Friday, October 29, 2010

Achieving a Goal by Destroying Some Lives

My Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik- a Baal Chesed par excellence - must be turning over in his grave. Jews are supposed to be Rachmanim Bnei Rachmanim - a very merciful people. But the officials at Beis Yaakov high school in Jerusalem (BJJ for short - but not affiliated with Rebbetzin David’s BJJ) seem to be falling a bit short on that.

A blogger known a Jameel reported on his blog The Muqata, that 9 girls from that school were expelled. The expulsion was immediate. What was their crime? They were in possession of a banned item - a cell phone that included texting.

They were caught because one of them had received a text message about a friend who had just gotten engaged and had excitedly jumped up and announced that to her class. The teacher realized that the only way she could know that is if she received the information via a text message. The teacher called the principal who proceeded to confiscate her phone and search the caller IDs to see who else in that school was texting and then summarily expelled all of them.

Most people who read this blog know my attitude about these kinds of bans. I believe they are wrong at so many levels and counterproductive to boot. I am not going to go into detail why here. It is beyond the scope of this post.

The truth is that any school has the right to impose any rules it wants – no matter how stupid those rules are. Parents that choose to send their kids must abide by the rules. Parents and students will know that if the rules are not followed they will suffer the consequences. If it is made clear that a specific offence is punishable by expulsion, then technically the school had every right to expel those kids.

But that is the Midas HaDin. In terms of pure justice - the ‘letter of the law’ was followed. But it was not the Midas HaRachamim. Justice was not tempered with mercy. In my view that is not justice at all. We are supposed to follow both those attributes of God. Not just one.

Justifiable or not -what BJJ did was inexcusable. In fact the very establishment of such consequences is inexcusable even if the rule itself is not (although I think banning cellphones is not the best way to handle the problem).

I understand the problem and why they did it. They feel that the end of the world is near via this new technology. They see it as the biggest single danger to Judaism. A hand held device that can access the worst porn in an instant without anyone being the wiser will destroy Neshmos. This has been shown to be the case as was recently reported in a Mishpacha article I wrote about.

Rabbinic leaders say that it has and will continue to be extremely harmful if harsh measures aren’t established to deal with it. While I generally agree with their assessment of the dangers, I completely disagree with the measures they use to combat it.

As is always the case in these circles, they believe isolating their young from the outside world is the best way to handle it. The deeper the isolation - the better. Banning an item that provides easy access to that world and severely punishing violators is their method of dealing with it. But as I have said in the past - that will not solve the problem. As this incident shows, there are far too many decent girls honoring this ban in the breach. Rabbinic leaders will not stop the avalanche of technology bombarding the entire world from permeating their walls by simply banning it. They are spitting in the wind.

And let’s not make any mistake about it. These are all decent girls. There is no indication that any of them are anywhere near being OTD or even at risk of it. They just did what many teenagers do and broke some rules that they didn’t think were so bad. And now their lives have just been ruined.

I assume one reason that BJJ did this was to make examples out of them. It sends the message that even good girls aren’t going to get away with it. They are dead serious about prohibiting any possibility of this ‘stumbling block’ from entering their turf.

Well that may instill the fear of God into any future student who might be thinking of violating that rule – although I doubt it will fully work. But even if it does - at what price? In those circles their Shidduch chances are ruined. The type of Shiduchim they are looking for will now never give them the time of day. How many young men who learn in Brisk or Mir would consider dating a girl who was expelled from BJJ? And those are the only kinds of young men these girls are indoctrinated to seek! (Another stupidity - but I digress.)

I am appalled at what happened here. If I were part of that student body I would call for a full boycott of the school by every student with a goal of having those girls reinstated – even if it meant they were all going to be expelled. I would ask that all parents join in a massive protest in front of the school and call the media to make sure it gets the public attention. I would hope that every decent and fair minded parent of any stripe - religious or secular - in Israel would join in solidarity with this school and make their voices heard.

BJJ may think justice has been served but it has not. It has been perverted. If any of these girls go OTD or even have a hard time getting married– they will have contributed to it by destroying their reputations.

This is what happens in extreme societies. If there are masses of their members that flee from it, it is certainly understandable why. BJJ ought to reconsider these expulsions and act like the Bnei Rachmanim they are supposed to be. Because right now they guilty of a ‘crime’ far worse than those students are.

Update(10/31/10): The picture above is not necessarily of any of the girls in the story. It was taken from Jameel’s blog. It is however a picture of three girls in obvious distress... the same kind of distress the girls who were expelled are going through and might easily have looked like. I apologize for not making this clear until now.

New Update(11/2/10): This version of events reported in this post has been disputed by a parent who has a daughter in that very class. Her post is located here.