Tuesday, August 12, 2014

An Israeli Touro?

Dr. Bernard Lander, OBM - Founder of Touro College
There is a new Charedi Yeshiva Gedola (post high school) opening up in Israel. It will most likely be modeled on Touro.  This Yeshiva ‘college’ will mesh nicely with places like Marava, which is a Charedi high school that includes a full secular studies program. The college will function much the same way Marava does. There will be a strong Limudei Kodesh program in the morning, not unlike any major Yeshiva. I assume that in the afternoon there will be a full curriculum offering of Limudei Chol (secular studies).

In the US, Charedi high schools that have secular studies programs are still pretty much the norm. Albeit decreasingly so.  It is a sad fact of reality that Limudei Chol is being vilified unlike any other time in history. By vilified, I do not mean that any Rabbinic figure openly disparages Limudie Chol.  But the fact that it has become so de-emphasized has been taken by Charedi students to mean that it is more or less worthless in the face of knowing one additional Rashba (the Hebrew acronym of commonly studied Rishon by the name of R' Shlomo Ben Aderes). The idea being that knowing an additional Rashba  has far more value than learning any Limudei Chol.

This is why a Yeshiva high school like  the Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia (Lakewood’s high school more commonly known by its nickname – Philly) that once touted an exceptional secular studies program has reduced it to a bare bones minimum where – if I understand correctly - teachers are prohibited from assigning any homework. 

Nonetheless, secular studies programs still seem to be the norm in most Charedi high schools albeit at a reduced level.  A dual program of Limudie Kodesh and Limudei Chol at the college level has been frowned upon even in the US. No self respecting Charedi Yeshiva would have a college program on its premises. The one time anything like that was attempted (by R’ Yitzchok Hutner and Reb Shrag Feivel Medelowitz), it was nixed by Rav Ahron Kotler.

Touro has become a phenomenal success for Charedi students in the US. There –students from Yeshivos like Lakewood can – and do go to get an education that will enable them to get decent jobs in the professions or in business. It is my understanding that they are packed with Charedi students.

To the credit of American Charedi leaders, there has never been any real criticism of Touro. While many Charedi leaders still believe that the purest of Yeshivos are those that do not have secular studies at all, and promote those Yeshivos over places like Touro, they realize the benefits to their community of schools like Touro and quietly support it. I have never heard any direct criticism by the right of Touro.

But this is not so in Israel. You would think that attending a Touro type Yeshiva is the equivalent of subjecting yourself to Shmad… forced conversion to another religion. The opposition is vehement.

 Not that I am all that surprised.  Marava, was similarly opposed when it opened up. And they are just a high school. Now that a college is opening up along those lines, that the anger expressed by the Charedi leadership is palpable.  

On his blog, Marty Bluke report tells us that the opposition is fierce. That is what the Hebrew edition of the Yated Neeman reports. They are strongly protesting this institution - calling it Chutzpah in the extreme!  To dare to open a school like this up. They refer to it as an unprecedented evil whose purpose is to ensnare the pure and innocent Charedi students into an institution that is the equivalent of biblically forbidden material know as Shatnez. This is how they see a Yeshiva that combines Torah Study with Secular studies.

I can understand the Hashkafa that feels that secular studies should not enter the confines of a Yeshiva. As I do about their encouragement to attend a Yeshiva where only Torah is studied to the exclusion of all else.

But to treat a Yeshiva that does include a secular studies program as a Pariah that should be rejected from their midst, is beyond rational. Why can’t they be more accepting of a school that will in the end benefit their people by helping them become more self supporting? Is there no such thing as recognizing the value of something that is just a little different from your ideal? Why can American Charedi leadership tacitly (if not officially) approve of such situations while Charedi leadership decries and condemns it?

The answer I often hear from American defenders of the Israeli leadership is that what is good for Americans is not necessarily good for Israel. Two different systems with two different needs… and therefore two different educational paradigms. We dare not criticize Israeli Charedi leadership from our perspective here in America.

I do not accept that. As I have often responded to this approach: There is only one Torah for Klal Yisroel. There are not 2 Torahs, one for Israel and one for the US. What’s more, the fact is that Israeli Charedim need this kind of education more than Americans do. The lack of being properly prepared for the workplace is far more serious in Israel than it is in the US. If anyone needs a boost to help them better prepare for the workplace so they can better support their families, it is the Israeli Charedim. Their poverty far surpass American Charedi poverty.

Why is it so hard for the Charedi leadership to compromise? What are they so afraid of? No one wants to hurt them. Least of all a school that is designed by Charedim for Charedim. And why isn’t the American leadership afraid of the same thing? This deserves a serious answer. Condemnations like the one in the Yated are not a substitute for that.