Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Show Me the Lomdim!

You won’t find me agreeing with someone like this very often. In fact I would be willing to bet that on most Hashkafic issues he and I would very likely be on opposite sides. And yet on this issue we are one.

Yesterday VIN reported about an an ‘explosive speech’ delivered by Rabbi Aaron Krausz (pictured). He spoke – well past nightfall during a Shalosh Seudos meal in his Shul. Rabbi Krauz is a prominent Rav and Rosh HaYeshiva in Williamsburg and - I believe - a Satmar Chasid. His subject: Declaring war against yeshivos that expel their Talmidim (students).

If I had uttered these words, I would have been accused of Charedi bashing. Well, Rabbi Krausz can hardly be classified as a Charedi basher. And he not apparently some sort of renegade. According to VIN - here is what he said (translated from Yiddish):

“Rabosai, there is a fire burning in the Jewish community! All those yeshivos who only take metzuyanim have blood on their hands! We have teens wandering the streets, thrown out because they don’t know a p’shat or a deep Rashba? Stop with the nonsense!” “oh, you wanna build “lomdim”. That’s your goal, right? Look around in shul. Show me all those lomdim you brought up with this system. Show me!!”

Rabbi Krausz went so far as to call for a boycott of institutions like this telling people not to give them a dime.

There is no question about it. Many Yeshivos are so competitive that they will only accept the best Bachurim and subject them to such intensive learning schedules that it can cause burn-out even in the most diligent of students. Those students will not last long in places like this.

I have also said in the past that parents are in many cases guilty of contributing to this phenomenon. Every parent thinks his child is a genius and will push to get him into a school like this.

The problem is that most children are not geniuses. Jews have a bell curve too. Most people fall within 1 or 2 standard deviations on any intelligence scale which is well within the normal intelligence range and nowhere near the genius range. What many Jewish parents are not willing to recognize is that part of our population falls within average to below average range. And even if they do acknowledge it - certainly their child does not.

But often they do. A student of average or even slightly above average intelligence will not thrive in such a high pressure environment. They can –and often do just drop out. At first in class and later from observance altogether...in a state of frustration and sometimes even clinical depression. When that happens many self medicate. That usually means resorting to alcohol or illegal drugs.

The intense competition between Yeshivos to be recognized as ‘the best’ means they aren’t interested in average students and gear their studies to the over-achievers. Many do not make that cut – and don’t even get accepted.

These schools are guilty of murder – spiritual murder. I think that is what Rabbi Krausz is talking about.

My Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik accepted almost all students into his Yeshiva, Yeshivas Brisk, and rarely if ever expelled anyone. He understood the consequences of that. I am told that he resisted expulsions even at the suggestion the Rebbeim. Other Yeshivos were very selective and quick to rid themselves of any student that they had the slightest problem with. Those students often ended up in Brisk. He took them in. And often they thrived there.

I recall a few years ago that Rav Avrohom Chaim Levine, the Rosh HaYeshiva of Telshe-Chicago and member of the Agudah Moetzes making a similar point during an address at an Agudah or Torah U’Mesorah convention. He railed against today’s Yeshivos that accept only the best of the best – from only the ‘Frummest of Frum’ homes.

He pointed to some distinguished Baalei Baatim or Mechanchim in the audience who would never be accepted by today’s standards. Rabbi Levine did not call for a boycott then. But if this very Charedi Chasidic Rav and Rosh HaYeshiva is calling for one, things must have really gotten out of hand.

This is quite an indictment of the whole sytem – especially in light of his challenge to these elitist Yeshivos to produce even a single Lamdan (…someone who knows how to learn Torah in depth at the highest of levels).

More power to him. The question is – will anyone listen to him?