Letters to the Editor
Klal Perspectives, Symposium on Preparedness for Marriage
To read this issue’s questions, CLICK HERE.
To the Editors,
Rabbi Weinberger’s words (“Just One Thing is Missing: The Soul,” Spring 2012) on how Shabbat is lost for many of the children, teens, and parents of the community is a horrible reality. A number of years ago (I was 18 years old at the time), a few friends and I tried to fight it and we experienced some success. We started a Friday night oneg for teens in the community who were looking for a place to be away from home, to come and feel comfortable and get a meaningful taste of Shabbat. For many years, friends who never celebrated Shabbat would call up and ask if there was going to be an oneg that week and if they can help to make one and so on. As the years went on we had enough people to make a Carlebach minyan in someone’s home Friday night and then share a meal. The main idea was for a mix of friends, some more religious than others, to inspire each other by showing how much one can enjoy Shabbat without having to be at a religious extreme.
Perhaps this model can work for others, as well.
Queens, New York
To the Editors,
I would like to suggest, along the lines of Moishe Bane’s article (“Merely Coping,” Spring 2012), that the increasing sense of disconnection many are feeling is due to a lack of social connection in shul. When an individual feels social alienation, it takes away from the ability to feel spiritually connected. On the other hand, when the individual experiences ahavas yisroel from other shul members, that individual is better able to develop spiritual connection.
I wonder if working on increasing ahavas Yisroel in shul will help to enhance the spiritual connection of many people. The frenetic lifestyle that many of us lead also adds to social disconnect and alienation from the community, and so shul becomes an even more important venue.
Some writers mentioned the phenomena of at-risk teens and draw a parallel to frum adults who are at risk for spiritual alienation. Teens who are at risk are often those who do not fit in to the mainstream yeshiva experience, and, as a result, experience social isolation and then spiritual alienation. Could the same thing be happening to frum adults who find they do not “fit in” in shul, and as a result, experience social isolation and then spiritual alienation?
Hatzlacha with Klal Perspectives,
Mrs. Sema Ely
To the Editors,
I was greatly inspired and encouraged by the essays in the spring issue of Klal Perspectives. Almost all of the responses suggested greater emunah, deeper hashkafa, and study of mussar and chassidus so as to create a real connection with Hashem. The following Rambam, which testifies to the significance of such study, is worthy of mention:
The Rambam writes extensively in his commentary to the last mishnah of Berachos regarding the subject of why tzaddikim sometimes suffer. He acknowledges that he has gone ‘off topic’ from the mishnah’s material and he justifies doing so with this very telling and instructive remark:
“This is not the place to explain all this, except for the fact that I intend to discuss briefly all matters of emunah and faith whenever there is a mention of it because the subject of the fundamentals of our religion and emunah is more precious to me to teach more than anything else that I teach.”
Here’s an idea regarding connection.
Shul rabbis (and presidents) of the world, please consider the following real, practical suggestion, which can be easily implemented and will no doubt enhance our connection with HaKadosh Baruch Hu:
For too many people, davening just isn’t exciting. They view it as a tedious experience, and so they are more interested in finding the ‘fastest minyan in town,’ rather than the one that is most inspirational.
In the words of the recently niftar Rav Gedalya Eisman, Mashgiach of Yeshivas Kol Torah for over 50 years, “I’ve seen a lot of eccentric people, but I never saw any of them daydreaming while reading a newspaper. And why? Because they find it interesting. We have to make our davening and learning interesting, by keeping it fresh and engaging!”
So here’s the idea: The rabbi of the shul, or a rotation of members perhaps, offers a very brief remark, insight, thought before each davening – even 20-30 seconds. Why should our minyanim begin with zero inspiration, especially given that they are recited (for good reason) in a language other than our mother tongue? Someone should be cheering us on, focusing our attention on what we are about to do,why we are here, etc. Sadly, I think we can say that Christians enjoy church and leave church somewhat energized and uplifted. Can we say we leave shul feeling the same? We need a davening where the rabbi helps us, guides us, and yes, ‘cheers us on’ with real and relevant messages about the davening (at the times where it is permitted to talk, of course).
