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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘secular education’

Stolen Waters are Sweet

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

The great debate over the internet has been focused on the Shmutz (pornography) it contains and the pitfalls of dragging people into an abyss of internet addictions that have destroyed families. I don’t think this is an arguable fact. It is a danger that affects everyone. Religious , secular; Jews and non Jews alike.

There are religious Jews right here in Chicago I know personally that were ensnared into online chat-rooms that in one case – if not for intervening circumstances – may have led a married male adult into an affair with a minor teenage girl!

I am not going to go into what the root psychological causes are for such things. Suffice it to say that the internet is not a cause but a facilitator to such terrible ends. I would go so far as to say that there are probably more people who have these problems than we may think – considering that addictions of this type are so easy to hide because of the ability to quickly both access and delete an internet site.

In that sense I agree (and always have) with those on the right who say that these dangers are real and we need to protect not only our children – but ourselves from becoming exposed and addicted to these sites. I would add that if one does have such an addiction that they seek professional help before it ruins their marriage …and their lives. Because – as I said the addiction is there for psychological reasons.

But this post is about another less talked about but serious issue about the internet. It is about opening up a world heretofore closed to many religious Jews. It is the world of information and knowledge that is not sourced in the narrow culture that one is raised in. One will find perspectives on life that are radically different from what they are used to and are quickly accessed. And sometimes this new information can play havoc in one’s life.

This phenomenon was ably described in an article in Tablet Magazine. It was written by a young woman who has left her Chasidic community. It’s hard to tell from her article whether she remained observant – although there are hints that she may no longer be. But clearly she lost a lot because of her odyssey on the internet. Her husband eventually left her.

Even though one can see here how online experiences contributed to her journey, I reject the notion that learning about and even accepting the perspectives of other people is necessarily a bad thing. It can be but it depends on the particular perspective one accepts. I happen to believe that some of what she experienced was a good thing. The following is a telling excerpt about her journey:

I was not raised to think. I knew what I needed to know: about tznius and that modesty is, or should be, my most important preoccupation. I knew that striving to have seven or 10 or a dozen children and being a good and pious homemaker is the pinnacle of achievement for a woman, the thing I was brought into this world to accomplish. Secular education was frowned upon. More than frowned upon: Being educated, oifgeklert, was a shame, a blight on the family. There was the very bare minimum of secular education, of course: reading and writing and elementary math. But even that was an afterthought. Fear of God, being a good girl, and growing up a pious Hasidic woman was the meat and potatoes of our education.

On the Internet, I cared about so many topics, yet knew that I still knew so little. The world, the physical boundaries, the world of ideas, the world of dangerous questions and of even more dangerous answers seemed big, wide, and endless. It was a world of things I never imagined and never even dared to try and imagine.

I got to know some people on the Internet. A rabbi from Brooklyn, father of six children, emailed me that he read my questions about the prohibition on birth control and that he would be glad to show me the rabbinic sources on the matter and that a lot of what I was taught in my Hasidic girl’s school might be not be true. A woman, Modern Orthodox, responded to my description of the Hasidic ritual of shaving the head by asking, “Why in the world do you do it?”

Because you have to, I said.

That she learned that the dogma of Chasidus does not define observant Judaism for everyone is a good thing. Knowledge in this case is power. But did her online experience take her too far? Could that have been prevented if it did?

It is never a good idea to live two lives which she did at first. An overt one in her isolated real world – and a covert one in her virtual world online. At the same time – had she been more open from the start I’m not sure her online education would have been tolerated in her community. Even if it meant only changing her Hashkafos and not essential religious beliefs and practices.

Knowledge is good. It is a powerful tool for improving one’s life. But in some cases, as with this woman it also had a terrible consequence.

This is not to say that all knowledge will improve one’s life. Many skeptics have been created by being exposed to contradictions between science and Torah that seem to be irresolvable. Or to Biblical criticism based on modern scholarship.

One well known blogger (who no longer blogs) very famously and very publicly became a skeptic in precisely that way. And he expressed sorrow at it – although to the best of my knowledge he remains a skeptic to this day. This is not a good result.

Does that make a ban worthwhile? One could argue that it does – since saving the soul of even one Jew is worth the price. The problem is that the internet is not the cause. Just as is the case with porn addiction, the internet is a facilitator.

Bright young minds will have questions. The most logical place to see answers is from your parents or teachers. But when questions are explicitly or implicitly forbidden, these very same young people will seek answers elsewhere. The easiest place to find them is the internet. Ban, no matter how strong they are, no matter how enforced they are will not prevent a young person from somehow finding access. And that’s when the slippery slope begins. Furthermore the taboo against the internet will prevent any countervailing arguments.

