Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

10 Shevat 5759 - Jan. 27, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Opinion & Comment
Can A High School Offer Students the Best of Both Worlds?
by A Rav

This article was written by one who has served as a shaliach of gedolei Yisroel for many years in the campaign against yeshivot tichoniyot (Israeli yeshiva high schools).

Gedolei Torah of the previous generation worked hard to uproot the concept of yeshivot tichoniyot as a legitimate and feasible option for parents wishing to provide their sons with a Torah education. Indeed in recent times we have been zoche to see blessed results. Although in the past great efforts were made to persuade eighth graders of chareidi schools not to register in institutions which follow that path, today almost all of the students and their parents do not even take into consideration such an unwise step.

As part of the Leftist campaign against the Torah-true, which has focused during the last few months on the demand to conscript yeshiva students, some politicians and self- proclaimed benefactors from higher intellectual circles have aired views of the need "to reeducate" the Torah World and teach them the necessity of acquiring skills in secular studies and a general education alongside their religious and Talmudic studies.

These various groups of secular Jews, including High Court judges, remarked that they feel "genuine concern" for the future of the chareidi public. They asked the already moth- eaten questions about "future difficulties in finding a livelihood" and "the predictable problems of material existence for anyone devoting his youth to laboring over the Torah." Concurrently, virulent articles appeared in popular Israeli newspapers about the "ignorance" of cheder and yeshiva students while openly calling for "broadening the horizons" of those engaged in Torah study.

This "holy crusade" to introduce general studies into the yeshiva curriculum and the fierce battle to resist these attempts is nothing new. The distressing closing of Yeshivas Volozhin -- the "mother of all yeshivos" -- is well-known. The gedolei hador decided in favor of dissolving the yeshiva altogether rather than incorporate two hours of secular studies in the daily program in accordance with strict governmental orders.

Likewise our contemporary Torah Sages have warned us against the danger to Judaism of teaching general studies to young boys. They claimed that this would deflect talmidim from studying Torah and as a result it would totally endanger Judaism. (See Kovetz Shiurim 2:47, Bircas Shmuel, Kiddushin, ch. 27, where this is discussed at length.)

The problem is that in the last decade a novel type of yeshiva tichonit has been established. These are not the institutions of Bnei Akiva of the Mizrachi movement but institutions that pride themselves on being ideologically close to the Torah community and looking frum -- as if strictly chareidi -- and for this precise reason the danger is much greater.

Maran HaRav E. M. Shach shlita has on numerous occasions sharply decried this type of educational initiation (such as Maarava). Yated Ne'eman, the publication of the Torah World, should be praised for continually reminding the public of the gedolei Torah's opinion concerning such schools. They are letting innocent parents know of the undesirability of such "yeshivos" so that they will not mistakenly send their sons there.

This issue has taken on greater emphasis after it was announced that new chareidi-type yeshiva high schools are slated to be opened. Gedolei Torah have therefore urged us to again caution against such an undesirable development.

There seems to be no need to review the basic opposition of the Torah luminaries to the Israeli yeshiva high school idea itself. Nevertheless, it is proper to discuss one aspect of the problem: the attempts of the founders of those schools to argue that they only want to help and not damage, to save and not to harm. These claims were actually made when the first Israeli yeshiva high schools were started many years ago, however their "newest model" -- about which Maran has so forcefully alerted us -- is making extensive use of these same misleading arguments.

The founders of these institutions claim that there are "anyway" some boys who will not enter a yeshiva kedoshah or "anyhow" are not cut out for learning and have no hope of succeeding only in Talmudic studies. It is therefore preferable to establish a school for them that will not only be "a minimum of evil" but also a viable lechatchilo solution for such a bedi'eved situation.

First of all, we should never paste a negative label on boys and claim they "will anyway not enter a yeshiva kedoshah or are not cut out for learning and have no hope of succeeding only in Talmudic studies."

No one is allowed to despair of these precious neshomos. Our duty is to educate them in Torah, and it is definitely not our duty to give up hope of them. Every maggid shiur or veteran educator can tell you about completely unexpected occurrences that he encountered during his chinuch career. There were boys who lacked any talent, who did not possess any desire whatsoever to study gemora, without even the minimum ability to study diligently and who chased constantly after worldly desires and lusts, but eventually they grew up to become distinguished bnei Torah and even extraordinary talmidei chachomim.

