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