Orthodox Union welcomed the initiative.

“Today’s announcement by the Department of Education is an important and pragmatic first step in improving the delivery of federally funded educational services to the nonpublic schools students who are entitled to receive them,” it said in a statement. “We appreciate the collaborative relationship we have had with White House and Department officials on this project, and we look forward to working with them to ensure its successful implementation.”

Torah and the Secular Jew

Monday, February 18th, 2013

I’m not sure what a secular-traditional-religious home is – but that is the way Ruth Calderon describes the home in which she was raised. Although I think that could describe a modern Orthodox observant Jew too, I think it can easily describe a non observant cultural Jew. Which is what I think Ruth Calderon is.

Dr. Calderon is one of Yesh Atid’s newly elected members of the Kenesset. By her own words she is not observant. If I understand correctly her education was that of the typical secular Israeli where Tanach (bible) is taught as literature and history and not as holy writ. And yet she has done something amazing. She has founded a secular Yeshiva. I suppose that means that her school is geared towards non observant Jews who want to learn Torah similar to the way observant Yeshiva students do.

As a youth, Dr. Calderon was not satisfied with the secular treatment of Judaism she got in Israeli schools. She knew instinctively that something was missing. Mainly the entire corpus of oral law as recorded in the Mishnah and Talmud. To put it the way she did in her inaugural speech before the Kenesset (as translated from the Hebrew in The Jewish Week):

I missed depth; I lacked words for my vocabulary; a past, epics, heroes, places, drama, stories – were missing… for me, this contained – I contained – a void. I did not know how to fill that void. The Talmud is not only the source of Halacha, it is many other things as well. It rich with culture, history, humor, ethics… and much more. She goes on to tell an inspiring story about her discovery of the richness and fullness of the Talmud and described the virtual love affair she has with it to this day. That love affair led her to pursue its study – at least on a secular level and she eventually earned a doctorate in Talmudic Literature.

Because of her love of learning, her Talmud study did not end there. She learns Daf Yomi with a Chavrusa (study partner). And as mentioned she founded a secular yeshiva. She is convinced that studying the Talmud is a vital aspect of being Jewish – even if only culturally – that is missing for the secular Israeli student… lamenting the fact that the founding fathers of Zionism abandoned its study. Again, to quote Dr. Calderon:

It is impossible to stride toward the future without knowing where we came from and who we are, without knowing, intimately and in every particular, the sublime as well as the outrageous and the ridiculous. The Torah is not the property of one movement or another. It is a gift that every one of us received, and we have all been granted the opportunity to meditate upon it a we create the realities of our lives. Nobody took the Talmud and rabbinic literature from us. We gave it away, with our own hands, when it seemed that another task was more important and urgent: building a state, raising an army, developing agriculture and industry, etc. The time has come to reappropriate what is ours, to delight in the cultural riches that wait for us, for our eyes, our imaginations, our creativity. This is a truly profound and inspiring statement. She concludes her Knesset speech with a beautiful drasha – an exposition from the Talmud (Kesubos 62a) that demonstrates the kind of ethics authentic Judaism is all about… and finally ends with a prayer that is said upon entering the Knesset:

May it be Your will, Lord our God, God of our fathers and mothers, that I leave this house as is entered it – at peace with myself and with others. May my actions benefit all residents of the State of Israel. May I work to improve the society that sent me to this chamber and cause a just peace to dwell among us and with our neighbors. May I always remember that I am a messenger of the public and that I must take care to keep my integrity and innocence intact. May I, and we, succeed in all our endeavors. How beautiful it is to see a cultural -and yet still non observant Jew – extol the virtues of Judaism as expressed by our sages. There are some people who might object to a woman citing passages from the Gemarah. They might feel that it is inappropriate for a woman to even speak in public – let alone teach Torah to men. Or even learn Torah for that matter. I am not one of those people. I am on the opposite end of that spectrum. I fully support Torah study by every Jew – man or woman – who desires to do so.

An Ignorant Student

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

It is almost as if he were responding to my post from yesterday. Rabbi Yonason Goldson who teaches at Block Yeshiva High School in St. Louis agrees that there is a problem with Jewish education. But he seems to be going in the opposite direction of what I have perceived to be the problem.

In an article on Beyond BT he laments the fact that there are so many students who have gone through “the system” ( including a year of study in Israel) at an estimated quarter million dollar expense – and yet feel that they are ignorant of Judaism (as was reported in the case of one student written about in a Jewish Action piece).

