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A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Kislev 5765 - December 1, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Educating the Next Generation: Questions Put to HaRav Steinman by American Mechanchim and Rabbonim — and His Answers

by Rabbi Yisroel Friedman

On his whirlwind trip to America, HaRav Aharon Leib Steinman found the time to answer many queries about various issues of concern. We have collected many of the highlights here in order to benefit the wider community from the Rosh Yeshiva's enlightening answers.

In the Classroom

(At the meeting in Torah Vodaas)

Q. Is it beneficial to arrange classes so that the better students will be together in one group and the less gifted ones in another, or should classes be combined?

A. It's impossible make such a division. The weaker students will be discouraged and will give up. A weak student will say to himself that nothing good will come of him, anyway, the proof being that he was put in a separate group. Another reason is that there is no end to the process. Even in the class for the better students there will more gifted and less gifted pupils and there will still be gradation. It's better to combine students of different levels. Weaker pupils try to emulate the better ones and the better students are able to help the weaker ones. Division according to level has been tried in a few places and the results were highly unsuccessful — the weaker students became discouraged, and among the better ones different levels again crystallized, so that the problem of "better" and "weaker" students remained.

Q. What should be stressed to educators in order to ensure that our children grow up into yirei Shomayim?

A. We know that if the mashgiach of a yeshiva is not a yirei Shomayim he will not be successful. Similarly, it is said that the Dubno Maggid asked the Vilna Gaon zy'a how one can influence others to have yiras Shomayim? The Gaon told him that when a person pours a liquid into a cup and continues pouring after the cup is full, the cup overflows. Until the cup is full, it won't overflow.

A person is the same. Only if he himself is full of yiras Shomayim can he "spill over" and influence others. The truth is that the melamdim of yesteryear were full of Torah and yiras Shomayim and it did have an effect on the talmidim. Today, even though everyone here is probably fine and worthy, people should be aware that the warmer their own Yiddishkeit is, the more they will be able to influence others. If a person is barely "full" himself, he won't be able to influence his students.

Tefilloh, Yiras Shomayim and Tachlis

Q. What can we, as educators, do to reinforce the importance of tefilloh to our youngsters?

A. This also depends on the mechanech. There's nothing one can tell a child that will make him want to daven by himself, because prayer requires a certain emotional awareness which a child does not possess. When the teacher does have it though, and the child sees this, it has an influence on him. If the teacher merely performs his tasks perfunctorily, without heightening his pupils' emotional sensitivities, the child remains unmoved. Once, a majority of melamdim were yirei Shomayim and as a result, most people were too.

On the other hand, it's not always the teacher's fault. Yaakov and Eisov had the same education, yet one developed into Yaakov and the other into Eisov. Individual merit also plays a part but the teacher must do what is incumbent upon him.

When the Fourth Stream [Chinuch Atzmai, that organized chareidi education in Eretz Yisroel over fifty years ago] planned to pay melamdim the same salary that schoolteachers received, the Chazon Ish was strongly opposed to it. At the time, I heard him explain why: because if a teacher lives frugally, he is more successful! Even though people don't see it that way and think that if they live comfortably they'll be able to teach properly, the truth is otherwise. If one isn't living frugally, one is less successful.

But choliloh that a teacher who lives simply should be in distress as a result. He should actually be happy that his talmidim will grow into yirei Shomayim, apart from the fact that he will receive his due reward in Olom Habo. What will the extra few hundred dollars help him? Will they make him happy? In the World of Truth though, one will receive great reward for every ounce of toil undertaken for Torah's sake. That simply cannot be compared to the vanities of this world and to having a few hundred extra dollars, which are infinitesimal next to the rewards of Olom Habo.

Now, many teachers asked for a blessing that their "livelihood should come easily." Why do they want it to be easy? The harder one has things here, the more one receives in Olom Habo. This is a transitory world, a mere passageway to the place of ultimate purpose, Olom Habo. The harder things are here, the more one will benefit over there.

Therefore, if a person possesses the necessary qualities to be a teacher and has the ability to influence others, he certainly shouldn't imagine that he'll gain more by going into business than by teaching Jewish children. If he thinks so because of the few benefits and shortcuts that he'll be gaining, he is a fool and an idiot. Will he become wealthy? And even if so, can that be compared to the eternal life that he can win by teaching Jewish children to live according to the mitzvos? In the World of Truth, anyone who made that kind of reckoning will be ashamed!