Would it feel ‘corny’ and be strange at first to adopt this? Yes. Would such a practice in all shuls around the world radically improve how we feel at davening and how we feel when we leave davening. Definitely, yes.
Why not begin this practice? It will help us connect to Hashem.
To the Editors,
I’ve read all three issues of Klal Perspectives and, while I found the questions posed in the third issue very relevant, the answers made me feel that I am living in an alternate universe. I wonder whether the writers understand that people such as myself even exist.
Both Mrs. Chaya Newman (A Time for Inspiration) and Jonathan Rosenblum (Creating an Environment for Developing Closeness to Hashem) claimed in the Spring 2012 issue that the lack of connection to Hashem can be blamed on the rampant materialism in our society. In Winter 2012, Rabbi Shneur Aisenstark (Why Can’t We See that the Jewish Home is in Crisis?) asks if we are willing to change our materialistic lifestyle for a Torah lifestyle. I am busy enough with life that I have no time for a lifestyle.
I am 43 years old. I work as an executive in an international company. This entails long hours, travel and constant pressure. I am out of the house most days from 5:30am till 9:30pm. I don’t enjoy the business, or the corporate politics. My wife works out of the house from 10am-3pm. We are blessed with six children. We are both constantly tired and under stress.
Jonathan Rosenblum claims that “nearly every mechanech in Israel who deals with American students comments on …the too great materialism.” I regret that the mechanchim didn’t meet my two daughters who didn’t go to Israel to study, despite our desire, because $25,000 for a year in seminary is simply unaffordable. Rabbi Shneur Aisenstark sarcastically discusses the “need” for two cars. I have one 2004 Chevy Venture with 130,000 miles. I haven’t taken a vacation in over nine years (yes, I work on chol hamoed).
I married off my daughter about a year ago, and the wedding night cost me almost $20,000. A few weeks after the wedding, my eight-year-old daughter came home crying that her friends said the chasuna was “nebby” (incidentally, her friend is the daughter of two mechanchim).
I don’t spend money on gourmet food, hobbies, designer clothing, liquor, etc. I pay federal, state and city taxes of about $50,000 a year. Tuition and summer camps average $45-50,000 a year, health insurance, deductibles, dentist, etc. $30,000, mortgage, real estate taxes and insurance $35,000 (we have a condominium, not a house).
Interaction with institutions in the community usually leaves me feeling exploited and cynical. The mosdos and tuition boards demand ever-increasing fees with ever-increasing attitude. My son, who is studying in an elite Yeshiva, was teased by his friends because his father is a baal habayis. Shadchanim call up and say things like I have a great boy, but first I want you to realize they turned down $1,500 a month just last week (Do I hear $1,750?).
I feel guilty that despite being blessed with healthy, accomplished children, a good marriage and a decent job, I feel discontent with my day-to-day life. I am working harder and harder just to keep afloat. I have no time or strength to think about spiritual growth or finding a connection to Hashem – and I am sure that I am not alone.
Brooklyn, New York
To the Editors,
I found your topic and discussion in the Spring 2012 to be most informative. As a High School Rebbe in an out of town Mesivta, I am not wholly convinced that the problem of a lack of connection to Yiddeshkeit is as widespread as it was made out to be. However, I do believe that one very important tool that can be most effective in addressing this issue was left understated, if not almost totally omitted by your contributors.
Much ado was made about focusing our energies on more talk of the Ribono Shel Oilam and spirituality. I believe that this will ultimately have limited appeal. A total, true, accurate and correct concept of the Ribono Shel Oilam is an impossibility for the human mind. His true essence is outside of our natural phenomena and, therefore, it is understandably an impossibility for our minds to grasp. Singing, hisbodidus, and talk of spirituality will mainly appeal to those who are already, or are naturally, spirituality inclined.
For the frum intellectual, the path to connecting with Yiddeshkeit must also come from different sources. I believe that the path to creating this connection is to properly explain the purpose and mission of Judaism. First, develop a basic framework explaining the mission of Klal Yisrael. This can be achieved by defining what Hashem wants from us. It would be most beneficial to develop a systematic outline, starting from the basics and detailing the purpose and reason for Creation, Man, Nations of the World, Klal Yisrael, History, Mitzvos, Redemption and the World to Come, etc. We must be able to clearly explain the purpose of this world, the purpose of being a Yid, what we should focus on and where we should be heading. Second, explain the ta’amei hamitzvos (meaning of the mitzvos) and how they relate to, and are a vital part of, the mission outlined in Step One.
