Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Tishrei 5763 - September 17, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








For the Rosh Yeshiva, Bais Yaakov was a Complete Shulchan Oruch in its Own Right

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

HaRav Shach's deep influence covered all aspects of Torah life: he not only ruled over the yeshiva world and the cheder system, but also directed the education of the girls. An interview with Rav Zeev Wolf, principal of the "Wolf Seminary," the main Bais Yaakov high school in Bnei Brak.

In 5739 (1979), after my father's petiroh, a campaign that I was not involved in took place regarding a candidate to replace my father as principal of the Seminary, and the decision was made to appoint me. HaRav Shach ztv"l came to a teachers' meeting at the beginning of the school year to give chizuk and eulogize my father z"l.

For a certain period the parents wanted to open a separate seminary, but the Rosh Yeshiva initially did not allow this; only after several years did he agree to it.

During this period a variety of issues were brought up and I would go to the Rosh Yeshiva with each one. One day when I went to his house, two of the mothers of the group that wanted to start a separate school were waiting outside. I told the Rosh Yeshiva about these two women and he replied, "They may enter but you will also stay."

They began to explain to him why they felt it necessary to open a new seminary for their daughters. They had with them a school book called Yalduteinu which was used in the Chinuch Atzmai and one of the stories was about a father who worked for a living. How could they write such a story, they complained. A father must learn not work. HaRav Shach said to them, "And why can't a Jew who works be a yerei Shomayim? What's wrong with that?"

Later they argued that their daughters were more naive than other girls. He disagreed with this, saying that at such a young age all children are innocent and the problems begin when the girls are older.

A year or two later the Rosh Yeshiva had a wound on his leg and not many people were allowed in, but those that were allowed in had the opportunity to sit with him in a relaxed fashion.

One day I went in to see him and he showed me a letter he had received from an important talmid chochom and asked me to read it to him. The letter was lengthy and dealt with the need to open a new seminary. After I finished reading the letter he said, "Of course some things need to be rectified in Bais Yaakov but it has to be done from within."

He then cited a list of new schools which had opened up and said, "This is not what is needed. We need a Bais Yaakov and to correct from within everything that needs to be amended."

He also mentioned that Bais Yaakov had a tradition behind it, and that this had also been his outlook throughout his life.

I suppose there were other objections made against Bais Yaakov.

I remember once, they complained to him that there was too much homework for the girls. I think it was in connection with the elementary school. Some of the headmistresses came to see him about it. Later when I went to see him he said: "The girls today have to be loaded with work . . . Otherwise they will become interested in other things."

I had many discussions with him about his attitude towards accepting weaker girls to the schools. He said that if girls were not serious about their studies they could be swept away by other things. Some principals came to him with complaints of younger girls and he said, "They are not aware of what happens to these girls when they get older, and if they are not immersed in their studies, it is not good."

Yated: What did you learn from this?

I learned from his incredible patience. They wanted to meet me, and Rav Shach told me, "Meet them. Sit down with them."

I went in to see him almost every day to ask about this matter, and the Rosh Yeshiva would deal with every issue they had with extreme patience until it was sorted out.

On the other hand, two months before the end of the school year I came to him with the following story: We had a girl in the school who was orphaned from both her parents and lived with her sister. She consistently dressed inappropriately, even after her teachers and others spoke to her about it. HaRav Shach was very decisive: "You cannot keep this girl in the school. The fact that a girl dresses like that in the Seminary means that the Seminary consents to such a manner of dress." Consequently, two months before the end of school we expelled her.

Yated: What did he think of quality versus quantity?

The Rosh Yeshiva admitted that quantity will always depreciate the quality . . . Once I sat with him and Rav Bunim Levine and we discussed the period between engagement and marriage. He said, "Once everything had to be done using one's own resources. You had to buy feathers, fabric and sew the cushions, covers, and sheets. They sewed the shirts and then went to tailors who specialized in collars, and cooked the wedding on their own. All these preparations took a long time, and therefore the engagement period was so long. Today we buy everything ready made, so why wait?"

We had a student who lived with us and after she became engaged we took her to see Rav Shach and receive his brochoh. The Rosh Yeshiva asked me when the chasunah was planned for. I answered him, "Av," to which he replied, "Why wait so long?"

Yated: What was his attitude in general to girls' education?

For the Rosh Yeshiva, Bais Yaakov was a complete Shulchan Oruch in its own right. He believed that one had to understand Bais Yaakov's tradition in order to be able to give halachic teshuvos for Bais Yaakov and not every talmid chochom could do that. I remember once the Education Ministry offered to raise the teachers' salaries on condition that they take advanced study courses. After we held a principals' meeting on this issue, two of us went in to see Rav Shach to hear his opinion on this matter. He said: "I want to get a second opinion." I suggested a few different people and he agreed to hear HaRav Wolbe's opinion.

