Dec 14, 2006

Questioned on various issues regarding haredi attitude

A commenter named "Whatsinaname" sent me a bunch of questions he wanted discussed and to hear my take on them. I decded to make it into a separate post rather than respond in the comments section, due to the nature of the questions and the lengthiness and complexity of the answers....

whats - 1. Among the chareidi communities there are arguably some problems with the school system. Schools accept kids based on reputation of the parents, occupations of parents, and general look and feel. In a country where “aliyah” and immigration is one of the largest issues, how can the schools continue to enforce these rules? People come here, expecting to send their kids to schools, and the schools do not allow them to enter. Why is it that schools can create rules such as Sheitel Length, no Denim, and white shirts only? Should the child be turned away, when there will be no where else to go?! Sometimes it feels the schools care more for a personal reputation than the well being of the general society they are in. Isn’t that philosophy against any foundation of a “School”?

Rafi G: Because you are asking me these questions, I am assuming you want to hear my opinion on these matters. I in no way speak for anybody other than me (even my wife does not agree with me much of the time!) and, as the saying goes, two Jews three opinions. The questions you ask are difficult and complex questions and different people would respond differently to them. I speak for no community nor for any individual other than me.

I agree with the premise of your question, that it is wrong to base criteria of acceptance into school on these superficial and peripheral issues. However, let's try to analyze and explain why they do so.

The society in Israel is much more stereotyping than it is in Chutz La'Aretz. School administrators believe that they have to set (unofficial) rules of acceptance, such as sheitel length, denim skirts, shirt color, etc. because they have a school they wish to keep to a certain standard. That standard is not necessarily (but might be) academic. It might be (and in the Haredi system often is) based on frumkeit, or perceived frumkeit.

Does it matter that the guy wearing the colored shirt learns as much as the guy in the white shirt? no. Does it matter than the woman with the longer sheitel raises her kids just as well as the woman with the shorter sheitel? no.

They have the perception that families in which the wife wears a shoulder length sheitel (for example, but any of the examples you suggested are equally good) is more modern and less dedicated to living a Torah lifestyle. They therefore say that such people are not appropriate for their specific school. They would say that you should send your child to a school that is more appropriate for the lifestyle you live in. They are also concerned that your child, coming from a home deficient in their level of frumkeit, would be a bad influence on other children, and better to keep the kids separate than cause such a situation.

Do I agree with it? Partially yes and partially no. Overall it is based on misperceptions and is therefore wrong. However, the schools need some criteria for acceptance.

We are not in Memphis or Chicago or other places in America that have limited numbers of frum people and therefore have to try to attract a wider range of students. Also, in America (at least in the more "out of town" places) the schools have the additional goal of being available for the general community (non-religious) and, again, have to cater to a wider range of people. Here in Israel that is not really the case. There are so many people that every group is large enough of a pool from which to have your own type of school.

So they say why do you want to come to us? Go to your own type. And yes, it does sometimes seem that they are more worried about the reputation of the school than of the actual welfare of the children. But that is a casualty not just related to schools, but to the whole Haredi society. See the Kolko case (as an example) going on in America and how the Aguda never came out against hims or his actions. They have practically abandoned the safety of the children because they are more worried about publicizing that some of their members are molesters or longtime supporters of those molesters.

In general, schools and communities in Israel are more homogenous than abroad, for better or worse.

whats: 2. Should we be teaching our children secular studies? Do you see any value in teaching your kids math, science or history?

Rafi G: My opinion is that yes we should be teaching them more of secular studies. And yes I do see value in teaching them these subjects.

whats: 3. There are certain Chareidi communities which have not one basketball court in the entire neighborhood. They build structures which severely limit any social outlet for teenage boys. Girls are allowed to have plays, or chuggim, but boys are expected to be learning 24/7. Do you agree with this philosophy? Do you create a social outlet for your own children? Do you feel this is the correct way to bring up children in a Torah atmosphere?

Rafi G: I do not agree with that approach. I believe that such an approach causes serious "burnout" at a young age and issues similar to that. The school we send our children to is fairly decent in that regard (despite their being a Haredi school) in the sense that they allow the kids to play ball and they go on hikes in the nearby mountains and have other activities on occassion.

A Torah atmosphere is not in any way limited to requiring a community to "learn 24/7". the Torah provides no preference for such a lifestyle. The Jewish Nation was split between 12 tribes, each with its own style and culture, only one of which was completely dedicated to a life of Torah 24/7 with no distraction.

Our goal should be to have our focus on Torah and Mitzvos in whatever we do. Even if you work, your focus should be on Torah and mitzvos, whether that manifests itself in learning Torah in your spare time or by doing chessed with other people when possible or by trying to live your life in a way that is mekadesh shem shamayim. That is relevant when you are learning Torah 24/7 and when you are working and when you are playing basketball or softball or whatever else you might be doing.

whats: 4. Army or yeshiva? Why?

