Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Sivan 5766 - June 8, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Chinuch for Holiness is in Very Great Danger!

The "decline of the generations," the economic situation, the relationship between parents and educators, "Chassidic" music, teachers' wages, avoiding influence from the "street," attitude towards newspapers, love of Torah — what is our main issue?

A roundtable discussion in chinuch with the following Talmud Torah menahalim: Rav Meir Munk, the menahel of Toras Emes in Bnei Brak, one of the elder educators; Rav Asher Zeev Luria, the menahel of Ohel Torah in Bnei Brak; Rav Ben Tzion Kugler, the menahel of Chovas Daas in Jerusalem; Rav Shlomo Karelenstein, menahel of "Rebbi Akiva" in Zichron Meir, Bnei Brak and head of the Agudas Yisroel teachers' association (union); Rav Shimon Ziat, educational director of Shessilei Zeisim in Bnei Brak; and Rav Uriel Kook, menahel Aviezer in Jerusalem and Pri HaTorah in Brachfeld-Modiin Illit. Rabbi Yisroel Friedman presented the questions; Rabbi Rafael Berlzon took notes.

Part II

The first part discussed materialism and holiness, confusion, the importance of parental supervision, music, the current educators, the use of testing and diagnostic technology, the use of incentives, and more.


Today, what do parents expect from you?

Rav Kugler: Today, parents are worried. They are afraid their children will have a spiritual breakdown, and this is a pressure that every parent has today. The parents expects that the cheder will look after his son, and that they will implant in him as much Yiddishkeit and yiras Shomayim as possible. Certainly, a parent expects that his child will learn, but his biggest expectation is that the cheder will watch over his son, because parents have a great fear. That is the way I feel, in any case.

Rav Karelenstein: The educator needs to create an atmosphere of trust and appreciation from the parents, and when he succeeds in this his success with the children's chinuch will be much greater.

Additionally, he has an important role to identify any problems or difficulties the child may be struggling with. He must examine the child's behavior, look at his clothing, his lunch bag, and his interaction with his friends. Thus, he can identify problems when they are small and solve them.

The central role of an educator is to identify potential problems and to solve them. All the other things are taken care of: There are courses for melamdim, learning centers, etc. All that is left for the classroom educator to do is to use his warm feelings and reach out to the child, and check his situation.

Sometimes the child suffers from difficulties in cheder or in his home, and he simply cannot learn. This is sometimes expressed in difficult behavior. By keeping track of children we have been able to identify problems and in that way we prevented potential breakdowns. It has happened that a home was contending with big problems and no one knew about it, but the educators discovered it and found a solution for the family.

On this point I would like to relate to the other side of the coin: What does an educator expect from the parents? In my opinion, the main cause of the pressure on children is a portion of the parents who are not willing to contend with problems. They only want to see excellent grades, and their demand from the child is very clear: excellence.

From our point of view, we are stuck between the student's actual level and the parent's expectations, and in this circumstance the child is the one who is harmed. The parents want to see the child in first place, and woe to you if you give him an "A-." You will immediately hear from the parents: "Why? What happened?" This harms the child's soul.

Rav Kook: Parents expect the cheder to help in their son's chinuch. We are very experienced in implementing the approach of "early immunization." What do I mean by that? It is clear to us that if a child will learn in cheder for ten years from kindergarten to bar mitzvah, and he will be immunized from an educational point of view — exactly like a medical immunization — he will be a much healthier child. A child of this sort will be very hard to ruin even if they treat him improperly in the future.

As an educator with experience in this matter I can testify that this approach is successful. My point is that we should bring up the current issues such as newspapers, music, and cell phones, and discuss them with the older students. We should give them examples and explain.

My experience shows amazing success with this method. I follow the progress of our students and I see that to the extent we immunized them — they are immune! I do not expect that a yeshiva bochur who is suddenly exposed to a tempting offer could refuse; it is already too late for him. But if we discuss it in the cheder, especially those relevant issues, it helps.

This battle requires the educator in the talmud Torah and it is not the role of the parents. Every educator is capable and obligated to immunize his students, to discuss things with them, and to explain the dangers.

