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April 17, 2014 / 17 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Marvin Schick’

The Alternate World Of Jewish Education

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

A major sociological characteristic and consequence of modernity is the tendency for people to join together in associations that express a common goal or interest or a shared experience. The United States has been a nation of joiners from day one and perhaps even before independence was declared. Alexis de Tocqueville described this tendency in Democracy in America, the epic prophetic work published a century and three-quarters ago.

The impulse to join is dynamic, meaning that the instinct feeds on itself, so that the number of organizations continues to grow. This instinct is further fed by the extraordinary complexity of our society and the expanded involvement by government into nearly all aspects of contemporary life. More government means more organizations that attempt to influence what governments do. By now, we have hundreds of thousands of organizations, nearly all of them identified as nonprofit, a description that doubtlessly defines their status under the tax code but often does not appropriately describe how these entities function, as in many instances well-paid officials with matching benefits and expense accounts go about their self-important work.

We Jews have known for a long while that what happens outside of our four cubits in the societies where we dwell powerfully affects how we conduct our lives, the upshot being that we are no slouches at organization building. To the contrary, we seem to outdo everyone else, so that there may be more Jewish organizations in the U.S. than there are for any combination of several or more other major ethnic groups.

Years ago I posited that while there are fewer Jews on American soil when the sun goes down each day than there were when the sun rose, each day when the sun sets there are more Jewish organizations than there were when the day began.

The situation hasn’t improved, although it is my impression that the severe recession we have experienced since 2008 has put a damper on organization building. In fact, some nonprofits have closed their doors. Even so, it’s a good bet that the long list of American Jewish organizations includes more than a few nonprofits that have come into being during the past half-decade.

Many of our organizations focus on chesed activities, helping the poor or those who are otherwise needy. They rely mainly or entirely on voluntary work and they deserve our gratitude and support. These organizations are in sharp contrast to the mountain of organizations with high-salaried executives who have a remarkable penchant for travel, conferencing and sundry activities that invariably take place in luxurious settings and do not strike me as being invested with much altruism. They are, for sure, invested with strong doses of public relations.

I shall continue to speak out against this phenomenon as long as God grants me the ability to do so, although I recognize that the winds continue to blow strongly in the other direction and that our chosen people will continue to choose to create additional organizations. They are our false gods.

* * * * *

There are, inevitably, organizations whose mission involves Jewish education. Whatever we may think of their particular orientation, as, for example, whether they promote a diluted brand of what they generously refer to as Jewish education, a case can be made that they are functional. They have work to do, a role to play in curriculum development and the training and recruitment of faculty, as well as much else that directly relates to what occurs inside schools and classrooms.

Just the same, all organizations tend to have a life of their own and even with a legitimate sense of mission there are always the seeds of self-promotion and self-aggrandizement. As time goes on, often the primary mission of a group is relegated to the background. Keeping the organization in business, including marketing and fundraising, becomes the activity that receives the greatest attention and a large share of the available resources. This is a slow process that may reach maturity before the organization or people associated with it recognize what has happened. By then it is too late.

From my observation point, the Jewish day school world long avoided this tendency, perhaps because day schools have not been much favored in our community and funding was scarcely available for schools and certainly not for organizational activities. There were just a handful of Jewish educational organizations, apart from the boards of education attached to local Federations, and the organizations that existed had plenty on their plate as they attempted to assist the schools with which they were associated. This was evident in the important work of the National Society of Hebrew Day Schools – Torah Umesorah, by far the largest day school organization.

Our Teachers Deserve Unbounded Admiration

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

It often seems that it’s always open season on teachers, that they are available for target practice in the form of harsh criticism or verbal and written abuse from current parents, former parents, current students, former students, administrators, lay leaders and, in the case of public education, public officials and the media.

This is unfair and painful because relative to most other professionals, even the best-paid teachers are not well paid. In fact, even by the standard of the teaching profession, few are well paid. Many more – and certainly in Jewish day schools and yeshivas – earn miserly salaries that often do not arrive on the scheduled pay date.

Of late, and especially in public education, there has been a disturbing escalation in the criticism of teachers. It hasn’t helped that severe budgetary constraints in cities and states have resulted in cutbacks, with benefits provided to faculty and staff being a good place to locate savings.

Admittedly, retirement at a relatively young age, hefty pension benefits that have become more onerous to government because of extended longevity, and generous medical coverage at a time when premiums have soared have contributed significantly to the feeling that there have been excesses – and that fiscal prudence dictates that existing arrangements must be challenged and altered.

There is now in public education a confrontational atmosphere, with teachers and unions seeking to protect what they have secured while others who claim their focus is on the bottom line going after not only what may have been excesses but also the dedication and competence of those who teach, as well as their right to organize.

Although unions are far from blameless, it merits noting they are not created to be instrumentalities of disinterestedness. Rather, like thousands of other organizations and groups, their mission is to secure what they can for those whom they represent. Inevitably, this results in a measure of overreaching in contract demands and, at times, in an attitude of protectiveness toward those who do not belong in a classroom.

We can hope that when the economic climate improves and public coffers are in better shape, the animosity that has arisen in recent years will be tempered. It is already a near certainty that many teachers who are now in the classroom will not get all the benefits they have come to expect. It’s also certain that there will be continued criticism of teachers, the focus being on what is achieved or not achieved in classrooms and not on the financial bottom line.

Insufficient attention is given to the sociological baggage brought into classrooms that affects educational outcomes. These are the negatives and even pathologies that undermine what schools and teachers can achieve – widespread conditions such as parental strife and family dysfunction, behavioral and emotional problems, sexual promiscuity, drugs, the impact of the street and of much of what is referred to as popular culture, including the Internet.

The last mentioned refers not to online teaching and the promise that it may or may not hold to add to or improve on the classroom experience, but rather the addictive nature of the Internet and its capacity to divert young people, as well as adults, away from their responsibilities.

Teachers and educators are also social workers and while some are miracle workers as they achieve wonders with students in their charge, it is more than a stretch to expect that teachers will accomplish miracles. Unfortunately, that is what is increasingly expected of faculty, as they are judged and evaluated by how students in their classrooms improve on test scores and on other standardized measurements, irrespective of the reality that children are not standardized and that too many have bad things happening in their lives.

