Thursday, December 11, 2014

Off-the-derech or Off-A-derech? Learning to love our children more than our reputation

This past summer, I had the opportunity to spent some time in a yeshiva in Israel for boys who were, or had been “OTD”. While it didn’t surprise me, I was pained by the fact that the goal of the yeshiva seemed to be to put the boys back on the very same derech that the boys had rejected, having felt alienated by the system.

There are many reasons for the phenomena of children who are raised in frum homes leaving their community and much of Jewish observance behind. I won’t pretend that the intensive gemara-only educational system, with its many hours a day spent sitting in yeshiva, is the only reason boys leave observance, but in my estimation it is a significant one. Whether it is learning issues, intellectual curiosity, an inability to sit still for so many hours on end, or some combination of the above, many boys struggle within the yeshiva system. While some manage to stay within the system, many are so bothered by the system that they leave it, and the frum world, behind.

Sadly, the response to helping these boys (or is it “saving” these boys?) is to have yeshivas set up that are ultimately designed to get them back in the system, complete with the “correct” mode of dress, and an approach to Torah learning that mostly ignores the fact that Torah includes much more than just gemara. While for some boys this seems to be effective, I have met many boys who have no interest in going back to the approach that they rejected.

So the question becomes are these boys off-the-derech or simply off-A-derech? To put it differently, do parents want to help their children find an approach to yiddishkeit that works for them, or only to get their children back into their own yeshivish community? I have seen boys for whom the yeshivish system did not work, find a home in the Modern-Orthodox or chassidish world. They have embraced shemiras hamitzvos and found a derech that works for them, but it often seems to me that their parents and mechanchim don’t see this as enough.

Imagine what might happen if boys with questions were exposed to the worldview of Rav Kook, Rav Soloveitchik or Rav Nachman. If they were allowed to learn the Moreh Nevuchim and serious Tanach. Might not some of these boys take to these derachim? While for me, that would seem to be a success, for many within the yeshivish community it seems to be, at best, a bidieved. At the end of the day I sometimes wonder whether parents are more worried about their own reputation more than their children’s well-being. Maybe it’s not the boys who are OTD.


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  2. Proverbs 22:6 חֲנֹךְ לַנַּעַר, עַל-פִּי דַרְכּוֹ