Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Chasidic Education Crisis

Rav Y. Reuven Rubin
When Chasidism was founded by the Bal Shem Tov, it was considered by many mainstream rabbinic leaders of the time to be a form heresy.  No less than the pre-eminent Gadol of the last 3 centuries, the Vilna Gaon (the Gra), was absolutely convinced of it. He fought it tooth and nail until the end of his life. This is indisputable history.

Without getting into details things eventually smoothed over based on a combination of: Chasdism ridding itself of some of their more bizarre and questionable practices; a better understanding of what Chasidus was really about; and perhaps most importantly the fact that a newer, more dangerous ideology arose that need to be fought with everything we had, Reform Judaism.

Fast forward to today. Chasidism is considered as legitimate as those of the Lithuanian type Yeshiva Hashkafa whose progenitor was the Gra. (There are of course other streams in Orthodoxy such as Torah Im Derech Eretz  and my own Centrist Hashkafa - but they are irrelevant to this discussion.)

Even though both believe in the meticulous observance of Halacha, there is still a major divide in their worldviews. Aside from some obvious cosmetic differences (such as the manner of dress), there are substantive differences as well.

One of which is how they view secular education.  While both worlds would prefer offering only religious subjects to their students, the Yeshiva world, for the most part sees enough value in it to teach it to their students as a general policy. This is in part based on parental desire and in part on government requirements.  Instead of fighting it, they take it seriously. I recall R’ Eliya Svei saying that if they were going to offer a secular studies curriculum, there was no Mitzvah to waste your time. He insisted his Yeshiva have a fine secular studies program.  

Chasidim do not see enough value to offer it under any circumstances and will fight any effort to do so. Even if there are parents that would desire it for their children. This is why the current educational crisis in New York is almost exclusively about Chasidic Yeshivos. 

But this battle s not limited to the United States. It is going on in the UK too. With far more serious consequences.The UK subsidizes religious schools to some degree – provided they offer a secular studies curriculum. Which brings me to a somewhat enigmatic article by Rav Y. Reuven Rubin. From Matzav
No matter, this is an Eis Tzorah, a time of maximum challenge, larger than anything we have seen here in generations.
Please. Let’s come together and use the one true weapon that is our inheritance going back to our very roots in Avrohom Avinu, let us daven together.
One massive Yom Tefilah, in a huge venue, parents grandparents and yes most importantly children. We will hold nothing more than our tehillimlach in our hands, and turn to the One source of all hope and light.
We must do this now, whilst others who mean us harm read reports and conjur over their plans, we, children of Avrohom, Yitzchok, Yaakov must cry out to Hashem our Father that loves us. There must not be any division, all must gather together, all Torah Yiden, Chasidim, Yeshivish, Sfardisha, Baal Habatish, the titles don’t end but the one solid fact is that we are all one Klall Yisroel. 
Rav Rubin never clearly identifies exactly what is bothering him... what this ‘maximum challenge’ is. He speaks only in general terms about social engineering by the government which ‘has taken a decidedly negative view of our educational system’.  I can understand opposition to that. I too consider social engineering inappropriate government interference in religious matters – in a country that allows the freedom to practice religion as their citizens choose.

One can however glean from his article that what really concerns him is the desire to maintain their policy of a non existent secular curriculum. That is what got the attention of the UK’s education officials.

I recall reading an reading article not long ago where educators on the Lithuanian type Yeshivos in the UK  (mostly located Golder’s Green, if I understand correctly) were not really all that concerned about this since they offered a secular studies curriculum in addition to a their religious one. But educators on the Chasidic side (located in Stamford Hill) were in crisis mode. Which is how Rav Rubin describes the situation.

He wants all Orthodox Jews of good will to ‘cry to the heavens for this ‘Eis Tzara’. I’m sorry but I can’t join him. Because in my view what he is praying for is not the right to teach Judaism without government interference. That’s just his’pitch’. He is really asking for the right to continue a policy that hurts his community - no less than the similar policy by Chasidic communities in New York are hurting theirs.

If I am going to pray for anything, it will be that the Chasidic leaders in Stamford Hill (and New York) allow some common sense into their hearts and minds. I agree that they are in crisis. But not because of what they is fighting. But because they are fighting it!

Let them allow their children to be better educated and thereby better prepared to live in the real world; better prepared to support their large families;  and not rely so much on government welfare programs that are so easily abused.