Wednesday, July 30, 2014

WE Are the Problem- Creating yeshivas that are on the derech

Tzvi* is from a modern yeshivish family. He is one of six children, the rest of whom attend mainstream yeshivahs or Bais Yaakovs. He is 17 years old and, if you are the type to judge things superficially, is “Off the Derech”. He has hair that is too long for a frum boy, attends a yeshiva for boys who are struggling, and dresses in way that, when he is not wearing a kippah, it is hard to tell he is Jewish. He sometimes talks through davening and, although he is far from stupid, does not enjoy learning gemara. At first he dealt with this by tuning out, but eventually his frustration grew too strong and he started acting out. He is from Baltimore, but he could be from any community where I have lived. He is one of the countless boys who have been run over by a yeshiva.

There is another side of Tzvi that you can see if you are willing to look a little deeper. He has a warm and caring smile, a great sense of humor, and an outgoing and friendly personality. He is a talented musician, who can play both guitar and piano, and seems to enter another world during zemiros, especially the slower ones. He enjoys doing bikur cholim, and gives off a sense of caring that the person he is visiting can palpably feel. When other boys behave in a way that crosses the line, he is the one who lets them know, and in a manner that gets them to listen. He enjoys the stories from Nach, Jewish history, and deep discussions. After high school, Tzvi plans to join the army, to defend his people.

What would a yeshivah that would work for Tzvi look like? To be sure, it would have to offer a broader Jewish education, and have a shorter school day. Ideally, there would be a choice of shiurim on different topics, depending on ability and interest. Perhaps there would be music and art classes, and maybe even sports teams. It goes without saying that there would be rabbeim who would understand adolescents, care about them, and love teaching, as opposed to just loving learning.

None of this is a chiddush. There are many boys like Tzvi. Still, until he acts out, due to frustration and sadness, there are few, if any choices for him. Are we sure that he is the one who is off the derech?


  1. Sadly pointless. There are no $$$'s for the venture.

  2. Actually, this is why we homeschool. I didn't want my kids put in a box anymore. The yeshiva system was failing them miserably! They are happy, thriving, and connected. I couldn't wait for the rebbeim to figure it out.

    1. The problem is that the lifestyle they're being groomed for after school is also too boxed.

  3. Replies
    1. For boys from yeshivish homes?

    2. What's the alternative? And how practical is it to split the community into ever-narrower bands that can't interact with each other?

    3. There are already more than enough schools. Some could change, or offer different programs.

    4. "Tesyaa", at some point it becomes one community consisting of a range of individuals with different opinions, rather than lots of little communities. Another way of viewing the problem is that each community defines itself too narrowly, and by issues that shouldn't take on the importance sociology gave them.

      In the Netziv's day, Volozhin was run by a Zionist (the Netziv) and his 2nd in command was an anti-Zionist (R' Chaim Brisker). And both the seeds of Modern Orthodoxy and those of today's yeshivish coexisted in the same beis medrash. (Minus the rewrite of history in which Volozhin is made to look differently.) We made these sociological dividing points. They didn't have to be. Lakewood can handle the far bigger gap in religion between their own roots in Kletzk and Lithuania and the Chassidus followed by many of its students.

  4. Posted on my blog today, partly in response:

    Walking the Path
    Posted on ‍‍ד׳ מנחם אב תשע״ד - July 31, 2014

    As long as we continue teaching our kids halakhah (הלכה)
    without investing the same effort to give them a derekh, a path,
    we are literally teaching them how to walk (איך ללכת)
    but not helping them figure out where to go.


    Personally, I believe this is more the issue than the width of the range of ideal Jews we prepare them for. Or, to be a little more precise: We actually have a range of definitions of serving Hashem, from humanistic ones, to self-refinement, to cleaving to Him, to ...

    But we don't make our Jewish education about these things. And even when we offer youth spiritually inspirational events, they are limited to kumzetzin, a Shabbaton at the rebbe's home, disconnected from the teaching of Orthodoxy. (See R' Alan Haber's description of that particular problem in his pamphlet for ATID, "Sharpening the Message: Recommendations for Improving the Effectiveness of Religious Education in Yeshiva High Schools".)

    We need more G-d talk and discussion of ideals and idealism in the classroom. It is very common for a young man in gemara class to go weeks between mentions of G-d's name, aside from those contained in quotes from Tanakh.

    If we focus on what it means to serve the Almighty, we wouldn't be defining the idea in terms of behavior and roles. We wouldn't be telling teens that a perfect Jewish woman is one who had this kind of family and that kind of job or career or that a boy who isn't finding success learning is going to grow up to be at best and inferior Jew.

    Or to put it a third way, Shelomo advises us to "educate a child al pi darko -- according to their ways". You are focusing on the "their", and I'm saying we didn't even yet get up to imparting "ways" altogether. as long as it's all about halakhah.... well halakhah is inherently more "one size fits all" than Jewish Thought is, and pictures of "what is a good Jew" defined halachically are bound to be more limiting. And once we do teach people to plan where that halakhah should take them, we would still have to make sure we do not teach only one approach to Jewish ideals, expecting it speaks to everyone.

  5. Schools provide what the customers demand. It's like what I said about the narrow an shallow definitions of ideal Jew... It's not just the schools, it's the culture. When looking at the people around us, who we think is doing Judaism right is overly narrow. And even those who know it should be fixed (ie: including us) are influenced enough by the contemporary O culture that realizations about other good Jews is second, and not as instinctive. Which is why there is not enough motivation to place levels demand on schools by the parents that schools would be force to hear.