Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The By Product of an Isolationist Philosophy

Charedim in Bnei Brak 2012 (Ha'aretz)
One of the virtues of isolating a community is that it enables its members to instill its values in their children without the fear of outside influences and distractions.  If your values are those of the Torah the product of such and an environment should in theory be the ideal Jew. They call it being rasied Al Taharas HaKodesh – in the highest level of spiritual purity.

But in practice in doesn’t always work out that way for a variety of reasons. The Charedi world has yet to learn that lessons.  I want to be very clear about this. It is not to cast aspersions on Charedi Hashkafos. It is only to question the wisdom of transmitting those Hashkafos in an environment that is closed off from the rest of the world.

The truth is that in the vast majority of cases those values are successfully transmitted. Most Charedim live the lives their parents have taught them to live. But as is well known by now there is a growing problem of children rejecting their religious teachings and ohbservance of Halacha and going ‘Off the Derech’ (OTD).

There are many reasons that someone who is raised Al Taharas HaKodesh might go OTD. They have all been discussed here before. But I think that one that has not been talked about so often (if at all) is the fact that the isolation that is so important to Charedim is the very cause of some of these children going OTD.

In the Charedi world, there does not seem to be a safety net. And it is this world that seems to need it the most. Because in this world there is very little wiggle room about what a boy can study. The emphasis is on only one thing: Gemarah. Of course there is also the need to learn Halacha. But that is not what the vast majority of their time is spent on. It is Gemarah. The early grades start off with Chumash and then Rashi  - switch very quickly to Mishnayos, and then very soon after that they start learning Gemarah. Each year becoming more sophisticated in how to study it properly, with Rishonim and major Achroinim.

While this subject is a very important one since it is the foundation upon which Halachic observance is derived, not everyone is capable of studying it well. Sometimes even very bright students do not do that well in it. For these boys, school can become very tedious and a huge burden. Many of them tune out – only because they simply can’t handle it intellectually or are bored by the subject matter, or have other interests that they would prefer to pursue.  Those interests might even be in other religious subjects such as Tanach, Jewish philosophy, or Jewish history. But that is not an option for any of them at a curricular level.

When living in a community that insulates itself by living in isolation from the rest of the world, there is no option for these young people other than to rebel. Conformity is derigueur. Non conformity is rebellion. There are now large populations of OTD young people from Charedi homes. They can claim their own community now with shared experiences of rejection by their families and their entire community. One might say that they have a ‘nothing to lose’attitude about life. 

Which is why rejecting Halacha might be the least of their problems. Since they are so rejected that they become homeless some become clinically depressed to the point of self medicating. That usually means alcohol and drug abuse. In some of those cases, you will find deaths due to alcohol poisoning or drug overdoses. Or just plain old fashioned suicide! 

Thankfully there are some heroes in the Charedi world that have recognized the problem and are trying to deal with it. But I fear that it is far too little far too late in far too many cases.

How bad can the rebellion be? Well it seems that in at least one case it turned someone in to stone cold murderer who thought burning an innocent human to death was a good idea. 

After being rejected by their community, they are ripe for targeting by other communities. Like the Price Taggers who have no compunction about doing harm to other people if it suits their purposes. They teach these kids that the means (whatever they may be) are justified by the ends. That the only good Arab is a dead Arab. 

These young targets of people like this have a background of hatred built right into them. They are taught that Religious Zionists are Amalek; the police are Nazis; that the mainstream media is out to get them; and the Arabs? ...well they are not even human. When a Price Tagger comes around and recruits these young people it is not too much of a leap for them to say killing Arabs for the cause is not only Mutar, it’s a Mitzvah. You are in effect saving Jewish lives by killing them.

There is a name for people like this. They are called terrorists no different than the Arabs who do it. There is no difference between these people and the terrorist who picked up a gun in Merkaz Harav a few years ago and killed 8 students. Except that the Arab terrorist there was more humane. He didn’t set anyone on fire.

This is what can become of a young person from Bet Shemesh full of hate that has been rejected by his community.

But even if most do not become cold blooded killers, they are certainly not going to become model citizens. Not if they are in a state of depression caused by the rejection they feel in a world isolated from everyone else. 

This is all so preventable. Here is the lesson that the Charedi world has not yet learned. It is a lesson not originated by me. Someone far more intelligent than I am taught it. His name was Shlomo HaMelech. He said in Mishlei: Chanoch L’Naar Al Pi Darko. Educate your child in a way that is best suited for him personally. 

That means that not every child should be put on a Gemarah track. That can be part of his education, but the primary part should be in an area that is best suited to his talents and interests. Should it be in a secular subject, like science, or in a technical area, or in a trade like carpentry, that should be the area where his education is focused. More importantly Gemarah study should stop being aggrandized to the exclusion of all else. Other areas of Torah study must be treated with equal respect. And secular subjects should be respected too even if they are secondary to Torah studies.

If children are taught this way, they will flourish. Even their Gemarah studies might improve once they have tasted success and satisfaction in what they have learned.

This is a lesson that Charedim have yet to learn. And worse they fight any and all attempts to implement any curriculum into their schools that would offer alternative tracks. That is true in Israel, and is becoming increasingly true here too.

Charedim are in essence shooting themselves in the foot with all this antagonism against changing their curriculum. They need to open their eyes to the positive side of studies outside the Gemarah. This would be not only in reduce the numbers who go OTD. It would  actually help make happier and more productive Charedi citizens that will be better able to feed their families.

They need to open up their world. True they have the light of the Torah. And there is no greater light than that. But if you close off your world to everyone else, that light will illuminate a very small place. And there will be many people in that small place who won’t even see that light. And they will end up in a very dark place.