Houston, We’ve Got A Problem!

letter-447577_1280

by Rabbi Dovid Landesman

I hate to always be the harbinger of discomforting tidings, but the older I get, the more pessimistic I become. Instead of being proud of the unprecedented growth of the olam ha-Torah, I find myself increasingly critical of its shortcomings and that is enormously disconcerting.

I can already hear those who will complain that my words should not be publicized because they represent rechilus about an entire community, an enormous sin. I can only respond to them that I am confident in this case that my words are meant completely l’toles and I will be as careful as possible to hide the identities of those involved.

Others may feel that I am blowing the problem way out of proportion, that it concerns only a insignificant minority of the subject population. To them I reply that none of has real statistics. Moreover, if what I say is only true of one small group of yeshiva students, it is still too much and must be dealt with.

This past Sunday I had occasion to attend a wedding. Let us ignore the wedding itself; my feelings about the lavishness of the spread can be left for another posting. Rather, I would prefer to focus on two points; the dancing and the drinking.

I have little quarrel with the type of music played. When I was a yeshiva boy, we enjoyed styles of music that made our parent’s ears cringe; because of the volume and because of the tempo. I can accept that the musical preferences of each generation differ and I do not expect to see any consistency.

Nevertheless, I will comment on the dancing, understanding that this has peripheral relevance to the music itself. A few years ago, a talmid challenged me to explain why I saw certain types of music as being “kosher” and other types as being “undesirable” or “distasteful.” The question has probably been raised in many homes as well.
I responded that the means that I would use to characterize music would be to analyze what part of the body moves to the sound! When the rhythm and beat clearly appeal to the lower torso, I think it is unnecessary to go into any graphic explanation as to what the music is doing and why this constitutes a lack of tznius and propriety.

I watched the boys dance at this wedding – especially when keitzad m’rakdin was being played which should reflect the dancer’s attempts to showcase their special talents so as to bring joy to the chasan and kallah. Frankly, the movements would have done the ‘bros’ in the ‘hood’ proud.

Even the standard circle sets made me uncomfortable. I resented the fact that the younger crowd saw fit to totally ignore the presence of a large crowd who wanted to participate. The indiscriminate shoving and pushing, combined with the apparent constant need to be the center of attention evidenced by the chasan’s friends, was extremely disquieting. Instead of widening the circle and occasionally allowing the older generation to participate and also fulfill the obligation to be mesameach each, the boys tried to insure that the speed of the dancers equaled their own youthful exhuberance – even if that literally meant stepping on people’s toes or kicking them in the shins. Eventually, most of the older people made their own circle, including the couple’s fathers and grandfathers.

More disconcerting than the dancing, however, was the drinking. It began at the chasan’s tisch where a number of bottles, stored in the proverbial paper bags, were passed around and quickly placed under the table whenever a waiter or suspicious looking adult came by. Unlike brown baggers, however, these bottles weren’t filled with rot gut; only single malt scotches and eighteen year old bourbon were deemed suitable.

I watched as water glasses were filled with two inches of brown liquid, drained and then refilled for another round. The bags reappeared during the seudah, necessary I guess because the hosts had not placed wine bottles on the three tables reserved for bachurim and the bartender would not serve without carding.

To add to my chagrin, the rosh yeshivah, the mashgiach and a rebbi from the yeshiva were seated with the bachurim and clearly saw what was transpiring. The boys made no attempt to hide their drinking from the rabbis and none of the rabbis made any apparent attempt to stop the drinking; as a matter of fact, at one point the rebbi joined with them in a l’chaim.

I finally could not take it any more and decided to talk to them. I was as non-confrontational as I know how and asked the boys why they drank. Three boys claimed that they had not touched a drop; later I discovered that they were the designated drivers. The bachurim looked at me with absolutely no understanding. Some of them were not coherent enough to comprehend my reasoning; others, somewhat less soused, pointed out that drinking made them less embarrassed and self-conscious and thus more capable of dancing without inhibition.