This isn’t meant to excuse poor teachers. There are some who never should have been placed in a classroom and there are some who once had what is needed to teach effectively and either no longer have the requisite fire in their belly or for other reasons are not doing a good job. Those who have been hired but should not have been ought not be retained and that is the responsibility of principals and administrators. For those who have given years of good service, soft and empathetic means should be utilized to move them toward retirement.

A Question Of Identity

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

My first visit to Israel in the summer of 1959 coincided to an extent with the trip by Rabbi Aharon Kotler, the great rosh yeshiva of Lakewood, who came to give shiurim at Yeshiva Eitz Chaim in Jerusalem and to campaign for Agudath Israel in the Knesset elections, as he had done previously in the decade.

My relationship with Rav Aharon spanned nearly all of the 1950s, arising from my involvement in his extraordinary effort from a distance of 6,000 miles away to create and then sustain the network of elementary school yeshivas called Chinuch Atzmai or the independent Torah Schools for Israel.

Although family members with whom I spent much time during that trip were Mizrachi or Religious Zionist in orientation, I identified with Agudah. Chinuch Atzmai had come into being when Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion decided in 1951 to consolidate the four separate party-affiliated educational systems established during the British Mandatory period into a state or mamlachti system, with a religious track for families who wanted something of a religious education for their children.

It was apparent from the outset that the state religious schools were inadequate in their religious ambience and curriculum and ineffective in transmitting our glorious heritage. That is why Rav Aharon acted. The acquiescence of Mizrachi to a severely watered-down form of religious instruction was a costly mistake for it and Israeli society, as in the aggregate these schools contributed to religious abandonment.

A greater mistake occurred in 1953 when Ben-Gurion – over the fierce opposition of Torah leaders who understood the consequences of such a policy – insisted on drafting girls into the Israeli army after they completed high school. During the controversy that erupted, which included a large demonstration outside the Israeli Consulate in Manhattan, the Chazon Ish and then Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, Rav Aharon’s father-in-law, died.

Ben-Gurion ultimately backed down a bit, allowing religious girls to choose forms of national service, an arrangement that also was opposed by Torah leaders.

Despite efforts to convince Mizrachi leaders to reject the women’s draft, they – as had occurred on other occasions – subordinated the “religious” in their identity to secular Zionism. Mizrachi paid an enormous price for its refusal to fight for halachic principles. Israel has paid an even greater price. There is unchallenged evidence about the effect of the women’s draft on the moral and religious character of the state.

* * * * *

 

As I traveled around Israel in 1959 and came into contact with North African Jews who told me of Jewish Agency and government programs that weaned children away from Judaism, my antipathy toward those in the dati or Religious Zionist sector who had sacrificed religion grew.

But my interaction with Rav Aharon taught me that it was at once possible to reject Religious Zionism and work for the communal good with persons of that outlook.

By yeshiva-world standards, Chinuch Atzmai schools were – and many still are – relatively weak institutions, if only because their hours were severely limited. By and large, they attracted students from homes more modern than the yeshiva world, as parents in that sector invariably sent their children to chassidic or otherwise more fervently Orthodox schools. Yet Rav Aharon, exhausted as he was with a multitude of communal responsibilities, strove to direct and support these schools.

At Rav Aharon’s request – indeed, insistence – the main speaker at the first Chinuch Atzmai dinner was Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who by then was actively engaged in Mizrachi. Rabbi Soloveitchik had helped Chinuch Atzmai in its early years. His speech was memorable, notably in his extraordinary praise of Rabbi Kotler.

* * * * *

 

There is something else about the 1959 trip that influenced my approach to communal activity, not immediately but after the passage of some time. One Shabbos I was with Rav Aharon for the meals at what had been the home of Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer and was now the home of his other son-in-law, Rabbi Ben-Menachem, a member of the Supreme Rabbinical Court. During the Shabbos lunch, a messenger came to tell Rabbi Ben-Menachem that Rabbi Isaac Herzog, the Ashkenazic chief rabbi, had died and there would be a meeting shortly after Shabbos to set the details of the funeral.

Rav Aharon spoke highly of Rabbi Herzog, saying he was a Torah scholar who had done much to assist European Jews during the Holocaust. This evoked a protest from Rabbi Yaakov Schiff, Rav Aharon’s outstanding American student who had come to Israel to be married to the daughter of the Brisker Rav, who was then critically ill. Rabbi Schiff spoke of Rabbi Herzog’s role in Mizrachi, his refusal to oppose the draft of young women, and other matters.

Rav Aharon would not yield, saying, “My father-in-law eulogized Rabbi Kook. I can eulogize Rabbi Herzog.” This hesped or eulogy has been published and it is evident that Rav Aharon spoke with great feeling.

* * * * *

 

After Rav Aharon died in 1962, I set out to follow what I had learned from him, in fulfillment of his last words to me about two weeks before he passed away, when he asked me to devote my life to assisting Torah education. This meant that without any lessening of my yeshiva-world identity, I would work with others in Orthodox life to fulfill that mission.

In 1965, COLPA (the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs) was established to represent religious Jewry on legal and legislative matters. I became its first president. Our membership, which consisted primarily of young Orthodox lawyers, encompassed the spectrum of Orthodox life, from haredi to Modern Orthodox.

That was a time when intra-Orthodox conflict was intense over membership in the Synagogue Council together with Conservative and Reform rabbis and other issues. COLPA had remarkable success in court and in legislative bodies. This is in contrast to today’s situation where, though the barriers to intra-Orthodox cooperation have been removed or reduced, there is in fact little cooperation. In the recent Supreme Court case regarding a conservative Christian student group at Hastings Law School in California, Agudath Israel, the Orthodox Union and Young Israel each submitted separate briefs. Is it any wonder why, despite our growth, our legal and legislative achievements have been puny when compared with what was accomplished decades ago when American Orthodoxy was able to unite on public-affairs matters?

During the 1960s, as well, I was active in Agudath Israel, as I had been since my teens, and also in the Orthodox Union, representing it on public issues. This dual commitment was and remains unique and reflected my determination to work for the entire community. When, however, Rabbi Samson R. Weiss, the Orthodox Union’s immensely gifted executive vice president, asked me to become an officer, I demurred, saying that while I would work voluntarily for the organization, an officer must take responsibility for the group’s policies and I could not take responsibility for Synagogue Council membership.