I will never forget an educator who visited our cheder when I was in the eighth grade and gave us a two-hour shmooze against newspapers. He explained the nature of a newspaper — and he was not speaking of today's papers. He was inflamed, he shouted, and he explained how they were full of falsehood and deceit. He explained that "news" is only "man bites dog" and so on. From that point until today I have no interest in newspapers. Why? Because I had a rov who explained for two hours what a newspaper is.

[Addressed to the others] Does everyone agree to this approach? Should we stand up and speak with the children about newspapers and the like?

Rav Munk: We should speak to the children briefly: A newspaper is like a store. I do not enter every store, and even in those stores that I enter I do not buy everything. First I make a list of what I need, or I check what I need at the time. So too, I do not read every newspaper and even the paper I read I do not have to read everything in it.

This is what I want the child to know. There are papers that are prohibited to read, on the one hand, and he does not have to read everything that is permitted either. This is a foundation upon which he can learn to check what he reads and with siyata deShmaya in the course of time he will be weaned from reading newspapers.

Rav Kugler: Rav Kook has proposed that we should immunize the children, but my question is: In a medical immunization they give a little of the illness, in our case we have to offer him information about the world; isn't this dangerous?

Rav Munk raises a point: In an immunization they give dead bacteria.

One of the participants adds: There are two types of immunization, one with dead bacteria and one with weak bacteria.

Rav Kugler continues: Until now, our chinuch approach has always been to surround our children with cotton and protect them from any contact with the outside world. Rav Kook is now coming with the proposal that we should tell the children that there is this and there is that. Isn't it dangerous?

Rav Karelenstein: Once, when a community problem that everyone was talking about came up, I asked Maran HaRav Shach how to present the subject to the students, and he answered: "Tell the children it has nothing to do with them, without any further explanation."

Rav Kugler continues: I once asked HaRav Shlomo Wolbe about chinuch for good middos: would it be appropriate to bring in illustrations of improper behavior and explain to the children how one should behave? He answered that it was prohibited from the words of the Sages, and he brought sources that chinuch must not be in a negative way.

Rav Munk: There is a natural inclination to take the negative approach. Maran HaRav Eliyahu Dessler ztvk'l cites that the Sages said: "One who sees the wayward wife in her ruination should take the vow of a nozir and abstain from wine." Why is that so? After he sees the terrible punishment he would certainly avoid sin! However, the Sages warn him: "Take the vow of a nozir and abstain from wine."

The answer is that there is a concern that he will remember the sin from this incident and not the punishment, and therefore they advised him to take the vow of a nozir.

Rav Kook: I want to present here another side, in any case. I always tell the parents: "Look, if you are simple (tamim), I would ask you to go back 200 years and be born then. You have to be aware that your simplicity has a big price." And I want to say to the honored menahalim present here: For simplicity you will have to pay a heavy price! At the moment of truth we cannot afford to think simply, because we pay a heavy price for it. Is it not our children who have the spiritual breakdowns? Aren't they children who grew up with our worldview?

Someone may claim: There is nothing to do; it is a lost cause. But it is impossible to make such a claim, because that implies we have no free will. I do not deny my view has some risk, but I want to explain it: There is no place nor possibility for what I call naivete.

Today's youth is exposed to more than we are; the wildest music reaches children already at the age of cheder. There are newspapers and movies, and we do not have any idea what they hear on the bus, or even on the cheder's transportation! I agree with Rav Luria that the situation is not so black. There are many bnei Torah. But we want to prevent even one child from having a breakdown, because even one is too many!

I read a moving description in Yated Ne'eman about a woman from Bnei Brak whose brother was sick as a child with polio. The article described all the efforts they made to cure him, but in the end he died. In those days every fifth home in Bnei Brak lost children.

Today, though, we do not even know what polio is! Why? Because a wise man invented immunization; he took a certain risk, but he brought the illness under control.

We are standing against reality, not slogans. And I am not speaking about only difficult cases of breakdowns; rather, I am addressing the entire wave of materialism, the hats and the ties . . .

Rav Luria: We mentioned here the subject of reading. Many children have a strong desire to read and are curious, which needs to be directed positively. In this light there was a case in which I was personally involved. HaRav Nissim Karlitz called me and expressed his dissatisfaction over a notice about the hours of a lending library, which said the hours for girls were 12:00 to 1:00 and the hours for boys were from 1:00 to 3:00. "The matter must be rectified," he said.

