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A Window into the Chareidi World

9 Tammuz 5766 - July 5, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








HaRav Shteinman's Trip to Kehillos Abroad: Chinuch Guidance for Troubled Times

by Rabbi Yisroel Friedman

Mexico: Chinuch Questions and Answers

Introduction: The Source of Success in Chinuch Today

They sat in the community hall. It was a most unusual and heartening surprise to see so many educators in Mexico City. The issues here are different from the ones in Los Angeles; that much was clear from the questions and it became even clearer from the responses.

HaRav Shteinman first delivered some introductory remarks. He stressed the need for pure, untainted Torah education without any admixtures. This, he said, is the source, the key and the most important factor in [success in chinuch today]. Here are some of his comments:

Today we see that if bochurei yeshiva learn well they can formulate some very good ideas, even arriving by themselves at the arguments of the Rishonim, and the reasoning of Rabbi Akiva Eiger and the Ketzos Hachoshen. Sometimes we have the fortune to hear them following the very same lines of reasoning, on their own, that earlier gedolim developed.

How can this be? It's because there is siyata deShmaya. Hakodosh Boruch Hu sends [His help]. The posuk says, "For it shall not be forgotten by their descendants" (Devorim 31:21). Hakodosh Boruch Hu is doing this so that Torah should not be forgotten.

Thus, if one learns with children the way one is supposed to, they blossom and can develop into great Torah scholars.

Each and every teacher is responsible for ensuring that Torah will not be forgotten by future generations by seeing that the chain of Torah scholarship continues. Even though we are puny in stature when compared to earlier generations, we must ensure that there will be continuity [of Torah]. That will only happen, with Heaven's help, if Torah is learned untainted, in its full holiness and purity and unadulterated by admixtures of anything alien. Then the children will learn and be a source of great pleasure. Both the children and their parents will be happy.

May Hakodosh Boruch Hu help you all be truly successful in raising the children to the level they need to be on. May you all merit blessing in both the spiritual and the material realms. May Hakodosh Boruch Hu help you all to elevate yourselves; may He help all of us to merit this.

Expelling Troublemakers

Q. At what point is it right to expel a pupil who is completely unrestrained in the classroom, from the school? What are the deciding factors in such a situation? To sharpen the question, if the child is expelled he may go to a Modern Orthodox school but its also possible that he'll go to a completely irreligious school.

A. Do you think these questions only arise here? They also arise in Eretz Yisroel. There are also secular schools there, and schools that are not secular but are also not in order.

The truth is that one must make every possible effort to avoid expelling a pupil. First of all, the best thing to do is to reprimand the child face to face, privately, so as not to embarrass him publicly. Even if he's doing something wrong, call him to your home and speak to him. The child takes a call to his teacher's house to speak, as a sign of distinction. It puts him in an accepting frame of mind.

If you tell him off in front of other people he won't accept anything. He'll just be embarrassed and that makes him misbehave. If you call him to your house, the invitation itself is pleasurable — "The rav wants to speak to me in his home" — and then he'll be able to improve. If you've tried that and it hasn't helped, think about a punishment — but this should not be a first resort. Drawing a child closer is more effective than engaging him in a power struggle. The Chazon Ish ztvk'l, used to say that [acquiring through] meshichah (drawing the item towards oneself) is better then [acquiring through] chazokoh (demonstrating ownership, meaning also through raw power).

Occasionally there is a talmid with whom everything has been tried and nothing helps. Usually though, if a teacher makes every effort things will almost certainly work out. Only once in many years are there those who fall by the wayside completely. If this approach isn't followed the school will need to expel another pupil every day.

Q. How bad must a child be before he can be expelled?

A. It's hard to draw a line. We have to make every possible effort [to avoid taking this step]. When a principal is considering expelling a student he must bear in mind that these are life and death questions! Would he be so quick to throw him out if this was his own child? It might not be his own child but it's somebody else's.

Would he expel this child so quickly if he were his own? He'd make every effort and try everything in order to avoid it. He would try every trick and stretch mercy and leniency to the utmost before being forced to do so.

Why should it be different with someone else's child? He's a Jewish child! A Yiddishe neshomoh ! Why is it easy for you to do this to him? Imagine he is your own! You'd constantly be thinking of ways to save your own child! A teacher has to think of every child as his own. The answer to, "When can one expel?" is, "If it was your child in this situation, would you expel your own son, your own flesh and blood"?

Q. And if he's ruining others?

A. Of course, that's different. But even then one has to consider very carefully whether his influence is so bad that you would also expel your own son because of it! If however, you try the approach I mentioned before it's almost certain that in most cases the child won't ruin others.

