The internet and the streets simply must open up the world to Charedim

Here is a fascinating story of the grandson of the Satmar Rebbe who joined the Israeli army. Yes, it’s true, that there is no family that is immune from a child taking a different direction. This is a fact of life.

I don’t like the word blame in the context. I prefer to think that the concept where ‘one size fits all’ and clueless teachers and/or parents cause much of this reality. חנוך על פי דרכו teach according to their acuities, is something harder to achieve in a “my way or the highway” approach.

You should read the article HERE [hat time CMW]

Another article, of interest, describes what appears to be a growing phenomenon is from the Huffington Post, and reproduced here [Hat tip Krakower]

I Escaped Hasidic Judaism and Went From Living on the Streets to Being a Hollywood Actor

In June 2008, exactly three years after I got married, I decided to get a divorce. I didn’t fall out of love with my wife. In fact, I never fell in love with her in the first place. I simply no longer wanted to have the life I had with her and everyone surrounding her.

My wife was a Hasidic Jew, and when I married her, so was I. But that was no longer the case. I was a 22-year-old man with a long beard and side curls (payes) and all the other markings of a Hasid, but I was an atheist. An atheist surrounded by Orthodox Hasidic Jews. Surrounded by their certainty, their food, their self-righteousness and their minivans.

I hated all of it, so I left and entered a world full of uncertainty and a broad spectrum of ideas about right and wrong.

I had no idea what I was going to do. I had no education beyond Jewish Talmudic studies. I had no friends outside of the Hasidic world beyond a few I met at Footsteps, an organization that supports Orthodox Jews attempting to escape. I had no marketable skill beyond being able to charm your pants off. I had never been on a date. I had never heard of The Beatles. And I thought, “May the Force be with you” meant “May God be with you.”

“For most of my life, I believed that all non-Jews hate us and want to kill us.”

After leaving the Hasidic world, I spent seven years in various stages of decay. I slept in a tent in Bushwick for several months, lived in a rented Volkswagen Jetta for as long as my credit card limit allowed and crashed with friends. I starved in the harsh street of New York City. When I used my last subway fare to make my way to my sister’s (one of eleven siblings) house for leftovers from Shabbat meals, she wouldn’t let me in the house because I was wearing jeans.

When I went on dates, I had nothing in common with the women. I knew nothing about their culture, and they knew nothing about mine. I thought all shiksas were prostitutes, and they thought all Hasidim were landlords and diamond dealers.

Let me answer some revealing questions about Hasidic Judaism. Does it withhold a broad education from their children in order to keep the children narrow-minded and uneducated? Yes. Does it vilify the outside world in order to keep its members from joining it? Definitely. Does it have a fear and/or doomsday element to it? Of course. Is there ex-communication for those who dare to leave? Oh yeah.

I still have not received anything past a 5th grade education. In fact, since I never attended a regular school, I don’t actually know what a 5th grade education is — I just picked a grade that seemed right. I don’t know what algebra is; I know I can Google it but I wasn’t made to care enough to do so.

“After leaving the Hasidic world, I spent seven years in various stages of decay.”

For most of my life, I believed that all non-Jews hate us and want to kill us. I believed that all goyim are murderers, rapists, degenerates and dirty second-class citizens. Of course, they/we aren’t but I was taught that in order to make the secular lifestyle less appealing. I was told horrible things would happen to me in this world and the “next world” if I leave. I was told I would end up a criminal or drug addict. Many members of my family refuse to speak to me to this day.

I have had to transition both out of Hasidism and transition into mainstream culture. I have had to find a replacement for the void left by the lack of community and warmth. I had to replace my family, my friends and my moral compass. It was hard leaving everything behind but it was even harder to find something to replace it all with.

Thankfully, as an actor, my professional community is very friendly and inclusive (albeit competitive). I’ve replaced my biological family with actors and Footsteps members. I have managed to date, to have my heart broken, to have broken some hearts and to grow because of all of it.

I get asked all the time: “Are you happy now?” The answer is an unequivocal, “Yes!” I have friends who love me for who I am, for who I was and for who I am trying to become.

“I had to replace my family, my friends and my moral compass.”

Career-wise, it seems I have sought the path of most resistance, deciding to work in a field full of multi-talented human specimens with high cheekbones and jaguar physiques. I’m five foot seven inches, unathletic and have a heavy Yiddish accent. And yet, I’ve been getting work. My latest film, “Felix and Meira,” just beat David Cronenberg at the Toronto International Film Festival for “Best Canadian Feature Film,” and I won “Best Actor” at the Torino Film Festival. Next, I will appear in a recurring role in the upcoming season of “Transparent” on Amazon Prime.