In 1973, I became president on a voluntary basis of Rabbi Jacob Joseph School, where I had been a student, a position I continue to hold. This resulted in a shift in focus. RJJ was in a state of collapse. It would take a huge effort to reverse its fortunes. For that reason and one or two others, I withdrew from nominal organizational activity, a decision that assuredly did not diminish my communal activity. To the contrary, from then until this day, that is my primary focus. (There are persons who do not accept the notion of a fully active communal life outside of major organizational involvement.)

RJJ has evolved into another manifestation of my commitment to Orthodox unity, even as the prevailing tendency is to categorize and separate religious Jews into discreet and relatively small segments of Orthodox life, such as Modern Orthodox and yeshiva world. Many cannot accept that wherever a person may stand in his personal orientation, there remains the responsibility and the opportunity to work for the entire community.

There are now four RJJ schools. Two of them are Centrist Orthodox institutions, one is firmly in the yeshiva world and the fourth is a Modern Orthodox day school. Each has a distinct student body, for which the particular school meets the needs of the families who send their children there. There has never been an arrangement like this, and for obvious reasons. It is difficult to integrate separate and different educational entities into a cohesive institution. Essentially, the schools operate separately, even as they embody and fulfill my ideal of transcommunal responsibility.

* * * * *

 

For all of the disparate activities, I continue to identify with the yeshiva world, as I have for sixty years, ever since joining Zeirei Agudath Israel in 1950. While this identification has not changed, our religious life has changed substantially over time and, in turn, this has had an impact on what it means to be in the yeshiva world.

In my youth, “yeshiva world” meant for the most part going to one of the major yeshivas in New York and then on to college, usually in the evening, and perhaps then to graduate or professional school. Lakewood and kollel were for relatively few. A major change has occurred in the far greater valuation given to Torah study, which is certainly welcome. Other changes have occurred as a reaction against modernity, against societal standards and practices that are hostile to Torah living.

In a sense, my yeshiva world identity is more attitudinal than behavioral. I continue to feel close to this spiritual home, although younger persons who identify with this same home are in key ways different – and probably better – in reflecting the values that are associated with the yeshiva world.

While identity may be static, what constitutes identity shifts over time, which is true of most or perhaps all social statuses, especially in the contemporary period when the world is spinning faster than ever and social change comes quickly.

Identity is also affected by context, by the geographic home in which it finds expression. What was regarded as rigid Hirschean Orthodoxy in early 20th century Germany was a far cry from the Orthodoxy of Eastern European shtetls. Local culture, economic conditions, values, mores, political systems and even the climate contribute to determining how identity is expressed in particular places. In political life, what is conservative in one setting may differ radically from what is regarded as conservative elsewhere. So it is with religious identity.

We need not look far to appreciate the geographic impact on Orthodox identity. Being in the yeshiva world in Lakewood is different from being in the yeshiva world elsewhere in this country – of course not in all or even most respects, but in key indicators such as the tolerance of secular studies in yeshivas.

Several years ago, Lakewood rabbinic leaders forbade attendance at local baseball games. A visit to the ballpark when the Yankees or Mets are playing will show a different picture. Touro College operates in Brooklyn and educates a large number of yeshiva world youth. It could not operate in Monsey and certainly not in Lakewood.

The divide within Orthodoxy is far greater in Israel. This is understandable because unlike the U.S., where issues that may generate conflict – such as relations with the non-Orthodox – are tangential in daily religious life, in Israel they are from a religious standpoint existential.

These issues include military exemption for yeshiva students, military service for women, government supervision of schools, abortion, autopsies, conversion and other matters. More broadly, they concern the fundamental issue of participation in Israeli society. Israeli issues, accordingly, are of greater urgency and pack a far greater emotional punch. There is also greater division within families and this may be why it is a frequent experience at Israeli weddings to see greater religious/secular heterogeneity than what we commonly see at simchas on these shores.

In the aggregate, Israeli haredim “out-haredi” those who are designated as haredim in the United States. This is evident in the lower level of tolerance for secular studies in Israeli yeshivas, as well as in dress, work patterns, openness to the general culture and a host of attitudes. Some of this arises from socio-economic factors, namely a far higher degree of haredi poverty in Israel. Should Israeli haredim become middle class, there likely will be a change in lifestyle and in attitude and behavior. However, the growing tendency of Israeli haredim to live entirely apart in cities that are exclusively haredi and exert strong communal pressure against even minor deviation from required standards inexorably pulls religious Jews living in these places away from greater engagement in the larger society.

* * * * *

 

Though by affiliation and attitude I continue to identify strongly with the yeshiva world, when in Israel the emotional pull is away from this orientation toward greater affinity with those who may be referred to as haredi-leaning dati leumi. Some of this may have to do with being located in Rechavia, my Israeli friends, and the work I do.

There are deeper emotional and intellectual roots. I am constantly moved by the sincerity of these Israelis, by their tznius, chesed, modest living and devotion to Torah and mitzvos. Few pursue riches; most strike me as engaged in activities that benefit other Jews and Israel. It is hard not to admire the dedication and deep religiosity they have achieved without adopting a nominal haredi lifestyle. They live a life of mitzvos and a willingness to resist the allures of modernity, something that was not true of earlier Religious Zionism.

As a parallel to this increasing affinity with those who are haredi leumi, there is a slight moving away from identification in Israel with the nominal haredi world.

I admire the yeshiva world in Israel, notably the extraordinary commitment to Torah study and the sacrifices it brings. I respect the Israeli Torah leaders, who are also, in a way, America’s Torah leaders, for their humility and modesty and for their sanctity. Yet there are aspects of haredi life that are off-putting, such things as exclusionary schools and exclusionary communities.

What troubles me especially is that what I regard as unwelcome in Israeli haredi life is dynamic, which is to say the practices I regard as questionable are likely to become even more extreme.

This is also to say that my identity with this part of Orthodoxy may become more fragile.

Dr. Marvin Schick is president of the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School.