Their success was a direct result of their rabbonim's devotion and the work these dedicated educators invested in them. These mechanchim molded their talmidim and planted in them a burning love for Torah. Naturally, this was not done without effort nor incidentally. Much thought, planning, and hard work was needed. Each boy's nefesh had to be well understood, and, of course, it was necessary to pray at great length to the Creator for Divine Assistance.

"It is customary that a thousand people begin studying Mikra and a hundred emerge from it to study Mishnah, ten to Talmud, and one to horo'oh" (Midrash Rabbah Koheles 7:40). Although only one out of a thousand becomes proficient enough to be a baal horo'oh, who can predict beforehand who that one will be? Who knows who will be that unique person, that one in a thousand? There are numerous surprises in the field of Torah education -- some good and some unfortunately bad. The roshei yeshivos have seen many talented boys, even boys called geniuses, coming from exceptional homes imbued with Torah, who for various reasons were unsuccessful in their studies. On the other hand, there were many average or even weak boys, those growing up in homes remote from Torah, who turned out to be the one of a thousand.

"`Do not touch moshichai and do not do evil to My nevi'im' (Tehillim 105:15) -- moshichai are the tinokos shel beis rabban and the nevi'im are the talmidei chachomim" (Shabbos 119b). Maran HaRav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld zt'l used to explain that this Chazal teaches us not to undervalue the future of any boy. We should look at every young boy whose fate is dependent upon us as being perhaps the one whom we can succeed in helping to grow and reach elevated levels, even to being the moshiach of Hashem.

Every talmid has a Divine neshomoh, possesses a spiritual potential to become Hashem's moshiach. This obliges us to take care not to ruin his future. No one knows in advance who among his talmidim will later perfect himself and grow into an odom godol. If he will be to blame for that talmid's failure he is transgressing: "Do not touch moshichai."

Moreover, even if that argument would have some truth in it, experience has shown that these institutions that claim to be a virtual "lifesaver" for those who seem to be lost, eventually become a magnet for boys who could have been persuaded to continue in yeshivos kedoshos but the apparent alternative of both "Torah and enlightenment" in a strictly chareidi atmosphere caused them to enroll in such a yeshiva high school. Rabbonim and experts in education attest to the fact that ever since the establishment of these institutions claiming to save weak students, those who anyway would not enroll at yeshivos -- they have seen, year after year, excellent boys (whose parents were not raised according to the pure Torah outlook) favor this way of study. These boys argue: "If it was good for so-and-so, for the neighbor, for a friend, for the boy in the parallel class -- why is it not good for me too? What is it? Is it kosher or posul?"

These institutions themselves -- while claiming to be only trying to save boys -- do not turn away the exceptional and successful students who request admission, even when their teachers state emphatically that their proper future is in the yeshivos kedoshos. It is difficult to say that this is an unforeseen development. A person instinctively wants to prove that what he is doing is lechatchilo and not just bedi'eved. As the level of those enrolling in the institution rises so does the institution itself become more prominent.

What began as a bedi'eved in a bedi'eved situation had become a standard bedi'eved and afterwards was altered to a lechatchilo in a bedi'eved situation, until finally transformed to a real lechatchilo.

Two of the many letters written by HaRav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler zt'l are printed in Michtav MeEliahu (III, pp. 355-358). These letters reveal an interesting episode that teaches us a lesson to be remembered.

In 5711 (1952) Mr. Avrohom Dov Kohn, the principal of the Beis Yaakov Seminary in Gateshead, thought of a plan to open a chareidi seminary for teachers in which its graduates would be awarded an academic degree. They argued that they promised and obligated themselves not to accept any student of whom they have even the most remote doubt of his wanting to continue studying in a yeshiva kedoshah. The Teacher's Seminary would accept only those whose intentions to study in a college are 100% sure -- so that this institution would serve as a kosher alternative for them.

Maran HaRav E. E. Dessler zt'l discusses this at length and in his letter he expresses the opinion of the prominent roshei yeshivos in the past generations concerning such questions. His letter contains instructive guidance for many topics and also for the topic of this article.

He writes that his opposition does not stem from his not trusting them. On the contrary "About the Teachers' Seminary [for Men], I have no doubt that you will be exceptionally careful to accept into the seminary only those who would be saved by it, persons who if not accepted there would have enrolled in a university. . . . This too, you would not do either except according to the advice of Rabbenu the Rav Av Beis Din HaCohen HaGodol shlita [HaRav Naftoli Shakovitsky zt'l, the rav of Gateshead]. All this is extremely clear to me. I have no doubt about it at all, since one can rely on your heart's wisdom and the yiras Shomayim that comes before your wisdom, etc. Nevertheless, I see in this plan a profound problem, and I am inclined to advise you to abandon the whole matter and remain in a state of shev ve'al ta'aseh.

