Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Sivan 5761 - June 6, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Beis Yaakov: Advancing or in Decline?

by Rav Tzvi Cohen

"The exalted aspiration of the last generation's gedolei Yisroel, in keeping with the guidelines set before Bais Yaakov's founder, was to etch yiras Hashem and faithful adherence to halacha onto the clean slate of young benos Yisroel, and to avoid exposing them to knowledge and advanced studies that do not foster avodoso Yisborach."

With these words gedolei Yisroel addressed Bais Yaakov girls in every city during the month of Kislev 5760 to alert them to the issue of advanced secular studies, which have become widespread in recent years. In their remarks gedolei Yisroel not only discussed teacher training and advanced studies, but also clarified the goal of Bais Yaakov's lofty ethics.

Unfortunately the original concepts and purpose have been distorted in recent years to the point where competition between Bais Yaakov educational institutions is now based on who can attain the new goals that have been introduced, even though this represents a major departure from the reason for the existence of Bais Yaakov schools.

Recently more and more people are heard claiming that a bas Yisroel must be assured of a dependable and respectable source of income in order to allow her to marry a "ben Torah" and to allow him to continue learning with peace of mind.

The truth of the matter is that in today's reality, many fathers -- whether they are ameilei Torah who do not earn a living or others who are overwhelmed by today's "skyrocketing prices" -- are unable to support young couples, and the burden of making a living falls squarely on the shoulders of the young woman. Undoubtedly they are worried about how they will be able to allow their husbands to learn Torah and to run a bayis letiferes at the same time.

We must keep in mind that it is much more difficult to protect the home from the winds of kefirah and taivah prevailing in the streets, when in the streets nearby the tumah is pervasive and all lines of taharoh and kedusha have been crossed and our daily contact with people in the streets has allowed the tumah to predominate, Rachmono litzlan. Ayin ro'eh vehalev chomed. The eyes see various service providers, the window displays filled with allures from olam hazeh, food, modern furniture, ostentatious clothes, etc. How is the young lady able to retain her kedusha and taharoh, and to fill her mind with thoughts of yiras Shomayim and ahavas Torah?

This is the primary goal Bais Yaakov institutions were set up to achieve and the purpose of their existence today. If so, obviously it is crucial to take precautions to prevent the claim Lovon lodged against Yaakov Ovinu -- " . . . because you greatly longed for your father's house, but why have you stolen my gods?" -- from being lodged against us. The Kotzker Rebbe said that this was Lovon's only real, valid claim. He explained this posuk to mean that Lovon said, "You claimed you longed to return to your father's home because you found it repulsive to live in a house filled with avoda zora. Why then, did you take my gods along with you?"

The same is true in our case: if we set up an educational institution aimed at keeping out the degenerating effects of the street, we must be vigilant to leave no room for the question, "Why have you brought the gods that have taken over the streets into the halls of Bais Yaakov?"

When we offer a young lady an opportunity to engage in studies presented by people whose knowledge derives from a tainted source -- i.e. university and the like -- what can they be expected to pass on to the young lady? Tumah produces tumah. The young lady sees before her an intelligent teacher who is very conversant with the material and develops a sense of respect toward someone whose everyday life includes impure conduct. If the teacher has absorbed her thinking from a source of tumah, distorted ideas will penetrate the mind and heart of the student, and she will come to use expressions that are foreign to our lexicon. How can the student be expected to resolve to learn the material without absorbing the tumah into her mind?

Some of the professions young ladies are taught will eventually lead those who want to advance in their careers to highly problematic work places where they will encounter severe isurim and spiritual decline. Thus providing young women with such studies brings them into a world of difficult nisyonos.

Furthermore, when emphasis is placed on time-consuming studies for these professions, there is a tendency to give them priority, leaving little time to acquire eternal kinyonim and true hashkofo. In our experience, the level of learning and the degree of concentration and devotion to shiurei kodesh have been in sharp decline lately. All of these forms of deterioration result from overemphasizing professional studies.

Our duty now is to stop to reflect on what has taken place. A teacher who wants to teach Torah, novi, Yahadus and hashkofo in Bais Yaakov schools need not demonstrate that she has advanced training in these areas. Young women who elect to take upon themselves the task of teaching subjects that touch the neshomoh are really not given enough instruction on how to learn and how to teach. Pedagogy for these subjects is neglected -- while, in contrast, teachers of math, Hebrew, graphics, and the like, must acquire special expertise in order to compete for the good positions.