But those achievements pale in comparison to the responses I get from people within the Hasidic community who have snuck out to go see the film. They have been yearning to break away but have been told that if they do, they will end up in jail or in rehab, and they believed it. But now, they can counter that with success stories like mine and those of others like me.

The Hasidic community isn’t what it used to be even five years ago. With the Internet, every person has access to every flavor of every forbidden fruit his or her heart desires, including my story. It won’t be long before the Empire falls. It might not fall completely, but it certainly will be forced to adapt to the 21st century.

The Empire won’t go down easy. The Empire will strike back. For evidence, watch the comments section below.

Follow Luzer Twersky on Twitter:

In my opinion unless subtle changes are introduced into Charedi education this will become more prevalent. It is nigh on impossible to live in a Cocoon these days. I know of schools that redact every book with pen or gluing pages together. The effect is that the students are more certain to find the original text and be exposed. I’m not sure that approach works. Kids are far more connected than they ever were.

Indeed, there has been a new (undesirable) ban now on whatsapp [Hat tip BA]. I surmise this is because the kosher filters cannot filter such messages. whatsapp is wonderful, it keeps families closer and informed, especially when they are spread around the world. Anything can be used for bad or for good. That is the central tenet in my understanding.

The future of UJEB?

The following is from the left leaning, often anti semitic, Age Newspaper.

Jewish group fears new religious instruction rules threaten diversity in schools

Michelle Morgan, with daughter Kayla, supports Jewish instruction in schools.

The Jewish instruction provider for state schools is seeking legal advice to ensure its lessons remain available amid concerns new conditions will undermine cultural diversity.

The United Jewish Education Board has told parents it is exploring ”all avenues, including legal options” so Jewish children can continue to receive special religious instruction.

The letter to parents comes after the Education Department issued a new ministerial directive in May that said schools could withdraw from religious instruction programs if there were insufficient resources. The directive also said religious instruction sessions must be ”clearly opt-in” for parents.

”We are monitoring these developments very closely as we are concerned that some schools may not be in a position to deliver special religious instruction under the new framework,” the United Jewish Education Board letter said.

Principals must offer religious instruction to parents if their school is approached by accredited instructors who indicate they are available to run the sessions.

The board’s president, Yossi Goldfarb, said he was seeking legal advice about whether the impact of the new conditions would contravene the Multicultural Victoria Act. The board is now awaiting the advice of lawyers

Mr Goldfarb said cultural and religious diversity in schools would be threatened if principals began withdrawing religious instruction for Jewish children. ”We see it as a cornerstone of multicultural Victoria,” he said.

Mr Goldfarb said the number of Jewish state school students joining religious instruction had increased by about 30 per cent during the past five years.

The United Jewish Education Board operates in 37 state schools, attracting about 1300 students. It offers instruction to schools with as few as three Jewish students whose parents elect for their children to join the sessions.

Mr Goldfarb estimated more than 90 per cent of Jewish families in state schools receive religious instruction.

He said the instructors had no interest in proselytising but sought to convey the ”cultural, historical and national” aspects of Judaism. ”It’s more about a narrative of being Jewish.”

Students who participate in religious instruction must now also be supervised by a teacher from the school. But Mr Goldfarb said many Jewish instructors were already qualified teachers so it made little sense to have them supervised by another teacher.

Bentleigh East mother Michelle Morgan said she supported Jewish instruction for her six-year-old daughter, Kayla, because it ensured there was a base level of education in Judaism for Jewish children. ”They’re getting something out of it,” she said. ”It covers the basics.”

Ms Morgan has also enrolled her daughter in after-school classes in Judaism and Hebrew, but said they could be expensive.

Religions for Peace Australia chair Des Cahill said he was concerned that children from faiths with small numbers at schools could miss out on instruction in their religion because of the new directive.

His organisation co-ordinates instruction in the Buddhist, Baha’i, Greek Orthodox, Hindu and Sikh traditions in schools.

Professor Cahill, an RMIT expert in intercultural studies, said education about the world’s religions should be included in the general school curriculum.

An Education Department spokesman said the rules for special religious instruction (SRI) were the same for all providers.

”The decision as to whether SRI will occur based on available resources, following parental consent being sought, rests with the principal,” he said. ”Resourcing constraints are the only basis on which principals can determine not to offer SRI.”

