Friday, August 01, 2008

Extremism and Delinquency

Is it fair to say that extremes in any culture contribute to delinquency? I think it is. At-risk children tend to be from homes where extremes are the rule -where behavior and standards are counter to the norm. I think this is true in both right and left situations. Moderation should be the gold standard of life. The Rambam’s golden mean.

Of course the Rambam applies this to general character traits and not in pursuit of Mitzvos. But I think that idea is misunderstood. Of course when it comes to doing Mitzvos one should do them in the most optimal way possible. But some people take that to mean creating impossible environments to live in for the sole purpose of avoiding Michshol. They end up making life almost unbearable compared to the rest of the Torah world..

I would guess some people do that is because of their interpretation of Lifnim Meshuras Hadin - going to a greater degree than required by Halacha - in matters of protecting their children from the evils of society. To that end they introduce strictures - Chumros not required by Halacha nor incorporated by the vast majority of the Orthodox world. That causes young people to rebel. The more extreme - the greater the chances of rebellion.

I also want to make clear that in no way do I think that Chumros are the sole cause of deliquency among our youth. It is mostly dysfunctional families and young people who have been sexually abused - the latter being the most significant factor. My point here is about the correlation between delinquency and a community Chumros where extreme strictures rules the day and make lives for many young people unbearable.

This means that - all things being equal - a Chumra society will likely have greater risk of delinquent children than a well balanced society. Day schools to the right of the norm – or even entire communities to the right of the norm like Ramat Bet Shemesh B, Kiryat Sefer, Lakewood and Beitar - are sure to have a higher incidence of delinquency among their children than the more moderate ‘normal’ Orthodox communities.

Sheltering by swinging right to protect their children doesn’t work the way people think it does. Instead - Chumra-ized societies really puts them at greater risk.

After hearing from someone directly involved with these kinds of situations I am pretty convinced that this is absolutely true. Frankly I find surprising the extent to which that is the case. But I believe him. The further you go to the right the worse it is. If there is anyone whose experiences differ, I’d like to hear it. But it will only be credible if they identify themselves.

Updated: 8/1/08 12:50 PM CDT