It's possible that there might be a student who really is so bad. Then it really is a different story. Chazal tell us that even before he was born Eisov wanted to become involved in idolatry but that was Eisov, who was a different story. Usually, a child prefers to be good. Every child wants to be good and if he occasionally does bad things it's because he's young and still immature. One should speak to him and explain things to him. Most such children can be saved. If a child really is like Eisov then there's no choice. But there aren't many like Eisov.

Eradicating Harmful Gadgetry

Q. We have heard that some American chadorim have recently made rules forbidding students the use of electronic devices and mobile phones that give them access to unsuitable sites. If we make rigid, uncompromising rules not to allow anything at all, then five percent or more of the students will leave the school. Is it worthwhile making such rules and enforcing them strictly and whoever doesn't want to comply can leave? Then there's a danger that we'll lose some of them completely. Or should the new rules be introduced gradually, so that in time the problem will disappear, even though in the meantime there's a risk that they'll ruin others?

A. Everything has to be in the right measure. I heard from someone who learned in Radin — but I don't know if its correct — that the Chofetz Chaim never expelled anyone from the yeshiva. It's true that he wasn't actually the menahel of the yeshiva. The Chofetz Chaim really had nothing to do with the yeshiva. He lived in Radin and bochurim who wanted to be near him went to the yeshiva. He didn't deliver a shiur, nor did he deliver mussar. Sometimes he'd deliver mussar in his own house. He would sit down in the morning after shacharis and would give mussar for about half- an-hour and whoever wanted to come in and listen could do so. His house wasn't all that large. How many people could fit inside? Ten, or fifteen bochurim? Most of them came from the yeshiva but he had no connection whatsoever with the yeshiva. Still, they apparently consulted him [on yeshiva affairs].

When the Yid that I knew arrived in Radin there weren't yet twenty bochurim there. He was one of the first twenty; so he told me. After his marriage he settled permanently in Radin. At any rate, the Chofetz Chaim had no connection with the yeshiva then either. Since he was considered to be a tremendous Torah scholar and his reputation had spread far and wide, people came to be near him. It's possible that the yeshiva's management came to consult him over expelling bochurim.

Once, when he heard that a bochur had been expelled he commented, using a parable, "Take the bochur out on a ship or a boat and throw him into the sea." That's how seriously he took the loss of a single bochur! The subject that you raised is of the utmost seriousness! We have to make clear and definite rules! But as for expelling someone who already learns there, that's a life and death question!

Q. The question is, if we make such a rule five percent will leave of their own accord because it won't suit them — with the consequent spiritual danger to their futures. We're not making the rule with the intention of expelling anyone.

A. As I said, it's a matter of the utmost importance and a line has to be drawn. It's important to make a rule not to accept any such students from now on! You must make a rule that whoever owns or has such gadgets at home will not be accepted. It's almost certain that most of the parents will give in and toe the line so that their children will be able to learn in such a good educational framework.

It's important to make such rules at a time like this, not to accept any more. Neither do you need to ignore those who already have them. Everything should be done to eradicate the plague. One must deal with it to whatever extent is possible. But to cause a child to leave — that's life and death.

It's written that if a beis din gives a death sentence once in seventy years they're called a murderous Sanhedrin. Beis din must make every effort to avoid getting to that stage. I actually said somewhere that if they want to expel a child they should make a beis din with at least three members, if not seventy-one. Perhaps it really ought to be a beis din of seventy-one, or at least of twenty-three. But if that's not possible it should at least have three members.

Praise and Criticism

Q. Is it worthwhile to hold public contests with prizes and certificates? So far we've had very positive experience with this approach in spurring on the students to do well. On the other hand there are weaker students who become discouraged when they see that they don't succeed.

And another question: When a child asks a good question in the lesson, should he be praised and encouraged in front of weaker students who will never get such praise? Perhaps it will make them jealous or downcast, or make them lose hope, feeling that they'll never make it. Should better students be commended if it results in others losing heart?

A. Encouragement is extremely important. Take the bochur or child aside and tell him, "That was a very good piece of reasoning." But why does it have to be done in public? Anything done publicly carries a great danger. Giving honor in public never leads to good results. A child who has been accorded honor publicly will have a very difficult time growing into a true talmid chochom. These public quizzes and examinations are dangerous. When something's done privately it's safer.

The gemora says that jealousy among scholars increases wisdom. The gemora learns that a father should not prefer one of his sons above others from the example of Yaakov Ovinu, who gave Yosef Hatzaddik a striped tunic. What is there to a striped tunic? Nothing at all! It's got scarcely any value. But it was the cause of jealousy. Even though they were such great people and the whole affair took place on their high level that's how it is when there's jealousy. If he'd have made a striped tunic without anyone knowing about it, nothing would have happened.

It is the same with praise and with comments and criticism. The less public the delivery, one's words have greater influence and one's goal is achieved. Moreover, when one has to criticize a child don't tell him, "You spoke improperly." Say, "We don't speak that way about something like that."