Fairness in Religions in School campaign member Scott Hedges said he had not received any complaints from Jewish families about the content of the Jewish education board’s sessions. However, he said a small number of Jewish families had expressed their opposition to religious instruction in state schools, which must not exceed 30 minutes a week.


An education revolution?

[Hat tip to Dovid]

The following, is my free translation of a statement issued by Rabbi Yosef Avrohom Heller, Rosh Kollel of Crown Heights and one of the most prominent (if not the most prominent) Poskim in Chabad today. (His views on other matters, such as “Who is Moshiach” are well known).

Rabbi Yosef Avrohom Heller

There are dozens of children wandering and lost, and thank God we are blessed with many institutions established to bring them back through Torah.

But these are not only the only misguided ones: many young people in Yeshivos are perplexed and in danger of dropping out.

This is not only dangerous, but the simple fact that they are lost and confused – is itself a great loss, as we must expend all our powers to keep them and guide them. Because everyone should succeed in Torah study and Mitzvos, and we should not be focussed only on those who are already in a proverbial deep hole.

We should give them our full attention and show them the beauty and wondrous taste of Torah.

There are still many students who ostensibly behave as they should, but since we are not in reality educating them in a proper way and do not give them the necessary tailored spiritual needs, they may turn down the road and become lost, and the debt is imposed on each of us to pay attention to their suffering and help them.

How is this done?

Each child is different

The first rule is that every child is different, each has a potentially different learning path and outcome from the other, and our expectation is different from child to child. This applies to both learning Torah and and serving God.

If we can show each child what they can achieve on a personal level, the child will feel a hundred percent successful in their achievements.

But if the child gains the feeling that they were “unsuccessful” or feel they have to live up to an unreasonable expectation, then in addition to the grief that the child is suffering, there is a danger that because they are not seen to be successful, they will seek success elsewhere.

The truth is that it is hard to expect institutions to look after and devote themselves personally to each student according to their  value, since this is nearly impossible. So, the responsibility is on the parents, neighbors and friends, to see that each achieves their individual potential.

Gemorah? Is not for everyone!

Previously there was no concept of people learning all day. Only very few people did this, and others set time for Torah and the rest of the day they were at work.

Today there is a new concept that has no source in the Torah that everyone should specifically learn Gemara. One who studies Mishnayos is considered a lesser individual!

There was never anything like this in the past:  one studied Talmud, another Mishnayos. Is it conceivable to say that the latter is less of a Talmid Chacham than the former?

A third studied Chumash with Rashi and also had a place of honour in the Beit Midrash.

It is the same with the study of Talmud itself: the first is studying the first Sugya in Pesachim and another is learning the last chapter. Is the latter therefore considered to be less than the first? We can not all learn the same thing, because God did not create everyone as clones of each other.

For every student to succeed, according to their ability, they must  feel their success according to their potential ability. If this is the case, they will feel satisfaction and pleasure in learning. They need not aspire to be a great “genius”.

But if they learn matters which are more complex than their innate ability or matters which do not challenge them adequately they will not feel satisfaction in the classroom.

For example, for one student it may be grossly inadequate to painstakingly teach them one Mishna a day, explaining each part with examples and illustrations. For another student, this may be exactly the approach that is required and they will feel fulfilled and not lacking in self-esteem.

The mathematician, philosopher and technician

Therefore, an entire class cannot assume a one size fits all approach. It does not work.

As an example: the mathematician, philosopher and engineer, are three types all of whom can excel. They each have different ways of thinking. Is one less wise than the other? This is the way God created the world. Two heads are not identical. Every person is wise within their God-given boundaries.

So when learning a complex issue involving a dispute between two Tanaim, the Gemara brings about a dispute between two Amoraim on their interpretation Now we have four views. Then the Gemara brings a different interpretation of the Amoraim and we now have eight approaches.  Then there is a dispute between Rashi and Tosfos – and we have 16 opinions. This can then extend to different understanding in Rashi and Tosfos which leads to 32 approaches.

A student who can understand all these methods is mathematically gifted, but how many are born with this ability?

However another student could resolve a conflict between two different Gemoras because they had a more philosophical (abstract learning) ability. And others may have practical more applied sense, and can apply the principles to conclude practical halachic ramifications in our daily lives.

