Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Source of Problems in Ultra-Orthodoxy

On the Main Line has an interesting review of the book “Off the Derech” by Faranak Margolese. I commented there but the issue is so important it deserves a post of its own. The issue goes beyond the very serious problem of young people abandoning Torah observance. It goes to the very heart of problem today within ultra Orthodoxy. It has produced what I consider to be a near fatal flaw in the system and is tied to the rapidly increasing crises it faces today... crises of faith, Parannasa, Shiduchim... amongst many others. And the effects are not limited to just to the ultra-Orthodox. They affect all of us. The vast majority of educators come from their ranks. With perhaps a few notable exceptions, there is barely a day school or high school that doesn’t have a least one Mechanech from their ranks... usually more than one. These are often very talented people who in many cases become role models... even charismatic role models to our children.

In his review of the book, On The Main Line cites the pertinent paragraph from Rav Eliyahu E. Dessler (REED) Vol. III pp. 355-60 of Michtav Me-eliyahu):

"...the philosophy of Yeshiva education is directed towards one objective alone, to nurture Gedolei Torah and Yirei Shamayim in tandem. For this reason university was prohibited to their students, because [the Gedolim] could not see how to nurture Gedolei Torah unless they directed all education towards Torah exclusively. However, do not think that they did not know in advance that through this approach, G-d forbid, many (students) will be ruined, since they will be unable to survive such an extreme position, and [therefore] separate from the path of Torah. However, this is the price that must be paid for [producing] Gedolei Torah."

In my view, the Rav Dessler quote is the source of all sources. It is the reason no secular education is allowed beyond eighth grade in Charedi Yeshivos in Israel. And it is the reason for the de-emphasis of secular knowledge of most Yeshivos here in the US. Young people going “off the track” is but one spoke on the wheel of problems that such a philosophy has produced.

I strongly disagree with REED's position. It may have had merit at a time when full time Yeshiva learning was a hard sell to the masses. But the reverse is now the case. University is anathema to the generations who were raised in REED's philosophy. And these are the parents and grandparents of today. They are the spiritual children of the REED approach. And so are most of the Mechanchim. And it is profoundly harmful to Klal Yisroel. Yes, as REED indicates we need to produce Gedolim. But in the current ultra-Orthodox climate that is the entire focus. Unlike the times in which Rav Dessler wrote this, there is no other pursuit which is valued today within ultra-Orthodoxy, other than learning Torah full time. There is no need to tolerate the kind of losses this system is producing any more.

Besides... the system hasn’t really worked anyway. It has succeeded in producing a great many dropouts. But exactly how many Gedolim has it produced?