Monday, April 09, 2012

Of Morals and Midos

I have had a wonderful Yom Tov so far - as I hope everyone else has. I am therefore loath to write a critical piece because of that. And yet, I have no choice. Bad behavior must be countered whenever and wherever it happens. The sooner the better. Delaying criticism delays changing the behavior.

Bad behavior exists in both the world of Modern Orthodoxy (MO) and the Charedi (RW) world. I see it all the time. As I did over the last couple of days in some young people of these two widely differing Hashkafos.

Without getting into details I witnessed some Halachicly problematic behavior between the sexes of some teenagers who attend a coed MO religious high school. Not that I was all that surprised by it. Those who attend such high schools are far more likely to be involved in some kind of violation of this kind.

It is only natural for adolescents whose libidos are in hyper-drive to ‘act out’ - in some way when they are in constant proximity to the opposite sex. When putting the two sexes together in the same environment every single day… what would anyone expect to happen when they are not in the class-room and they get together? It takes a lot of will- power to resist the natural impulses of attraction between the sexes – impulses these young people are ill equipped to resist at their age.

This is of course not to say that all – or even most MO teenagers violate Halacha in this regard. The truth is I don’t know what the percentages are. There is also a positive side to coeducation in that it teaches young people of both sexes how to interact with each other. But the negative outweighs the positive. There are other - and in my view better - ways to teach young people how to interact with each other.

I often see public violations of these kinds of Halachos. That said I believe that most teens in MO coed schools behave. But… like I said. I know what I see. Which is one of the reasons I am opposed to co-ed high schools in most cases.

I would not however abolish coed high schools because they serve a purpose in furthering Jewish education. There are some cases where teens will flourish jewishly only in these schools - where they might have been failures in single sex schools. And there are some parents that will not consider sending their children to anything but a coed school.

Nonetheless I firmly believe that as a first option one should avoid sending their children to a coed high school. The problem with coed schools is a serious one. Modern Orthodox leaders would be wise to try and do something about it.

On the Charedi side there is a problem of an entirely different kind. It is one that I often write about. It is a problem of intolerance with respect to non Charedi Jews. I believe this attitude is actually taught to their students. I encountered this too during the first days. It may not be directly taught. But it is taught nonetheless.

It is unfortunately not uncommon to find Mechanchim on the right wing of Orthodoxy that teach – at least subliminally if not outright - that if one is not an adherent of the Charedi Hashkafa, one is not a Ben Torah. Sometimes there is overt disparagement of Modern Orthodoxy and all of its symbols - like the Kipa Seruga.

When it comes to the State of Israel they may as well be talking about Sodom and Gemorah - wishing for the demise of the ‘evil secular Israeli government’! Burning an Israeli flag is worthy of high praise even among some American Charedi Mechanchim!

Students at some Charedi schools are also taught that the average non Jew is to be seen as a disgusting human being. Although they are not encouraged to say it publicly, young teenagers are quite happy to treat them that way.

Think not? I have mentioned this story before. I have a very close friend who was the general studies principal at a mainstream Charedi high school. The students there were extremely respectful of their Roshei Yeshiva and Rebbeim -as one would expect them to be. But the secular studies teachers were made fun of and ridiculed … sometimes to their faces!

When the secular studies principal first saw this and confronted them with it, their ‘Torah Learning’ immediately surfaced and they rationalized the behavior in the following way: Since non Jews are subject to the Noah-hide laws and violating them is considered a capital offense, they were most likely guilty of such violations and subject to capital punishment anyway. They therefore deserved to be treated that way.

Needless to say the principal was shocked by that reaction. There was no concern for Chilul HaShem. No concern for Kavod HaBriyos! No understanding of the principle that every human being created in the image of God. They just saw ‘Goyim’ as ‘Behaimos’ - animals with no salvation! So why not ridicule them?! It was fun!

Most people on the right will vehemently deny this to you. Publicly they will say that this is a lie. That it never happened. But among themselves this is how many of them they think. And this is what is transmitted to their children at home and in the schools. They are indoctrinated to keep their mouths shut in public. But… boys will be boys. Those kids may have thought no one was looking. But their principled principal was.

Like I said - I saw this attitude expressed over Yom Tov too.

It is true that that Charedi schools teach Torah at a very high level. By the time they reach high school, many of them are way ahead of their non Charedi counterparts. I applaud that and even envy it. But when that is accompanied by an indoctrination that looks disparagingly at those outside of their own very narrow worldview - it becomes meaningless to me. What good is all that Torah learning if it produces the kind of behavior described to me by that high school general studies principal; and that I witnessed myself over the first two days of Yom Tov?!

The Charedi establishment can deny it all they want. But they know it’s true. And they ought to do something about it! And I don’t mean just hiding it while still believing it either. That is both wrong and obviously doesn’t even work. And it is disgusting!