So when Yeshivos deliver complex shiurim with hair-splitting logical minutiae, many students do not have the tools to deal with this approach. But if you were studying with them issues of Jewish law  tracing the Gemora through Tanaim and Amoraim and Rishonim and Acharonim until they could see and understand the conclusions in Shulchan Aruch they would feel experts in that field, and they will importantly derive much satisfaction and fulfilment.

Different children’s institutions

The conclusion is that there must be different departments in each Yeshivah. For example, children of the same age will have one group studying Gemorah, a second group learning Mishnayos and a third group learning Halacha.

The institution itself must have a framework and provide options so that students select what is suitable for them and is fulfilling.

If you do not give him the opportunity – it’s like the philosopher being forced to become a mathematician, and instead of becoming successful in their chosen field, they end up not being successful at all.

We need to open many types of such institutions, and there are a lot of donors willing to support it, since they were disappointed that they had suffered and were not successful in their own learning.

We need to explain to people that this is a real life-death situation, and if we lack money, then by Halacha we have to sell all the scrolls in the synagogue so that each synagogue will only have one, and thus finance the costs.

There is a recent great awakening to write Torah scrolls, and almost every month in our neighborhood there is one more new Torah Scroll. So certainly they would be willing to donate money for new institutions. This is more important than the new Torah scrolls.

One story tells of a woman who wrote to the Lubavitcher Rebbe that they wish to contribute a Torah in loving memory of her relatives, and the Rebbe responded (אגרות קודש ח”ל ע’ צב)  that if she will support a yeshiva student who studies Torah, then the souls will be raised more than through buying a Torah scroll. And how much more so in regard to save the lives of children in Israel.

So parents need to know that if their child is not succeeding in a given Yeshivah no matter how hard they try, they should take the child out of that Yeshivah. This is פיקוח נפש.

Shoving “Nachas for the Rebbe” down kids’ throats

It is well-known that in Melbourne, Beth Rivkah College, the sister School to the boy’s Yeshivah College is more moderate. It does not seek to distance itself from the State of Israel; it has no problem engendering feelings for the love of Israel, appreciating the חיילים who risk their lives for their State and their people. This traditional, more moderate, attitude of Beth Rivkah has meant that non-Chabad families, who are otherwise traditional or even frum, feel comfortable sending their daughters to Beth Rivkah. Much of the credit for this lies at the feet of earlier principals of Beth Rivkah, including the current principal, Mr Gurewicz, who was a soldier in the Israeli Army and whose wife is an Israeli who also exudes a love of the land. Mr Gurewicz isn’t going to be principal for ever, and if Beth Rivkah goes down the track of Yeshivah, latent, triumphalist hard-line Meshichist elements may well take over Beth Rivkah. They have begun chipping away at Sepharadit as their first effort.

Beth Rivkah, unlike its brother school Yeshivah College, would not allow Meshichist chanting or signs of this variety that appear in the Mesivtah room at the Yeshivah. Indeed, in a possibly significant or unrelated move, Rabbi Gurewicz just resigned from the Va’ad Ruchni of Chabad in Melbourne (the Vaad was devised to replace Rabbi Groner ז’ל as the source of spiritual direction) for what has been described as “personal reasons”.

It is with this backdrop that I feel compelled to describe a recent incident involving my young niece. She’s not from a Chabad home. Her mother attended Beth Rivkah, as did her sister and Aunties and cousins. She’s very bright and a respectful if not precocious little girl; she is also very perceptive.

Just before Pesach, one of her teachers suggested that girls who wanted to write a note that would be personally delivered to the grave site of the last Rebbe, ז’ל could do so by writing their names and any message or request they might have. It is not my intention in this post to enter a halachic excursus about אין דורשים על המתים. Let’s assume that what the girls were asked to do  is acceptable from a Halachic ground (yes, we are well aware that the Rambam is opposed to such practices).

One would expect that an intelligent and sensitive teacher would realise that there is some tension about this practice. I’m not sure how clever one has to be in order to be aware that there are those who do not feel that it is appropriate to make requests of a holy person who now resides in Gan Eden. There are others who are comfortable with such requests, provided that the request is cast in language which beseeches the dead person to make a representation to Hashem, using their proximity to Hashem and their exalted status in Hashem’s eyes in Gan Eden. Finally, there are others, who are simply not comfortable sending letters to a grave, period. Some such people are uncomfortable sending letters to Hashem via the Kosel.

What about the teacher? She is both an educator and a chasid. Do the two roles clash? Is there a tension between these two roles? I do not think that there need ever be a clash between the two roles. In my estimation it is a primitive Chasid or an unsophisticated Teacher whose involvement will inevitably cause a tension between the two roles.