Young people will have questions and the internet is too ubiquitous to withstand any ban, no matter how severe. Once one is convinced they found the truth in the words of heresy, no one will be able to disabuse them of that notion.

A far better approach in my view is to meet the challenge head on. Orthodox students should never be discouraged from asking questions. And more importantly teachers have to be prepared to answer them. And admit when they don’t have a good answer.

Mayim G’nuvim Yimtaku. Stolen waters are sweet. The more something is banned, the sweeter the forbidden fruit becomes and will surely be sought out by increasing numbers of people. It is of no use to simply say to a student “Don’t go there.” Or accuse a questioner of heresy by dint of merely asking a question. People with unanswered questions will find a way to answer them. And often those answers are what leads them astray.

Nowhere is the ban stronger than in the Chasidic world where this writer is from. Did she leave observance entirely? I don’t know. Could it have been prevented if she had been denied internet access? Again, I don’t know. But one thing is certain. The internet is here to stay and becoming as integral a part of our lives as the telephone is. More so, in fact.

I may be spitting in the wind here. I’m sure that very few Chasidim will be reading this post. And even less pay attention to it. Certainly not their leaders. But even though I am a Daas Hedyot, that doesn’t mean my points aren’t valid. Or that my warnings aren’t true. Or that my advice shouldn’t be taken seriously. MiKol Melamdei Hischalti. So I will offer it anyway knowing full well that no one in that world will take heed.

Learn a lesson from this woman’s story. Open up your minds. Allow questions to be asked. Be prepared to answer them honestly and to admit not having answer when you don’t. Teach your students to use the internet responsibly and don’t make into a forbidden fruit with bans and extreme sanctions. Do not expel people form you community who do not adopt ever Chumra you demand of them. Be tolerant of all Hashkafos. You never know. This may actually do more to preserve your way of life than all of your

US Haredi Group Facing Uphill Battle Making Up for Poor Secular Education

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

At the age of 13, Naftuli Moster was done with secular studies. Moster, who, years later, still speaks with a slight Yiddish accent, spent his teenage years learning in a Belzer yeshiva from 6:00 in the morning until 8:00 at night. It was quite common in his community.

“Fourteen hours a day in yeshiva but [a student] doesn’t learn a single word of English, math, history, science, geography, music art, nothing, nothing, nothing,” said Moster. “They’re not even allowed to play sports. Balls are forbidden in school.”

But this may change if Moster has his way. Moster, 26, along with several friends, launched Young Adults For a Fair Education (YAFFED). Their goal is to increase and promote basic secular education inside Ultra-Orthodox schools.

Naftuli Moster

Naftuli Moster

In describing the organization, Moster spoke about the lack of secular education in his Belzer Chasidic community. From the time he began elementary school, he had 1-2 hours of secular education—math and English—a day. Usually, the classes were poorly taught; discipline was non-existent and the subjects were taught in Yiddish. One year, he said, in an effort to save money, the school hired one of the rabbis to do double-duty and teach the “English studies.” The problem was that the rabbi didn’t really know English that well.

After finishing high school and learning in Israel, Moster returned to New York and enrolled in Touro College, but quickly found himself playing catch-up in all the basic studies.

“It’s embarrassing for a 23-year old to ask ‘What is an organism?’ and ‘What is an artichoke?’ It takes much longer to learn, since you’re not building on a larger knowledge,” he said. “It’s so hard for anyone to grow up in New York state being less educated than an immigrant from a third-world country.”

Moster eventually managed to succeed and he transferred to the City University of New York system, where he is working on a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

YAFFED is focused on boys’ schools since, they say, girls’ schools inside the Ultra-Orthodox community are typically far better.

Moster wants to work within the community.

“People want change,” he said about the Chasidic community. “People know it’s not the olden days anymore. Nowadays people rely on large businesses where education is a must… But people are afraid to speak up. They’re afraid to approach the school administrators and they’re definitely afraid to approach their rabbis.”

So far, the organization has met with several people inside the community who have been receptive to the idea. YAFFED also printed 5,000 copies of an educational newsletter and distributed it throughout the Ultra-Orthodox communities in Borough Park, Williamsburg and Monsey.

“Skip the people who have an interest in depriving the Chasidic community from an education and go directly to the people,” Moster said about his approach. “Get them excited about education and get them to demand an education.”

The newsletter also offered a free copy of the American constitution to anyone who emailed them, though Moster admits that few people took them up on the offer.

Moster says that the organization is not shy about promoting a better education to allow people who want to leave the Chasidic community the ability to do so. But he was quick to add that the organization wants to improve the lives of the people inside the Chasidic community.

