Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Breaking Bad

Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran
Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran is a noted author, educator, and lecturer who often writes articles on issues of our day. Having read my post yesterday, he referred me to an article of his expressing a similar attitude that was published a few months ago in Arutz Sheva. But he made one very important point that I failed to make. From his article: 
How is it that our talmidim (students) are so wonderfully schooled in Torah and yet kept so ignorant in basic human decency?  How is it that the same so-called ben Torah, who was so well-educated in yeshiva – and undoubtedly well-versed in the tractates  Kiddushin and Gittin – who sat at the feet of rebbeim, who was surrounded by roshei yeshivas (various rabbinic figures), who had his most distinguished Rosh Yeshiva  serve as mesader kiddushin (perform the wedding), who invited other Torah scholars to recite the sheva brachos (seven wedding blessings), who celebrated seven days of sheva brachos with speeches extolling the beautiful Yiddishe home that would be established by this wonderful talmid, this young man “of whom we are all so proud…”, how is it that this same young man can be so quickly transformed into a beast simply because the marriage did not work out? 
I cannot emphasize enough how important this point is. It once again shows that as successful as our Jewish educational system is, it is far too often a major failure in teaching Menthlichkeit. It is almost as though becoming a Talmud Chacham is so important, that everything else falls by the wayside.

This is not to say God forbid that Jewish education teaches bad Midos (character traits). Of course it doesn’t. Nor does it say that everyone that goes through the system ends up rich in Torah knowledge and poor in Midos. Neither statement is true.  Most students in our religious schools do end up rich in Torah knowledge and are imbued with a sense of awe for Torah. For Orthodox Jews the Torah is the central feature of our lives. And for all Jews throughout history – it has kept us alive as a people despite all attempts to annihilate us either physically, spiritually, or both. 

But somehow in all this - the message of Mentchlkeit seems to have gotten lost. While most Jews that have gone through the system are fine people, observant Jews with exemplary Midos, far too many don’t have a clue about them. 

I see it all too often at weddings when Yeshiva Bachurim (young students) of all stripes – Charedim as well as modern Orthodox get so rowdy, so wild, so full of themselves that Midos go out the door. They becomes so self absorbed that during a dance set they ignore people around them – often bumping into elderly people standing right next to them. How many times have I seen Yeshiva Bachurim getting drunk at a wedding? How many times do I see some of them asking where they can find the booze? They find it. The get drunk. And they proceed to make a Chilul HaShem. All while their Roshei Yeshiva looks the other way! How many times have I heard a guest (religious or otherwise) at a wedding who observes their behavior rhetorically ask, ‘Is this what the Yeshivos are producing’?! I have heard that question asked more times than I can count!

And then there is the behavior in some Charedi Yeshiva high schools. While not universal by any means, how many times have I been told by Mechanchim that work in them  about the constant Chilul HaShem students make by ridiculing their secular studies teachers behind their back – and sometimes to their face? Again, more times than I can count. (Not surprising considering how secular studies are generally treated by many Charedi Roshei Yeshiva and Rebbeim.)

It is that same self absorbed mentality that causes the some of these young men - many of whom who have studied in the finest Yeshivos to torture their ex-wives by refusing to give them a Get.

Now I know that the Roshei Yeshiva are all dismayed by some of that behavior. But in my view not nearly enough. If students don’t learn positive character traits at home, then they have to learn them in school. Good character is best transmitted by role modeling behavior. If a Rebbe becomes an icon to his students, as is often the case, his behavior will be emulated. 

In Charedi schools, The Roshei Yeshiva and Rebbeim cannot continually disparage secular studies and expect their students to have any special respect for those who teach them.

How did we get to this point? I think I understand what happened. Yeshiva students had always been looked down upon by a Jewishly uninformed public. In some cases even a religious public. ‘Bentch Kvetchers’. ‘Do nothings’. ‘Ledigayers’. ‘Leaches’. ‘Parasites’. These Roshei Yeshiva rightly tried to counter that by insisting to their students that they are not any of those things but instead instilling in them that they are the opposite. They are the Torah True Jews - the best of the best - who hold up the world by their Torah study.  

I agree that their function in society is important. But not at the expense of Mentchlichkeit. If you are not a Mentch, of what value is your Torah? If you are not a Mentch, your identity as a Yeshiva Bachur makes the behavior I described above a huge Chilul Hashem!

I’m sure that there is not a Rosh Yeshiva worth his salt that doesn’t agree with this. But they must be keeping it a secret from their students. Maybe not all of them… but enough of them to make the Yeshiva world look bad. And that has to change.