Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Charedim Factories

One of the most frustrating situations for Orthodox parents is what happens when their children go off to study in Israel for a year or two (or more) after high school. What parents send in does not come back the same way. Many call this ‘flipping out’. A parent will send to Israel a son or daughter who has absorbed by osmosis values instilled in the home and when they return find to their dismay that many of those values are gone – obliterated by the Yeshiva or seminary their child attended.

‘Flipping out’ was addressed a few years ago by authors of a book that studied the phenomenon and found that in most cases these young people did not in fact flip out, but just became more committed to Halacha. They observed that this was a good thing. If the story ended there, I would agree. Unfortunately it does not end there. This was highlighted again last week in a Jewish Press article by Cheryl Kupfer.

What seems to be happening is that the Rebbeim and teachers at these institutions fill these young minds full of mush with heavy doses of Charedi Hashkafa.

The truth of the matter is that many of these Yeshivos and seminaries that are geared for American students are in fact really geared for those from modern Orthodox backgrounds. They are the ones who mostly go to Israel to study post high school. The more Charedi Yeshivos have their own post high school programs and do not encourage their students to leave for Yeshivos in Israel. If and when they do go, it is probably after spending some time post high school in an American Yeshiva. The Yeshivos they then find in Israel like Brisk and Mir are not in the business of changing hearts and minds. They don’t need mind-changing. The students who go there are already Charedi. Those Yeshivos expect them be on their page Hashkaficly.

But students from even right wing modern Orthodox homes rarely go to a Mir or Brisk – at least at first. Many end up in places like Beis Yisroel or Merkaz HaTorah where there is a constant heavy dose of Charedization. The same is true for seminaries for young women from modern Orthodox backgrounds.

There are of course exceptions. Some Yeshivos and seminaries do not espouse Charedi values. But in many cases a parent doing research about which Yeshiva or seminary to send their child can be fooled into thinking the institution is something that it is not. Only to find out too late when their children return, wearing black hats or seeking to marry someone who wears one. A black hat is more than just a hat. It is a symbol of a Hashkafa that espouses the Charedi doctrine for men of learning Torah or bust… and for women - marrying someone like that.

Working is disparaged. Attending college is disparaged. Young men and women end up all but abandoning these values and goals and in their stead picking up the disparaging attitudes. They are exchanged for values that see only one option as having any real value. That for a man God is best served by learning in a Kollel full time for as long as possible after they get married. And for a wife to financially support him. And that they should have large families. A perfect formula for poverty with potential for family dysfunction and children going OTD.

This is not to say that any child that spends a year in Israel in a Yeshiva or seminary like that will never go to college. Some retain their original Hashkafos albeit in a somewhat modified manner. Some who do ‘buy the farm’ while they are there ultimately get off cloud nine and realize they need to go to college or in other way prepare for making a living. But in far too many cases there is a total break form the past. I don’t know what the numbers are but it seems as though it is at least enough of a problem to cause heartache and grief for parents and children seeking to get married.

In her Jewish Press article Mrs. Kupfer expresses the problem as it pertains to dating. It lies mostly in the inability for young men who choose a career outside of a Kollel to find a like-minded woman. On the other hand there seems to be an abundance of women who seek Shiduchim from a much smaller male population of men who learn Torah, chose it as a lifestyle, and do it well.

I personally think the reason for this is fairly obvious. Charedi seminaries teach their young women to seek young men who will sit and learn in Kollel. But it is a lot easier to seek that in a man than it is for a man to actually do it. Thus if a young man is smart enough to know that his talents lie elsewhere, the ‘good girls’ will not be interested in them.

The problem then becomes twofold. Young working men who want ‘good girls’ won’t be able to find too many who want them. On the other hand young women who want ‘good Bachurim’ won’t be able to find too many of them either. The population of ‘good girls’ is by its very nature far greater than the population of ‘good Bachurim’. And that is a major part of the Shiddach problem in my opinion.

Looking further down the road at Kollel... the expectations of couples who chose the Kollel lifestyle and who came from comfortable middle class backgrounds - are often not fulfilled. There is insufficient understanding of the financial hardships and sacrifices that will need to be made. Even in cases where Kollel families find out that their choice was not a wise one based they find themselves in a predicament where they have no training or job skills in a highly competitive job market. The potential for ruined marriages and children becoming OTD is perforce increased.

I guess the message to parents here is Caveat Emptor. When sending a child to Israel after high school – choose wisely.

Don’t be fooled by recruiter’s platitudes about ‘growing in Torah’. They do not mean only becoming more mature in their Torah learning or Mitzvah observance. They mean becoming Charedi. ‘Growth’ in this environment is ‘code’ for becoming Charedi and rejecting non Charedi values.

Don’t be fooled by fancy brochures with pictures of young men or young women who don’t look Charedi sitting in a Beis HaMedrash or classroom learning Torah. Torah is not the only thing they learn there. They learn Hashkafa in heavier doses than ever before – a year or two of it in heavily concentrated Charedi form.

If one wants to know what a Yeshiva or seminary in Israel is all about, look at the products. What are most of their ‘graduates’ doing? What kind of lives do they lead? Do they come back wanting to continue their secular educations or do they choose to continue learning. Who are the young women that attend these seminaries marrying? Is it mostly Kollel men? Or is it a mix of working and learning men? The product is the key. Not the hype.

I would just add that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with becoming Charedi. If a child is raised that way - he is more prepared and knows better what to expect. And even if a child from a modern Orthodox background changes his Hashkafos via his own search for Emes in an open environment – that is OK too.

The problems of the Charedi world are a separate issue. All Orthodox communities have problems inherent to their Hashkafos. Every Hashkafa has its pluses and minuses. It is with the Charedi Yeshivos and seminaries that hide their true agendas that I have a problem. Let the buyer beware.