I thought he was referring to the insufficient separation between the girls' hours and the boys' hours, and I offered to approach the person responsible and fix the hours. HaRav Nissim was bothered about something else though, and said, "The very idea of a library for boys! When do boys have time to read books? This is what needs rectification!"

I asked him if they could read biographies of the gedolei Yisroel and he answered affirmatively.

Rav Luria, you mentioned before that you do not see the situation is so black. Does this mean you have no problems by you?

Rav Luria: I did not say that I have no problems, but I do not see things as black as they were portrayed here. For example, we struggled with the problem presented from computers, and boruch Hashem there has been a relief in this problem.

Rav Kugler: Permit me to comment, but the personal nature of the last question reminds me of another type of journalism and ruins the atmosphere of the discussion.

As educators, what do you recommend for the parents to provide for the benefit of their sons' chinuch?

Rav Munk: In my opinion more than fifty percent of the parents do not have a tradition of chinuch. An avreich who became stronger than his parents is not continuing the tradition he received from his parents and is looking for another chinuch. The problem is, he does not have a source from within himself for this chinuch. Many are therefore searching for a path in chinuch. One could read various books on chinuch and understand the matters, and still not be aware of the differing views in the subject. In the end this affects the child.

Rav Luria: First of all, the parents have to know that they are capable and they have the abilities for chinuch. The Torah commanded the father to educate his children. Clearly, even if the father were thirteen years old and still in need of chinuch himself, he would be obligated. (In previous generations they actually married at a young age and became parents.) How can a youngster of thirteen educate children? The answer is that because he loves his children, truthfully and wholeheartedly, he will find the way to educate them even though he is still a "child."

Cooperation from parents is very important. I will bring an example: We prohibited the children to come to the cheder wearing a kippa without a seret, a ribbon sewed on the edges. Many of the parents did not know what we wanted with such a rule. One parent began to fight against it. The melamed who met with him asked him a simple question: "Where does your daughter learn?"

"Bais Yaakov," came the reply.

"And what kind of blouse does she wear?" the melamed asked him.

"The uniform blouse," he answered.

The melamed explained: "A kippa with a seret is the cheder's uniform."

The parent understood our demand when he heard this. This example is just one small detail. The parents have to understand that if the cheder demands something, a lot of thought lies behind the demand.

Rav Kugler asks to comment: Concerning clothing, I want to make the comment that we have to be very careful about mentioning certain examples that have already become accepted in the yeshiva world. I remember a mashgiach in a yeshiva ketanoh who fought against gold-rimmed eyeglass frames twenty years ago, and demanded that the students be satisfied with plastic frames, while at the same time it was normal in yeshivos gedolos to wear the gold-rimmed frames.

As long as we are not a united group, with the same clothing like the chassidim, we cannot fight against what has been accepted by the children's brothers, who learn in yeshiva, or by the parents. This does not resemble the case of school uniforms, since glasses and shoes are not part of the uniform anyway. Rather, there are general guidelines.

Concerning the question that was raised, I would say briefly: Everyone's goal is chinuch; we only need to pay heed. Simply—pay attention.

Rav Luria continues: Dear parents, lend us a hand! This is important concerning the registration to yeshivos as well. Parents should listen to the educators concerning the registration, and not pressure the children to sign up for places that are not suitable and cause the child to break down, G-d forbid.

This point is the secret to success in the chinuch of our children. The child should feel that his loving parents fulfill their role by means of his learning in the cheder. There should never be any cheapening or criticism from the parents directed to the child's educators. On the contrary, the parents should be effusive in their praise of his Rebbes; they should inquire about all the details of what happens in cheder and praise every commendable point they can find. They should tell the child: "You are so fortunate to have a Rebbe like that."

If there happens to be, G-d forbid, a contradiction between the approach at home and that of the cheder, this is something that must be discussed in complete privacy and not in the child's hearing, G-d forbid, or with his knowledge. If the child sees the honor and respect his parents have for the melamed this improves his ability to listen and absorb everything he learns.