I admit that I was a little less respectful in my conversation with the rosh yeshiva who pointed out that in his view it was not so bad and besides, wasn’t it better that they should drink under supervision?

Let me point out that the said yeshiva is mainstream – i.e., not meant for “kids at risk” – and that prospective in-laws are pledging top dollar for their products. For me, all I can say is that I am exceedingly grateful to the Ribbono shel Olam that all my daughters are spoken for.

[Rabbi Dovid Landesman is a veteran mechanech and observer of the scene in Israel]

You may also like...

26 Responses

  1. L. Oberstein says:

    I wasn’t describing my personal position as much as explaining why so many college educated, working people in professions will live in Lakewood and send their sons to high schools with no secular studies. Also, why the right wing schools are more popular and faster growing than the centrist yeshivos.There is constand pressure in the girls’ schools for more frumkeit, lower skirts, more buttons closed,etc. To me, this is a reaction to a fear of contamination by the immoral outside world. I have not personally adopted that life style.

  2. Baruch Pelta says:

    Mr. Reisman:
    1. I’m unaware of the study and can’t discuss it with you without seeing it first. Please cite your data.

    2. Just some speculation: I think such data from such a study would not be representative of Orthodox assimilation. How to react in open society vs. how people reacted after going through Nazi atrocities are very different situations. Also, how people react in Israel — where boundaries are more sharply delineated between different Orthodox groups — would be far different from how people would react in different parts of the world. Also, let’s recall that the early “Ultra-Orthodox” leadership failed to adapt the proper response to modernity precisely because of a “narrow-minded, one-minded point of view” which “led to prejudice” (those are R’ Hirsch’s words). As R’ Dessler wrote, “It is true that they [the Frankfurt School] benefited in that the number of defectors from mitzvah observance was small.” I am aware that R’ Dessler in this same passage sharply opposed TIDE for other reasons, but it’s kedai to note R’ Schwab’s response to them. [Since you seem as of late to be interested in comparing the MO and the Chareidim, let me set something straight: The reason I personally choose not to identify with the chareidim has little to do with which one is “better” and more to do with the fact that it is impossible for me to identify with a group which believes that things like Facilitated Communication, geocentrism, and R’ Elias’s revisionism of R’ Hirsch are legitimate elements of discourse while giving the Rav a proper obituary is outside Daas Torah.]

    3. Incidentally, much of the chumrazation and actually the whole concept of Daas Torah only rise to prominence after World War II, spurred on by R’ Kotler and the Chazon Ish. The idea that almost everybody should be in Kollel is a rather new innovation as well (seen, as Reb Rosenblum has noted, as a response to the Holocaust and modernity) and we haven’t yet seen how this will turn out.

  3. Baruch Pelta says:

    You misunderstand me, Rabbi Oberstein. You wrote that “not living in the world,” which is “shmutz,” is the vanguard against becoming “dirty.” Increasing the chumras and building higher mechitzas, in your view, is the way to keep yidden from becoming involved in this world and becoming dirty.

    Rabbi Munk’s point is that those who have based their frumkeit on “cultural isolationism…have often failed to carry their children with them.” The policies based on said isolationism — such as the increasing chumrazation (see the popular Oz Vehadar Levusha) — can result in children going completely into the gentile world, or “shmutz” as you call it.

    Incidentally, have you read “Rupture and Reconstruction” by Haym Soloveitchik? It’s available online for free from the Lookstein Institute. His point at the end about the lack of yiras shamayim today is very relevant.

  4. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    Baruch:

    Rabbi Munk wrote of “…those whose conduct was based on cultural isolationism and who have often failed to carry their children with them..” And how many of the acculturated German Jews failed to carry their children with them? There was a study done in Israel after WWII, which found that 56% of those from Charedi backround who went through the holocaust stayed observant afterwards. For those brought up in a modern Orthodox backround, the percentage was 11%.

