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Name this man

{Reposted from the author’s blog}

There is no greater anti smoking zealot than a reformed smoker. I therefore have to take what Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld wrote in the Jewish Link with a grain of salt.

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How does my opening statement apply to him? It is because of his claim to know the 2 worlds of Charedim and Modern Orthodoxy (MO). I am sure he does. But the implication is that he is a sort of hybrid of those two worlds – having lived in them both. He has lived in a modern Orhtodox environment and was educated in a number of Modern Orthodox schools. He then moved on to Lakewood and the Agudah.

The Hashkfaos of the last environment and school one attends are the Hashkfos that tend to define you. So his views should be taken with that in mind. The criticism he  levels at the Modern Orthodox world might be akin to the zealous anti smoking campaign of a former smoker. I say this not as a pejorative. Only as a matter of describing from what place his thoughts stem.

That being said. I do not disagree with him that much. My observations more or less match his. Although he didn’t say so in so many words, I think the implication is that as a rule (and there are of course many exceptions) the typical MO educated individual will not be as focused on their Judaism as is the typical Charedi educated person. The anecdotal evidence he brings testifies to that – even as it obviously doesn’t prove it.

Among his observations are the following. In the MO community he serves, he noted a phenomenon taking place as Shuls were beginning to reopen both indoors and outdoors – after the COVID lock-down.

(T)he young married generation does not come to shul. Period. I have no reports of them on the lawns and I know that very few if any are in shuls. Our shul has the participation of some singles, some people in their 40s or so, some joining their parents, and some in their 80s! But I can’t think of any young married person who joins us with any regularity…  I was stunned by the number of answers that I received from rabbis in many parts of the country, with the exact same observation.

He also noted that there is also no apparent connection to Torah study by younger children:

Rabbi Ari Schonfeld, (His son) conducted his Zoom-based Night Seder America (NSA) for boys during the height of the crisis, beginning a few weeks before Pesach and continuing into the first weeks of the summer. It was a free program in which the boys learned Gemara…

 An amazing 1,500 boys plus other family members from across the country – and the globe – tuned in nightly… There were no boys on the program from Modern Orthodox yeshivos. I am not exaggerating. None… not one boy attended from the modern community… Yet, the more chareidi kids in the same neighborhoods were well represented…

There is also apparently no recognition of great rabbinic figures of both the recent past or of our own time… or even the pioneers that established the modern state of Israel:

Ask the average 8th grade boy in these day schools who was, say, the Chasam Sofer? Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch? Sarah Schenirer? The Chazon Ish? Rebbetzin Kanievsky? Rav Moshe Feinstein? Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik? What years did they flourish? Where did they live? Have they ever met the Novominsker Rebbe zt”l? Rav Hershel Schachter shlita?

Better yet, ask them: Who was Chaim Weitzman? David Ben Gurion? Golda Meir? Moshe Dayan? Vladimir Jabotinsky? Menachem Begin? My bet is most of them will not know.

Now ask them: Who was Babe Ruth? Hank Aaron? Michael Jordan? Lebron James? Would they like to meet the latter two?

Like I said there are exceptions. Which he acknowledged. But I think he is basically right. There is nothing wrong with knowing who the popular cultural icons are. But there is something wrong with not knowing who Rav Moshe, Rav Solovietchik, or Rav Schacther is.

I’d love for Rabbi Schonfeld to to be proven wrong. But I have a feeling that he is right about this.

Making matters worse is the fact that when Judaism becomes secondary in one’s life, it is a lot easier to abandon it because of outside influences. Such as those found in universities  – even when starting out as fully observant. That being said. I’m sure that the vast majority of people raised in MO homes and educated in MO schools do remain observant – even as many of them are woefully undereducated both religiously and spiritually. But that still leaves a lot of MO students at risk.

Where I part company with Rabbi Schonefeld somewhat is in the reasons for this sad phenomenon. He seems to blame the schools:

My point is, kids are not taught their history – even recent history. If they are, it is not absorbed. It’s not lived. They are not taught to love and admire g’dolei Torah. They are not taught what great spiritual heights our people can reach. They are not taught that these are our real heroes to emulate. The enthusiasm in learning Torah is absent.

Those things are no doubt factors. But I believe that the influences at home are far more relevant.  The most important role models for any child is their parents. If there is little enthusiasm for one’s Judaism in the home, it will rarely be achieved by children in the school. Even under the most positive role modeling by a teacher.

Although sometimes it does happen, it is rare to find the kind of teacher that can be so inspiring that it will overcome the lack of enthusiasm in the home. Even where a teacher like that is found, I am sure that it is still relatively few that are inspired to view their Judaism significantly more positive than what they see in their homes on a daily basis.

It helps to spend the ‘gap year’ in Israel. A lot of young people get inspired there. Sometimes to the point of becoming Charedi depending on the type of school they go to there. But my guess is that in most cases, while being a positive experience, once they come back from that year and enter one of the top universities, that enthusiasm will wane if not disappear entirely. Without any reinforcement back home, I don’t see how it can last.

This is not to say that Rabbi Schonfeld’s suggestions about how to improve MO schools are not good ones. I think they are. I agree with most of them. But schools at best can usually only reinforce what is seen in the home. That is where Jewish education should start.

The devil – as always – is in the details. How do we educate MO parents to take their Judaism more seriously and with more enthusiasm so that they can pass that on to their children?

The answer to that is beyond my pay grade.

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Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.