"Although I indeed know that this would be a great kiddush Hashem and a true saving of nefoshos, I want to ask one question: In what way can you assure that such an institution as this existing would not weaken yeshiva students who are studying in the yeshiva? This refers to a boy who, if such a kosher seminary and university study with such an excellent hechsher had not existed, would instead study in a yeshiva and remain a true ben Torah. He would never think at all of making preparations for university and would not have made for himself a plan to attain a B.A. or the like. Now, when such a reality exists, his study in the yeshiva kedoshah is weak right from the start. He develops himself in such a way and with such a hashkofo and such aspirations that afterwards there will not be any doubt of his being fit to register in a seminary or the like, in order to save him. Chazal have taught us, `Not the mouse is the thief, but rather the hole.'

"Now the problem is, how can we guarantee that besides those who truly need the tikun of such a seminary, since they already desire to gain at least a B.A. -- that perhaps, besides making a tikun for these, we will not be causing many (eventually) to later need such a tikun? Then we, the healers of nefoshos, would be those who are making others sick.

"We would be causing harm much before we have to decide whether to accept a boy to the seminary. This possibility [of attending a Teacher's Seminary] would confuse the minds of many boys -- even of those who will eventually not attend the seminary."

It is quite natural that a person strives for the possibilities available for him. "We saw that when we established a kollel intended for the most outstanding boys with numbers limited also by financial means, nevertheless within a few years there were five times as many. Some of them [who entered the yeshiva] thought and hoped that they would later succeed in entering the kollel and others were drawn in after them. In this way the yeshiva received a name of prospering (and was so in reality) and this name itself caused it to even further prosper. If this happens concerning something good, then surely to weaken Torah study, chas vesholom, in which the sitra achra mixes in with all its strength, this can occur."

Later HaRav Dessler explains the difference of the Torah study in Frankfurt from that of the yeshivos kedoshos. In Germany the gedolim tried to save those who had already strayed from mitzvah observance, but "the price they paid for this was that the number of gedolei Torah among them decreased. Only very few (even a small child could count how many) of those who studied Torah in Lithuanian and Polish yeshivos and general studies in Germany became gedolim in Torah studies.

"Torah study in yeshivos has as its only objective growing into both gedolei Torah and yirei Shomayim. [The roshei yeshivos] forbade university attendance to their students, since they did not see any way they can develop in Torah unless concentrating all their students' aims exclusively to Torah.

"We should not think they did not initially know that in this way some, chas vesholom, will stray from the way because they cannot endure acting in such an extreme way of [studying only Torah]. Nevertheless, this is the price to pay to educate gedolei Torah veyirah.

"Naturally they are on the alert to do what they can to help those who cannot remain bnei Torah, but it is done in a way that will not attract the rest [to leave their studies]. For instance, they tried to set up as storekeepers or in other nonprofessional businesses those whom they were forced to allow to leave the yeshiva. These were occupations where there was no need for preparation and did not appeal to the talmidim. They did not attend to those boys who wanted to study a profession, and surely not those who chose an academic profession, so that they should not ruin others while helping them. I heard that they relied on the Chazal, `A thousand begin studying Chumash and only one is prepared for horo'oh and HaKodosh Boruch Hu says that, "This is what I want." They also mention what the Rambam writes `A thousand fools should die in order than one wise man will benefit.'"

He summarizes that the danger in establishing such educational institutions is enormous. A person must take into account what can happen in the future. "Let us consider what will be after the first group graduates and good teachers with a college degree and yiras Shomayim and a little Torah (i.e., with semichah from the yeshiva, etc.) emerge. Will this not create a great temptation even for a talented excellent student already studying in the yeshiva to follow? Can we be sure that our own children can withstand such a temptation? No, dear brothers, I almost see this as being the advice of the yetzer, a cunning advice, to mislead our most excellent, prominent students. I do not see any way I can take part in this matter."

HaRav Dessler's answer created a predicament for Mr. Kohn. The Teachers' Seminary was already in existence, and closing it would be extremely difficult. Mr. Kohn zt'l sent a letter to HaRav Dessler zt'l in which he tried once again to explain the great need for the Teachers' Seminary and the difficulty of closing it in the middle of the year. The issue at hand was the question whether to close the Teachers' Seminary in the middle of the year, or to continue until those who had started studying finished their course and then afterwards close it.