An additional final point is that the parents should promote matters they are strict about, even if the child claims that most of his friends are not strict about it. I am speaking about strictness in subjects such as exactness, beautifying the mitzvos, simplicity, modesty, not reading newspapers, plays, and especially Shabbos. The parents should explain and arouse the child to feel how these matters bring him closer to HaKodosh Boruch Hu, as actual children of the King.

Rav Kook: I am not at all sure we can make an appeal to the parents because I do not believe the source of drawing the wisdom of chinuch comes from the chadorim. It does not seem to me that way. I believe that the cheder bears much of the responsibility of chinuch in our day because a portion of the parents do not have a tradition of chinuch, as Rav Munk mentioned, and other parents do not have the time. An avreich will not give up his three sedorim of learning each day, because he wants to grow in Torah. This is the chinuch he received in his cheder. And the mother does not have the capability, because, boruch Hashem, she has more than two little ones.

In my opinion, the vast majority of the subject of chinuch is in the cheder's hands today. I think our role as workers in the educational system is to see how we, in the cheder, give the maximum response to the problems. Changing the parents is a job without end and, in my opinion, without beginning. It sounds nice to say we should make an appeal to the parents, but actually, when we fought against computers or anything else, it was within the institution. We spoke to the children; we did not yell at the parents, and many children took the computer out of the house. That is what I think.

Together with this, I want to point out a different aspect that concerns the parents and which seems destructive. I am speaking about a relatively new ambition that was not so prevalent in the past: competition. Today, there is very strong competition amongst chadorim, and I am not saying if it is good or bad, but there is a new competition that is intimidating.

Parents have a hand in this competition. I would ask the parents: Do not go after competition! A parent may claim: I will send my son to that cheder because they learn more, or any other comparison. Then another parent will say to his son: I want that you should also be like that! So then I have to deal with competitiveness and comparisons, and a process begins that in the end the children have to pay the price!

Rav Karelenstein: All the points raised here by the menahalim are correct. It is important to realize that full cooperation with the cheder is essential for the child's benefit. If the parent has a criticism about the cheder he should mention it, in a respectful way, and not keep it in his heart.

I would add only that it is an obligation to always remember that the street is the number one enemy—in spiritual and physical danger. The daily activities of the child should be directed accordingly. I will give a small example: Parents should be firm about the time the child arrives at cheder, and similarly, about the time he arrives home from cheder, so that the child will not be in the street for a long time after his studies.

Rav Ziat: Parents need to be more authoritative. There seems to be a weakness by the parents. It is difficult for them to tell the child what to do. Parents need to be authoritative on the one hand and emotionally close to their children on the other. This is expressed by making time for the child. Unfortunately, parents are pressed with problems in their livelihood, or learning, or something else.

Chinuch is a mitzvah that cannot be done by others, and the father is obligated to close his own gemora when necessary. Burdens on the parents' time prevent the emotional connection with the children from developing. It is important to realize that a warm home is the immunization from breakdown!

Have you confirmed from a statistical viewpoint that homes that are not warm have more problems?

Rav Munk: There are no statistics but that is clearly the reality. If there is no warmth, then there is no connection between the children and their parents and the child becomes bitter. Only when there is warmth can the child supervise himself and tell his parents where he has been.

The next question is presented based on the positive side of our educational system: Are we bringing children into a prepared track that begins with honey on his tongue at age three and the expectation he will come out as the godol hador? We have spoken until now about the "wise son" and the "wicked son," but how do we relate in our frameworks to the "simple son" and "the one who does not know how to ask?" We know that today not every child is truly able to keep up.

Rav Munk: In eighty percent of those cases that had a spiritual breakdown, the home is at fault, because there was no contact between the father and the child. The father expected achievements the child was not capable of and at a certain age he rebelled. In the other twenty percent I think the chadorim are at fault, but it is not really their fault. Rather, the fact that everything is based on learning today causes the problems. Someone who does not do well in a learning framework has nothing to do, and he looks for other tracks.

Once Jewish society had G-d-fearing shoemakers or stevedores. Today this cannot be! If a young man is not in a yeshiva — then may G-d have mercy. This problem is of the kind where the barrel is broken to save the wine. I do not know of a solution as of yet, but I repeat that it is only twenty percent of the cases.