We Should Not Be Surprised

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

If I am granted the years and strength, in three years (and during my eightieth year) I will conduct another census of Jewish day schools in the United States, following up on my previous research conducted at five-year intervals.

While of course the precise data are not yet known, much of what will be learned is already apparent. Enrollment from kindergarten through grade twelve will grow by about ten percent over the 2008-09 statistic, so that there will be about 250,000 day school students, an impressive figure when we reflect on the modest number of dayschoolers just several decades ago. There is a lot to be proud of.

Unfortunately, the overall numbers do not tell the entire story. The record is mixed. Nearly all the enrollment growth – in fact, all the growth – will be in the two haredi sectors, comprising yeshiva world and chassidic schools, and this growth will entirely be the result of high haredi fertility. Elsewhere in the day-school world, the story is one of stagnation and – what may be surprising to many – enrollment decline in many schools, including in quite a few Orthodox institutions.

Non-Orthodox schools are losing students, with the Solomon Schechters (Conservative) leading the way down. By 2013, they shall have lost at least one third of the nearly 18,000 students enrolled a decade earlier, reflecting in large measure the remarkable downward spiral of the Conservative movement. There are some Orthodox who welcome this development. I do not because I know these schools once provided many recruits for the Orthodox Union’s National Conference of Synagogue Youth.

When a Solomon Schechter school closes, often there is no substitute day school for its students. The reality is that children from even more traditional Conservative homes are increasingly being enrolled in public schools. High tuition, in addition to the atrophying of Conservatism, is taking an ever-expanding toll.

For years there was enrollment growth in Community day schools, the so-called trans-denominational institutions that invariably are light on Judaics. The trend is now being reversed, as Community schools are reporting enrollment decline and some have closed. Here, too, high tuition is part of the explanation and this has produced a spreading climate of opinion in what once may have been regarded as day school families that this form of education is not mandatory.

Although still tiny in numbers, Hebrew-language charter schools are beginning to have an impact. This is certain to expand despite the prospect that severe budgetary problems confronting nearly all of the states will restrain the willingness of public officials to authorize additional charters. The Jess Schwartz Jewish Community Day School in Phoenix, which less than a year ago merged with another Community school and now enrolls about 200 students, has just applied for charter status.

Outside of New York and New Jersey, nearly half of all U.S. day school students are in non-Orthodox schools, a statistic that may seem surprising in view of significant pockets of Orthodox enrollment in Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Dallas and Atlanta. The sociological reality is that younger Orthodox families are gravitating to the New York metropolitan area.

With the limited exception of Chabad schools, themselves now encountering severe financial stress, there are few Orthodox schools with anything close to a kiruv or outreach mission or orientation. There are reasons for this, some perhaps acceptable, others not.

The day school movement which once was imbued with a spirit of kiruv has substantially shed that commitment and the results are not welcome. This development reflects the strange mindset in nearly all of Orthodox life that kiruv and chinuch are distinct obligations and activities and that it is possible to have a viable kiruv movement without a strong focus on the education of children. This attitude is sharply in contrast to what occurs in Israel where under the guidance of Torah leaders enormous energy and resources are poured into basic Torah education aimed at ensuring a meaningful religious future for children from marginal families.

There is no justification for the tragic division between kiruv and chinuch, a division that explains why for all the public relations efforts, kiruv is in the doldrums. It does not have to be this way, witness the major exception in all of North America: Dallas, where an extraordinary Torah community has emerged because of the organic relationship between outreach and basic Torah education.

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, April 19th, 2006

Applauds Editorial

I heartily applaud your April 7 editorial – “Warm and Fuzzy ‘Halacha’” – that called attention to the growing phenomenon of Jews, including some so-called Modern Orthodox Jews, seeking to change halacha to suit their own politically correct inclinations.

I was not really surprised to learn that the Conservative movement is poised to legitimize homosexuality in order to “get with the times” on “equal rights” issues. I suppose it matters little to them that our Torah is unequivocal on this point. After all, the Torah was written a long, long time ago, and things and people are different today. The Ribbono Shel Olam really doesn’t understand human nature after all – He needs a bunch of Jewish Theological Seminary grads to set Him straight.

The matter of Yeshiva Chovevei Torah’s astonishing and unprecedented invitation to cardinals of the Catholic Church to learn Torah with its students is something more ominous, since YCT was organized – and still bills itself – as an Orthodox center of Torah learning. Is this stirring and heartwarming gesture to brotherhood really the halachic way? Can one legitimately decide to unilaterally cast off the teachings of our greatest sages? Are any of our hallowed traditions safe in Rabbi Avi Weiss’s world?

Arthur Wasserman
(Via E-Mail)
 
 
Deplores Editorial
  
What a shock that there are Neanderthals in the Orthodox community who would be opposed to Rabbi Avi Weiss’s innovations and promotion of what he calls Open Orthodoxy. (Excuse the facetiousness – I’m unfortunately well aware that we have more than our share of primitivists in the frum olam.)
 
There are many of us who are fully observant Jews and very happy with the changes Rabbi Weiss and other forward-looking thinkers are introducing. Your harping on his not having approval from great Torah scholars is way off the mark. Rabbi Weiss has distinguished himself in his activism on behalf of the Jewish people and I am very comfortable putting my trust in someone like him.
 
We need more religious leaders like Rabbi Weiss and fewer of the sort who make Orthodoxy look silly or worse by spreading hysteria over Indian hair in wigs or microscopic creepy crawlers in water and lettuce.
 
David W. Hirsch
Ramat Gan, Israel
 
 
LukewarmOn Editorial

I have mixed feelings about your editorial in which you decry a “warm and fuzzy” approach to halacha. Why is it that every time people come up with ways to improve the lives of Jews, they get attacked? Don’t you think it logical that cultivating ties with powerful leaders of the Catholic Church will make for better relations with the Church and therefore benefit the Jewish people as a whole?

On the other hand, I, like you, have a problem with changing the rules regarding homosexuals, which the Conservative movement seems about to do. Rabbi Weiss’s project, however, is very different in my view, and you shouldn’t have lumped it together with the gay issue.