Actually, I've heard it said that the Chofetz Chaim pointed out how far removed a person's mentality is from that of the holy Torah. For example, if a cat eats human food, would anyone say that the cat's owner has to pay for it? If a person's young son causes damage however, everyone would agree that his father has to pay. In truth, according to the Torah it isn't so. A father is exempt from paying for damage that his son did, while an animal's owner has to pay for its damages.

It's the same here. If someone is asked who is more important, a melamed who teaches young children or a businessman, he will certainly say that the melamed, who is usually poor, does not have such a high status. The truth is otherwise. He is extremely important because he's raising generations of Jewish children along the path of Torah and yiras Shomayim.

I heard the following idea said in the name of a certain great man. The gemora (Bava Kama 62) says, "Rovo said, `If a man gives a golden dinar to a woman and tells her to look after it because it's made of silver, if she damages it, she has to repay him a golden dinar because he tells her, "Why did you damage it?" If she is negligent, she pays a silver dinar because she tells him, "I undertook to guard a silver dinar, not a golden one." ' "

That great man said that it is the same with a Jewish soul. A person doesn't realize the value of what has been entrusted to him. He thinks that he's been given silver but it's really gold — in fact much more valuable than gold and diamonds. So it is with each child. The gifted pupils are not the only ones with the potential to develop into gedolei Torah. There have been many who were not especially gifted but who still developed tremendous Torah greatness.

So, one must realize that every Jewish soul involves looking after gold. A teacher should not argue that he only undertook to care for silver. Mechanchim, maggidei shiur and parents thus all bear a very heavy responsibility. When there is a need to rebuke a talmid, the melamed must remember that he's handling "gold" and take care not to tarnish it. If he acts with pure intentions he will not fail.

Chazal tell us that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachia castigated a talmid, with the result that he drove him far away. We see how heavy the responsibility is from the fact that the gemora writes that even one of the sublimely holy tannaim was too harsh.

Everybody must make every possible effort to avoid souring or belittling any talmid, causing him to move away and lose his desire to learn. A number of times, one sees children who won't go to Talmud Torah because of such occurrences. With dedication to Torah and to yiras Shomayim, every Jewish soul has the potential to achieve tremendous greatness. However, very great care is necessary.

Sadly, in our times, not everyone desires his son to be a yirei Shomayim and a talmid chochom and people are satisfied with underachievement . . .

In the introduction to Chayei Odom, the author writes that when he was young it never occurred to his father to worry about how his son would support himself in the future. Parents' only ambition was that their son should acquire Torah knowledge.

Today there isn't a father who doesn't worry about how his son is going to support himself. That is a perverted way of thinking because the truth is that a person himself doesn't know where his own livelihood will come from. And even if he is a person of means, who knows what each new day will bring? So why does he worry about his son? Will his worrying help either himself or his son?

As if that wasn't enough, today people are concerned and send their sons to university for them to study a profession and earn a livelihood. Quite apart from the fact that many are unsuccessful in their studies, the first and foremost object should be that one's son be a yirei Shomayim and a talmid chochom. Why worry about his livelihood?

The Chofetz Chaim used to say that a person worries about a livelihood in order to support himself during a lifetime of seventy, eighty or a hundred years, whereas the life of Olom Habo is eternal. One should certainly be more concerned with that. One's years in this world will pass even without worrying about them, while the most important thing is one's eternal life. After a person dies, it makes no difference whether he ate plain bread or delicacies.

What's more, in those places in general, the studies involve things that are not fitting. But even if they are absolutely permitted, one should still stop worrying about a livelihood and worry only about one's eternal life. Those places are not good at all, both from the point of view of immodest behavior and of the subject matter. Besides which, there is an obligation to entrust one's son to an education of Torah studies alone and to see that his ambitions should be solely for growth in Torah.

May Hashem help everyone educate their children in purity and holiness, not in places that are only "half kosher" but sending them to yeshivos that are run in pristine holiness. May "the land become filled with the knowledge of Hashem, like waters cover the sea" (Yeshayohu 11:9), omein.

Regarding Girls' Education

(At the meeting in Baltimore)

Q. To what extent does a girl need to be educated?

A. Jewish daughters never used to be educated. Most of them didn't even know how to read or write; only a few individuals were literate. Every townlet had its davenke who said even the prayers aloud for the other women to repeat. Yet see what kind of generations they raised! The mothers of the gedolim of each generation were like this too. With their tears and their heartfelt entreaties they merited [the children that they did].