“If you have a proper education, you have a better chance of remaining inside your community,” he said. A better education “will improve the lives of the people who choose to stay: they’ll be able to afford to invite people for Shabbat and buy nice things for Yom Tov; they’ll be able to live a better life as Chasidic Jews.”

The organization met with representatives of the New York State Department of Education, but Moster said that the meeting didn’t lead anywhere.

“They have their hands full with the public schools and they can’t overstep their boundaries,” he explained. “Even though prior law and court rulings say that it’s their responsibility. They feel like this is what the community wants and they don’t want to get in the way.”

Jonathan Burman, a spokesperson for the State Department of Education, said that there is little the state can actually do about a poor secular education inside the private schools.

“If a child attends a nonpublic school, the school district of residence is responsible for making sure that the child receives an education at the nonpublic school that is ’substantially equivalent’ to the education offered at the district’s public schools,” he said. “The Board’s responsibility is to the children living in the district; it has no direct authority over the nonpublic school.”

Even if schools don’t meet the “substantial equivalent,” there are likely to be few penalties. Burman pointed to the guidelines for determining equivalency of instruction in non-public schools.

“If a serious question does arise about equivalency of instruction in a nonpublic school, the superintendent of the district should inform the administrator of the nonpublic school that a question has been raised and arrange time for an informal discussion between the superintendent and nonpublic school officials regarding the inquiry,” their website reads: “The (Department’s) Office of Nonpublic Schools is available for counsel regarding the matter of equivalency.”

But the school system in the Ultra-Orthodox community does appear to have run afoul of some of the substantial guidelines: while the state does not mandate specific time for studies, it does dictate that grades 1-6 should approximate the five hour daily and grades 9-12 should have five and a half hours. And schools must teach several subjects beyond math and English.

Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman for Agudath Israel, declined to comment on the issue.

“Secular subjects were taught, but the emphasis was on Jewish subjects; most of a typical school day was spent learning Torah and Talmud, with a few hours dedicated to secular studies,” said David Kiss, 26, a full-time musician who grew up in the Ultra-Orthodox community in Monsey. “I happened to be a voracious reader, and luckily my Mom and Dad encouraged that, or my English vocabulary would be awful. We had one stressed-out teacher who taught all the subjects, and our academic upbringing definitely suffered because of that. I still am quite awful at math; I don’t know my multiplication tables.”

Michael Jenkins, the director for programming at Footsteps, an organization that works with people who leave their ultra-Orthodox world, said that most people who come to the organization have a very limited education.

“Their attitude is generally frustration, motivation and anger,” he said. Many end up finishing up a GED at Footsteps, since their high school diplomas do not transfer.

Jenkins added, however, that while they don’t come to Footsteps with a secular education, they do come with some form of education.

“There are things that translate well: study habits, perseverance, grappling with problems, defending an argument, I think those are things that are learned in yeshiva,“ he said.

Others see the lack of secular education as being directly connected to the poor economic situation inside the Ultra-Orthodox community. According to the most recent UJA survey, more than two out of every five Chasidic households are poor. The Chasidic town of Kiryat Joel is the poorest place in America.

“The Chasidic community is fond of pointing to people who never had any education and who are now millionaires,” said Shulem Deen, a writer and the founder of Unpious, who also grew up with a very limited secular education. “They ignore the fact that these people are rare individuals who made it by sheer tenacity. Most of the community relies on Medicaid and it’s obvious that the economic levels in the Chasidic community are what they are because there’s no education.”

He said that he felt Moster faced an “uphill battle.”

“It’s a tremendous step in raising awareness of the issue,” he said. “Whether he will directly affect change remains to be seen, but he definitely has a chance of starting a conversation.”

Moster, who just quit his job working in a warehouse, said he believed his life would have been different had he had a proper secular education.

“I would have been a doctor by now,” he said. “And the same is true for so many others.”

A Call For Help From Jerusalem

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Special Note: The author of the following letter is well- known to me. He is a trustworthy young man who had an impressive secular education in the States and gave it all up when he became a ba’al teshuvah and decided to pursue a life of Torah learning in Jerusalem. His wife, who comes from a fine American family that made aliyah many years ago, is equally committed. I know them and can vouch for them. I also know for a fact that this young man is a serious, sincere “learner” whose parents experienced tremendous financial reversals and are not in a position to help in any way, shape or form.

The yeshiva at which he is studying, as most mosdos, yeshivos and tzedakos nowadays, is struggling just to keep afloat. So when I received his plea for help, I decided to publish his letter on the chance that one of our readers might be able to come to his assistance. Stranger things than this have happened in the past.