Chava Elgarten
New York, NY
 

A View From The Inside

The Conservative movement’s decision to relax procedural requirements for the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards to issue a takanah, a major revision of Jewish law, was not strictly motivated by a desire to change the status quo regarding the status of gays and lesbians. I was personally closely involved in the effort to change these procedural requirements.

There are 25 voting members, all rabbis, of the CJLS. Longstanding policy was that any teshuvah that received 6 votes in support – less than 25% – was a valid position of the committee. As a pluralistic movement, Conservative Judaism is comfortable with having a plurality of opinions that contradict one another. We have a teshuvah that says it is OK to drive to shul on Shabbos; we also have a teshuvah that says it is not permissible to drive to shul or anywhere else on Shabbos unless it’s a case of pikuach nefesh. Each individual rabbi chooses which view to follow.

Some time ago, the Law Committee instituted a requirement that a teshuvah that was a takanah – that was rabbinic legislation, in effect, overturning something in the Torah – would require a majority of the committee’s approval, not just 6 votes. The Rabbinical Assembly’s Executive Council imposed on the Law Committee a procedure that said a takanah should be approved by 80% of the committee – 20 votes. Meaning there could be no “minority opinion” against a takanah.

Many people in the movement – including many rabbis who oppose the ordination of gays and lesbians – felt that the 80% rule was inappropriate and unprecedented. The disputes between Hillel and Shammai were settled by a majority. Hillel did not need an 80% vote to institute the prozbul.

Many of us feel that, no matter how difficult the issue, if a majority was good enough for chazal, a majority should be good enough for us. The collected wisdom at the Rabbinical Assembly’s convention affirmed that a simple majority is sufficient to approve a takanah, and that is the procedure now in place.

It is not clear, in fact, whether this change in procedure will have any impact at all on the outcome of the upcoming discussions of the Law Committee on the gay/lesbian issue. It is quite possible that any teshuvah labeled a takanah on that subject would not have the requisite 13 votes.

Rabbi Barry Leff
Toledo, OH

 
Praise And Criticism For Dr.  Schick

Objectionable Terminology?

Re “He Who Destroys a Single Jewish Life”, front-page essay, March 31:

The Jewish community owes a huge yasher koach to Dr. Marvin Schick for the work he had done on behalf of Klal Yisrael over the past forty years. Many of our mosdos today reap the benefits of his efforts.

As the founder and director of the only independent yeshiva dedicated to helping boys who need a little more attention, I must tell you that we have to be very careful with the term “at risk.” I believe it is being dangerously overused. True, it goes a long way in fund-raising, but otherwise it’s counterproductive.

We have been and continue to be very successful with our bochurim. Our children are proud to be regular guys in a regular cheder. We never loosely use the term “at risk.” It only means we have to struggle more to meet our obligations. It’s worth the cost. Our students are the happiest bunch of kids you’ll find.

Yes, there are many yeshiva boys who are “at risk” – but only because our current chinuch system has failed them. It is only of late that yeshivas and national Jewish organizations are addressing the reality that not all youngsters are created equal. They are finally teaching “chinuch lana’ar al pi darko.”

So let us do all we can for these precious children, but without the alarming words “at risk.”

Rabbi Joseph Salamon
Director
Yeshiva Ohr Torah

 
Internet’s Dangers

Although Dr. Schick is correct when writing about tuition problems in our community, I feel he unfairly attacked the Lakewood community in his most recent article.

Dr. Schick wrote: “I am appalled by the announcement by Lakewood yeshivas and Beth Jacobs that all children in homes that are Internet-accessible and have not received the requisite approvals from local rabbis will be expelled.”

Dr. Schick apparently fails to understand the dangers inherent in the permissiveness and unbridled decadence which characterizes many domains of the media – especially the Internet. (The problem is not the technology, which could be used for good things, but the evil ways in which that technology is used.)

People are, to say the least, justifiably concerned. Responsible educators have a duty, therefore, to remove such evil from their schools and communities. Educators who attempt to monitor the Internet and media to protect their children should be commended. Although I am not a member of the Lakewood community, I do respect the rabbis and educators who have the good sense to promote high standards of virtue.

Chaim Silver
(Via E-Mail)
 
 
Lakewood Hashkafa

The Lakewood Internet policy – and I say this as one of Marvin Schick’s biggest fans – can be viewed another way. As I understand it, this was a decision of the Lakewood community pertaining to its membership and while there are universal applications of the policy, it is meant for that community alone. The Internet policy is consistent with the Lakewood hashkafa; it remains to be seen whether, as Dr. Schick predicts, there will continue to be problems within the community when it comes to observing the policy.

Judaism is not a one-size-fits-all religion. Chassidim, yeshivaleit, Modern Orthodox, haredim, etc., all have their chumras, and what frum Jews choose to do in their own circles is their own business. People should be guided by their rabbonim and not feel that every psak or chumrah adopted by one group applies to everybody else.

Shlomo Kleinbart
Brooklyn, NY
 
 
Let Lakewood Be Lakewood

I am an attorney and also in business, and I use the Internet for work on a constant basis. I studied at a Lakewood branch yeshiva, and members of my family learn at BMG Kollel. Based on my living in both the yeshiva and the secular worlds, I take strong issue with Dr. Schick’s interpretation of the Lakewood Internet prohibition. This is not an exclusionary issue, but rather a matter of protecting the heart and soul of the community.

Any Lakewood parent who chooses to have Internet service knowingly violates community standards that are nearly unanimously accepted by the community and its leaders. Such parents must accept the responsibility of putting their children at risk if they are expelled. If you choose to live in Lakewood, then respect the standards there. And certainly outsiders must respect that community’s decisions in chinuch, yiras shomayim and avodas Hashem.

The sheer size and depth of the Torah and avodah that emanates from Lakewood sustains Jews across the world, whether or not they agree with all of the yeshiva’s positions. We must not tamper with Klal Yisrael’s precious asset.

I encourage The Jewish Press and Dr. Schick to continue addressing complex issues in Jewish life.

Noah Foxman
Brooklyn, NY

 
‘Without Fear Or Favor’

There are very few educators and writers in the Orthodox community who tell it like is – who make their case “without fear or favor.” Marvin Schick is one of those few, and I tip my hat (a yeshivish fedora purchased in Boro Park) to him and to The Jewish Press for not shrinking from telling the truth about the important issues of our time.