  5. L. Oberstein says:

    Baruch: You are comparing Yekkies to culturally assimilated American young people.I think the people Rabbi Munk was referring to listened to their parents more.

  6. Baruch Pelta says:

    That being said, now one understands why so many “frummies” build higher mechitzos and adapt more chumros. The world is shmutz and when you live in dirt, you get dirty.
    Oh, I don’t know about all that, Rabbi Oberstein. I think that R’ Elias Munk z”l, in his 1967 letter to the Jewish Observer, may have had a point when he wrote:
    “…it is probably true that Western European Orthodox Jewry has shown at least as high a percentage of loyalty to Torah ideals as those whose conduct was based on cultural isolationism and who have often failed to carry their children with them..”

  7. L. Oberstein says:

    The culture of our orthodox young people is a lot different from when I was 21. They drink a lot more, not just men but women. I visited a Seminary in Israel and found out that some of the girls go out to bars.This did not happen in my day.The head of the Semin ary was very defensive and said he would expell any girl turned in, but who wants to be a snitch. We used to make kiddush on concord grape wine, no one will touch that stuff any more. Go into any wine store and see the variety. I also understand that marijuana use is much more common than we adults realize, it is normal behavior .Furthermore, there is a lot more laxity in sexual standards that infects even nominally observant people. By this, I mean they aren’t really that observant but they wear a kipah on their head and keep kosher and shabbos but spend the night with girls of similar backgrounds with no shame. All of this is a sign of our accultuation and the fact that we are comfortable with the standards of the non Jewish surrounding milieau.
    That being said, now one understands why so many “frummies” build higher mechitzos and adapt more chumros. The world is shmutz and when you live in dirt, you get dirty.

  8. simcha seeker says:

    I’m sorry to say the dancing is not much better on the other side of the Mechitza. As a 21 year old who has attended many weddings, I judge nice dancing by it’s being joyful and all-inclusive. For years I stood on the side as an onlooker at family and teacher’s weddings as all the kalla’s friends hogged the dance floor. I have a mission at weddings: to reach out my hand and invite any shy looking adult or child to join the circle. b”H I’ve done this many a time…and I hope to have a similiar kind of dancing at my own wedding whenever it will be ;-)

  9. dman says:

    How many of this boys were under the legal drinking age in the jurisdiction?

    Dina d’malchuta dina!

    Have you considered bringing the behavior of the boys and of the Rosh Yeshiva, etc. to the attention of the board of the yeshiva?

  10. Noam says:

    For a number of years I played in a simcha band, usually with some non-Jewish musicians. They were always amazed at how well behaved the celebrants were- until we played a purim party at a boys yeshiva(high school), where even the 14 year olds were drunk and smoking. After beer had been spilled on our equipment, the non-Jewish drummer, a veteran of many gigs in bars, told me that this had been one of the most frightening experiences of his musical career. Drinking and poor behavior is unfortunately a common problem and will not cease until parents and teachers set strict rules and lead by example. One problem is that too many parents spend parts of shabbat and all of shalom zachor’s drinking, whether at kiddush clubs or at home with friends. Until proper behavior is demonstrated by the older generation, the kids are not going to change.

  11. aron feldman says:

    Another story from 35 or so years ago. A bochur from Torah Vodaath was married, and Rav Schorr was the mesader kedushin. After the chupa, he started to leave the hall, when the kalla’s father, an old-school Hungarian, holocaust survivor, and not very discreet (you know the type) said in a very loud voice, “The rosh yeshiva is leaving? Doesn’t he want to see what behemos his talmidim really are?” Rav Schorr heard the comment, turned around, and stayed for the entire wedding.