HaRav Dessler zt'l sent another letter (pp. 358-360) in which he wrote: "`A dayan can judge only by what his eyes see.' I, a poor and lowly person, simply and clearly see that it is totally impossible to allow boys to study in a seminary and study for a degree too . . . I am clearly aware of the existing spiritual ruin and what can, chas vesholom, arise from this . . . This is simple and clear as regards the matter itself. I even spoke to Hagaon R' Y.S. Cahaneman shlita [zt'l] after I wrote you (before I received your answer). Before I even told him my opinion he said that there was no question at all, since it is beyond doubt that it should not be done at all . . . I went to the unique gaon, the Chazon Ish shlita [zt'l], and asked his opinion. (I am accustomed not to waste his time about simple matters and therefore I did not go to ask his opinion concerning this point until I had a doubt about it). His answer: cancel what you had started and what you had promised. I again asked him what about the chillul Hashem and financial loss, etc., that would be [if his advice were followed]. He answered that this should not bother you, and that no one can have any complaints against you, since you are changing your mind because of a letter from Eretz Yisroel. I again asked: `Can I write this in his name?' (Meaning is he willing to accept responsibility for the complaints etc.), and he answered: `Yes. Write that I said it.' (I do not remember if he said `I said' or `We said').

"I am not adding anything to what he said, since I am not saying anything except what regards educational arrangements. What seems to be true I have written, but as for what concerns matters of bein odom lechavero (interpersonal problems), promises, and financial losses, etc., as you, my dear friend, know, I do not give psakim of din Torah. I am only letting your honor know the ruling of the gaon shlita [zt'l]. It is difficult for me to cause you pain, and you always have known me as someone who runs away from such matters, but what can I do if I understand this to be the truth? And that is what I have written."

Please excuse me for the abundance of lengthy quotes but it seems to me that these letters express major principles of true Torah hashkofo directly connected with the subject at hand.

Naturally, there is no way to prevent someone who really wants to go off the beaten track. Such a person can always find sophisticated differences between the cases: the Teacher's Seminary in England and the chareidi-style Israeli yeshiva high schools. The truth is that the foundations of the Torah do not change.

Maran HaRav Dessler wrote that a bedi'eved institution intended to save individual boys is liable later to become a public danger. It can never be ensured that only those not interested in studying Torah will choose this way. The very reality of an option causes young chareidi boys subconsciously to develop a weak and negative self-image so "that afterwards there will not be any doubt of his being fitting to register in a seminary or the like, in order to save him. Chazal have taught us, `Not the mouse is the thief, but rather the hole' (Gittin 45a)."

How can we be sure that we will only save those who need to be saved "perhaps, besides making a tikun for these, we will not be causing many (eventually) later to need such a tikun. Then we, the healers of nefoshos, would be those who are making others sick." After all, such schools will tempt even better students and, "Can we be sure that actually our own children can withstand such a temptation?" This is no reason to place any nefesh in danger for a bedi'eved tikun of another person. The Rambam writes, "A thousand fools should die in order that one wise man will benefit" about such an occurrence.

Every year some parents are told that it is preferable "to benefit from both worlds" and to send their sons to institutions such as Maarava. As Maran HaRav Shach shlita and all gedolei Yisroel have told us, we must help those parents realize the truth so that they will not endanger their sons' future. They have a lot to lose.

Let them go out and ask respectable Torah students and renowned talmidei chachomim who were forced as youngsters to study in such places because of a mistaken consideration of their families, what they think of these institutions. You will hear from them that even today they are forced to work at uprooting from their hearts any influence from their youth, the years in which a man's spirit and outlooks are formed.

We must look for a way of preventing this problematic occurrence. Let us consider for a moment how much time and effort the principals, educators, and teachers have invested for eight years in developing these young saplings and imbuing in them kedusha and ahavas Torah. The eight grade finally comes and because of an imprudent decision of parents pressured by others all their work is wiped out. When a child reaches such a decisive stage in life they are unfortunately directed in a faulty way that causes irreparable damage to their future Torah character.

It is our duty to prevent representatives of these institutions from trying to influence talmidim from chareidi schools. Likewise it should be clarified to parents not to make such an erroneous step that will endanger their sons' future and transgress what the gedolei hador have been at pain to warn against.

We must rely on how our Torah Sages of the last generations have guided us. We dare not make any changes in the nature of the yeshivos kedoshos.

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