I’m certain that Dr. Schick’s criticism of the Lakewood Internet ban will raise hackles in some circles, but anyone who fails to recognize the revolutionary nature of the Internet is in for a rude awakening.

The Internet is, quite simply, the most important development we’ve yet seen in the spread of human knowledge. Forget about radio and television – never has there been a medium that links the world so completely and makes such a previously unimaginable array of learning – both Jewish and secular – available at the click of a mouse. The yeshiva world shuts it out at its own peril.

Zalman Gorvitsch
(Via E-Mail)

Letters to the Editor

Wednesday, September 8th, 2004

Lost And Hopefully Found

At our annual Tisha b’Av prayer service for Jewish communities in danger on July 27 outside the UN, someone – perhaps a faithful Jewish Press reader – left behind a black hardcover Rosenfeld edition of kinot and Tisha b’Av tefilot. There’s a Hebrew name inscribed inside the cover. Interested parties should please leave a message at (212) 663-5784 or e-mail sssjewry@aol.com.

Glenn Richter
Amcha-Coalition for Jewish Concerns



Jewish 9/11

Am I the first person to make the following observation? “9/11″ has become the commonly accepted designation for the date of the terrorist atrocities in the United States on September 11, 2001.

Tisha b’Av, when it falls in a Jewish non leap-year, can truly be described as the “9/11″ of the Jewish year, because in this case, Av is the 11th month of the year starting with Tishrei, and Tisha b’Av is the ninth day of Av.

I checked the calendar, and 5762, the Jewish year corresponding to 2000-2001, was indeed a non leap-year.

Mark Finkletaub
Ilford, UK



Eating Kugel While Rome Burns

Your editorials about the Democratic Left and various letters to the editor proclaim the need of the religious Jew to identify with the Right in America. I congratulate you for that. However, rarely do we see an article in any Orthodox paper that tells the entire story of what the Left is doing. The power of the gay lobby in particular is growing to the point where one day rabbis will be put in jail for stating passages in the Torah “limaash.” (This already is the law in Europe and Canada.) But we are shaineh Yidden and don’t want to talk about it.

I recently came across something written by an individual who listed many gay activists with Jewish names. He concluded that America would decline if the Jews remained, and then discussed how to get the Jews out of America. I wrote to him and pointed out my website, www.gendercentral.com, which fights the gay lobby. He in turn immediately wrote to all of his associates and told them, “Rabbi Eidensohn is my friend.”

Perhaps those of you who do not work the front lines on the Internet are not impressed with this. But please note that if you click on “Talmud” as a keyword, you find dozens of hate sites. Not only is this hate not going away, it is getting much worse. And the worse it gets, the more our leaders smile and assure us that all we need to do is study Torah and eat kugel at the tish.

Those of us who know what’s going on in the world know that in five or ten years we won’t have kashrus without problems due to genetic modifications of DNA. We will have gay rights laws that will take away tax exemptions and the right to government programs from those Torah institutions that practice Orthodoxy without faking it.

Does anyone care?

Rabbi Dovid Eidensohn
Monsey, NY



Unfair Charges

Having worked in the kosher meat and poultry industry for over thirty years, I am troubled by the poisonous nature of a pamphlet titled “The Attack on Glatt Kosher Shechita,” published and distributed by the Committee for the Elevation of Kashrus Standards.

I am writing this letter to address two of the main premises found therein. First, that a gentile (the pamphlet uses the derogatory term ‘goy’) owner will be more likely to substitute non-kosher meat for kosher meat and, second, that a gentile owner will pressure the supervising rabbis to reduce kashrus standards by increasing production and reducing the amount of rejected product.

Having worked for kosher processors with both Jewish and gentile owners, I can testify that pressure can be applied by either. The pressure to increase production and reduce rejects is sometimes greater under Jewish owners than it is under gentile owners. It is the responsibility of the kashrus supervision agency to ensure that the standards of kashrus are not compromised by outside pressure – whether it be from Jewish or gentile owners.

The pamphlet states that “where the non-Jewish owner of the slaughterhouse is also the owner of the kosher meat…the temptation to increase the amount of kosher meat (by substitution) is immense.” I respectfully reject this argument. The economic temptation can exist for Jewish and non-Jewish owners alike.

Over the past thirty years I can recall only two substantiated cases of deliberate substitution of treif meat by kosher meat processors – and in both cases the owners were Jewish. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people in every religion.

I have a deep and abiding respect for Judaism that extends to the laws of kashrus. While I can’t speak for all gentiles, I can say that I would never do anything to compromise that respect.

Harry Geedey
Lewistown, PA



Israel’s Cantonists?

I would like to thank you for “The Cantonists” (front-page essay, July 30). My great-grandfather was a cantonist who, despite his 25-year travail, stayed true to his Jewish religion. It may be in his merit that after five generations of living in America we are still Torah-true Jews.

What also came to mind as I read the story was how the Jews from Yemen and Iran were treated when they finally came to Israel. They too had their children taken from them – and with the same purpose of driving out their Yiddishkeit. How sad that history repeats itself, and worse, that in this case it was done by Jews.

Akiva Goldstein
(Via E-Mail)




We’re “Morbid And Depressing”

Is our world really falling apart as your paper contends?

On the international front: Jewish families in Hebron being intentionally destroyed, multiple bombers caught this week, government continues antireligious rampage, yeshivas and religious service workers are starving in the street, world threatens over fence and ignores Jewish deaths, and the Israeli government alternately falling apart, going completely secular, being indicted or found corrupt.

On the domestic front: Democrats promote only those with anti-Israel agendas, thieves ransack Boro Park after offering to help or impersonating officials, yeshiva funding cut, singles unable to get married because they can’t afford dating expenses, agunahs languish, spouses are abused, and the media are lying about it all.

Either the Jewish world is doomed (Hashem yazo) and going down fast, or your paper has taken a detour into the morbid and depressing. Yes, there is, unfortunately, lots of trouble and things to worry about in our world. But plenty of good things are happening as well. You may want to highlight some of them and balance the tone of the paper.