    Comment by Lawrence M. Reisman — June 11, 2009

    It’s a crying shame,that on the happiest day of this person’s life (and he was a survivor to boot) he still can’t stop being bitter

  12. Garnel Ironheart says:

    Here’s my question: is this community BEING Jewish or DOING Jewish? Are learning and mitzvah performance a matter of enthuasiastic action, the kind that a neshama craves, or is it rote and routine, done simply because no one knows how to do anything else?
    The person who knows how to BE Jewish will carry a certain dignity. A bit of schnapps, fine but who wants to get drunk? How can I serve the Borei Olam if I’m incapacitated and what excuse can I offer Him if I intentionally did it to myself?
    But the person who simply DOES Jewish will say “There’s nothing in Shulchan Oruch against it” and behave no different than anyone else out there in the world because their Judaism is a simple veneer (Isaiah 28:!5)

  13. Shira Halperin says:

    I wonder if these boys are truly serious about the Torah they are learning.

    I think these boys also need to be clued in that sometimes, their potential shidduchim are wrecked because of their drinking. At weddings, sometimes people point out a young man to a young woman, or to her mother or friend.
    I once observed a guy get smashed at a couple of my husband’s friends’ weddings and subsequently told my cousin I thought this young man was truly beneath her, she did not need to marry someone with a drinking problem.
    Once at a wedding my husband and I stopped a young man to ask him about dating a friend of mine. In the interests of modesty I will not report what he said and did, but suffice it to say he used the opportunity to not only make inappropriate comments about his interest in meeting an attractive woman but managed to make me uncomfortable by his behavior towards me. This boy was considered a “Serious learner” and quite a catch, but his fine reputation was pretty much ruined in my eyes.

    I admire the hosts who didn’t serve the under 21 crowd drinks.

  14. dovid says:

    Dear Rabbi Dovid, dear CC readers:

    In contrast to your experience, let me relate a chasuna experience I had 3 yrs. ago in Brooklyn. Both the chassan and challa were Black Jews (I think children of gerrim), and of course most of the people were Black Jews. The crowd was small, the music was soft and soothing. About half way through, a large contingent of bachurim from the yeshiva of Far Rockaway showed up. Someone had the good idea of inviting them to enhance the simcha and ruach. Reb Dovid, the bachurim were so nice, smiling, pleasant, proper, tzanua, and well put together, that had you been there, you would have considered taking a closer look at them for the purpose of shidduchim for your daughters. Ergo, not everything is rotten in the state of our yeshivos.

  15. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    I notice that there was a bartender; this brings to mind what we were told when we made our oldest daughter’s chasuna. The caterer said she would not allow any hard liquor unless a bartender was serving it. At one wedding, the bochrum collectively got drunk, took a tablecloth off one of the tables, put one of their number in it, and started tossing him in the air. Unfortunately, the last time up, they didn’t catch him coming down, he landed on the floor, and hatzolah was called. So now the bochrim are getting around the bartender by bringing their own? Hopefully some more supervision will stop this as well.

    Another story from 35 or so years ago. A bochur from Torah Vodaath was married, and Rav Schorr was the mesader kedushin. After the chupa, he started to leave the hall, when the kalla’s father, an old-school Hungarian, holocaust survivor, and not very discreet (you know the type) said in a very loud voice, “The rosh yeshiva is leaving? Doesn’t he want to see what behemos his talmidim really are?” Rav Schorr heard the comment, turned around, and stayed for the entire wedding.

  16. Yossi Ginzberg says:

    Perhaps the problem is that the article (and too much frum behavior) deals with the symptoms and not the inner important problem?

    Look at the massive chilul Hashem video of the boys in the Jerusalem bar, at the rioting boys in Kiryat Joel, at the boys throwing stones at police in Jerusalem, at the bar mitzva in the Tombs- and all these in the last week alone!

    It’s not the actual drinking that’s the problem, it is the boredom/ disillusionment/ false facade behavioral Judaism that drives to the drinking that is the problem.

  17. Nathan says:

    One Purim, about ten years ago, I saw a “Frum” child, around 9 years old, drinking an entire bottle of wine/liquor by himself. His parents were busy partying, so he was 100% unsupervised.

