Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Teaching Hatred

There is a wonderful article about the importance of American Jews being patriotic in Cross-Currents. Those who know my views on this subject will not be surprised to hear that I completely agree with the attitude expressed by the writer - Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin.

Rabbi Korokobin describes his own journey through the Charedi educational system. I am a bit older than he is but his elementary educational experience about American patriotism parallels mine:

Growing up in the yeshiva day school system of the 70’s, I remember starting our day every morning with davening, and later when we got to English class, we faced the American flag and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. We also sang songs like “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” “Grand Old Flag,” and “America the Beautiful.”

What followed however in his Yeshiva high school was a subliminal indoctrination to have nothing but derision and disdain for this country. His Rebbeim did not teach it directly. But in a far more insidious indirect fashion – the kind that makes it an almost innate belief:

There may have been a comment like the famous vort, “America stands for ‘Am Reika’ – an Empty Nation.” Or, perhaps it was just the emphasis on the tum’a (spiritual impurity) of the secular world that left me with a negative attitude toward my gentile countrymen and America in general.

This is what passes for Charedi Chinuch these days. I’m sure there are exceptions. But I believe that Rabbi Korobkin’s experience is far more the rule than the exception. The majority of Charedi young people are not taught to respect this country at all by the vast majority of Charedi Mechanchim.

I’m sure that the intent is to wean their students away from the general culture – which they do not grant any positive value. They see nothing but bad in American culture - rarely pointing out any postive value at all. Even when they concede to a positive value or two in American culture, they couch it in terms of being a rare exception to a virtually totally debased culture. A culture that should be avoided like the black plague!

What these Mechanchim have failed to realize is that this attitude contributes mightily to those who feel it is OK to cheat non Jews or the American government as long as one can get away with it. After all - they will reason - America is an empty nation-that is devoid of any sanctity. It is spiritually and morally bankrupt. They deserve what they get.

I of course realize that not every Charedi is brainwashed to this extent. Many in fact do realize the greatness of America and express it publicly. I personally know of several very Charedi Rabbanim that publicly say so all the time. They somehow managed to avoid the subliminal anti-American messages of their Charedi Mechanchim. Or they were lucky enough to be taught by exceptional people. But the anti American version of Chinuch still exists.

The sad irony is that by teaching Jewish values in this way it actually undermines them. Rabbi Korobkin is right about this attitude contributing to some of those who rationalize that cheating the government is just fine.

Rabbi Korobkin suggests a remedy for this intolerable situation. He says that members of Charedi Shuls should approach their rabbis and ask why they do not say the prayer for the welfare of the government. If no good reason is offered then he suggests that they insist their rabbi re-instate it.

The fact is that most Charedi Shuls do not say this prayer – even though it is time honored tradition. As Mr. Korobkin points out, perhaps the most ethical mind of the 19th century - R’ Yisroel Salanter said it. If he davened in a shul that didn’t - he said it by himself. And his world was a lot more anti Semitic than ours!

Although I agree with him in theory, in practice I think there are two chances of this happening: slim and none!

It's too late. The indoctrination is complete. In order to change this now entrenched mindset we have to do more than talk a Charedi Rav to reinstate the recital of this prayer. It won’t work. This has to be done at an elementary level - in the schools. We need to completely change the attitude of all Charedi Mechanchim and reject the "Torah" of hatred of the Gentile. That is not Torah. It is complete and utter Sheker – a lie insidiously implanted into the deepest recesses of the brain and heart.

Charedi Yeshiva high schools will not change things on their own. This is one area where the Rabbanim on the Agudah Moetzes or in Torah U’Mesorah can actually change things. They should mandate that every child in every day school start with the pledge of allegiance - followed by the singing of one of America’s patriotic songs – like ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee’. An American flag should be required in every classroom and flown from every flagpole. Most importantly - insidious comments or ‘jokes’ about America must be forbidden along with any negative references to this country or non Jews – with serious consequences for Mechanchim who violate it.

Young people must learn to appreciate this great country and not denigrate it. This does not mean we shouldn’t teach children to avoid any of the negative values that exist in this country. Of course we should. There is much to criticize in American culture. But there is much more to praise. That should be the focus in each and every classroom – especially high school. I urge organizations like Agudah and Torah U’Mesorah to implement these changes immediately. There is a lot of work to be done and not a moment to lose.