One day I received a phone call at six o'clock in the morning. It was Rav Dovid Tzvi Katzburg calling on behalf of the Rosh Yeshiva and asking me to come to see him immediately. I was in shul then, and they sent someone with the message. I went to see the Rosh Yeshiva immediately. He had not yet davened and was waiting for me.

He told me that the night before, some teachers came to him complaining that there were not enough places in the seminaries for all the girls finishing elementary school. Rav Shach was adamant: "This will not happen! You will open another class and other seminaries will too, and no girl will stay home!"

I used the opportunity to ask the Rosh Yeshiva about a Sephardic girl whose father did not share the Rosh Yeshiva's hashkofos and in my opinion she should not be accepted. Rav Shach replied: "If she is a good girl maybe you will change her."

Yated: Did you change her?

There were such cases. I'll tell you a story. A few years ago a girl came to see me and told me about a boy she had been offered and whom she had met a few times. It turned out that the boy's hashkofoh did not concur with ours. I did not know what to say to her and told her that I would ask HaRav Chaim Kanievsky's advice. He said she should not continue seeing this boy and Hakodosh Boruch Hu would soon send her the right boy.

The same thing happened a year ago. A girl came to me with the same question as the other girl a few years back, and I told her that I did not know what to tell her. I told her what Rav Chaim Kanievsky said to the other girl and she accepted it. Two months later she was engaged to a good boy from Yeshivas Knesses Yitzchok in Chadera.

Regarding the issue of accepting girls to the seminaries, I heard from a talmid chochom whom I am very close to, about a disagreement he had with Rav Yeshayahu Lieberman, the Headmaster of the Seminary Mercaz Bais Yaakov in Yerushalayim, about a certain girl whom he did not want to accept. They decided to ask the Rosh Yeshiva's advice.

The talmid chochom told Rav Shach that this was a matter of pikuach nefesh to which he replied, "No one has died from this yet. Today everything has become a matter of pikuach nefesh." In the end Rav Shach agreed with Rav Lieberman.

Yated: I am sure you also had questions like these.

Of course. Once a mashgiach came to see me with a father whose daughter we did not accept to the seminary. He told us that his wife had a breakdown for no obvious reason and he blamed it all on the fact that his daughter had not been accepted. I immediately ran to the Rosh Yeshiva's house and told him the story, which he dismissed with a wave of his hand and brought the matter to an end.

Rav Shach had very clear guidelines. Many people came and made threats in all sorts of different ways. The Rosh Yeshiva always told me, "Do not be frightened by their threats.

I heard this many times from him and it gave me a lot of chizuk. At one stage many rabbonim insisted that I should accept everyone. I asked Rav Shach and he told me: "No one can tell a headmaster what to do."

He was very clear-cut about this.

Once they insisted that I should accept a girl whose father, they told me, was the cornerstone of the whole Yiddishkeit of a certain settlement. I asked the Rosh Yeshiva and he said: "You must do what is good for the Seminary."

This principle found expression during many years in the rulings he gave to rabbonim and askonim who came to ask him about accepting girls to the seminaries.

Yated: I am sure there were many questions about expelling girls. How did the Rosh Yeshiva react to these questions?

At first I would receive individual answers to each case. Once I came to ask him about a group of problematic girls. I described each girl individually and he told me what to do in each case, whom to leave in the school and whom to expel. I told him about a certain girl whose behavior was very severe and I was sure he would tell me to expel her. But he replied: "Ich veis nisht (I don't know)."

When I received an answer like this I would leave things as they were and did not expel the girl. Boruch Hashem she went on to raise a beautiful family. When I went again to ask him he said: "Why do you ask again? This is the principle: if a girl is not influencing others, allow her to remain in the school, but those who are influencing others, may not remain."

Although he answered my questions in this matter in general terms, I was very touched by the way he listened patiently to every detail and could sit for hours without saying a word.

Yated: What was the Rosh Yeshiva's opinion about adding new vocational opportunities other than teaching in the schools?

His opinion was, as I heard many times, that the school should make many different professions available for the girls. Once when I asked him about this issue he replied: "I already told the older Rav Wolf that he should add different vocations to the school's curriculum other than teaching."

Of course we had to stick only to professions that offered the girls kosher work opportunities after school. This is why we discontinued certain courses. But all the other professions where no halachic problems existed, we received very clear instructions from the Rosh Yeshiva: the seminaries had to teach vocations which would enable the girls to make a living.

Yated: You must have various other issues coming up today. What instructions do you receive from the gedolim?

In principle, there is no difference. The Rosh Yeshiva always insisted we maintain the framework with as little change as possible. There are new developments in the Education Ministry nowadays and it is difficult to say how the Rosh Yeshiva would react to them.

Let's take the issue of further training courses. Rav Bunim Levine called me once saying that he and some of the senior teachers were going to see Rav Shach and they wanted me to come with them. The topic they wanted to discuss was that of further training courses for teachers (hishtalmuyot). Rav Shach asked what the benefit of these courses was and they replied that the teachers would receive a bonus in their salaries. His answer was: "Zolen zei zitsen in shtub (let them stay home)."