Akiva Marks
West Orange, NJ



Creator And Created (I)

Rabbi Abraham Stone was recently criticized by Rabbi Marshall Gisser for attributing human needs and emotions to Hashem (Letters, July 30). I was gratified to see Rabbi Stone respond (Letters, Aug. 6) by reaffirming the most fundamental principle of our religion - that Hashem cannot be understood or characterized in physical or psychological terms, and that he has no needs that require fulfillment.

However, the remainder of his letter was decidedly disappointing, and, indeed, self-contradictory in several ways. Amidst the citation of several midrashim, Rabbi Stone suggested that “In all Jewish souls here there is vested the essence of Hashem…Hashem created the world in a way that our service is for the need of Hashem, and He gains pleasure when his will is fulfilled.”

This view of Hakadosh Baruch Hu is deeply problematic and not representative of our Holy Torah. Hashem is One and cannot be compared to His creations in any way, shape or form. Chas v’chalila that we should entertain the notion that Hashem is divided into parts that are “distributed” across humanity in the form of souls. When we say human beings have a divine element or spark, or that humans are created in Hashem’s “image” we mean – as our sages explain – that human beings have the potential to relate to the Creator of the universe in a unique, spiritual way that differentiates them from all other earthly creatures.

Rabbi Stone establishes a dangerous precedent in his exercise of poetic license and pays insufficient regard to the fact that many midrashim are not to be interpreted in their literal sense.

In addition, Rabbi Stone’s statement that Hashem has no needs cannot be reconciled with the statement that His needs are somehow fulfilled by our mitzvot. Nor can the notion that Hashem has no emotions be reconciled with his assertion that Hashem “takes pleasure” in the fulfillment of His will. As the Ramban explains at length in his comments on Devarim 22:6, the mitzvot are designed purely for the benefit of mankind.

It is simply blasphemous to suggest that the Creator of heaven and earth and all they contain – a being with no weaknesses, defects or dependencies – would turn to His creations for help or fulfillment.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof
Beth Aharon Sephardic Congregation
Riverdale, NY



Creator And Created (II)

Two weeks ago I questioned Rabbi Abraham Stone’s unqualified explanation of “Menachem Av” as “consoling G-d.” I quoted Numbers, 23:19, “G-d is not a man that He should lie, nor the son of man the He should be consoled…” I added that we possess no license to suggest new phrases like “consoling G-d” that are not authored by the Torah or the sages. The rabbis coined the term, “If the Torah had not written it, it would be impossible to enunciate.”

In his response, Rabbi Stone acknowledged that “Certainly, we cannot attribute any physical features and human emotions to Hashem.” He also affirmed that “He (G-d) needs nothing from us.” But then he wrote this: “For Hashem created the world in a way that our service is for the need of Hashem.”

Rabbi Stone thus contradicted himself in the space of a few sentences. He openly wrote that G-d has “needs” and thus posited a human frailty onto the Creator. However, it is the unequivocal teaching of all Torah sages that G-d has no needs.

Rabbi Stone wrote, “Every Jewish soul is part of Hashem from Above.” But in his Second Principle, Maimonides declares, “And (G-d is) not like one man that may be divided into many individual parts…”

Maimonides makes it clear: the concept of division or parts cannot be ascribed to G-d. Maimonides also writes: “…the chachamim denied G-d as being composite or subject to division,” and “the prophet said (Isaiah, 40:25), ‘To what shall your equate Me that I should be similar, says G-d?” (ibid; Principle III).

Do I belabor this point? If I do it is because of what Rabbi Bachya says in Duties of the Heart, (Gate of Unity, Chap. 3): “Whoever neglects to study [this subject] (unity of G-d) conducts himself disgracefully, and is counted among those who fall short in both knowledge and practice.”

This principle of G-d’s unity is of such paramount importance to the authentic, Jewish concept of G-d that the “Shema Yisrael” must be read twice daily where we affirm “G-d is One.” The Torah and the rabbis share one voice: G-d has no parts.

We must be vigilant against any thought that erodes Judaism’s fundamentals.

Rabbi Marshall Gisser
(Via E-Mail)



Remembering Reuven Beck

It was with great sadness that I read in your “West Coast Happenings” section about the death of Mr. Reuven Beck, father of Carol Bess and father-in-law of Rabbi Gershon Bess of the Los Angeles Kollel.

Reuven Beck was one of the most devoted followers of Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, for more than thirty years. Along with Mr. David Pollack, a”h, Mr. Beck was instrumental in purchasing the building that became the Bais Yisroel Torah Center on Ocean Parkway, and in helping Rabbi Miller move his kehillah from East Flatbush to Flatbush proper. It was the behind-the-scenes hard work of Reuven Beck that supported Rabbi Avigdor Miller and the idealists of the Bais Yisroel Torah Center.

It’s altogether fitting that Reuven Beck should be memorialized through the learning of the L.A. Kollel, because Torah learning was the focus and heart of his life. May his memory be for a blessing.

Judy Resnick
Far Rockaway, NY



Marvin Schick Touches A Nerve

Vacations Over Education

Reading Dr. Marvin Schick’s eye-opening essay (“Turning Our Backs on Orthodox Education,” front page, Aug. 6), I was reminded of what my rosh hayeshiva once said; “It’s unfortunate, but the further the cause is from Torah, the more people donate their money to it!”

The Chofetz Chaim, in his old age and despite his frail health, used to travel on long and difficult journeys to the meetings of the Vaad Hayeshivas. He did this in order to meet with Rav Chaim Ozer Grodensky, zt”l, regarding the critical financial support for yeshivas in Europe and Eretz Yisrael. He would get very annoyed if they even wanted to interrupt these most urgent meetings to make a minyan for Mincha.

I once overheard someone say, “I can’t pay full tuition; I need to be able to go away for Pesach!” The Jewish Observer ran an article by a businessman who calculated that more than a billion dollars is spent by Jews going away for Pesach. Who knows how much more money is spent on midwinter and summer vacations? Is it any wonder that our yeshivas are suffering financially?

Rabbi Moshe Shochet
Brooklyn, NY



“Well-Written Screed”

Mavin Schick’s article is nothing more than a well written screed against the authority of today’s gedolei roshei hayeshiva, whom he calculatingly refers to as “yeshiva deans.” When all is said and done, all Mr. Schick told us is that there is a continuing choice to be made as regards the allocation of our communal resources and he disagrees with the one made by our gedolim.

