Monday, October 18, 2010

A Flaw in the Yeshiva System

I’m sure that the first thing I am going to hear out of the box by members of the Yeshiva world is, ‘Don’t judge us by the actions of a few’. Fair enough. I won’t be doing that. But neither do I absolve Yeshiva system of at least some responsibility.

An article in Ynet informs us that there has been a fraud perpetrated against the Israeli National Insurance Institute (Bituach Leumi). Apparently a Charedi man referred Yeshiva students to a Health Ministry psychiatrist who perpetrated a scam:

The psychiatrist has been arrested on suspicion that he gave his clients fraudulent medical opinions citing mental illness, which afforded them monthly stipends from the state. On Monday the Rishon Lezion Magistrates' Court remanded his arrest by four days.

Last week police arrested an ultra-Orthodox man believed to have referred clients to the psychiatrist. He is suspected of filing dozens of fraudulent claims regarding handicaps and mental illness on behalf of these clients, many of whom are haredim.

Dozens of fraudulent claims involving millions of dollars.

I realize that there is not a single Mechanech who teaches their students to steal. And yet here we have a bunch of Yeshiva students who had absolutely no compunction about doing that. No guilt. No regret (until they got caught at least).

The question must be asked. Why?! Why do these young people who are supposed to be the most ethical among us - reflecting the highest of Torah values - think it is OK to steal from the government? I seriously doubt that most of these Yeshiva students thought they were doing anything wrong. I am also sure that the vast majority of other Yeshiva students would never even consider doing such a thing. But these young men did.

It wouldn’t surprise me if these few Yeshiva students are otherwise not bad people. Yeshivos don’t generally accept bad students. They are weeded out or expelled very quickly these days. I’m sure that they behaved in ways that were expected of them.

I’m also sure that there was a great need. That they decided to defraud the government was probably sourced out of that too. Not working and learning full time for stipends that are well below the poverty level usually creates that need. I'm sure they used this money for groceries and not to buy flat-screen TVs.

They probably rationalized and saw the government as unworthy – denying them a proper stipend because they are anti religious. They probably felt a sense of entitlement – thinking the government was out to hurt them. So why not take what you can get from such an evil anti Torah force?

That’s a nice rationalization but it isn’t true. But even if it were true that the government is anti religious, what right does that give these students to steal? Why do they not run from that as fast as they might run from the sight of a scantily clad woman?

Once again I have to look at the kind of Chinuch they get. Like I said, I do not believe for a minute that Yeshiva students in Israel are taught that it is OK to do this kind of thing. I seriously doubt that any rationalization is given in any Shiur to these students for being involved in a fraud. But at the same time - I doubt that they are ever really warned not to try anything like this – that it is no less Assur than Chilul Shabbos. I doubt that there is a single lecture about not stealing money from the government.

Instead I would bet that there are constant references made about the government as evil. It is probably all negative all the time. They are accused of all kinds of nefarious motives and deeds. They are sometimes even cursed in the strongest terms by some of their Mechanchim. Especially right after they are denied a funding request or when the government needs to implement cuts in their budget that affects their allocation. I would again be willing to bet that words like ‘Reshaim’ in reference to government officials are constantly bandied about at times like those.

I tend to doubt on the other hand that there is anything positive ever said about the government or any of its institutions. Is it any wonder that some Yeshiva student s– given the opportunity to cheat what they see as an evil entity – will not think twice about it? If a government is evil and denying them stipends to which they believe they are entitled, then why not simply defraud them out of it if they can find a way to do it?

This is where the Yeshiva system has failed. With all of its great achievements in the area of widespread Torah learning - the great Yeshivos in the world apparently do not teach their students that it is completely Assur to steal from anyone –be they a religious Jew, an irreligious Jew, or a non Jew.

They may assume that their students already know it. But obviously not all of them do. Certainly not the dozens of them who filed these fraudulent claims with Bituach Leumi. Frankly I’m surprised that there weren’t even more Yeshiva students who have tried this as a way to supplement their income.

Shouldn’t this be a signal to the Yeshivos and their Mechanchim to stop cursing the government? …to stop blaming them for all their troubles? And isn’t this yet another indication of the staggering economic woes facing the Yeshiva world requiring them to reassess and to change the way things are done? I think it is.