Direct the criticism at the incident, not at the person. Criticizing him is always counterproductive.

This is similar to the idea that distinguishes between a prohibition relating to the person (issur gavra) and one that relates to the forbidden object (issur cheftza). One can make the same distinction with criticism.

Criticizing an action is okay and is constructive but criticizing the person who did it is not. Of course, even when criticizing an action one should try to formulate it in a helpful way. One can find something positive to praise while condemning what was not good but one certainly shouldn't direct the criticism at the person.

A Blessing for the Future

In closing I will add that Moshe Rabbenu said, "Hashem . . . should add to you a thousandfold like yourselves and He should bless you as He spoke about you" (Devorim 1:11). Rashi comments, "They said to him, `Moshe, are you setting limits to our blessings [i.e. only a thousand]? Hakodosh Boruch Hu promised Avrohom, `If a person can count the dust of the earth your seed will also be counted' (Bereishis 13:16). He told them, `This [first blessing] is mine, but He will bless you as He spoke about you.' "

It's clear from Rashi that Moshe limited his blessing because a human being is restricted and cannot give without a limit. There are no limits however, to what Hakodosh Boruch Hu can give. A person can confer a thousandfold blessing. May your success be multiplied a thousandfold.

Argentina: Discussing Kiruv Rechokim

HaRav Shteinman answers questions at a meeting with rabbonim involved in kiruv rechokim.

Q. An avreich learns with someone becoming interested in Yiddishkeit. What should one start learning with a baal teshuvoh? Should one discuss belief or learn something else?

A. Shor shenogach es haporoh! [The fifth perek of Bava Kama, which discusses details of some of the laws of damages caused by a person's animal, or by a hazard that he left.] Just learn with him; don't argue with him about anything. After a while he'll begin making progress and developing — and it'll happen because the avreich is learning Shor shenogach with him, without any discussions, rationales or proofs. The light within Torah will lead him back to the right path.

Q. Which mitzvos should one first broach with a family of baalei teshuvoh? Family purity or Shabbos?

A. Family purity — when I visited Rav Eliashiv I told him that I had been asked this question and this was his opinion. His reasoning was that these laws affect both spouses while Shabbos only affects the individual. My reasoning was that failure to keep the laws of family purity results in a spiritual blemish that is passed to future generations, while not keeping Shabbos only harms the guilty individual. If the laws of purity are not kept, any offspring bear a slight blemish. Of course their personal status is still in order; there is no disqualification. But there is a slight spiritual blemish which should be prevented from being passed on to future generations.

Q. We have a group of irreligious businessmen who have been coming to hear mussar talks and learn for some time now, yet their shops remain open on Shabbos. They claim that they simply can't close on Shabbos and they have no intention of doing so. Should we continue learning with them?

A. Your learning with them isn't causing them to sin. What then? They are transgressing an aveiroh and are clinging to their bad ways. It's possible that in time they'll stop. Maybe they'll close their stores in a year or two, or maybe longer. The question is, is it worth it? It is! In time perhaps they'll close.

Q. It's said that Rav Yisroel Salanter told merchants to carry their keys in an unusual way and thereby made the point that it was Shabbos and they eventually closed completely.

A. It never happened!

Q. But it's written . . .

A. So what if it's written? Does that mean that it happened? You should realize that most things are not true. It should be assumed that most stories are untrue unless proven otherwise.

Q. And as a matter of policy, is it correct to do this?

A. No! Besides the fact that on the whole it doesn't help, it makes things worse. They think that it's completely permitted and then they ask themselves why they need to be any better if what they're doing is allowed. There's a good side and a bad side. On the one hand it prevents them from doing an aveiroh, but on the other hand they'll continue doing [other] aveiros, which will have the opposite effect. That's not the correct approach! One shouldn't teach dishonesty! One has to state the unvarnished truth — how things are supposed to be done — and in time it will have an effect! One shouldn't teach others how to get around things . . .

Q. There are talmidim here between the ages of thirteen and twenty from families that are becoming observant for whom learning is very difficult. If they remain under pressure to learn all day long they'll leave observance entirely. Can they be taught a trade? Might others be tempted to join them?

A. This has been tried and the fact is that nothing whatsoever became of those students. There was a school like this in Eretz Yisroel, where they learned for half the day and worked half the day and nothing became of them. They remained exactly as they had been, virtually irreligious. Our task is [to teach] Torah only, to educate in pristine holiness and to open yeshivos on this basis. Nothing will come of any other method.

Besides the fact that other approaches should not be followed, they will not yield any results. They haven't reached the stage of accepting the Torah, of yeshivos.

We have to do only what Hashem wants, giving pure Torah education, let the results be what they'll be. We have to do just what is required of us. The Torah was given at Sinai in untainted purity and that is how we have to transmit it to future generations. The light that it contains will lead them back to the right path.