In the case at hand, in the spirit of positive criticism, here is what I would have done, if I was the teacher in a Chabad School (also marketed ostensibly as a community School—Beth Rivkah College).

  1. I would have explained the מצווה of visiting the dead at their graves (using simple sources)
  2. I would explain the opinions of those who lie on grave sites cry and moan versus the opinion of those who consider it wrong to even visit a grave site because it is a place of Tumah (using simple sources)
  3. I would explain what the position of Chabad was, in the context of the two aforementioned opposing views, and then enunciate the different practices of Rebbes up to and including the last Rebbe who spent long periods at the gravesite of his father-in-law, the Rayatz ז’ל (I’d use some audio visual support if available)
  4. I would then suggest that those who felt inclined to pass on written requests to be read at the grave of the last Rebbe ז’ל that they could do so by filling out a form. (I’d show some examples of things that are appropriate or inappropriate)
  5. I would suggest that those who wanted to pass on a written request to a different Rebbe or indeed to Hashem via the Kosel, could do so.
  6. Finally, I would ask the girls who did not feel inclined to write any request, to say some Tehillim while other girls filled their forms. I’d explain that Tehillim is an equally acceptable way to beseech Hashem.
  7. I would try to discern if I was successful in encapsulating the language of tolerance and if there was any latent tension, I’d deal with it.

If a teacher did the above, I think it is appropriate, and I am not sure one could say this teacher is a bad or failed chasid if a few girls choose not to fill in a form and say Tehillim instead!

Alas, before Pesach, at least one educator at Beth Rivkah decided that she was not going to be considered a good Chasid unless each girl filled out a form. So, how did she get around the issue of some girls feeling uncomfortable writing anything? She simply advised them that they didn’t have to write a specific request.  Instead, all they needed to do was write their name and their mother’s name on the form.

The teacher thought she was clever. She wasn’t. She thought she was now a perfect 100% chasid because she got a 100% hit-rate and was able to go to the Kever and tell her Rebbe that she managed to achieve 100%. Does she think that Hashem is a fool? What she didn’t realise is that each and every girl who was cajoled into filling out a blank form has potentially experienced a negative educational experience. They have gone home and told their parents. They have felt forced. They have felt distance from the Rebbe ז’ל and their likelihood to have a positive attitude to Chabad down the track, is diminished by every such incident.

It’s an asinine approach, but what would I know. I’m just an educator, I’m not a Chabadnik.

Measuring Quality in Jewish Education

Why haven’t we developed benchmarks that can be applied across any Jewish school to measure literacy outcomes? Subjectivity of material certainly is an issue, but I feel that there are enough objective materials that can be used to fill an important gap.

Let’s start with something basic: vocabulary. You would want to define a basic set of words which  each student graduating from year 6 should know like the proverbial back of their hand. In English, these words were originally described as dolch words, catering to year 3.

There have been attempts to put together Hebrew/Jewish Dolch lists. We have computers, ipods and ipads. We can fine grain this activity. For example, imagine you are going to teach your class Parshas Noach. Before you start, organise an online flash word type activity which is based on the, say, 150 words that most appear in Parshas Noach. Apart from improving vocabulary, the student’s ability to deal with the text is greatly enhanced. They are comfortable learning in their own skin. Comprehension then becomes the main focus of the learning.

You are teaching Perek אילו מציאות in Gemora. Assume that the students have already completed and graduated from R’ Aryeh Carmel’s well known list of words for Gemora. Now, you find the 100 most used, or even the 100 most unique words in the Perek. This can be continued to incorporate Rashi and more. It’s not a replacement for textual learning but an adjunct; a measurable adjunct.

How many times do we see children graduate and not have a basic command of hebrew (or aramaic) words?

I don’t have any doubt that there could also be made available software programs to drill students about basic halacha based on Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. Again, use the software to create and measure—non negotiable—basic knowledge.

Yes, it’s important that schools train children to be Menchen and have יראת שמים but this needs to also include basic measurable outcomes in jewish learning.

Why don’t we measure across a common worldwide benchmark?

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.

Balance and Tolerance in Religious Education

It is entirely natural and expected that a school advances a particular leitmotif . Indeed, some would argue that a school that doesn’t have or project a particular bias is like a body without a soul, wandering aimlessly from issue to issue, approach to approach, without a guiding rudder. Parents choose a particular school for their child, and apart from the expected quality of education, another ingredient contributing to their choice is the compatibility between the philosophy at home and the Weltanschauung  imparted by the school.