    When I saw that the bottle he was drinking from had broken, jagged, sharp edges instead of a smooth circular mouth, I grabbed the bottle out of his hand and emptied it onto the front lawn.

    At the time, I was collecting tzedakah and just happened to be passing by.

  18. Harry Maryles says:

    Boy did you say a mouthful. Your experiences vis-a-vis drinking at weddings match mine. And I go to a lot of weddings. But at the same time I will tell you that not all Yeshivos and their Bachurim are like that.

    I would futher note that getting drunk at a weddings crosses Hashkafic lines. I’ve seen Charedi Yeshiva Bachurim getting drunk and I’ve seen very MO Yeshiva Bachurim get drunk.

    The real fault lies with parents who condone it – and Mechanchim like the one you referrenced who – by his joining them for a L’Chaim – actually gave them his blessing which encourages them to do it more!

    You do a disservice by not publicizing which Yeshiva this was. Parents of potential stuents there have a right to know these things about a Yeshiva they are considering.

    FWIW Telshe Yeshiva in Chicago forbids any drinking at weddings by their Bachurim. Rosh HaYeshiva Rabbi A.C. Levin is very strict about that.

  19. tzippi says:

    Rejewvenator asks, when is it ok to cut loose? Is drinking the only option? Do our boys have permission to be kids – play ball, an instrument, do some woodwork, activities – some creative and/or fun outlets to fill the void and maybe even achieve a level of confidence and competence and self-esteem so they don’t need to cut loose with a drink?

  20. Orthonomics says:

    rejewvinator-The drinking habits of some bochurim is cause for worry. The comment of the Rosh Yeshiva (wasn’t it better that they should drink under supervision? ) is ludicrous. I heard a radio report about (irresponsible) parents planning post-prom drinking parties in their homes saying the exact same thing.

  21. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    I wasn’t there, so I can’t tell how much of your perception is subjective rather than real. But if bochurim feel the need to use alcohol to submerge inhibitions in order to dance, there is something wrong with them and they need to work on it. It’s a bad sign. But then again I am 60 and, like you, an old fogey.

  22. tzippi says:

    I’ll focus on the drinking. I’ve seen boys (boys, not peers of the father) from our local yeshiva at shalom zachors. I would love for the yeshiva to make a rule that boys of a certain age can go to a shalom zachor for no longer than five to ten minutes. They add nothing to the simcha, just spend the time drinking. (And our community is not big enough to have shalom zachors every week.) I too hate to say this in public but since you started…

  23. Ori says:

    Note: This is an outsider’s opinion. I’ve never been in a Yeshiva.

    In almost every society, young men do stupid, dangerous things. That’s the way people are built. Since you cannot avoid it, the best you can do is channel it to useful or harmless channels. Is getting drunk stupid? Yes. But getting drunk in the presence of a responsible adult, with designated drivers to take you home is not that bad. And after a few hangovers they might realize how stupid this is, and not do it when it is dangerous.

    I’m pretty sure Yeshiva students a hundred years ago were more dilligant in their studies and less prone to such behavior. But that’s because a hundred years ago only the more Torah loving boys went to Yeshiva. Today, in Charedi society, it is nearly everybody. You can’t make Yeshiva studies universal without dropping the quality of a Yeshiva education.

  24. Bob Miller says:

    There is no need to be non-judgmental about the music; if it’s degraded and stupefying we should not be cowed into silence about it (not that anyone could hear us in the din).

    As for the out-of-control drinking by bochurim in the presence of rabbonim, this may indicate a yeshiva-at-risk.

  25. rejewvenator says:

    Is it never ok to drink? Honestly, here are some boys drinking at a wedding. As I recall, yayin tov yesamach lev enosh. Here they are drinking fine single malt scotch to celebrate the wedding of a friend. They have responsibly selected designated drivers, and they were under supervision the whole time. Maybe if you hadn’t complained about those kids and their loud music and new-fangled dancing you wouldn’t have come across as such a curmudgeon, but really, when is it ok to cut loose?