However, generations deteriorated and girls were sometimes drawn to external studies. It became necessary to set up special frameworks for their education. The point of this was to prevent them from being swept away, choliloh. The principle therefore is, to provide the very minimum that can prevent them from going to forbidden places. Although that is the yardstick, every issue needs to be addressed on its own merits and resolved by the gedolim of the generation.


(At the meeting in Monsey)

Q. What are the criteria for expelling a child from an educational institution? And whose decision is it?

A. As I said, these are life and death questions that cannot be decided by any one individual. The decision to expel must never be an easy one.

I heard that when one of the gedolim of the previous generation was in yeshiva, his rosh yeshiva (who was himself one the greatest roshei yeshiva) was not pleased with him and didn't want him to remain in the yeshiva. Eventually, when he saw what became of that bochur, he admitted his mistake.

We see that mistakes can be made and they can be critical ones, that can lead to the loss of a future godol. The Chofetz Chaim never expelled a talmid.

It's true that this is sometimes a necessary step, but there must be awareness that these are life and death questions and any actions taken must be in accordance with this understanding. For this to happen, there needs to be a committee that makes such decisions. They are not for individuals.

Q. Is it permitted to send a woman to work in a place where she can earn more but in an unwholesome environment?

A. "One doesn't tell one person to sin in order to benefit someone else" (Shabbos 4). Under no circumstances may a woman work in a place that is not fitting enough.

Q. But if she is strong and a yiras Shomayim and she won't slip?

A. She will slip! She's not an angel!

Q. How should one deal with an insolent child?

A. Certainly a child has to be put in his place, but for himself, the teacher must determine whether or not it's genuine insolence. No child wants to be insolent. It is in every child's nature to be good. Sometimes acting fresh is the way a child demands attention. The teacher must check himself to see whether his reactions are not the result of his own insulted feelings and his concern for his own honor. Therefore, every teacher must learn mussar!

Q. What should our approach be when parents are pressuring for secular studies to be taught, out of concern for their children's economic futures?

A. If parents want to, they should help out themselves. Our educational institutions have to be run in untainted holiness and they don't need any help in that respect. In general, such an attitude on the part of parents is a mistaken one. Livelihood comes from Hakodosh Boruch Hu, not from one's [general] studies. It seems to me that the very richest people were the ones who knew nothing!

Q. To what extent must an institution persuade its graduates not to go and study secular subjects?

A. First and foremost, everybody must devote himself purely to the holy Torah, without any admixtures. But there's another point as well. There is no religious university and it's very good that there isn't! Therefore, besides the real obligation to devote oneself to Torah alone, [it must also be taken into account] that heresy is taught in the universities and one can't escape it.

It is forbidden to study heresy, utterly irrespective of whether one will or will not be influenced by it. It's quite simply forbidden to study it and to be in such a place — even without considering the outcome!

From the Rabbi's Seat

In many places, local rabbonim met HaRav Steinman to deliberate over questions involving their leadership of their communities. The largest such meeting was held in the Marriott Hotel in Brooklyn, under the auspices of Agudas Yisroel of America.

Q. As rabbonim, many shailos reach us involving disputes of every kind. Besides dealing with each case on its own merits, is there any kind of instructive guidance that we can give?

A. People should be fed the message that one ought to be a loser! Anyone who wants to get through [his years in] this world and remain spiritually intact must fill a loser's role. One should remember: the winner is the [real] loser! The loser is the [real] winner!

Obviously this does not refer to spiritual matters, where one should certainly act only in accordance with Hashem's will and giving in is impossible! In most instances though, if we are honest, the issues are mundane ones involving money, status, authority, control . . . people must absorb the message that the real winner is the loser!

Q. If a rov wants to establish a kehilloh solely for bnei Torah and avreichim and he is living in a place where there are others who don't fit that classification, does he have the right to establish the kind of kehilloh that he wants?

A. The question is not whether he may do so or not — everyone is entitled to establish whatever he wants. The question is whether or not it is correct to take this approach when establishing a kehilloh. In such cases, a person must examine himself to see whether this isn't merely an issue of pride, so that he can glory in his kehilloh where there are only people of such and such a type.

The determinant ought to be a different one. A kehilloh needs to make spiritual demands of its members. A certain pace must be set and anyone who brings himself in line with those demands has a place in the kehilloh. It isn't a question of "who?" but of "what?" Whoever lives up to the requirements should be able to be part of the kehilloh. The door should be open to him.