I believe that many people feel disconnected from Yiddeshkeit because of a lack of purpose and meaning. Giving people a grasp and understanding of reason, purpose and mission will help create connection, passion and conviction.
A. Aaron Elias
Miami Beach, Florida
To the Editors,
I want to thank you for being bold enough to address a common issue among observant Jews. t The Spring 2012 issue touches on something that is for me – a Baal Teshuva of 26 years – very personal, and dear to my heart. Many of your contributors are individuals whose shiurim, written works, and public voices have shaped and inspired me throughout the years.
I became frum when I was 16, and started my formal yeshiva and college education after graduating from a public high school. Throughout the years, there are times when I have felt, as Rabbi Dr. Fox put it (The Abandonment of the Soul: The Struggle of Dispirited Observant Jews, Spring 2012), like the “Dispirited Observant.” There are struggles to get up in the morning to daven with a minyan, plenty of brachos made by rote, and the occasional yetzer hora to not learn on a Sunday night, hoping to get to bed earlier. I know that I’m not alone, and am glad to see that this is being addressed in a positive forum.
A common thread mentioned in the articles is the idea of a chevra/group/vaad dedicated toward growth. I have both participated in and facilitated such groups – inspired in particular by the efforts of the AishDas Society. I have personally found the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh seforim (mentioned by Rav Moshe Weinberger in his article) to be a not only a recharger, but a compass for my own growth.
Baruch Hashem, Daf Yomi has become popular across the observant spectrum, but developing an active relationship with Hashem is not even on most people’s radar screens. We have effective campaigns against loshon hora, we have signs in shuls reminding us to turn off our cell phones, and many communities have gemach programs for basic needs that people are lacking. What we really need is a gemach for personal growth. For some, growth is though learning Torah, while others can commit to meaningful davening, and still others can involve their selves and their families in chessed. Shuls, yeshivas, and laypeople have to work together to make these opportunities for growth available.
As a result of the Spring Issue, I was inspired to be proactive in my own community. Over the past number of months I have been in contact with rabbonim in the Chicago area about an initiative I call G2G (Growing Together). Hoping to be active this fall, G2G will provide listings in the Chicago area of growth-oriented shiurim and classes available to the community, in hope of bridging the gap between rote observance and inspiration. It is a project of the AishDas Society (See next letter – Ed.).
Again, I thank you for taking time to seriously address and offer solutions to a problem that hits home.
To the Editors,
“מִי יַעֲלֶה בְהַר ה׳ — Who will ascend Hashem’s mountain?” (Tehillim 24:3)
It is an important question – perhaps the most important in life. I therefore thank the editors of Klal Perspectives for a thought-provoking issue that brings the topic to public discourse, and starts the conversation with such erudition and experienced voices.
Different people start their ascent from different points at the foot of that mountain, and therefore will need to travel in different directions to find the peak. All are b’nei aliyah – people actively pursuing ascent – and thus have a common spirit despite difference in derech (path).
Fifteen years ago, a group of us got together and founded the AishDas Society (www.aishdas.org) with an eye to facilitating the culture of growth necessary for the pursuit of a meaningful path, whichever path it may be. We sought pragmatic solutions to the question: How do we become b’nei aliyah?
Our first conclusion was that there was a need to invest more time studying aggadic texts. One needs to see how various mesoretic voices develop and describe the ideal before developing a program of working toward it. And these ideals need to be framed in a manner that fits a variety of personalities and talents.
While finding a personalized model of the Torah’s ideal may be primarily an intellectual pursuit, following that ideal is more experiential. We all know the problem of “akrasia,” even if that word is Greek to you. It is the question of why people do things they know are wrong or against their best interests. Knowing what’s right is not enough. “Veyadata hayom vehasheivosa el levavecha — You shall know today, and you will answer your heart.” Our minds know things that still need to make their way into the core of our beings, in order to change who we are and how we act. That level of deep impression is made by experiential programming, far more than the study of ideas.