Subjects associated with greater "professional" status, such as accounting and computer science, require even more study and more testing, and our young women rush to draw from wells containing turbid waters devoid of kedusha. The study of these subjects brings questions and guidelines for professional development into Bais Yaakov schools that contradict the spirit of the Torah and yirah learned in the shiurei kodesh.

All traces of ahavas haTorah have vanished from our young women. They are willing to make great sacrifice for Torah, which certainly is tremendously important, and the sechar they will receive is enormous likewise. But the kind of ahavas haTorah that staves off all feelings of want or sacrifice for the amenities of olom hazeh -- the aspect of al kol pesho'im techase ahavoh -- and which stems from the great pleasure they derive from the Torah in their homes, is becoming extremely rare. They are all looking for Torah together with olam hazeh and feel they are making a major sacrifice every time they pass up something from olam hazeh, such as when they cannot serve fleischik meals on weekdays, or have to use disposable utensils sparingly. Certainly even this willingness to sacrifice comes from a some level of gadlus hanefesh, but this is still not really ahavas Torah.

They are so preoccupied with making a living and other such concerns that making ahavas Torah part of their lives is not a part of their value system.

Gedolei Yisroel, the leaders of our generation, who take note of what has been taking place in the area of advanced studies for young women, have also noted the general decline of the Bais Yaakov system, and as a result issued the call that appears at the beginning of this article.

To ameliorate the situation, gedolei Yisroel have set up a rabbinical council to establish guidelines for Bais Yaakov institutions in general and for advanced studies in particular. The ability to distinguish between what is permissible and what is prohibited, what does not hinder yiras Shomayim and what does represent a threat, what comes under the rubric of eis la'asos leHashem, heifeiru Torasecho, and what remains prohibited outright, is not within the realm of human understanding, not even to those engaged in chinuch and amelim beTorah, but is understood only by those few who have been chosen by the Borei yisborach to be ma'atikei shmu'a and morei derech, the leaders who have been accepted to guide Klal Yisroel and have been selected by the luminaries of our generation, who were selected by the luminaries of the previous generation, stretching all the way back to Moshe Rabbenu.

This is the meaning of the posuk, Ube'amud eish leho'ir lohem loleches yomom voloiloh. A close examination of the posuk reveals that the column of fire lit the way during the day as well, for the "column of fire" refers to the fire of Torah which illuminates the way during the day as well as at night.

And in fact sometimes during the day one's vision seems to improve and he is unaware that his entire sense of perception is as if he were looking through sunglasses equipped with light-ray filters, which prevent him from seeing the true picture. Only the luminaries of our generation are able to see clearly and thus can say what must be done.

One of the foundations of Klal Yisroel is the rule of asei lecho rav: a single rav to act as guide and show the way. And there is no heter to go to one rav to ask about dinei Shabbos and isur veheter, and to ask another rav about general guidelines for living. The Chazon Ish fought against this approach. One who wants to stay on the path of Torah must follow the same column of fire by day and by night.

Let us all gird ourselves, fathers and mothers, teachers and principals, and most of all, Bais Yaakov students, and march behind the "column of fire" -- gedolei hador. Let us listen to their call, gain wisdom through their words, and put Torah, halocho, novi and hashkofo first and foremost, and let us maintain taharas hakodesh in all of our studies, from teachers and rabbonim who know how to teach benos Yisroel and how to remain on the path of kedusha and taharoh.

Let us take pains not to bring into the halls of Bais Yaakov schools, which carry this fabulous and holy name, all those who are unable to purge the study material for peripheral subjects of even the smallest bits of foreign matter.

Furthermore let us heed the words of gedolei hador regarding which subjects to study and which subjects to avoid, to avoid subjecting our young women to nisoyon or to the bizoyon of going to work in places where stumbling blocks are ever-present, places which require investments in time and energy that are not conducive to the life of a bas Yisroel who must also set aside time for her home, to help her husband learn and to teach her children yiras Shomayim.

The Rabbinical Council that has been set up by gedolei ume'orei hador has been given explicit instructions as to what should be embraced and what should be kept at bay. As a result of recent developments gedolei hador have said that the crown of Bais Yaakov should not be made available for all, but should be reserved for those who are on the path illuminated by the "column of fire." Only those who accept the Rabbinical Council as responsible for and in charge of all matters of chinuch in everything that entails are to be accepted.

Then we will certainly merit the blessing issued by tzadikei hador and the column of clouds and the presence of the Shechina in this holy house, Bais Yaakov.

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