Monday, March 28, 2011

A Charedi Perspective on Charedi Chinuch

I was sent a recent Mishpacha Magazine article by Rabbi Yisroel Besser - grandson of Rav Haskel Besser and currently one of Mishpacha’s contributing editors. He asked asked if I would comment upon it – agree or disagree.

I’m not sure who wrote the article as there is no by-line but it could have been written by me. I completely agree with all of it.

Mishpacha Magazine is very unique in the sense that it is a decidedly Charedi publication and adheres to Charedi standards. It does not for example contain any pictures of women. But to its great credit, it does not fear publishing articles that other Charedi media consider too controversial for their pages. The greatest example of this was their cover story on Rav Hershel Schachter of Yeshiva University and his description of Rav Soloveitchik.

It was a very positive story about both of these great men – the student and his mentor - that puts into sharp contrast what the Jewish Observer wrote about the Rav upon his death. That ignoble obituary will forever stain what might have otherwise been a fine legacy for a Charedi magazine that had its own obituary written a few years ago. (Poetic justice?) Not only did they do a hatchet job on the Rav - Rav Schachter was at best a non entity to them.

Once again Mishpacha has the courage to tell it like it is about its own community – the very readership is serves.

There are three issues it deals with and they are right on the money with each of them.

The first issue is how the current values of the Charedi system of Chinuch contributes mightily to the numbers of Mishulachim. A Mishulach is someone who comes from another area – usually Israel – to collect funds for one reason or another – often just to support themselves and their families. From the article:

I do have a sense that there are too many people in our community who are being denied the chance to ever succeed in anything by societal norms that may be very different from Torah values. One example is the flurry of “collectors” who pour through every minyan, in every halfway solvent community in America. While some of them have been propelled by circumstances beyond their control, for many collecting for children’s chasanos was the game plan from the beginning.

How well - and succinctly put. The societal norms of this community deny them the opportunity to learn anything but Torah 24/7. In doing so they cannot possibly prepare themselves to make a decent living. If anyone of them ever does, they are considered outcasts. It is far more acceptable therefore to go through their system and end up as charity cases than to even have a thought of learning a trade or profession. As Mishpacha puts it:

Being a nitzrach min habrios (depending on others for financial support) should not be any Torah Jew’s preferred life plan.

Although Mishpacha lists the next item separately, the second issue is directly related to the first. And – as is the first - it is one of my recurring themes.

It is my firm belief that those who are not cut out to learn Torah full time would better off learning a trade or a profession. Nonetheless because of the type of Chincuh they get they are virtually forced to stay in learning full time even while they contemplate marriage. They are indoctrinated to continue sitting in the Beis Hamedarsh and refuse to even consider preparing to make a living in any way.

Why? They realize that no young woman (or her parents - or any decent Shadchan) would ever consider a working man as marriage material in the Charedi world. What a sad irony for so many of the young men like this that are trapped into this system. Again from Mishpacha:

Nor does pretending to be a full-time yeshiva student help his marital chances much, since the Dun and Bradstreet type checking performed in Israel will usually uncover his true status in learning. If his parents lack resources to contribute to an apartment somewhere, he will find himself offered only girls who themselves are considered “less successful” in one way or another.

The third point that Mishpacha makes I have made before – although less frequently. It is however just as valid as the first two.

There are problems in the current Charedi approach to even developing the truly talented Torah students into fulfilling their own potential. There is no training for these brilliant young men to become true Marbitzei Torah (those who spread Torah by attracting many students to their Shiurim or their Seforim). There is no development of pedagogical or writing skills. Once again from Mishpacha:

Though his rosh yeshiva likes him very much, his guidance is largely confined to helping his “star” find a rich shidduch from among the fathers who come to talk to him.

These young men are the ones with the potential to become Gedolim and yet the way the Charedi system handles them is counterproductive to producing one. One does not become a Gadol in Torah by simply sitting and learning while being supported by a rich father-in-law.

Of course pedagogical training or developing writing skills are but two facets of many required for Gadlus in Torah. But without at least one of them he might as well be sitting in a closet with an open Gemarah for the rest of his life for he will contribute nothing to Judaism.

This is what worries the writer of this article. And he is right to worry. As the population in the Charedi world increases exponentially over the next few generations; and if the current trend does not change, there will be enough Meshulchim in the world who along with their families will be able to populate entire cities.

Update: I have just been informed by Rabbi Besser that the Mishpacha article was written by Jonathan Rosenblum.