Q. At times, the circumstances, the place and the type of people that belong to a community make it imperative that their views be considered in decision making. Indeed America, with its own particular problems, differs from the Holy Land. How should American rabbonim conduct themselves?

A. There aren't two Torahs! There is a Written Torah and an Oral Torah which [together] form one, single Torah! There isn't one Torah for the Holy Land and another one for America.

If at times the need arises for a particular ruling, it can only be made by a very great person, of the caliber of the great men of past generations. Only such a person is able to give a temporary ruling of such a nature. If difficult questions crop up they must not be dealt with but must be referred for the consultation of the generation's gedolim and poskim — to "the judge who will be in those times" and "whatever they instruct you" must be followed.

Q. There are areas where both chareidi rabbonim and those termed "modern" hold positions. Is it permitted to unite with them in a joint organization so that more efficient action can be taken to further common interests and more can be done for Yiddishkeit?

A. Such people do not believe in the rabbinate. The Mizrachi rabbonim don't have faith in rabbonus. It amounts to uprooting religion. Any collaboration with such rabbonim goes against the interests of religion!

Communal Issues

(Questions asked at meetings in Chicago, Toronto and elsewhere)

Q. Many Jews are estranged from the world of Torah. What should we, as rabbonim, be doing to bring them closer?

A. You are at work within your communities but the yetzer hora is also constantly at work.

Be aware that there is great spiritual thirst. There is yearning in people's souls, but it is thwarted by their bodily desires. What is the meaning of the halochoh, "We force him until he says he is willing" (Kiddushin 50)? [Isn't forced consent a contradiction in terms?] However, in fact a person does want [to do what is right]! All that needs to be done is to remove the resistance of the body and its desires.

[In order to do this] people should be brought to Torah. That is the way to draw them closest: "Taste and see that Hashem is good" (Tehillim 34:9). After they have tasted they will see for themselves and will want more. The moment a person experiences a little of the vitality of learning and feels the pleasure it gives, he himself will want more of it!

The Chovos Halevovos writes that even a person who attains the level of a mal'ach is still short of the level of someone who spiritually benefits the public. Everything possible must be done until the entire city is full of sincerely devout Yidden and becomes a city of Torah.

Q. Is it preferable to work on drawing the distant closer, or to concentrate on those who are already close?

A. Certainly on drawing those who are close, closer still and most important is to work on the closest of all — oneself. Within each person there are aspects of self that are "distant" and one must work on bringing them closer.

Q. To what extent does the halochoh, "The poor of your own town take precedence," obligate a wealthy individual to support the needy of his own community and what should the extent of his support for general causes be?

A. There are a handful of people of means who actually give a full tenth of their income to tzedokoh. Certainly such people exist but most wealthy people don't give a proper tenth.

The poor are the ones who actually give. The avreichim who lack means, the ones who live on the breadline, are the ones who give devotedly and what's more, they are the first to give! Every tzedokoh official knows this and sees that it is so with his own eyes! If everyone were to tithe their income properly, this question would not have to be asked, for the ma'aser of the chareidi public is enough to meet all the needs of chareidi Jewry.

The gemora discusses when a gift made by a sick individual takes effect: if at the moment of death or just afterwards. On the face of it, what difference does it make? It's a question of a single, fleeting moment! We see though, that even when dealing with a minuscule moment it is hard for a person to part with his money.

The well-known philanthropist who built Botei Broide in Yerushalayim lived in Warsaw. He bequeathed a large sum of money for a yeshiva. The trustees were the Chofetz Chaim, Reb Chaim Soloveitchik and a third person whose name I don't recall.

After the man passed away, his heirs hired the top lawyers and managed to have the gift annulled. The result was that whatever the man had given in his lifetime endured in his merit in Olom Habo. If he would also have given that amount away while he was alive, it too would have been to his eternal credit!

In Haifa too, there was a factory owner who willed the bulk of his fortune to a yeshiva. In reality however, his heirs didn't transfer a penny! When the man's partner saw this, he donated a huge sum to tzedokoh while he was still alive, leaving himself an amount that would enable him to live respectably for the remainder of his life.

People must be made aware of this. How much is a person capable of eating during a lifetime? How much do his children need? If people would internalize this knowledge, there would be sufficient tzedokoh money available.