In Melbourne, the so-called religiously inclined schools are arguably four:

  1. The Hungarian Charedi, Adass Israel Schools
  2. The Chabad Chassidic, Yeshivah Beth Rivkah Schools
  3. The Mizrachi Religious Zionist, Yavneh College
  4. The Misnagdic/Lithuanian, Yesodei Hatorah School

I am sure that some educational leaders of Mt Scopus College would consider Scopus  a religious school, however, this is not the popular street-view. There are a number of other secular-oriented Jewish Schools in Melbourne and of course elsewhere, but these aren’t the focus of my thoughts.

The Melbourne experience is not atypical. In Israel and the USA one sees more choice but I’d suggest that the choice  is generally an expansion of different shades of the same broad categories above.

My issue with many schools is that they do not promote balance or tolerance. To be specific, I’ll describe some topics which I think would not be dealt with adequately, or at all, within  the above schools. I’m not so much focussing on the particular schools in Melbourne, but rather the type of school.

  1. A Hungarian/Haredi style School would not cover
    • the approach of Torah im Derech Eretz per R’ Shamshon Raphael Hirsch. They wouldn’t even do so in the context of הרבה עשו כרשב’י ולא עלתה בידם.
    • a rejoinder on the שלש שבועות and an understanding of the philosophy of religious Zionism
    • Chabad Chassidus
    • Torah for women
  2. ָA Chabad Chassidic style School would not cover
    • a comparative study of the Nefesh Hachaim and Sefer HaTanya
    • an understanding of the philosophy of religious zionism
  3. A Mizrachi Religious Zionist School would not cover
    • the philosophy of the Satmar Rebbe ז’ל vis a vis ויואל משה
    • chassidus (although that has changed of late with the emergence of חבקוק (but not in Melbourne)
  4. A Misnagdic/Lithuanian would not cover
    • anything that remotely resembled Chabad
    • an understanding of the philosophy of religious Zionism
    • Gemara for women

Now, you might say that’s a short list of items. They aren’t exactly fundamental issues. There are more important things to focus on. What’s the big deal?

The topics above are just indicators—sign posts. The general issue of balance and tolerance runs deeper than these specific matters. In fact, what prompted  this post relates to none of the aforementioned issues!

Our youngest daughter, who attends a respected Chabad School, was learning the halachos of women wearing a head  covering. Sadly, the lesson style was not a textual study, even though the girls are in year 12. The teacher adopted a more informal—Balabatish—study based on short essays and articles on the topic. I chanced upon the material at home and read it with interest. This material, which the girls passively read in class and then discuss, is comprised of

Warning against those who wear a Sheytel

What struck me about the coverage, however, was the complete and perhaps wilful omission of the not insignificant opinions of those who consider the wearing of a Sheytel to actually be forbidden! This view is held, of course, by Chacham Ovadya Yosef  at one end of the spectrum and various Chassidic Poskim at the other end, who held that if one does wear a Sheytel it needs to also include a hat or kerchief. Others who are against Sheytels include: R’ Yaacov Emden ז’ל, the Vilna Gaon ז’ל, the Chasam Sofer ז’ל, the Divrei Chaim of Sanz ז’ל and R’ Shlomo Kluger ז’ל. Maharil Diskin ז’ל and Rav Elyashiv are opposed to particular styles of Sheytels (those that are “too real”) whilst in Beis Ya’akov Schools I am told that a teacher who wears a Mitpachat (a Tichel instead of a Sheytel) will not be admitted. In Charedi Leumi circles, full tichels are the order of the day, and unlike the claim of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, many women simply do not remove their tichels.

I urge you not to misunderstand me. I am decidedly not taking any sides here in the debate about proper modes of hair covering. Indeed, when we were married, many moons ago, I told my wife that she should use whatever style she was comfortable with. I was never about to dictate the style of hair covering; I felt it was a difficult enough thing to live with and there was really no concensus.

What I am against, however, is imbalance and lack of tolerance in education. The children should have been exposed to alternate Torah-based views even if they aren’t the views of the School. Sure, the Lubavitcher Rebbe ז’ל was very pro-Sheytels and anti-Tichels, even in the house, but if a teacher is going to teach children about the concept, why wouldn’t she also cover the sizeable alternative views?

There seems to be a lack of balance, let alone tolerance, in our school systems. It cuts across all the four broad types of schools I mentioned above.

Do you agree with me?

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