Q. What about yeshivos that have a more personal touch, that accommodate each individual?

A. If it's a yeshiva that teaches Torah exclusively, just at a lower level, that's something different. Nothing whatsoever will become of them by learning a trade. They'll be virtually irreligious.

Someone told me that when our master the Chofetz Chaim traveled to meet the Polish Prime Minister, everybody said that he spoke in Yiddish. It's true that the Chofetz Chaim spoke Yiddish and the prime minister, whose name was Bartel, understood German so he understood a little of the Chofetz Chaim's Yiddish. A Jew named Asher Winternitz was present. He was a member of the Sejm, the Polish parliament, and he said to the Chofetz Chaim, "[Now] do you see that one has to know Polish?" The Chofetz Chaim replied, "Don't worry. There's no shortage of fools. It's the talmidei chachomim that we need."

Q. What measures may be taken for the sake of kiruv? Can there be mixed seating at lectures and seminars that are held for irreligious Jews, if otherwise they won't come?

A. Let them not come! There's no permission to do something wrong for the sake of kiruv. It's forbidden to do any aveiroh supposedly in order to fulfill a mitzvah. We are duty bound to carry out Hashem's will but only in the way that He wants us to . . .

Reinforcing the Writ of Cheirem

For a long time, Argentina's Chief Rabbi has been standing firm against constant pressures. Ever since he took up his position he has refused to carry out conversions or accept converts into the community. A cheirem to this effect was imposed on the country's Jewish community almost a century ago out of concern that invalid conversions would be carried out and eventually gain acceptance. Even converts who have been converted by distinguished rabbonim are rejected by the community but only because of the cheirem, not because there are any doubts about the validity of their conversions. A ger or giyores might be living as strictly observant Jews but they cannot join the kehilloh, because of the cheirem. Yet the Chief Rabbi dares not usurp the ban that the country's earlier rabbonim instituted.

Heavy pressures have been brought to bear on the Chief Rabbi. At the main meeting he described his struggle against those who would like to see him breach the barrier that was erected all those years ago. When he visited Eretz Yisroel he consulted the leading poskim, led by HaRav Eliashiv, and requested that they express their support for his position in writing. When he asked HaRav Eliashiv for a letter of support the Rov's response was, "First go to HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman. I will only add my signature to his letter."

When HaRav Ben Hamu met HaRav Shteinman in Argentina he presented him with the signed letter and reported that the pressures have not yet ceased. "Bring the subject up again in public," HaRav Shteinman advised him.

The matter was mentioned in HaRav Shteinman's presence at the height of the meeting. In front of six thousand onlookers HaRav Shteinman immediately took the Rav's pen into his hand and added his signature to the reinforcement of the cheirem. That should prove effective in stilling the protests.

A Debt of Gratitude

An elderly woman came to the house. HaRav Shteinman has borne her a debt of gratitude for many decades. The debt goes back to when he was a young avreich, interned in a labor camp. One day he took ill and the doctors had him hospitalized. In the gentile hospital there was nothing he could eat, so he simply didn't eat.

Then he heard a rumor that there was a Jewish nurse on the staff, a religious woman —a chareidi woman in fact, who was scrupulously observant and was someone who could be relied upon. After some inquiries it turned out that she fasted six times a year. In those days that was hardly the norm and it gave her a certain reliability. She smuggled in kosher food for the patient who refused to eat. Of course, she brought only the minimum necessary, of foods whose kashrus was beyond any doubt. She cooked specially for him.

Many years have passed since then; years that have wrought changes in those involved in that episode. The avreich became HaRav A. L. Shteinman, one of the generation's leaders. The nurse raised a wonderful family. Rav Doniel Oppenheimer, rov of Kehillas Achdus Yisroel in Buenos Aires, is her son. Rav Shlomo Ben Hamu, Chief Rabbi of Argentina and an alumnus of the yeshivos of Gateshead and Sunderland, is her son-in-law.

HaRav Shteinman was presented with several possibilities for places to stay in Argentina, Rav Shlomo Gottesman, editor of the Torah journal Yeshurun and chairman of the special committee for organizing the trip, relates. Naturally, all the addresses were Torah homes, rather than homes of the wealthy. Since the purpose of his trip was to strengthen Torah, HaRav Shteinman wanted to raise Torah's prestige and that of Torah scholars in the eyes of the general public.

"In Argentina," says Rav Gottesman, "there was no question about where HaRav Shteinman wanted to stay. The Rosh Yeshiva was most adamant that the right to decide where he would stay belonged to Rav Oppenheimer," he said.

"I have owed this family a debt of gratitude for decades," said HaRav Shteinman. "Back then in Switzerland I was hospitalized . . ."

This was the elderly woman who came to the house. She came to request a blessing. Then she was on the hospital's staff. Today she is a rebbetzin and mother of rabbonim.


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