Rafi G: what about army or yeshiva?

I have no problem with somebody going to the army. Hafuch (or aderabba in yeshivishe talk), I have told people to go and support people going to the army. Yeshiva life is not for everybody. Not everyone is cut out for that regimen and lifestyle, just like not everyone is cut out to be a doctor, or an electrician or politician, or anything else. (As long as you are focused on Torah and mitzvos, your profession or place in life does not make a difference). Somebody who cannot stay in yeshiva and learn and dedicate his life to that lifestyle should got to the army.

There is no mitzva in being in the army. I am not saying army is an end or a goal. However, being that in Israel we have a mandatory draft, it is something one must do in order for him to progress in life. If you learn in yeshiva you have a deferment. The army is simply a stepping stone, a necessary step to take in order for you to be able to go on living a productive life.

As long as you are truly learning in yeshiva that is acceptable. If you are not really learning and just using the yeshiva as a way to avoid the army, that is where the problem is.

I personally did not serve in the army. But that was not by choice. When I made aliya I was called to the army for an interview. I went through the whole process with the intention of being called up for service. They chose not to draft me because of my age, though they kept me on their lists of possible draftees. They did not give me an exemption, just simply did not call me up.

whats: 5. How come Chalav Yisrael is so much more prominent than Yoshon? Why don't more people hold Yoshon? Is it fair to enforce close relatives to serve only Yoshon in the presence of one who holds Yoshon? (This question applies both to Israel and America. There are many American products bought in Israel which are not Yoshon, and people are buying them unaware of the problems involved).

Rafi G: I do not know the answer to this. This is something that we have discussed many times in daf yomi when the topic of chadash has come up, and we have yet to find a reasonable answer.

whats: 6. Should women learn Gemara? Why or Why not?

Rafi G: Should they? I do not see why they should learn gemara. They have no obligation in talmud torah, so there is no reason (that I know of) to say they should learn gemara. If your question is "could they" that is something else. It does not bother me if a woman learns gemara. If that is what will give her spiritual fulfillness, more power to her.

I remember when we were in Taeneck, NJ last year for a couple of days, I davened early one Sunday morning in a shul there. The name of the congregation currently eludes me, but it was a big shul and even on a Sunday they had a minyan every half hour from 6am until something like 9 or 10 am.
I went about 6:30 to daven and found the minyan that was starting. As I was walking around the shul looking for the right minyan (and looking around out of curiosity) I found a fairly large beis medrash with maybe 25 or 30 people learning, mostly in chavrusa groups, and I think there was one shiur going on. I was very impressed to see so many people out early on a Sunday morning learning.

As I looked around I noticed one of the tables was a woman learning daf yomi. I was shocked but also impressed that she was obviously not just doing this as part of a fight for womens rights. If she only believed in her right to learn as part of womens rights, she would not have been out there at 6:30 am on a Sunday morning. That showed her dedication and enjoyment of learning. I see nothing wrong with it.

UPDATE: Talk about a small world - a fellow jblogger who is well known just called me to tell me that that woman is his mother. He tells me she has been through shas three times (!) in daf yomi. She just loves going to learn. She is not into the feminist stuff and will not join womens minyanim or anything like that, but she simply loves learning.


  1. The name of the shul where the woman was at Daf Yomi is called "Rinat Yisrael"

  2. good answers.

    as an add-on:

    Q2: How does one learn eruvin without math? Many piskei halacha are based on historical issues, if one doesn't know basic history, how does one follow the trail of various minhagim/chumros/halachos.

    Most secular subjects have a very basic root in learning and are more than voluntary, but necessary for "true" learning. Does it have to be in a secular environment - no. But math is still needed.

  3. Q3 and Q4:

    there are 12 shevatim, only one was dedicated to limud as a way of life. For the rest, limud was a part of their daily existence, but not all of it. Our goal needs to be to determine which boys can handle the learning intensity and which are not geared for it, and help them adjust so they do not get turned off. I do not only mean they stop being frum. There are MANY frum Jews who have simply been turned off from the learning aspect of yiddishkeit, due to burnout.

  4. anon - ok. It does not jog my memory but I accept it.

    shaya - also Sukka and others.