AishDas has had success forming ve’adim (literally: committees) that follow the model of R’ Shlomo Wolbe, zt”l, and found in Alei Shur volume II, sec. 2-3. The vaad concept is a product of the Mussar Movement, and those va’adim in section 2 of Alei Shur tend to be middos (character trait) oriented. However, a review of the topics in section 3 shows that the same format can be applied to goals such as adding passion to prayer. On the meta-level, it is a format that provides experience interacting and living up to a text. When a group of peers work together, they can turn to one another for support, regardless of which approach up the mountain the group is taking.
So what is a vaad, as I am using the term? It’s a small sized group that studies a text regularly (like a chaburah). But they also explore how to apply the text to their own lives. Every session ends with some daily exercise that they take upon themselves to grow incrementally in that area (e.g., not to express anger at dinner time, or to spend time lingering on each word of one sentence of Shemoneh Esrei, feeling as many connotations and implications as possible before moving on, etc.).
A vaad meeting typically begins with a discussion of how things are going with the exercise, or with any other part of one’s avodas Hashem (service of G-d) for which one wants the group’s input. Text study follows, and then a discussion of how the ideal in the text applies to the lives of the members. Sessions conclude with a discussion of the exercise, which may be influenced by prior progress.
Ideally, this can be a synagogue-based institution, but we have convened va’adim successfully using conference calls, supplemented by email discussions. A sefer like Alei Shur, with its sequences of texts and exercises can be the basis for beginning to work as a group, even without the commitment of someone ready and able to prepare appropriate material. It takes just slightly more effort to do so with a text like the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh series, by R’ Itamar Schwartz. Obviously, a synagogue rabbi could learn to produce material for a vaad, perhaps after some experience with Rav Wolbe’s ve’adim. AishDas is available to provide experienced assistance to any group wishing to get started.
I believe deeply that the path up the mountain is setting the mind on a goal through learning, and making impressions in the heart through more experiential modalities. The vaad notion is but one option. I dream of a day when synagogues consider offering experiential programming to foster benei aliyah that are as de rigueur as daf yomi has become in these past few decades.
“Ben Zoma said… Who is rich? One who is happy with his lot.” If Ben Zoma meant happy with where they are now, his would be a recipe for complacency and stagnation. Rather, I believe he is telling us to be happy with our entire lot from birth to grave, the path Hashem places us upon. May Hashem grant us all further success in this worthy endeavor.
Rabbi Micha Berger
Passaic, New Jersey
To the Editors,
I read with great interest the spring issue of Klal Perspectives, in which the subject of large scale spiritual numbness in the Torah world was taken as the latest and newest crisis facing Klal Yisroel. The mere fact that it is an issue being discussed, however, is indicative of some level of spiritual vibrancy that we still maintain.
I ask you though, is the present situation that much worse than what Torah Jewry has faced during the last half millennium? Is today’s situation worse than that of 1492 Spanish Jewry, where fully half of the Jewish population chose to remain outward Christians rather than forsake their material possessions? Was not the Chassidic movement of the 1700’s a direct outgrowth of the large scale spiritual malaise that afflicted much of the masses of Eastern Europe? Didn’t German Jewry of the 18th and 19th centuries abandon Torah in such jaw dropping numbers that Frankfurt – once the crown jewel of Torah scholarship – could barely put together a minyan of shomrei Shabbos in 1850? Didn’t Vilna of 1939 – once considered the “Yerushalayim of Lita” – have 2/3 of its school children enrolled in anti-religious schools? Of the millions upon millions of Jews in Europe before WWII, why couldn’t the largest yeshiva muster more than four to five hundred students?
To be sure, the great men of that time were far greater than anything we today could imagine and even many of the “amcha” (simple Jews) were, in their own way, spiritual giants. But is it wise to believe that we somehow have a new and terrible situation on our hands? Isn’t the current situation just a continuation of the larger reality, which we sometimes call ‘galus?’
