Thursday, October 06, 2016

Persecution as the Means to an Observant Lifestyle

Is this what it takes to remain observant in college campuses? 
One of the things I love about Jonathan Rosenblum is the pride he takes in his secular education. For those who may not know, Jonathan attended the University of Chicago for undergraduate school and then Yale Law School.

Jonathan has written quite extensively defending Charedi values in a variety of publications. When the last Keneset decided to enforce the Education Ministry’s requirement for schools to teach its core curriculum in order to be publicly funded, he defended the Charedi opposition to it.

After reading several of his columns on this subject I contacted him and asked him if he had somehow devalued his education at Yale. He responded that he valued it very much as he did his education at U of C. I then asked him why he supported the Charedi position of completely avoiding a basic secular education for their children.  

If I recall correctly, he responded that he too felt they should have one. But that he was opposed to the government imposing it – saying that force was counter-productive. Left alone, the situation will take care of itself, he said. The unwritten message being that as it stood now he too felt that the situation in the Charedi world was unsustainable. As noted yesterday, things do seem to be self correcting to a more sustainable situation.

A column in Mishpacha Magazine a few weeks ago featured yet another moment of ‘swelling pride’ by Jonathan in his Alma Mater, the U of C. This is highly unusual in a community that thinks so little of secular studies - even in elementary school, let alone college… let alone a top tier university like U of C. Pride in a college is not what one usually sees by columnists in magazines like Mishpacha.

What generated that column was U of C’s Dean of Students, John (Jay) Ellison’s recent letter reiterating the university’s long standing policy of not taking positions on the major social issues of the day. Taking positions would have the effect of ‘inhibiting the full freedom of dissent on which it thrives’.

That sets U of C apart from many other universities that tend to take politically correct positions on the issues of the day. A 2015 survey cited by Jonathan said that about 50% of today’s college students feel unsafe expressing unpopular opinions.

For example opposing same sex marriage is anathema in some college circles. If you are so opposed you will be treated like a pariah.And then there is the radical left. They have permeated much of Academia today. Supporting outrageous movements like BDS and referring to Israel as an Apartheid State is their clarion call. They all too often easily influence young minds to take those same positions with venomous rhetoric. Which sometimes results in antisemitic violence against Jewish students. It’s nice to know that at least one top tier school will have none of it! Here is how Jonathan closes that column: 
Even for the Jew I have become, the University of Chicago’s stance remains relevant. The Torah is not politically correct, and Torah Jews are a small and increasingly vulnerable minority. On many campuses today, it is easy to imagine bans on reading Vayikra. Unless we want Jewish students to have to become Marranos in the higher echelons of academia, we should pray that more universities follow the University of Chicago’s lead. 
I could not agree more. But then comes Eytan Kobre in last week’s Mishpacha and throws cold water on Jonathan’s prayer. Why is Eytan so uncomfortable with this development? He thinks it will increase assimilation out of Judaism for the Orthodox students attending those colleges. Better he says that Jews should be uncomfortable in those schools. That will increase the likelihood that they will not assimilate out. By forcing observant Jews to choose schools more conducive to their values.

Making Jews uncomfortable in colleges is not a good thing. Because that means Orthodox Jews will continue to be persecuted. If that argument is taken to its logical conclusion we should all be praying that Jews in this country should be persecuted. It’s hard to assimilate into a society that hates you. It may keep you Frum. But it also might make you dead. As was the case with the ultimate persecution of the Jews – the Holocaust!

Scaring people into submission is the worst way to stay loyal to religious values in any case. That kind of loyalty is superficial. If you are only ‘Frum’ because you are forced into a ghetto by neighbors that persecute you, what kind of commitment is that anyway?

A far better approach is to be positive. To instill pride in the Jewish values with which you were raised. To instill the beauty of Judaism by parents and teachers as a core value. By parents setting the example in living those values at home. To see the attractions of an anti religious culture as anathema to your values. To see the vanity of a non Torah guided life. To see the values of the Torah as the preeminent values of mankind. To appreciate a heritage that has been transmitted to you by your parents. A heritage transmitted over millennia from parent to child since the Torah was received at Sinai.

While it’s true that on occasion the pull of a lifestyle of hedonism found on many college campuses will overwhelm even those that have had Torah values instilled, hopefully the vast majority of Jews raised this way will realize just what they have been given and resist the temptation to assimilate out.

That being said, I agree that campus life in a secular college where there are no authentic Jewish influences should be avoided if possible. The best option is to enroll in a University like YU or Touro. Or to attend a college where you can commute daily and live at home in the same environment you always have. Or to attend a secular university like Penn where campus life has a substantial Orthodox Jewish presence and facilitates an observant lifestyle. But please do not wish that Universities should be hostile to Jews. Because that is just a bad idea.