There are all kinds of solutions that somewhat alleviate these problems. Bnei Brak has two or three institutions where the level of learning is adjusted to the ability of the student. The classes are small, up to fifteen students, and they learn slowly and explain more. The children who learn there develop nicely and afterwards go to yeshivos.

But doesn't this create a stigma and harm him for shidduchim?

Rav Munk: If a child with a learning disability is not sent to a learning center, he will grow up—pardon the expression—as a complete retard and then no one will want to marry him. Send him to the right place and he will grow up to be a man, a mentsch.

There was a learning-disabled child whose father invested much money and love, and we also helped him to manage. In the end he established a true Jewish home and today he is a counselor in a yeshiva for the learning disabled. He is today a person who knows how to give to another! He grew up with a lot of love, a lot of faith, and today he is a man who gives.

This is a wonderful example for other parents who have to know not to be afraid. Children can grow according to their abilities; we always have to remember that there is no "good" yeshiva, only the "right" yeshiva.

Rav Ziat: We have to emphasize that we can advance those students who have a hard time in a regular framework with some extra effort. This includes individual consideration of their learning level, and encouragement by means of emphasizing the positive points. This is sometimes better than placing them in a framework for special education. In an actual case, one must consult with experienced advisors.

The atmosphere in chadorim requires a fast rate of learning. Is this not what places the excellent students at the head? Does this parameter that challenges the children according to their learning achievements increase the potential for breakdowns?

Rav Luria: If the parents are willing to understand their child's situation there is no reason for difficulty, because the child will receive the help he needs in the existing frameworks. A child such as this does not need to receive a 100 percent on the test; for him, 50 percent is 100 percent.

Does the bad economic situation have a direct influence on chinuch?

Rav Kook: There is actually a positive influence. We have returned to the days of being satisfied with little, a concept we heard little about for twenty years. Everyone is cutting back on expenses and the cheder, as an institution, is also cutting back.

Rav Munk: It is our obligation to educate for the values of restricting expenses and being satisfied with little. Every morning we make the brochoh, "Who has provided me with my every need." If we complain afterwards, "I don't have . . . " we are turning the brochoh into a brochoh in vain.

Rav Luria: We had a case of a child who kept "forgetting" to bring his lunch and it turned out that in his house there was no bread!

Rav Kugler: A child who hears from his parents that the money situation is difficult undergoes a breakdown; he arrives at the cheder feeling pressured. Every change in the portion of food a child receives has an influence on him. I have spoken to children and I learned that we need to prepare them for this. We need to tell them stories from the past about living within limited means, and turn the poverty into a means of educating about values.

Regarding food, I wish to make another point. When we were children we ate with our parents. But today children eat alone and they really do not know how to eat. They do not receive any chinuch for table manners, so the cheder must educate this subject today as well.

"And you shall tell your son..."-how should we fulfill this?

Rav Munk: On the posuk: "And you shall tell your son" (Shemos 13:5), Rashi says that we must initiate the discussion with him with the words of aggodoh, which draw his interest. This is how we fulfill this commandment.

Rav Kook: The words "you shall tell" teach us about the essence of the commandment. It is written: "The heavens recite the glory of G-d, and the sky tells of the work of His hands" (Tehillim 19:2). How does the sky tell? Does it have a mouth? Additionally, it is written: "Esther did not tell her nationality or her lineage" (Esther 2:10). Would anyone expect her to speak about her Jewish identity?

The explanation is that "telling" is not speaking. Rather, it is a behavior that reveals the essence. The sky does not say that it is the work of His hands, but its essence shouts: "The sky tells of the work of His hands!"

Similarly, despite her great holiness, Esther was able to hide the behavior that would reveal her Jewish identity.

This is also the essence of the commandment: "And you shall tell your son." We should behave in such a way, and serve as an example, that our actions will have influence and educate - - even without speech.

Rav Karelenstein: "And you shall tell your son" is written in the singular — your son — whereas in other places the Torah writes similar verses in the plural, your children. For instance: "And you shall teach them thoroughly to your children" (Devorim 5) and, "Teach them to your children" (Devorim 11). Why is this commandment in the singular, when a man must tell all his children?