Over the years people have written to me with the most unusual requests. After publishing their letters, volunteers came forth and signaled their willingness to help. Our people are truly amazing. Just consider – the very fact that this young man feels confident in making such a request is surely testimony to the unbelievable chesedthat prevails within our people.

Over the millennia, we traversed the globe, we encountered many civilizations, many societies, many cultures…. we knew persecution, oppression and torture as well as assimilation and alienation. But the chesed with which our Father Abraham endowed us is so deeply ingrained in our souls that even the most trying experiences cannot destroy it. May Hashem grant that, in this merit of chesed, we be zocheh to behold the redemption of our people speedily in our own day.

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

This is _________ from Jerusalem. I hope that you and the entire Hineni Kehillah had powerful and productive Yamin Noraim. When I spoke to you last in August, I mentioned that, with no support from my parents, my wife and I were having trouble getting by. We are happy to be moser nefesh for Torah, but with the outrageous rental prices for even a 25-meter studio apartment (over 800 dollars a month when my wife’s salary is barely $18,000 a year), we can’t make it.

Additionally, there are virtually no stipends in yeshivas (support for young married men who learn full-time). We couldn’t cover our bills if it weren’t for the help that my over-extended parents-in-law provide on a constant basis. Again, we have very low material standards, but we have trouble meeting even those.

When I spoke to you, I didn’t dare ask for financial help because I know the economic situation, and I am sure that Hineni, like other tzedakos and kiruv organizations must be feeling the pinch. However, I realize that there is something I can ask for your help with, and it is the following:

Baruch Hashem, Sukkos is a magical time in Eretz Yisrael, and especially in Ir HaKodesh – the Holy City of Yerushalayim. What is particularly nice to see is so many people from out of the country, making a modern-day aliyah l’regel – pilgrimage for the chag. It occurred to my wife and me that many of these people have apartments in Jerusalem, and these apartments sit empty with the exception of Yamim Tovim or a few weeks in the summer. What a lifesaver they could be for couples such as we who are struggling just to survive.

There are entire neighborhoods that remain empty for the majority of the year. The families that own these apartments return to their homes Chutz La’Aretz, while many young kollel couples, who have made Yerushalayim their permanent home, are desperately searching for a place to live.

Please do not think I am asking for an outright gift. Of course we would want to pay something, but as things stand now, even with the greatest sacrifice, we cannot meet the inflated rental prices that landlords are demanding in Jerusalem. So, though it may be brazen to make such a request, I was hoping I could ask you to look out for me to see if there is anyone you might know or come into contact with that might be willing to rent their apartment to us for a low price. It goes without saying that we would accept the responsibility of leaving the apartment in perfect condition.

Of course we would be happy to vacate for all Yamim Tovim or any other time of the year. I am certain that you can understand that a fifteen-meter machsan is fine for a week or a month, but for a whole year it is a little bit difficult to function with no kitchen facilities and barely a bathroom.

We would be happy to pay a subsidized rent. Additionally, since my father-in-law is a very competent contractor, he would vouch to fix any potential damages that they might worry about or make improvements in the apartment.

Overall I am, Baruch Hashem, unfazed by our problem. I have emunah and I know that Hashem will help us. The outer trappings of gashmius don’t bother me. I want nothing more than to focus on my learning. We are not naive and are ready for sacrifice. My wife is ready for the commitment that such a kollel life entails, but the basics we need -to live in an apartment with a working stove and not just a one-room machsan.

Up until now, we have been relying heavily on my parents-in-law, and while they are really amazing and very giving we basically cook every meal in their house, use their house for phone calls, laundry and everything else. It is not good for my wife to have essentially never left home – although relations between my parents-in-law and us remain excellent, in a certain way, we don’t feel the independence of marriage and it obviously bothers my wife.

Please forgive me for burdening you with my personal needs, but it occurred to me that perhaps, just perhaps, someone might respond to this plea. I would like to add that we are not seeking this help on a long- term basis. We would just like to have the opportunity to save up some money so that my wife and I can obtain a residence in a Jerusalem suburb where apartments are much less expensive and mortgages are more affordable.

I would like to express my appreciation to you for considering my letter and bringing my request to the attention of your many readers. May I ask you to please omit my name?

Chag Sameach & Gut Yom Tov

My Dear Friend:

As you can see, of all the letters and e-mail that came across my desk this week, I gave your letter priority and am pleased to publish it. I hope that, B’Ezrat Hashem…. as a result, something good will occur. Please be assured that if I have any positive responses, I will be in touch.

With every best wish and brachos

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/rebbetzins-viewpointrebbetzin-jungreis/a-call-for-help-from-jerusalem-2/2009/10/14/

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