He ultimately blames this phenomenon on the “dumbing down” of Jewish education by lowering expectations. Here is how he puts it:

Unfortunately, Jewish schools and educators have not been immune to the lunacy sweeping the educational enterprise—suppression of competition, safeguarding students’ feelings at all costs, promoting self-esteem over academic achievement and dumbing down coursework to the level of the least-capable student. What has been lost is the insistence on excellence, an aggressive curriculum of core subjects (both Jewish and secular) and devotion to hard work.

It is quite surprising to see that kind of evaluation of Jewish education in light of so many educators who have published articles lamenting just the opposite: That there is too much emphasis on academic achievement, too aggressive a curriculum, and too much hard work.

And yet I think I understand where he is coming from. So how can there be such a contradiction? How can we on the one hand be overly aggressive and competitive to the point of allowing less intelligent or motivated kids to fall through the cracks and become at great risk for going OTD or worse? And on the other hand dumbing down education to the lowest common denominator?

I think it depends on the school and the environment. The OTD problems that occur because of the pressure to excel definitely exists in both the Charedi world and the Modern Orthodox (MO) world.

It is a rather well known phenomenon that Charedi schools are becoming ever more selective in who they accept leaving out a great many students who are relatively bright but simply do not measure up to the highly competitive standards of the school. And these schools are constantly pushing the envelope of Torah learning in an effort to “outgun” the competitions as the top school in Limudei Kodesh (which consists almost exclusively of Talmud study).

The same is true of many MO schools where the push for excellence in secular studies puts tremendous pressure on students – many of whom simply can’t hack the pressure. And yet parents push their kids to the limit – and beyond – so that they will qualify for entry into a prestigious ivy league school or the like.

There is no dumbing down in these schools. Just a lot of pressure.

But I understand that there are parents who do not want their kids to be so pressured. I cannot count the number of times I have heard a parent complain about their child’s long day in a Yeshiva High School… saying it is too much for them… that they should be given a little more free time – perhaps eliminating night seder so they can relax and be more refreshed for the next day.

School administrators are not deaf. Especially in smaller towns. If the majority of parents want a lighter day and/or curriculum, they will respond to them. Or close.

Rabbi Goldson must be experiencing this kind of school. Cities with relatively small Orthodox populations do not have the kind of pressure cities like New York and Lakewood have. The parent in St. Louis does not feel the need to compete with or outdo the “the school down the block.” Because there is no school down the block.

But I don’t know that any of these paradigms sufficiently explain why the student described above felt he was ignorant of Judaism. While I agree that dumbing down education is a bad move and can contribute to that student’s feelings. I don’t think that explains it.

Making the curriculum harder and more competitive without examining what the actual curriculum just means that a Charedi school for example will increase the amount of time their students will study Gemarah.

In the MO school it might mean increasing the secular curriculum and/or workload. In my view both scenarios will not give the student in question any better insight into his Judaism. It isn’t only how hard one studies, butwhatone studies.

What needs to be done in both cases is to broaden the curriculum to include the study of Judaism itself, not just Gemarah or secular studies. Yeshivos need to introduce studies like Jewish philosophy, Jewish history and Jewish ethics. Mussar, Navi, Machshava, and Hashkafa, are sorely understudied in most institutions if they are studied at all. There ought to be some time taken off from Gemarah study in Charedi schools and from secular studies in MO schools to make room for these very important parts of Judaism.

This is what is lacking most in the academic life of that ‘ignorant’ student. I doubt that it had as much to do with his curriculum being dumbed down as it does by what his lack of a fuller Jewish curriculum. I doubt for example that he did not spend his year in Israel in intensives study. But it was probably exclusively Gemarah if his experience was typical. So he may end up knowing a lot about the amount of damages one must pay if his ox gores another ox. Or how to return lost objects to their owners. But when it comes to the meaning of Judaism he will be the one who is lost.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

There’s Still Something Wrong with this Picture

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

There is a new Charedi girls’ high school that has made a bold move to advance the education of Charedi girls in Israel. According to an article in Ha’aretz (republished at Failed Messiah) Darkei Sarah requires their students to take the standardized matriculation exams that all Israeli secular and National Religious high school students take in order to graduate.

While this doesn’t sound like much to those of us in America where the majority of even Charedi high schools have a relatively decent general studies department – it is nonetheless a step forward for Charedi Israel. Most Charedi girls’ high schools do not have those standards. Although they do teach a variety of secular subjects they have purposely avoided teaching the girls ‘too much’ so as to avoid the the “Michshol” (stumbling block) of university. They consider much of the subject matter taught there at best inappropriate and the environment to be anti Torah.

But at least the girls get some secular education. Charedi high school boys have none! They spend every educational minute on Torah – mostly Gemarah. Secular studies have little value to them. It is considered Bitul Torah (a waste of the precious “Torah learning” time) to study secular subjects.