This alludes to the educational principle that we must relate to each child the way he is. In addition, it is certainly important to always remember to pray for siyata deShmaya in educating our children.

Rav Ziat: Concerning the verse: "Our princes are borne; there is no breach nor rumor going out, nor is there a cry in our squares" (Tehillim 144:14), Rashi comments: "The great princes among us are borne by those smaller than they, for the small ones obey the greater ones. The result is that there is no breach among us." This means that the adults have the intelligence to pass on their message to the young in pleasantness, with a healthy connection, and that prevents that there would be a breach or cry in our squares.

Rav Munk: What we have said in this setting is intended to arouse. In actuality, we have to make our efforts with all our might and all our ability. Maran HaChofetz Chaim used to say that we are obligated to do something, but any success depends on Hashem. When Pharaoh's daughter stretched out her hand she did not know it would expand many ammos. We have to stand guard and take action, and Hashem will bring success to the works of our hands.

The Privilege to Write Twenty-Five Sifrei Torah!

Rav Eliyahu Friedland, the educational director of talmud Torah Darchei Yosher in Modi'in Illit, under the presidency of HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman and the educational director of talmud Torah Toras Emes in Bnei Brak, speaks to Yated Ne'eman about the path in chinuch he received from HaRav Shteinman.

A Golden Deposit

One does not see HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman break into tears often, but when he spoke to the educators of the talmud Torah Toras Emes in Bnei Brak, he choked on his tears a number of times. I heard how he described the gedolei hador who were entrusted into the hands of the melamdim, and they may not even realize the important role they have taken upon themselves.

He cited the gemora: "Rovo said: If one gives a gold dinar to a woman and tells her to be careful, `because it is silver,' If she damages it she pays a gold dinar nonetheless. Why? Because he can say: `Why did you damage it?' If she was only negligent (and something happened to it) she pays a silver dinar. Why? Because she can say: `I undertook to guard silver, and I did not accept upon myself to guard gold'" (Bava Kama 62a). So too the melamed has to know that even if he may not be aware of it, gold has been deposited with him and he must be very careful.

How One Sings "Vetisboro"

I asked him if it was preferable to learn Mishnayos seder Nezikin or seder Zeraim with the children, because Zeraim is more difficult. So maybe it is preferable to learn Nezikin?

He did not answer which would be preferable, because he explained that there is no question based solely on the idea of difficulty. If the melamed prepares the material well and he delivers the lesson clearly, then he can teach the children even difficult subjects without a problem. He even mentioned the example of Keilim as a possibility if taught this way.

Similarly, I asked him about the children who begin to learn gemora in the perek Eilu Metzios. Should they begin with the sugya of mecharozes dogim or perhaps it was preferable to begin with the sugya of motzo seforim that is easier?

He answered that the common denominator is that one must always know how to present the lesson. Once things are sufficiently clear to the melamed himself, it does not matter what he teaches.

I once met a Jew who was HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman's student many years ago, and he told me how he taught his gemora shiur in the yeshiva. He taught the singsong niggun of the gemora, and not just the gemora. How to sing, "Vetisboro..." In fact, the wisdom is to give a lesson with sweetness and in a way that attracts the students.

One Must Not Be in the Grip of `The Way it Used to Be'

I heard much from him about the importance for the melamed to prepare the lesson well, even if he has taught the material many times. This is because the preparation is often not just for what to teach; rather, it is to know how to teach it, how to give over the material. Even it the melamed knows the material from previous experience, the way of teaching it depends on the students who are sitting in front of him today. One cannot be in the grip of `the way it used to be.' He emphasized that many educators are negligent in this.

What is Preferable: To Be a Melamed or to be the Author of a Sefer?

When I was offered the position of working in chinuch at talmud Torah Toras Emes, I asked him for advice. At that time I was working on editing the sefer of our teacher the Sifsei Chaim. I claimed that the work in chinuch would be at the expense of the sefer and he answered: "Here you are speaking about writing one sefer, but in the Talmud Torah we are speaking about writing six hundred seforim!"

This statement provides a different perspective to the work of chinuch. A melamed needs to know that when he enters the classroom — there stands before him the task, and the privilege, of "writing" twenty-five sifrei kodesh!


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