Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

27 Teves 5760 - January 5, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Go Reconfigure!

by Chaim Dovid Zwiebel

It had been a tough two weeks, and I took it out on the boys.

Standing in front of a dining-room full of bochurim as the guest speaker at the Mesivta of Long Beach's weekly melave malka, I shared with them some of the "highlights" of the preceding days -- the tragic drug-related death of a former yeshiva student in Boro Park, the reports of several criminal investigations and allegations surrounding Orthodox Jews -- and I lamented the shame and dishonor brought upon the entire community when terrible events of this nature are splashed across the pages of the newspapers and shape the public perception of Torah Jewry.

I harped on this depressing theme for approximately three- quarters-of-an-hour, fielded questions for about 30 minutes more, and then bade the boys a gutte voch as I donned my coat and made my way to the waiting car. As I was about to get into the car, though, one boy came running up to me: "Rabbi Zwiebel, I must ask you for mechilla."

"What for?" I asked, noting the boys crestfallen face.

"You see, I haven't been feeling well the last few days, and while you were speaking I just had to put my head down for a few minutes. That's not derech eretz, and I really apologize."


Riding home, reflecting on the purity of heart and nobility of character this young yeshiva bochur had just displayed, it occurred to me that I was the one who should have apologized -- for forgetting, in the anguished aftermath of the various problems that had consumed my attention over the previous two weeks, that there is no people like the Jewish people, no community like the Torah community.

How fortunate are the parents of my Mesivta of Long Beach friend -- indeed, the parents of each and every boy in that yeshiva and in yeshivos across the globe whose sons are defying the contemporary zeitgeist and devoting their minds, hearts and energies to Hashem's holy Torah. These boys, and their noble sisters in Bais Yaakov schools and seminaries, may not receive the public attention that gets lavished on Orthodoxy's problem cases, but it is they who most accurately reflect the norm of Torah Jewry today -- and it is they who give us reason to be confident of a bright future tomorrow.

In these confused and confusing times, when there are so many roads available to young people that lead far away from the derech hayoshor, who amongst us does not shed bitter tears over the heartbreaking phenomenon of troubled teens drifting away from our community? Yet as we cry for those of our children who descend into a dangerous subculture of decadent hedonism with all the attendant social pathologies that plague modern day society, ought we not at the same time be thankful for and celebrate those of our children -- boruch Hashem, the large majority of our children -- who embrace and epitomize the darchei noam of a faithful Torah lifestyle?

Summer Storm

There are some individuals and groups, primarily from circles that do not identify with traditional Orthodoxy, who point to the increasing problem of what The Jewish Observer recently referred to as "children on the fringe -- and beyond" as evidence of the inherent shortcomings of the classical approach to Jewish education.

Thus, for example, in a recent letter to The New York Jewish Week, Dr. Morton J. Summer, president of an organization called "Council for Jewish Education," castigates yeshiva officials "who do not at least acknowledge the contradictions between our classical traditions formulated in ancient times and the concepts underlying modern life." According to Dr. Summer, what yeshivos "vitally need" is "a fundamental reconfiguration of the Torah or Judaic studies curricula."

I think it safe to assume that Dr. Summer's views, grandiose though the name of the organization over which he presides may be, will not carry much sway among those who are responsible for the Torah chinuch of our children. Innovative programs may be developed -- and certainly should be -- within the existing yeshiva system to help prevent or deal with the problems we are now confronting, but "fundamental reconfigurations" to deal with "contradictions" and bring Jewish education in line with "modern life" are simply not in the cards.

And thankfully so. Despite problems of many shapes and forms, and despite the need for constant critical self-evaluation, the yeshiva system is one of the remarkable success stories of our time -- producing countless thousands of idealistic young men and women, refined in their personal demeanor in a time of cultural coarseness and vulgarity, committed to the perpetuation of authentic Jewish life in a time of rampant Jewish assimilation. No, Dr. Summer, we are not about to dismantle a system that has such an outstanding track record to accommodate your destructive vision of Jewish education.

Who knows? Perhaps one of the reasons Hashem is testing us with the phenomenon of at-risk teens is to see whether we truly appreciate the even more remarkable phenomenon of extraordinary teens like my dear friend at the Mesivta of Long Beach.

Rabbi Zwiebel is a high official of the American Aguda. This article appears in the current issue of Coalition, an internal publication of Agudath Israel of America.

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