Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Elitism is the Real Problem

Agudah Head, R' Yaakov Perlow, graduated with honors from Brooklyn College
Once again I am forced to face the reality of Charedi condescension against non Charedi observant Jews. This time in a guidebook whose suggestions I actually agree with. I was made aware of it in yet another post in a Facebook group to which I belong. (The same one I referenced yesterday.)

The community of Lakewood is actually trying to do something about the problem of students falling through the cracks of their educational system and at the same time sparing parents the sting of rejection of their children from a given school. Obviously this is something I heartily endorse.

There is little doubt in my mind about the fact that many day schools and Yeshivos these days are competing  for the  best and brightest students by establishing very high standards of excellence in Torah study. They are forever increasing demands upon their student body to reach ever higher levels of Torah knowledge. More material studied in greater depth. The workload of their students keep increasing; the school day is longer, as is the school year, and secular studies are decreasing at a rapid rate (in some cases disappearing) to make room for more Torah study. 

Regardless about how one feels about the propriety of any of this, it is happening. The more of this there is, the more elitist the school is considered and the more desirable it is for parents to send their children to. That makes it almost impossible for every one who wants their child to get into that school - to be able to do so. On the other hand, that enables the school to become even more elitist by picking only the ‘cream of the crop’ for their school. Thus only the best and brightest get in. Most of those students will rise to the occasion. But some won’t. These are the ones that are at risk for going OTD. 

Lakewood’s educators have come out with a guidebook that actually suggests the advice of Mishlei - (22:6). Chanoch L’Naar Al Pi Darko -  educate your child according to his capabilities. I could not agree more with this new approach to get Lakewood’s children the education that is right for them - and not push the cookie cutter ‘one size fits all’ education for the masses. They actually say that you should apply to schools and yeshivas that are a match for your family.

I wish it would have ended there. I would have been full of nothing but pure praise for this new guidebook. But then comes the hubris in the form of a highly objectionable condescension. What follows is disgusting. It undermines the very goal they are trying to achieve by belittling those that are not of their vision of religious purity.  

The ‘good guys’ depicted as ‘Torahdik’ are defined by how much they reject the outside world. The more they do, the more Torahdik they are. In other words if someone has any interest and involvement in the outside world, the message is ‘Do not apply’. Because only the most sheltered of Jews are considered pure enough for their schools. 

If you read a secular newspaper or listen to the radio – to say nothing of the internet, TV, and movies – your children are not material for the school. In other words, it isn’t only about how intelligent and industrious your child is. It’s about how strong the family’s ‘frumkeit’ is. 

So that if there is a child who has the talent, desire, and determination to be part of the kind of rigorous program that school offers… that’s not good enough.‘Find another school.’

Personally I would never send any of my children to a school like that. No matter how bright, industrious, and excited about Torah studies they were. Because greatness in Torah requires a lot more than knowing every Tosephes in Kesuvos by heart. 

In my view parents whose children are rejected for ‘frumkeit’ reasons should consider it a blessing in disguise. Because their children will have a much better chance of not going OTD. The opposite will be more likely in that they will find a niche more suited to their talents instead of falling through the cracks in a system unsuited for them.  It is so sad that there are so many parents that have been indoctrinated to believe the most right wing of elitist schools are the ones that are considered the ‘Harvards’ of the Torah world. And that they would ‘kill’ to get their children admitted.

Be that as it may, I am once again disappointed but not surprised by the attitude expressed in that guidebook. This is one of the biggest problems I have with the right. They believe they are better than everyone else. And they don’t mind saying so. In condescending ways. Repeatedly! They really believe that their children will have the best chance at becoming Gedolim by having rejected everything outside of their own sheltered world and attending those elitist schools.

I have news for them. I know quite a few people that are huge Tamidei Chachamim that came from more open minded backgrounds. Some of them grew up with of all the above mentioned ‘vices’. I will pit any one of them against any of the students that have led sheltered lives and have attended those elitist schools. In fact I am absolutely convinced that the people I’m talking about will blow them all out of the water with their Torah knowledge.