  5. ok great. So here are my follow ups:
    Q2: Secular learning: But no one in the yeshivas/ cheders teach it! Should we be bringing our kids tutors to teach them? Should we be requesting the schools to begin teaching it more (a wasted effort)? How do you coordinate this belief with your own household?
    Q3: See what you and Shaya are both saying. 1 - its produces burnout, 2 - it was never a Torah edict to sit and learn 24/7. then why does Chareidi society insist on this so much? Are they so blind to childhood psychology??
    QS4: (Army): You didn't discuss the possible kashrus/ tznius problems in the army now.
    QS5: (yoshon) not a very satisfying answer :-)
    QS6: there is a certain chizuk in there for me. Many thousands of people in Israel learn becuase otherwise they would be in the army. Yet, i don't have that problem, so kal v'chomer i should be sitting longer, becuase im not forced to. Similar to this women who doesn't have to, and doesn't do it for attention.

    Thanks for taking the time, i appreciate it....

  6. update:

    I am humbled - I cannot even get into going to daf yomi to finish once, let alone 3 times!

  7. So there is a question at the end so please bear with me.

    About 21oo years ago lived two Rabbi's, Hillel and Shamai. Hillel was known for his sagicity and good nature and moderation and Shamai was know for his fiery temperment and strict interpretation of the law.
    Most of Hillel's interpreations's were accepted as the rules and virtually non of Shamai's rules were accepted. But Shamai still had many followers. If you had to compare the two groups to todays Jews they would be Modern Orthodox and Charedi.
    I think there are two points here.
    1- This story illustrates the malleability of rules and the effects of individual personalities on interpretation. Does that not demand that the rules be reviewed and updated to each generations need's? As Hillel did with pruzabel?
    2- As Shamai was the stricter, mehadrin version as compared to Hillel, does it make sense to live shamai's version of judaism?

  8. whats - I will try to get to your quesions tonight/tomorrow/monday...

    shaya - daf yomi is not for everyone...

    dan - I am not really sure what you mean by your first question. We do not update and change halacha based on the needs of the generation, rather we figure out how halachic principles apply within new situations . Sometimes the need is for leniencies and sometimes it is for stringencies.
    As well, in some communities the need is for leniencies and in some communities it is for stringencies.

    Also, I am not sure why you suggest that the school of Hillelian thought was comparable to today's Modern Orthodox. Just because he was more forgiving does not mean he was "Modern Orthodox. But I also know of nothing wrong with Modern orthodox to say he was not like that. I do not know too much about modern orthodox. I know the basis of thought used in modern Orthodoxy is Torah U'Madah, Torah Im Derech Eretz, but beyond that I do not know much first hand. I did not study in Modern O institutions, nor have I lived in MO communities. The people I knw who are MO for the most part are as frum as people who categorize themselves as UO. The only difference is that the more religious MO people are open about the fact that there is a very strong percentage of people in the MO community who are very religiously weak. So maybe Hille was compaerable, maybe not. I do not know and I do not know what the ramifications of saying such a thing would be.

    About the second question - I do not think Hillel was less mehadrin than Shamai. He just stressed different things and was more forgiving than Shamai. We probably need someone more historically knowledgeabe than me to answer those questions.

    The problem is not what the UO do and how Rav Elyashiv mighgt pasken zealously about something. Most people in their daily lives have no connection to Rav Elyashiv (or any of the other gedolim) and are not subject to his psakim. Rav Elyashiv paskens lchumro and his community of followers listen and possibly even push him to pasken on issues he would not necessarily comment on.

    The thing is, nowadays we see a phenomenon that we did not se ein generations past. Nwadays Rabbis are not willing to asen against Rav Elyashiv while in days past the gadol was only relevant on issues affecting world jewry and not individuals, or rather only on individuals who chose to follow him.
    Nowadays Rabbis are unwilling to pasken in opposition to him (or certain other gedolim). So while what he might say on any given Tuesday might be very relevant for the community follwing him, suddenly every other Ortho Rabbi takes that word as holy writ. Harry Maryles on his blog just wrote an article the other day on this same exact oint how suddenly Judaism has a pope when we never before did.
    Can you imagine chicago - Rav Soloveitchikl was aginst establishing an eruv so the city did not out of respect for him (to simplify the issues). Suddenyl the rabbonim decided that they needed to so they did. Rav Soloveitchik was a reat man but he was not the pope. In judaism we do not have such a position (at least not without a sanhedrin). If Rav Elyashiv said a certain communoity should not have an eruv today, no Rabbi would be willing to argue the point and put one up. He has become the Jewish pope, so to speak, and that is not necessarily the way Judaism is supposed to be.

    I commented there and will point out here as well, the Rav of my shul has said numerous times that anybody who is learned and knowledgable on any given topic has a right and even an obligation to take his learning to a conclusion and come to his own psak and even to argue on the greatest jewish authority of his time, even someone like Rav Elyashiv (his example). There is no reason why not and there is nothing in Judaism that says otherwise. A person is obligated to learn and know hlacha like evry other realm of torah. A person is ony meant to seek guidance from his rav on life and hashkafa. A person is meant to pasken his own halacha. On the occassion that he encounters a halacha he does not know the answer to, he is also meant to ask the rav.