But he did say that if the courses were for teaching purposes it was permitted.

There is a very interesting sequel to this issue. A short while after this I heard that some teachers met some graduates who told them they were going to further training courses. I asked them who had given them permission. They replied that they received approval from the Rosh Yeshiva.

Immediately I went to see the Rosh Yeshiva and said to him: "Please explain to me why the Yerushalayim Seminary received one answer whereas the girls in Bnei Brak received permission to go?"

He replied, "If they will not find a job without these courses they may go, but not for salary bonuses."

It was a very clear-cut answer.

Today we have another issue to deal with. The Education Ministry insists all the teachers of fifth and sixth grades (two years post-high school level) receive certification equivalent to a BA degree. Most of our teachers do not have this because when we transferred from the municipality to the Education Ministry a special parity council was established, which determined that all the terms and conditions that existed until then would continue to remain valid, and therefore all the teachers who worked in the previous framework could continue working without this equivalent degree. Other seminaries, on the other hand, have unequivocal requirements with respect to this matter.

In principle, HaRav Eliashiv and HaRav Aharon Leib Steinman are both opposed to the further training courses. Obviously, each seminary can't fight this on its own, and all the seminaries have to work together in this matter.

We had a difficult struggle about the sixth year of Seminary. Unlike today, all the years we only had one year of post high school seminary. For a long time we managed to prevent it by virtue of an agreement made in 5725-6 (1965-6), which stated that students could take supplementary exams [towards a degree] while working as teachers.

One day, during a period when they were not allowing new seminaries to open up in any sector, an inspector from the Education Ministry came to see me. He tried to convince me to open a sixth year, saying that it would be funded and similar things in an attempt to persuade me. He suggested I ask Rav Shach's advice.

I went to Rav Shach who said, "Tell him we do not make changes."

A few years passed and the Director-General of the Education Ministry called us in and said, "Enough! Either you open a sixth year or any non-certified teacher taking the certification examinations will not be able to do so in the Bais Yaakov framework."

I went to Rav Shach who asked, "What age will the girls finish the Seminary if you open a sixth year?"

After I replied he said, "You have no choice."

There is no doubt that the general guidelines were clear and unwavering: Do not alter anything, but when we reached a no- way-out situation the Rosh Yeshiva related to the subject at hand and, as I said, in certain cases he would allow us to make changes. Actually, the only essential change made over the years was the addition of a sixth year.

On the other hand, he encouraged introducing new professions so that the girls would be able to make a living.

We were sitting in a principals' meeting once and I noticed the following: There are people who think, and when a question arises they ask [a godol]. We were educated to think as little as possible and to ask as much as possible.

I remember hearing from him something which went beyond the chinuch issue, a veritable gem of worldly wisdom. He told me at a certain occasion: "When a rosh yeshiva would ask me whether to take on a certain person as a maggid shiur I used to tell him my opinion. I stopped doing this because it became known that a maggid shiur was not hired because I was against it, causing a grave injustice to the person."

He even mentioned the names of the people. When a group of bochurim came and complained that they could not understand their maggid shiur Rav Shach told me: "I know this maggid shiur and I am not surprised by what they said about him. But I did not tell this to the bochurim and sent them to discuss the issue with their rosh yeshiva."

This reminds me of another story. When I was still a bochur in yeshiva, my grandfather Rav Klein from Haifa was in the Shaarei Tzedek Hospital waiting for an operation. He asked me to ask the Rosh Yeshiva if he would come to see him so that he could discuss a certain issue with him. It was Chanukah time and I went to the Rosh Yeshiva and relayed my grandfather's request. He said, "What shall I do? In the morning I give a shiur and in the afternoon I have to light Chanukah candles -- so when should I go? I will ask the Mashgiach for permission." (The Ponevezher Rov zt"l was not in Eretz Yisroel at the time so he went to Reb Chatzkel Levenstein zt"l.) He asked me to come and see him later.

When I returned he told me: "I asked the Mashgiach for permission but he told me to travel after the shiur, and as for the candle lighting, the Rebbetzin was to light the candles."

That is what he did. I wanted to order a taxi but he refused. In those days one still had to travel through Tel Aviv to go to Yerushalayim. He arrived at the hospital and spoke with my grandfather and the doctors.

I remember once about half a year after I got married while I was learning in the Ponevezh Kollel, I saw him on his way to the post box with a letter in his hand. I wanted to post the letter for him. [I told him that] it was no effort at all for me. I did not have to go even one step out of the way, but he adamantly refused.

In that period he would go regularly to the grocery store in the Yeshiva Square where he would stand in line and refuse other people's offers to go ahead of them. The smart people finished their shopping quickly and left and some awkwardly left and returned when he had finished his shopping.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.