Mr. Moishe Bane’s article (“Merely Coping,” Spring 2012), which touched on the ideas of hester panim and a two thousand year time period during which we haven’t intensely experienced our Father in Heaven, seemed most relevant to me. Simply put, we are nearing the end of a two-thousand-year marathon, during which millions of our brethren have dropped out; we are simply the weary she’airis haplaitah (remnant) holding on for dear life, desperate to see the time that we will be reunited with our Father in Heaven.
It seems to me that our generation suffers from something far worse than spiritual numbness: rampant pessimism. When did it become fashionable to label every problem our community faces “a crisis?” Why is it that too many of the articles bemoaning our generation’s spiritual state can be condened into the following: “Frum Jews are shallow automatons and only care about their image. Let’s blame the rabbonim, Agudah, yeshiva system, etc.”
I firmly believe that this pessimism is influenced by the secular media, which peddles frightening news as a means of garnering attention. How sad that we have allowed that to seep into our community.
Finally, while I thoroughly enjoyed R’ Moshe Weinberger’s response (“Just One Thing is Missing: The Soul,” Spring 2012), I couldn’t help but be bothered by his inclusion of the 90,000 people finishing daf yomi and of the endless gemachs as somehow indicative of a generation of religiosity without soul. It takes great effort for one to arise at the crack of dawn to do the daf, or to do so after a hard day’s work. Many of us find our seder in the morning to be a mechaye nefesh (life-giver) that sustains us throughout the day. Chessed, too, is not just an external act to most people, but rather it is a way we express our love of Hashem and His children.
Call me naïve, but I suspect that had the generations past seen how we are holding on despite of all the difficulties we’ve faced in this country over the last hundred years and that we continue to face today, they would be proud of us in spite of any shortcomings.
Rutgers Jewish Xperience
Lakewood, New Jersey
by Yitzchak Talansky
Rabbi Moshe Weinberger’s article, “Just One Thing is Missing: The Soul,” must strike a chord in anyone concerned with the malaise affecting our society. However, his presentation of the nature of the problem, its source, and more significantly his ideas for how to deal with it, give pause for thought. To a degree, this is an issue of emphasis, for
רחמנא ליבא בעי is surely part and parcel of our religious outlook, and a yiddishkeit performed by rote, devoid of the fire and passion that so characterized previous generations, is hardly what we are striving for.
Having said that, I propose that the problem lies not in the paucity of emphasis placed on experience and connection, but paradoxically, on the overemphasis of these elements. Almost without noticing, we have adopted the strategy of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” But unfortunately, we have entered a losing battle, because in trying to make the experience of Judaism better than the rest, we have agreed essentially to compete on their terms. By “their” I refer to the modern gentile world, which is characterized by a sophisticated as never before appeal to the senses.
What Rabbi Weinberger essentially advocates is a return to Tevye the milkman. Indeed, it certainly would be preferable if we lived with the kind of everyday relationship with Hashem that he did. But I seriously doubt that short of moving back to Anatevka, we will be able to replicate the feeling of dependency that Tevye had when he mounted his horse, – when we turn on the ignition in our Toyota. The gentile world has very much succeeded in strengthening the apparent causal nexus in life, (to a degree, that actually was their goal,) and we will have to adapt to this new reality. We ignore it at our own peril.
However there’s an even more basic issue. Although there certainly is a prominent place for emotion and feeling in avodas Hashem, one cannot build his religious foundation on it. Human emotion is too fickle; like grains of sand, it blows this way and then that way. One may be inspired to great heights, moved to high levels of deveykus, but then it wears off. By nature inspiration is sporadic, not the solid stuff necessary to build a bedrock of religiosity. The foundation must be built on the solid rock of commitment, and then reinforced with an iron sense of accomplishment. In contrast to emotion, commitment, a firm intellectually based decision to follow a certain path, is by definition, long lasting.
After the first step of commitment, comes connection, which results from involvement, primarily in learning. Not because the laws of a cow that gores will consciously give one a feeling of closeness to G-d, but rather because learning represents the actualization of commitment, which subsequently yields the fulfillment that accompanies accomplishment. For actualizing a commitment is the greatest accomplishment of all, and will naturally be experienced as such, with one critical caveat; people are trained to understand what they’re doing.