    Nowadays we have a situation where people do not learn (halacha) on their own and therefore are not capable of paskening on their own. In our ignorance we have created a situation where we are living "bdieved" - always relying on the rav for the simplest of halachic matters. We are meant to learn and pasken on our own and only rely on the rav for situations too complicated..

    thin that same concept applies to Rabbis. The rabbis are no longer confident of their knowledge and abilities, so when Rav Elyashiv comes out with a psak, when it used to be accepted only in certain communities or by certain followers, it is now accepted and implemented more universally.

  9. whats -

    1. what happened to q1? Why did you start with q2?

    2. Good question and I do not have a good answer. This is something I have written about in the past. It is something we debate often whether we are doing the right thing or not and I still do not know. I do not want to get involved in this aspect of it here, because I have no good answer.
    We do try to provide some tutoring and chuggim when possible. It is, obviously, not enough. We hope that if our children are not cut out for learning they will feel that we support them in their ways and we will be just as happy with them going to one of the many schools sprouting up that are geared to training young haredi men and giving them the education they have missed.
    Are we setting ourselves up for a bad situation? possibly.

    3. They will tell you "עת לעשות" and "Horaat Shaah" usually. In other worfds, after the holocaust there was such a dearth of torah judaism the kollel system was invented in order to bring back the concpt of torah learning. Even though before the war there was no such system or anything even similar, the gedolim of the time felt it necessary to have people just sitting and learning, even though it would create a deficiency in other areas, in order to replenish the supplies of Torah took time, but we have an amount of people learnign and dedicating their lives to Torah at levels never before seen in the history of Judaism. It has its good points and the gedolim were successful in what they wanted to accomplish.
    I have heard from Rabbonim that many are of the opinion that that horaat shaah no longer applies and there is a slow and quiet attempt at changing the system to try to integrate avreichim into the workplace and offer more educational opportunities. Just like when they started the horaat shaah it took a lot of time until it was successful, cancelling it will probably take even more time, but there are such attempts and such a direction. Don't forget, due to the horaat shaah, a sense of extremism in Torah was created. That same extremism is what causes people to be against changing the current situation, so it will take time, but it is happening.

    4.I do not find it relevant. There are kashrus and tznius problems on the street as well. You try your hardest to not be nichshal in the problems. There are units in the army designed for the religious soldier. It might be a nahal hareidi unit. it might be a hesder unit. It might be none of the above but a different one with a greater percentage of religious people - I am not firsthand familiar with the different units, so i am not completely aware of what is available.

    I do not mean to belittle the problem. It is a problem, but that is no way, in my opinion, exempts people from their obligations. Life is full of problems, we have to find the appropriate ways of dealing with them. Some people say their way of dealing with the problem is to not go to the army. i do not agree with that solution (at least not on a general level, maybe for certain individuals it might be ok) and say that a person has to live up to his obligations.

    5. sorry

    6. good kal v'chomer on a mussar level...

  10. qs1: i have heard that the schools will be forced to begin changing this acceptance style. We are changing now, societies are changing, and they will have to pull back a little. I hope that happens, and Im not speaking for myself. Too many people are turned away unfairly.
    qs3: I havent heard that before about Rabannim pushing back. I hope that is true. When I see people suffering to make ends meet because they are in Kollel all life, my only response is this is not Olam Habah. My fear is that for some people it is too late to lessen up on Horaat Shaah.
    qs5: does Shalom Bayis count as a reason not to go?

    Once again, thanks for taking the time to answer.

  11. whats -

    1. I have not heard that but I hope what you heard is correct.

    3. I hope so as well. However your concern will not be solved for a long time. People will be hurt in the process. Just like it took 2-3 generations to get to the point we are at now, it will take time 2-3 gens, maybe longer) to get back to the middle road...

    5 - I do not know. Personally, I do not think so, but it depends on your situation. If they draft you, shalom bayis should not be used as a way to get out of it (except by regular means that the system allows for, maybe you have a health problem or some other consideration...).
    If you feel guilty you did not serve and are concerned about offering your services because of shalom bayis, I would not say you should feel obligated to volunteer.

    Every persons situation is different and one cannot say a general rule that will apply to everybody. But in general, the army is a social and legal obligation everybody has to fulfill. The army allows and offers deferments for people who are learning (as they do for people doing a number of various things). If a person is learning, that is fine. If a person is not learning but just staying in yeshiva to avoid the army, that is abuse of the yeshiva system and he only hurts himself because in th long term he will have problems going out and getting an education and employment.


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