From the Meeting of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah

A reception that was attended by the rabbonim of New York directly preceded the meeting. Both events were held in the home of HaRav Yaakov Perlow, the Novominsker Rebbe and Rosh of Agudas Yisroel of America.

Taking part in the meeting of the Moetzes with HaRav Steinman were the Novominsker Rebbe, HaRav Shmuel Kaminetsky, HaRav Aharon Schechter, the Mattersdorfer Rov, HaRav Dovid Feinstein and HaRav Malkiel Kotler as well as leading communal figures. HaRav Shteinman's opinion was sought on a number of pressing questions. Here are some of the issues raised and HaRav Steinman's replies.

Q. The Reform movement has recently furthered its abandonment of our religious values, endorsing practices which even a majority of the general public in America oppose. Since the Reform movement assumes the right to speak in the name of Judaism and to act as its representative, it appears to the gentiles that Judaism supports these things. Besides the distortion, there is also chilul Hashem. Should Torah faithful Jewry give [public] expression to its outlook and take an opposing stand on the issue, or is silence the preferred course?

A. The Reform falsify and distort the Torah. It is forbidden to remain silent, especially where practices that are prohibited by Torah law are concerned! A loud publicized stand should be taken against those who uproot Torah. They should be denounced so that everybody knows that they are falsifiers and uprooters of Torah, that they are not a part of Jewry and that they don't represent it.

Q. Another cycle of Daf Yomi is nearing its conclusion. This occasion is suitable for getting more Yidden to join the program. What action should be taken in order to encourage this?

A. Certainly, everybody is obligated to set fixed times for studying Torah. It should be stressed however that learning daf yomi is good for householders but not for bnei Torah and avreichim, who should be engaged in learning in depth. Whoever is capable, is obligated to immerse himself in a sugya's depths.

HaRav Meir Shapira zt'l certainly has merit for conceiving the idea and causing multitudes to learn gemora! It is a tremendous idea and happy is the lot of whoever increases the numbers of those learning in the beis hamedrash! When a major event is being organized, the very publicity and the involvement with the topic will cause heightened awareness and lead many newcomers to join the program.

Q. Should separate events be organized for English and for Hebrew speakers?

A. "The King's glory is shown in the large numbers of people [honoring Him]!"

An additional point to make is that, "Study is important because it leads to practice." When studying daf yomi, it is worthwhile extracting two relevant halachos from the daf being studied, because the importance of learning is that it leads to action. This idea was suggested to HaRav Eliashiv and he is strongly in favor of it.

Q. The problem of dropout youth in America is growing. How can we care for these young men?

A. Everything must be done to keep these boys within a yeshiva framework and prevent them from taking to the streets. The only solution lies in their being within a yeshiva framework, even if it entails setting up special yeshivos where the team will be more sensitive and understanding of them. We must ensure that each and every boy remains within a yeshiva framework and doesn't reach the street! These are life and death matters! Nobody can be abandoned!

Q. Many weaker students are unable to find places in suitable institutions, leading to a severe educational predicament. How can it be solved?

A. I already made this suggestion at the teachers' meeting in Lakewood. Every town should have a rabbinical committee — a beis din for educational affairs — which will have the authority to place every child in the educational framework that best suits him and is most fitting.

Q. Another difficult and related problem — what about girls who are not accepted to a seminary? Sometimes principals are not prepared to accept students because they feel that their homes are not in line with the institution's educational framework.

A. This is a very difficult problem. On the one hand, where the home is unsuitable, it can affect the girl and she can influence her friends and harm their education. On the other hand, we would have lost a number of the gedolim of past generations and even some of our forefathers of our nation if we would have had to judge them on the basis of what their homes or their siblings were like. It must be borne in kind that these are life and death questions that can't be resolved by any one individual.

In general, a principal's decision might sometimes be influenced by considerations of honor and prestige! If there really are grounds for concern about harming an institution spiritually, it is certainly forbidden to take the risk of admitting a bad influence! However, each case needs to be weighed on its own merits and nobody should decide life and death questions on his own! To this end, a committee of important rabbonim can be empowered in each town to responsibly weigh all the aspects of a case and make binding decisions!

Q. Should Agudas Yisroel of America also become involved in the affairs of the Holy Land, through the Betzedek organization?

A. If it acts correctly, this organization can achieve wonderful things. Since its operations do not involve unmanageable expenditures, it should certainly become active, obviously under the direction of the gedolei hador.


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