Unsophisticated Education Contraindicated

You are a teacher. You are now teaching a (mainly) frum class of  students who are 17 years of age. You are teaching Halacha. In and among your lesson you ask someone “What is Halacha” and you get the ubiquitous answer “It’s Jewish Law”. Fine. One student then says

it’s not really Law because unlike non-Jewish Law where there is no choice and every body must follow the Law, Halacha is couched within a system of free choice and it is the person who chooses to accept the yoke of heaven for whom Halacha becomes Law (albeit Divine Law)”.

Some teachers would be taken aback with this answer.

Sounds fine to me. Shabbos is not like a speeding law. You choose to keep Shabbos and we hope you do, and we try to educate you to appreciate Shabbos so that you do, but it isn’t like a speeding law which must be kept whether you agree or not. Indeed, one of the oft quoted answers to the question “Why is God invisible” has always been “because if he was visible, you’d have no choice but to keep His Laws (Halacha)”. Put simply, if He was visible, it would be like the proverbial policeman standing there with the speed gun wherever you were driving; you’d be hard pressed deciding to speed. Where would בחירה חפשית free choice be? Without בחירה חפשית there is no reward system and we may as well be מלאכים.

Sadly, I think that many teachers lack the basic sophistry to use the aforementioned non standard answer as a pick up point to actually engage the students into a deeper discussion that also expound on the actual term הלכה and what this means vis-a-vis the journey and way of life.

I’d suggest many teachers when faced with such an answer would exclaim

ה’ ירחם, God have mercy on us all! I thought you came from a religious house, how could you possibly present a view which implied that Halacha was anything but mandatory Law”.

It’s lamentable. We need teachers who understand our youth and have enough sophistication to capture any moment or insight and make it a positive educational experience. What we often have instead is outmoded fossils who can only yell and condemn in response and thereby actually turn more people off than they turn on.

Author: pitputim

I've enjoyed being a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia, as well as band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel and later in life at Machon L'Hora'ah, Yeshivas Halichos Olam.

7 thoughts on “Unsophisticated Education Contraindicated”

  1. I think you meant “yoke of heaven”.

    Your response may apply today, but halacha isn’t intrinsically an opt-in system. If there were a beit din with sufficient authority then the laws of Shabbat would be kept – and batei din even today have authority to impose monetary fines, just like a court imposing a fine for speeding.

    I think an interesting discussion could be had comparing secular laws with Jewish monetary laws. The latter are part of the halachic system even though they’re mostly based on common civil practice and a desire to promote civil welfare. Does this mean that they’re the same? I would argue not: by following monetary laws we are following halacha and that makes them a part of religious discipline. In theory, at least, a Jewish grocer who weighs out a portion of rice is performing an act of devotion that is comparable to laying tefilin.


    1. Thanks for the correction. Ha Ha.

      Joe, I think you are talking about Mashiach’s times though. Even during the Beis Hamikdash, Jews had free choice, and many went unpunished for Shabbos desecration, surely.


  2. Your missing the point Joe. Kids today are extremely curious and they crave debate and constantly question everything (even if the topic is controversial) and they crave it so that they can make an informed decision on their own. They dont like being told what they should and shouldnt be believing


  3. Hi Isaac,

    I am concerned at the use of the the term fossil in a perjorative manner. According to some esteemed religious authorities, fossils were purposely placed by none other than G-d to grant us Free Choice with regards to Science and Belief. On that basis a fossil should be considered a davar sh’b’kedushah.


    1. Pinchus,
      Let me say that even if that fossil has been planted, so has my lemon tree, and that’s no less a Davar Shebikdusha than the fossil. We have free choice with regards to Science and Torah: we are free to chose between the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s view that the fossils were planted or the Rishonim quoted by Rabbi Slifkin in his excellent book on Evolution.


      1. Hi Isaac,

        To improve the standard of teachers there should be independent aptitude assessment of people wishing to enter this professional field, followed by independent professional teacher training. Being on the correct religious train in grossly insufficient reason alone to choose teaching as a default career option for a enthusiatic young frum person.

        Further, on a serious note with regards to ‘fossil planting’ – such an idea is so ludicrous – to say the least. I can (partly) deal with a mysterious G-d, but not a devious one! That essay in evolution was one of the saddest written works of the Rebbe on multiple counts!!


        1. Pinchus, while I agree with you re aptitude and training, I think we need leadership first. Without leaders you can’t implement these ideas. Next, you need wages. Unfortunately we pay plumbers and electricians more than we pay teachers. Pay peanuts and you attract monkeys.

          On evolution, I the Lubavitcher chosid has to exercise bitul. This may mean that evolution according to the last Rebbe z”l was mysterious in the sense that we don’t understand why He planted fossils. I dont think one needs to conclude that this can only mean deviousness. The Lubavitcher Rebbe wasn’t a fool and he must have had his reasons for saying what he did.

          Personally, I am much more intellectually fulfilled with the explanation based on Rishonim as expounded by Rabbi Slifkin, or the views of R’ Kook on Evolution. But then again, since I am not on the madrega to be a chosid, I’m left with Bechira Chofshis in respect of my understanding of Yahadus.

          We don’t actually know what the last Rebbe’s views were on those Rishonim like R’ Avraham ben Harambam. Perhaps he felt his explanation was more plausible. I don’t know.


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