Charedim may not agree with the Torah U’Mada principle that secular studies have intrinsic value – but what about the men preparing for Parnassa – earning a living?

Not necessary, they say. Their wives will be doing that. That’s why the girls have any secular education at all. So that they can eventually support their husbands! But even for the girls, they must not be taught too much lest they end up in college.

I guess necessity is the mother of change. Charedi schools like Darkei Sarah now realize that the Charedi family can no longer survive on the kinds of menial jobs women can get without a decent education. Here is how Sima Valess, the principal of Darkei Sarah put it:

“These girls will one day support their families [while their husbands study Torah and Talmud]…”

But in the same breath she adds:

“…in a way that could not possibly suggest that they will follow independent careers.”

As the article points out she had to add that they have not departed from the Charedi Hashkafos of not making career women out of Kollel wives.

I guess she wants to have her cake – and eat it too. I’m not sure what she means by a career. But these new standards are definitely designed to give Charedi families a better means of support. And that usually means a career in one of the fields studied at a university level.

I don’t know whether this will catch on in other schools. My guess is that it won’t. But there does seem to be some basic common sense among a few Charedim who can see the handwriting on their wall of increasing poverty… at least enough to enroll their daughters in that school.

Is the view of educating women so they can support their “Torah learning” husbands the right one for Judaism? I don’t think so. One of the most basic ideas expressed in both the written and oral law is the idea of a man earning a living: B’Zeyas Apecha Tochel Lechem – By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread – God tells Adam.

This theme is repeated throughout Shas. Ein Kemeach Ein Torah; Yaffa Torah im Derech Eretz. The Mishna in Avos tells us that if there is no income the end result will be Bitul Torah anyway. It is also obvious from the Gemarah the sages worked and supported their families. This too is the case with the Rishonim. Two of the greatest – the Rambam and the Ramban – were both doctors. That is how they supported themselves. There is no evidence that either of their wives worked.

So how did we get to the current Charedi paradigm of men not working at all? The idea stems from another concept mentioned in Shas: Talmud Torah K’Neged Kulam . Torah study is the most important Mitzvah one can do. All energies should therefore be put towards that goal. If one can find a way to learn full time, he must do so.

What about people of the past like the Rambam? Why not follow his example? As I recall, Rav Moshe Feinstein mentioned the reason for that. He says something along the lines that we have so much Torah to learn today as a result of the volumes written on Torah subjects throughout history – that even if we devoted our entire lives to it – every waking moment – we would still not be able to fully cover all of it. In our day it would therefore be impossible to learn all of the Torah properly – certainly if we had to put in a full day’s work. Says Rav Moshe – the Rambam’s example can therefore no longer be followed.

I am not one to argue with Rav Moshe. But I still have to ask, how can we ignore our own history? How can we just reject the values the Torah itself posits? And the example the sages and the Rishonom set for us? On the other hand, how can we ignore the rationale Rav Moshe gave us for putting all else aside – including Parnassa –so that we can learn as much as possible?

For me the answer is quite simple. Not everyone is capable of being “Rav Moshe.” One needs not only the high intelligence he had, but his determination and diligence. There not too many people who can fill that bill. For those who can become great in Torah knowledge, yes they should spend their full time in learning Torah.

Whether they should learn Mada or not is a separate issue. But even for those who say it isn’t necessary, they should admit that not every person who sits in front of a Gemarah will end up being a Rav Moshe – or even anything close to that. They will never cover all the Torah that Rav Moshe said we need to know. At best they will only scratch the surface.

That does not free people from trying. But in my view the majority of people who are not cut out for it should follow the directives of the Torah SheB’Ksav and Torah SheBal Peh… and get a job! And then try and learn Torah by establishing fixed times for it. What about producing Torah scholars lie Rav Moshe? The cream will rise to the top. Those who have the potential for greatness in Torah will do so. And they should be supported. A lot better than they are supported now. The rest should “by the sweat of their brow – eat bread”!

But that is not the current Charedi paradigm in Israel. There is no concept of preparing for a job. No matter how ill suited an individual is for the task of dedicating their lives to full time Torah study.

That is in fact increasingly becoming the paradigm in America as well. All Charedi men are encouraged to learn full time here too. Secular studies are discouraged – and even disparaged – becoming increasingly marginalized even in those Yeshivos that have them.

The burden of supporting a family has shifted to women. B’Zeyas Apecha Tochel Lechem has been transferred to them!

I’m glad that at least in one Charedi school women are being better educated. Maybe this trend will catch on. Who knows…? But that does not change what I see is an Olam HaHafuch – a world turned upside down from what the Torah itself intended. A world that existed from the beginning of time until the post Holocaust 20th century.

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