Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Charedi teachers in Modern Orthodox Schools- Does it matter?

So there are many Modern Orthodox schools which are primarily staffed by charedi rabbeim and morahs (mainly 'yeshivish ones), and we've explored some of the reasons why this is so, but does it really matter? Shouldn't we just be able to get past labels?

Over the next two posts, I am going to discuss this from two different perspectives; boy's education and girl's education. As we shall see, as much as it does matter on the boy's side, it matters even more on the girl's side. Although I will focus on high school education, much of what I say can be extrapolated to elementary and post HS education, as well.

Approach to Midrashim and Chazal in general

Many students are deeply disturbed by literalist teaching of midrashim. In their general studies classes, they approach things from a rational standpoint, and are asked to suspend that view when it comes to Torah. Whether it is the height of Og, or Esther growing a tail, it is difficult if not impossible to accept these ideas as literal. While it must be admitted that not all MO rabbeim depart from the literalist approach, most do.

Of course it's not just on midrashim that the two approaches are distinct. The charedi approach attempts to make Chazal almost super-human, with borderline ruach hakodesh and scientific knowledge that far advances the level of the secular world at the time. While it is a a big challenge to get students to have an appreciation for Chazal and for why their word s authoritative, putting them on an impossibly high pedestal, is not the way to do it.

Jewish philosophy and 'Hashkafa'

The current state of knowledge of Jewish philosophy in general, is to be bemoaned. One can learn in yeshiva for many years, or even get semicha, and lack familiarity with the words of Rav Saadyah Gaon, Rambam, Ramban etc. Sadly, most yeshivahs seem to emphasize gemara and halacha over all other forms of Torah learning.

When philosophy or 'hashkafa' are taught in the charedi world, it often starts no earlier than the Maharal, and often even later. Often, things assumed to be part of Jewish hashkafa are anything but. I know of one young man, whose teacher explained a bird that kept flying into the window as a gilgul in need of forgiveness. This man was no fool, having learned high level gemara at serious yeshivas. Still, he asserted the idea of reincarnation as an animal, as fact.

While Yeshiva University could do a better job of teaching philosophy to its students, they are already offering classes where future teachers come out knowing at least the basics. In Israel, Gush and some other hesder yeshivot also learn the relevant texts.

Dissonance

Even when a yeshivish rebbe is an excellent educator, as is often the case, there is often a great dissonance between what the students hear in class, versus how they live at home. Now, to be sure, this dissonance also exists in some communities which have MO rabbeim, it is often greater when even rebbbe's approach is different from even the professed approach of the community.

Rabbi Payasach Krohn tells a story of choosing between two yeshivahs for his son for high school. In one yeshiva all of the rabbeim had beards, and in the other, only some did. When Rabbi Krohn, who does not have a beard asked Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky ZT”L which yeshiva he should choose, Rav Yaakov told him to choose the latter, explaining that if he chose the former, his son would lose respect for him. Now if this was the case with something as minor as facial hair, in a situation where each school was yeshivish, how much more might it be an issue when the differences are far greater and less superficial?

Role models

There is much to be admired in the yeshivish world. The talmud Torah in that community is far more serious than in other communities. I am not alone in my hope that the MO community will learn from and embrace a greater ethos of 'learning'. Still, the gap in dress, attitude and approach between students in these schools and their more yeshivish rabbeim is often difficult to bridge.

Caveat

I am not, God forbid, calling for yeshivish rabbeim to be purged from MO schools. Such a move would be counter to encouraging our students to be sophisticated thinkers who can learn from various approaches, as well as counter to basic Ahavas Yisrael. Not only that, I think our students need to hear different perspectives. Nor am I suggesting that one's hashkafa is the deciding factor in being a good teacher. I am suggesting that MO schools make an effort to ensure that there is a majority of rabbeim who represent the school's approach (to be sure, a rebbe's approach should not be decided superficially based on what he wears). If we are to create a community where one can not only love Eretz Yisrael but also Medinat Yisrael (with all of its imperfections), a school where there is not a contradiction between what our children study in the morning and what they study in the afternoon, we need the right rabbeim to do so.

3 comments:

  1. Well done, esp on the caveat. now we need people in administration to actually take the time and flack in trying to address these issues...

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  2. While it is a a big challenge to get students to have an appreciation for Chazal and for why their word s authoritative, putting them on an impossibly high pedestal, is not the way to do it.

    Do you have a good approach for finding this balance; Imparting an appreciation for the authority of Chazal without making them into super-heros?

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    Replies
    1. We are able to get students to respect Einstein and Jefferson without turning them into superheroes.

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