Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Frummest of the Frum?

Charedi education has a lot to offer. The emphasis on Torah learning has produced myriads of Talmidei Chachamim - very early in their lives. It teaches all young people – boys and girls to have Yiras Shamyim - awe and reverence toward God (and his representatives here on earth in the form of Gedolim) and punctiliousness in serving Him. All the minutia of serving God in the best possible of ways are inculcated into the minds of young Charedim. However it has become increasingly evident that there is a massive failing in this type of education. Although I question whether Charedi leadership is even aware of it.

If one wants to see what is wrong with Charedi education, one does not have to look too far. A story in clearly demonstrates it.

Even though they are of equal importance in Judaism - the focus on Bein Adam L’Makom (the relationship between man and God) is so extreme that Bein Adam L’Chavero (man and his fellow man) barely exists at all.

An entire class consisting of 19 year old women at a ‘prestigious’ seminary in Bnei Brak is worried. Unlike dozens of other 19 year old women - none of them are engaged to be married yet.

They surmised that the problem is a punishment from God because they insulted a classmate in the past.

What to do…

Their parents decided to go to a Gadol and ask. They chose a local Gadol, Rav Ahraon Leib Steinman, who lives in Bnei Brak. He said that their intrapersonal behavior was very grave and that they should resolve never to act that way again.

The young women decided reconcile with their insulted friend and to say an entire Sefer Tehilim.

This is truly a disturbing story at more than one level. That a group of 19 year old young women consider themselves ‘old maids’ speaks volumes about the Shiddach crisis. None of my daughters were married by that age. But now 22 grandchildren later they are all happily married to great people!

How desperate a young woman in Bnei Brak must feel at age 19 if she feels she has been passed over in the Shiddach department. And how ridiculous that is. And yet they are so desperate that they feel the need to ask for a special Bracha from a Gadol!

But that isn’t even the main problem. It is the fact that it never occurred to them to apologize to a human being for insulting them until their very future was at stake.

What kind of Chinuch produces a group of women who will see saying Tehilim as high means of serving God, but do not even have the basic human decency to apologize to a fellow human being for insulting them – until it affects them personally? They only consider doing so after asking a Shaila about how to solve their own problem. How selfish! What kind of Midos are taught in these ‘prestigious’ seminaries?

I would love to say that this class is an anomaly. But I don’t think it is. I truly believe that Bein Adam L’Makom is so emphasized in the Charedi world that Bein Adam L’Chavero is virtually ignored.

I am not saying that other Hashkafos don’t have these kinds of problems. I’m sure they do. But Charedim set themselves us as the quintessential Jew… the Frummest of the Frum. So much so that they do not even recognize other Hashkafos.They eat Chumros for breakfast! (and lunch… and supper)! They are Machmir in Tznius to the extreme. Girls from three to thirty keep their hair in pony tails if they are not married because letting it out is considered provocative.

They Daven with tremendous Kavana. They say Tehilim. They even go out of their way to do Mitzvos they don’t have to keep. They wouldn’t dream of not eating in a Sukkah or not ‘shaking’ the Daled Minim (Lulav and Esrog) on Sukkos. In other words when it comes to doing Mitzvos, they go the extra mile in everything they do. The problem is they only consider those Mitzvos that are spiritual to be of value. Insulting a fellow classmate does not come under that category. They do it, and walk away. It is only when they thought they were starting to suffer for it that they looked back and realized they shouldn’t have done it – and that it needed to be corrected.

These young women are not extremists. They are the cream of the crop of Charedi young women. They probably attend the equivalent of an ivy league school in that ‘prestigious’ seminary. They probably come from good homes and fine families. And have had fine teachers in high school. And yet apologizing for insulting another human being does not rate with saying an extra Psalm.

Is it that far of a leap when their male counterparts start spitting on an 8 year old religious Zionist girl in another Charedi town? They too consider the Bein Adam L’Makom of Tznius to be of very high value but the Bein Adam L’Makom of respecting their fellow human being (in the incarnation of an 8 year old!) as having no value. Or worse as serving their Bein Adam L’Makom goals. Yes - they are extremists. But it is not much of a stretch to see where that extremism comes from if insulting even a fellow Charedi does not register on their radar!

Treating one’s fellow man with respect and dignity is a Chinuch issue no less than Tznius or Davening with Kavana. The problem is that teachers in Charedi schools like this seminary spend an exorbitant amount of time on the latter and apparently zero amount of time on the former. The result is a situation where these young people have to be told by a Gadol that it was gravely wrong - long after the fact. And only when they presented their problem to him and suggested that this may be the cause of it. It was their own selfish interests that motivated them. Not any sense of a wrong that needed to be righted.

If this community wants to be thought of as the Frummest of Frum, they have a long way to go in order to be worthy of that appellation. Because being Frum in the true sense of the word means a lot more than just dressing modestly and wearing your hair in a pony tail.