Sara Dafner is someone who I am sure exemplifies the essence of a large segment of the Charedi world. It is derived of a Hashkafa that focuses on striving to elevate oneself religiously - and by extension - one’s children.
Raising our religious standards is not a bad thing. On the contrary. It is a good thing. We should all strive to serve God in the best way we can. But it is not the sum and substance of Judaism to endlessly chase after Chumros and become the Frummest person on the block. That is not what elevation means. And yet that is how many in the Charedi world see it.
So if a school opens up advertised as being Frummer than the one your child attends now, it’s a no brainer. You send your child to the new school at all cost.
Sara Dafner is upset by the reaction of those who applauded the recent ruling by Rav Shteinman opposing this very mindset and disallowing elitist Beis Yaakovs in Jerusalem. She felt it was unfair to castigate those who sought out such schools. But it is quite obvious that despite the fact that she respects Rav Shteinman’s Psak, she does not understand why he would be opposed to a parent seeking a school with the highest religious standards. In justifying why parents desire to send their children to such schools Mrs. Dafner’s says the following (on Matzav.com):
They are caring, sincere ovdei Hashem who have seen the problems in the Bais Yaakovs and want something more for their daughters. They want a standard of dress, a standard of behavior and a standard of speech that echo that which they are trying to impart to their daughters at home.
Does she think that Rav Shteinman is not aware of what goes on in the Beis Yaakov schools? Is he not concerned that the children will rebel against what is taught in the home? He was very clear about what he said:
“There is no inyan whatsoever to be frummer than Bais Yaakov. Anyone who registered their daughter at an elite school should negate the matter and re-register in the Bais Yaakov schools.”
Are Rav Shteinman’s standards not good enough for Mrs. Dafner’s children? Is she worried that they will only have Rav Shteinman’s standards of religiosity? I’m sure she wouldn’t put it that way, but her answer would in essence be ‘Yes!’ ‘There is no end to how religious one should be.’ ‘The Frummer the better.’
This attitude is what contributes to the divisiveness in Orthodoxy. It makes a competition out of being Frum and makes the ‘statement’ that those who do not compete do not quite measure up. This results in an attitude about oneself and one’s children that ‘We are holier than you!’ ‘If you want to be a part of this world join in or be left out - and you’ll be a second class Jew.’ It teaches a child to be elitist and see others as beneath themselves religiously. This is what Rav Shteinman protests and he forbids it:
“The Bais Yaakov schools do an extraordinary job in educating our girls, and there are a number of reasons why developing more “elite” schools is unwarranted. One reason is that it is important that the parents understand that a child raised in a manner that is disconnected from her friends, can and does ruin the child forever. Children learn with their peers and the elitism can be most destructive to them.”
That Mrs. Dafner does not understand that and seems pained by his decision is a major part of the reason that there is a virtual wall of separation between certain elements of the Charedi world and other - even Frum Jews. Mrs. Dafner’s attitude is anything but moderate. She may not realize it but she is an extremist.
In defending her attitude she correctly states that Achdus requires tolerance . Indeed we should respect the right of anyone to send their children to any school they wish. But there should be a realization of the full consequences of a parent’s decision to chase Frumkeit for their children. Tolerance is not fostered in elitist schools. The intolerant attitude of ‘holier than thou’ is.
Becoming increasingly Machmir in certain Halachos is not the goal of Judaism. Rav Shteinman understands that. “There is no Inyan to be Frummer than Beis Yaakov” he said. There is more to Judaism than forever increasing stringencies in one’s mode of dress or speech.
I do not believe that God wants His people to have a sort of elitist religious competition. That is not how we elevate ourselves in our Avodas HaShem – our service to God. I believe that God wants His people to be tolerant of each other. And the only way to do that is to be the opposite of elite – to fully integrate with all elements of Klal Yisroel. And the sooner Mrs. Dafner and the Frumkeit chasers in her world realize that, the sooner we will have true Achdus.