Sunday, March 23, 2008

Rabbi Grossman’s Response to Comments

Rabbi Herschel Grossman’s post generated many thoughtful comments from readers. He has asked if I could post his responses to some of them. I have done so here. I would just like to add my personal thanks to Rabbi Grossman for taking time from his very busy schedule to answer questions on these very important educational matters. Also linked to this post is an article that was publsihed in Spring 2006 in Ten Daat, the journal of the Azrieli graduate school of education at Yeshiva University. To quote: it focuses more on "the modern day school system, their educational approach, and the need to adjust the educational methodology and school structure in a way that would inspire greater numbers towards Torah and Yiras Shamayim".

The format is as follows. Original statements from the article are in italics (where applicable). Reader’s comments and/or questions are identified by name (where given) and are followed by Rabbi Grossman’s responses in bold print. Here now, Rabbi Grossman’s response:

"Whereas in the past, the values of the American culture were meant for the Goyim, and the Jew was grateful for its freedoms, today the Jew actively seeks out the finest of Americana."

"I'm not sure that American Jews ever passed on the values of American culture."

I was not making an ideological statement here, nor being judgmental, merely commenting on a change in lifestyle that effects our youth. I merely state that schools who are trying to influence their students must be aware of their current mindset, and adjust a disciplinary approach that may have worked well in a previous generation.

Michael Balinsky :
While I was impressed by the author's sensitivity to some issues, my reading of his understanding of education was quite disappointing. His description of the typical Humash lesson, with which he had no fundamental methodological problem, is really the problem with what passes for bad Torah education. … must be the student's discovery of the problems of the text, and their wrestling with it and discovery of the solutions posed by the meforshim, and their learning of the meforshim inside the text, that is critical… A teacher that does that, that steps back and allows the student's voices to fill the room, that in the end will have much more of a positive impact. Teachers do not need to fill the vacuum, they need to cultivate students whose voices engaged with study of our texts who will be able to do that rather well.

I wish that my words were deserving of such careful attention to warrant Diyukim of this sort. No, the fact that I voiced no objection to educational methodology in an article that addressed other issues does not indicate that I find no methodological problem with that approach. In a separate article, published in Spring 2006 by Ten Daat, the journal of the Azrieli graduate school, I address a number of improvements that could be made to the educational methodology of the modern school system.

While I do appreciate the method that Mr. Balinsky recommends, there is an inherent drawback in teaching Torah in that way: fully empowering the students, with the teacher serving merely as a facilitator negates the possibility of a full and accurate transmission of the Mesorah. It is not enough merely to know a Ketzos HaChoshen or a Kushye of Rebbe Akiva Eiger. In order to understand their approach, one needs a rebbe who will teach his students from whence these giants derived their approach, and to learn to understand a Gemara as they did. In other words, Torah study is not merely the text, but the method and process as well.

For all the criticisms of Israeli Charedim, I am always surprised that rarely does one find acknowledgment of their success in this area. My sixteen year-old cousins, learning in a good Yeshiva Ketana, were likely to finish the entire Mesechta each year; to review it with all the Tosafos at a minimum of ten times, and to be able to recite the entire Mesechta nearly verbatim. They are not alone. The method of study in traditional Yeshivos is similar to the ideal described by Mr. Balinsky. Nearly all of the studies are accomplished independently, but still, there is the daily shiur of the rebbe, which serves to direct their focus to particular angles and approaches. It is not enough to know the text, one needs to know HOW to learn as well.

Paul Shaviv:
Question for Rabbi Grossman: Thank you, first, for an excellent article. In your new school, have you built in structures or principles which embody or enable your ideas? Can you give us some examples? Thank you.

Thank you, Dr. Shaviv, for your kind words, and an opportunity to describe my own school – Yeshivas Ohr Yosef in Tenafly, New Jersey, which has opened this past September with a ninth grade, and we hope to grow the school year by year. I believe we are doing a number of unique things.

1) Though we are a traditional Yeshiva, with a focus on Gemara and a rebbe/talmid relationship that is paramount, we do not insist that our students conform to a Yeshiva mode of dress. We do not force them to wear hats and jackets, even for davening, because I have always felt that pressuing students in areas of personal identity is counter-productive. Even if our goal is to produce mature Yeshiva bachurim, forcing a mode of dress will not affect the way they think.

2) We do not believe that a Yeshiva needs to service a uniform student body, nor that students and their families need to share the very same life-style and Hashkafos. We are looking for students and families who appreciate our own approach to Chinuch; who want their son to be inspired and happy, and to develop a life-long love for Torah learning, and who sense that this approach will work best for their own son, and we believe that diversity among the student body will enrich the school experience.

3) We will not force our students into a specific mode of behavior after graduation. While it may be an ideal for a student to pursue serious learning after high school, for many of our teenagers, the thought of full-time learning is seen as a strait-jacket, and when students think of Yiddishkeit/Yeshiva as prison they are bound to look for an escape. In order for us to reach them properly, they need to believe that our concern is only their best personal interest, and hence, we need to provide them with the tools and capabilities to succeed in life at whatever area they choose. To that end, we have invested great resources to insure that we develop a top-caliber general studies program that will be worthy of respect.

Of course, at this point, I have only my own dreams, and if there are individuals reading this who find that some of these ideas resonate with them, I invite them to contact me, and to partner in the establishment of a Yeshiva that will service a growing need.

Rabbi H. Grossman