Of course the yeshiva/day school sector is suffering, but that is the result of decisions made by the custodians of our souls whose daas Torah is linked to that of the Torah greats of our past. And does Mr. Schick mean to suggest that support for Hatzolah, bikur cholim organizatons, Tomchei Shabbos, Rofeh, P’Tach and other chesed efforts is somehow misplaced?

Goldie Kalmanson
(Via E-Mail)



Questionable Funding Source

Last week Marvin Schick castigated Torah Umesorah (and by implication the gedolim who guide that organization) for remaining silent over the cuts Federation has made in its allocations to yeshivas and day schools. He also praised The Jewish Press for its criticism of those cuts.

I wonder, though, whether it is such a clear-cut thing that we should take money from people who do not believe in Torah miSinai. How are we sure that Torah built from that support can have a kiyyum?

Was this not why the Brisker Rav counseled against taking money for Chinuch Atzmai Schools from the secular Israeli government?

Yitzchak Grossman
Jerusalem



Where Are The Wealthy?

I thoroughly enjoyed Marvin Schick’s front page article on the crisis facing yeshivas and day schools. Of course he is correct that there is no sense of communal responsibility in the Orthodox community for funding education. However, individual schools do engage in fundraising outside of their parent bodies. Surely there is a glut of annual dinners, melava malkas and the ubiquitous parlor meetings.

More to the point: There are many, many people of great wealth in the Orthodox community who collectively could make a difference, but who have no interest in doing so.

Rabbi Yehoshua Fenster
(Via E-Mail)



To Each His Own

Marvin Schick does not go far enough in his penetrating analysis of what ails the financing of Orthodox education. All of the roshei yeshiva owe primary allegiance to the fundraising efforts of their own institutions. Establishing a central fundraising mechanism to target the community at large for all schools would be inconsistent with this exclusivist responsibility. But soliciting for chesed causes and such non-mainline educational causes as kiruv, Russian schools and special education is by its nature non-competitive, hence non-problematic.

Sad, but true.

Jerome Belfer
Los Angeles, CA



Cynical Bureaucrats

Kudos to Dr. Marvin Schick for pointing to the great issue facing the Jewish community in the United States. Moreover, he has eloquently laid bare the cynicism of the Federation bureaucrats, who seek to remake the Jewish people in their own secular image.

Donald Filer
New York, NY




Needed: Orthodox New Deal

I would like to congratulate Marvin Schick for his hard-hitting and accurate portrayal of the immense financial burden facing parents who send their children to yeshivas, and of the lack of effort by institutional leaders to adequately confront and alleviate it.

The mere fact that parents are expected to allocate 20 to 30 percent of their income for tuition has enormously negative ramifications – including the inevitability of smaller families in the community. The math is simple: The cost of sending a child to yeshiva for fourteen years hovers at or above the six-figure mark (and that doesn’t include all the other expenses – kosher food, for one - that drive up the cost of raising a child).

As Dr. Schick rightly points out, there are numerous organizations and kollels to champion every cause – except that of the middle-class Orthodox family. Are these organizations siphoning off funds that should be earmarked for the education of mainstream children? It’s very likely. Having thousands of people learning in kollels is certainly admirable and perhaps the pinnacle of achievement for those who run them, but what’s the price to the rest of the Jewish community? Saying that kollels should reduce their enrollment so that Jewish schools could get more money probably borders on heresy these days, but our current structure indisputably borders on insanity.

It’s time for a restructuring of our system, for a New Deal for the Orthodox middle class. The focus of religious people should be on G-d and religion, not on worrying how to pay for it all.

Sol Friedman
(Via E-Mail)




No Middle Way

It is no coincidence that Parshas Re’eh almost always coincides with Shabbos Mevorchim Elul, when we usher in the season of personal introspection, during which time every Jew is responsible to take a proverbial step back and examine his ways in preparation for the divine judgment awaiting him on Rosh Hashanah.

The sedra begins with Moshe Rabbeinu exhorting Bnei Yisrael with his famous words, “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse.” The Sforno elucidates this ostensibly cryptic phrase by explaining that Moshe is warning that although the world at large tends to gravitate toward the median in any given situation, the Jewish people are not supposed to act this way.

Moshe is making it clear that in Judaism there is no middle ground; either one’s actions are concordant with blessing or, G-d forbid, curse. There are only two options — black and white; gray does not exist within the framework of Judaism. Either one’s actions are in accordance with halacha or they are not. Either one completely adheres to the guidelines of the Torah or he does not.

Of course, this is not to say that Judaism expects all of its adherents to be perfectly righteous Torah scholars who devote themselves day and night exclusively to the study of Torah. However, what we must realize is that such a life exclusively dedicated to attaching oneself to the Creator is something to admire and appreciate, not disparage and ridicule. Such a lifestyle should not be subject to derision on the part of those who claim that extremism is antithetical to the views of the Torah. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

A life completely dedicated to Torah learning and living should be the ultimate goal of every Jew, and only when circumstances prevent one from reaching that ultimate goal should one reevaluate and recognize that his G-d-given mission in this world is to serve Him with whatever means he can.

To claim that the Torah promotes the idea that one should strive to live the so-called “middle-of-the-road” lifestyle is a tragically misguided understanding of true Torah Judaism. G-d does not want us to have a quasi-dedicated relationship with Him, including Him in some of our more religiously inclined activities such as prayer and study, and ignoring Him at other times, when His presence is not as welcome or as appreciated.

The Torah’s ideal man is not the one who spends most of his day working, setting aside minimal time for praying and learning, as admirable as that sacrifice may be. If the typical religious layman has become the prototype of the ultimate Jewish man, our perception has veered far off track.

When a mother’s nachas in mentioning “My son, the talmid chacham” is replaced by “My son, the doctor,” or “My son, the lawyer,” we can see a dangerous shift in the focus of what our purpose is in this world. We must ponder Moshe’s exhortation in the beginning of this week’s parsha to help us regain the true perspective.

Rabbi Jacob Eisemann
Elizabeth, NJ

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