This then should be our two pronged educational goal;
- glorifying commitment fulfilled
- recasting learning from an endeavor whose sole purpose is defined and measured in terms of intellectual advancement, to one that carries ultimate meaning in and of itself as the fulfilling of a commitment.
To sum up, what strengthens more than anything, a person’s commitment to Torah and mitzvos is a feeling of accomplishment. Rather than increasing the shabbatonim and storytelling quotient in our educational system, we should increase the stress on the accomplishment that is learning.
“The defectors who simply couldn’t go on hiding and faking,” are empty because they have been raised in an environment that inculcates a need to feel constantly “high.” The antidote to this poison is not to try and outdo the other side with an even bigger high, but to reject the whole approach outright. “Lord get me high, get me higher,” sang Reb Shlomo a”h, but he was singing to people who were lost. People who had no commitment, who whose entire frame of reference was secular. This is still employed with some degree of success for that target audience by some in the kiruv industry. But that is not the approach for us. “Lama Nigara?” Because we thankfully, are not starting from ground zero.
Instead we should inform/teach those “who listlessly drag their feet through the motions of avodas Hashem,” who evidently have some degree of commitment, that it is a great and wonderful thing they do. Not a charade, but rather, an incredible accomplishment. Living with Hashem’s dictates, following His Torah, learning His Torah – even without any great kavanos, and intentions, indeed without any intentions at all – there’s nothing more significant in the entire creation. And then to encourage them, that when one does all this with fervor, it’s that much greater. As the Nefesh Hachaim stresses over and over, actions trump intentions, they come first and are more significant even when devoid of feeling.
Yes, we will be going against the tide. In a consumerist world which values experience above all, and has raised the attainment of new and varied experiences to the highest of levels, we will be saying no. But our adherents will come to recognize the joy and value in commitment, of sacrifice, of earning something through self-denial, of sticking-to-it even when you don’t feel like it. They will be energized to try harder, because they will find satisfaction and fulfillment in the effort expended itself, rather than in the experience promised to them.
With the proper training… sacrifice breeds fulfillment.
The reason ”something inside has died,” is not because it was a candle in the wind, but because there’s no longer a candle underneath at all. That being the case, a million sparks and attempts to light it will fail. What is needed is the laying of a solid foundation of commitment, followed by a strong sense of accomplishment. Rabbi Weinberger himself unwittingly alludes to this solution when he writes that “Our communities…..are swarming with Jews….who feel little connection to HaKadosh Baruch Hu…..this is apparent to anyone who has taken a peak outside the beis medrash.” Exactly.
This is not about intellectualism per se. It’s about commitment. Intellectualism is for the minority, but then again, the subset of people who can rise to the level of שויתי השם לנגדי תמיד by emphasizing relationship with Hashem, while existing in the modern workplace is just as small as the intellectual elite. But commitment is democratic; everyone can do it, and everyone can feel fulfilled from it. Young and old, male and female, more spiritual types and less spiritual types, ffb’s and bt’s.
Rather than merely noting that “the most sought after speakers and teachers are not known for their scholarship, but for their ability to inspire….by sharing their own experiences and struggles, we should be donning ashes and sackcloth over such a state of affairs! NCSY has won. It has replaced shiurim in our community’s intellectual life. Of course it has, it requires little effort and makes you feel good too. What’s not to like? But… what do you have to show for it, down the road?
Parenthetically, this whole approach has its roots in the twin devils of narcissism, and the need for instant gratification. “How do I feel?” starts with a concentration on “me.” Furthermore “How do I feel?” implies, how do I feel …at the moment. I want to feel close to G-d, and I want it now. Right now. What is actually needed is patience – patience to work slowly over a lifetime to instill in one’s heart the real relationship with Hashem that only comes by going down that road. “The Jew has taught me how to wait,” remarked Henrik Ibsen the Dutch playwrite. Halevai that it would be so today.
There’s an inescapable irony in Rabbi Weinberger’s observations, that the Aish Kodesh himself was bemoaning his lack of soul (understood, at his lofty level.) And at 40 years old no less. The attainment of an ongoing relationship with Hashem, keenly felt, is presented as a fairly simple accomplishment, accessible to one and all. In reality, it’s a madreiga of the highest order. It comes only after a lifetime of hard work.
