Thursday, March 10, 2011

Once Upon an Expulsion

I admit my ignorance here. I have no clue who the Rosh HaYeshiva of the Ohr Yisrael Yeshiva in Petach Tikva, Israel is. But according to Rafi Goldmeier he is well known in the Charedi world. Rafi recently wrote a post about an event that took place in that Yeshiva he titled, Rosh Yeshiva, Harav Qaddafi, Shlita’.

The reason he did that is because the reaction of students to the draconian way in which their Rosh Yeshiva handled a student who broke a rule against cell phone use.

In the ‘ban everything’ world of Charedim in Israel banning cell phone use is seen as quite normal. It is in concert with bans on all social networking media and electronic communication devices. But Kosher cell phones are generally permitted.

What is a Kosher Cell phone? It is what telephones used to be about in the last century: making and receiving phone calls and nothing else.

Now of course phone calls are probably the least used function of these devices which have multiple uses like: texting, e-mailing, internet surfing, taking pictures, downloading and listening to music, reading books, playing computer games. They can even be used as a remote – a very remote control for TV and recording devices in your home no matter where in the world you are.

This Rosh Yeshiva is certainly no exception to the ‘ban everything’ mentality. He too has banned all these uses. But he went one step further. He has banned even normal phone calls. The rule in his Yeshiva is that any use of a cell phone is prohibited.

Actually this ban is not all that unreasonable in achieving the goals of a Yeshiva like this. He wants his students to do nothing but learn Torah with absolutely no distractions. A phone call in the middle of a learning Seder certainly qualifies as a distraction. So why does Rafi call this Rosh Yeshiva ‘Qaddafi’? Because of what resulted from his no tolerance policy with respect to cell phone use. Anyone caught using a cell phone for any reason gets the boot. They are expelled. No exceptions.

That’s draconian especially on a Yeshiva like this.

One can imagine that a Yeshiva with a ‘name’ Rosh Yeshiva like this attracts only the ‘best and brightest’ Charedi students. Students motivated to go to a Yeshiva like this would certainly not be surprised by a rule like this. And it is generally not a problem for them. These young men are not the time-wasters one finds in the middle of the afternoon who – instead of learning in the Beis HaMedrash – are hanging out on street corners in Geula section of Jerusalem smoking cigarettes. They are the highly motivated ‘cream of the crop’ types who actually learn with tremendous dedication. There are probably enough young men applying to that Yeshiva for them to be very selective.

So why exactly has this Rosh Yeshiva has been dubbed ‘Qaddafi’? Read on:

The rosh yeshiva threw out a boy, two weeks before his wedding, for having a cellphone that he thought would help him have an easier time preparing for the upcoming wedding. Looking back, he probably should have asked permission. After he was tossed, the rest of the yeshiva was upset. As they began to register their protest, the yeshiva took a heavy handed position and tossed 3 of the older guys from the yeshiva. The revolt was quelled. For a bit.

The revolt was reawakened when the rosh yeshiva decided recently to tell the boys they could not use their mp3 players until they turned them in to the office. The office would arrange for all these players to have their functions disabled from any possible outside influence (radio access).The boys refused to turn over their players, saying that doing so would invalidate the warranty on the devices.

Without going into the whole chain of events, which you can get on Bechadrei, the rosh yeshiva threatened to throw anybody out who is in possession of a player that has not had its external functions disabled. The yeshiva was at large risk of losing a large percentage of its students, when the rosh yeshiva called the elder group of 60 boys in and told them he could not look at them because they are corrupt and if they dont turn in their players by the end of the day they would all be tossed.

The threat did not work, except on a small number of boys. Then, in a dramatic turn of events, the rosh yeshiva announced one evening the other day, before maariv, "I am not Qaddafi, I am not Mubarak, and I am not stuck to my chair. You have learned from "the cousins" to make revolutions. If you want me to go, just say so and I will leave."

OK. That student should have known better. Maybe as Rafi suggests, he should have asked permission first because of his special circumstances. But expulsion? For this? No warning? No second chance? No exceptions? One infraction and you’re gone? Remember we are talking about cream of the crop types, not borderline miscreants.

Being expelled from a top Yeshiva is not a simple thing – especially in the Charedi world. It is not something a student – even a top student – can just shrug off. It probably carries a life-long stigma attached to it. Will the expelled rule breaker now suffer a broken engagement from his fiancé because of this? And what about the 3 others who were expelled because of protesting what they saw as an unjust decision and possibly devastating result for their fellow student? Will they ever get the kind of Shiddach they are looking for? What young woman would want to date someone who was expelled from a Yeshiva? What Charedi father would even allow his daughter to consider it?

If cell phone use is not taken lightly in a Yeshiva, neither should expulsions. It is one thing to discipline a student for breaking a rule. But to expel him and possibly ruin his life goes way beyond what is right and just in my eyes. It is therefore no small wonder that fellow ‘cream of the crop’ students stood up for their fellow. They did the right thing. It was a courageous thing for them to do.

I’m sure that every single one of them would agree that a rule was broken and the student who broke it deserved sanction. But expulsion was clearly the wrong option. In my view this Rosh Yeshiva was guilty of a far greater crime than that student was. He offered his resignation. I think who ever runs that Yeshiva ought to accept it. I don’t care how brilliant or erudite he is. This is not someone who should be guiding high caliber young men.

He is a tyrant unreflective of the characteristic of our people as Rachmanim Bnei Rachmanim. And he is certainly not a good role model. The danger of letting him stay on lies precisely in the reputation he has in his world. If he is looked up to because of his Torah knowledge and level of learning, so too will be his Mida of ruthlessness. The last thing Klal Yisroel needs is more ruthless Roshei Yeshiva.

I don’t know what the great European Roshei Yeshiva of the past looked like when it came to expelling their student. But I doubt that the Chafetz Chaim treated any of his students like that. Nor do I think that the Chafetz Chaim’s own Rosh Yeshiva treated him or his fellow students like that. I realize that some Roshei Yeshiva of the past were very tough. But I do not recall hearing about any student ever being expelled. Even those that read books that led some of them to become Maskilim. What the Jewish world needs now is more Chafetz Chaims and less like Harav Qaddafi, Shlita.