Going to a shabbaton and being uplifted by the experience is very nice, but it’s fleeting. Viewed in a certain way, it can actually be dangerous because it gives people the impression that they are achieving something, when in reality they are simply answering emotional needs –having little to do with religious devotion, – that find redress in that type of setting. True, NCSY employs this method to great effect, but again, with a particular audience and with a very specific end-goal in mind, moving the kids on to yeshiva. It’s not a model to emulate for mainstream chinuch.
The end result of the kiruv oriented approach is that after 12 years of yeshiva education, and many more years of hearing inspirational speakers, people are left with very little content. No wonder they feel empty.
Incidentally, this approach has ramifications for many areas in life. When a couple expects to be inspired in marriage all the time…..well, we see what the end result often is. Contrast that with the approach that both partners understand that they are in it for the long haul, for better or for worse. That’s a marriage based on commitment, and it looks completely different.
A friend of mine with twenty years’ experience teaching limudei kodesh on Long Island in a well respected Modern Orthodox high school shared with me a few years ago the school’s educational goals. He said that all they try to do is get the kids to Israel. When I inquired as to why they didn’t think they could accomplish anything more substantial in four years, he responded that they were too busy being mekarev the kids to teach them anything. But these kids get to Israel needing more kiruv than ever!
Can this be called successful education? Maybe things would look different if the kids came out knowing something, and appreciating it. If graduating boys knew 10 daf, (20?) and had it drummed into them that this is an amazing accomplishment, an accomplishment for the ages, they would feel differently about themselves and their relationship to Yiddishkeit. If girls knew a whole sefer of Tanach well, maybe they would feel like they are getting somewhere. (This approach is as equally valid for girls, as it is for boys.)
Is the entire phenomenon of daf yomi not an exemplary proof of this approach? Forgive me daf yomi attendees but, it’s not the intellectual accomplishment. (As a pundit once said, when the Romans outlawed Torah learning, they didn’t have daf yomi in mind.) It’s the experience of learning, of fulfilling a commitment, – ingeniously celebrated with glossy saturation PR campaigns, and attendant mass gatherings. The results speak for themselves.
Indeed, the approach that Rabbi Weinberger advocates, is playing out before our eyes within the modern American yeshivas in Israel. Each succeeding yeshiva that opens, waters down its content a little more in the interest of kiruv. The end result is that this year, there is a new “yeshiva” opening that unabashedly announces on its web site that it offers gemara for a grand total of one hour a day, four days a week. Mind you, this is not a yeshiva for slow learners, or for intellectually challenged students. They are trying to get kids who are heading to the finest of colleges. Their pitch is…kiruv.
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all panacea, and each one will find the path that suits his neshama. But the path to emunah for our generation, is the emunah gained from detecting and concurrently participating in the commitment that has characterized klal yisrael since its inception. As a matter of fact, this idea is inherent in the very meaning of the word “emunah.” which is correctly translated as “unswerving,” or “steadfast,” and relates to actions.
אל אמונה ואין עוול or ידיו של משה אמונה עד בא השמש
The English word “faith” represents a Christian concept.
As a program for school curricula, I propose that this emunah can be gained in two complementary ways;
- appreciation of limud torah. When a student is involved in learning, over time he slowly perceives that he is part of an unbroken chain of commitment stretching more than three thousand years. In this commitment he is joining thousands of others great and small, he is in the same game and on the same team with the likes of Rava and Abaye, Rashi and Tosfos, the Vilna Gaon and R’ Akiva Eiger, as well as with untold thousands of simple but committed Jews just like himself. This should be stressed and brought out in the classroom, for it bestows a sense of transcendence.
- history. Students who know Jewish history, – and secular history as well to provide context, – will be overwhelmed by the commitment that Klal Yisrael has shown to its ideals in myriad situations and places. This, too, affords them a context in which to see themselves as part of something larger than their individual selves.
“Making use of the methods commonly used in outreach such as storytelling, music, shabbatonim etc.” will lead to a completely superficial educational experience. Rather than the warm brand of experiential Yiddishkeit R’ Weinberger espouses, we need to get back to basics.