Wrong Team on the Wrong Field

letter-447577_1280

Another confrontation is brewing, as Israel’s Education Minister intends to reduce funding to schools which do not teach a “core curriculum” — including Charedi schools, despite recent tests in which Charedi students demonstrated superior study, learning, and cognitive abilities compared to their secular peers. For those who don’t understand why this is such a third rail to the Charedi community in Israel, one merely needs to look at the third comment to the JPost article on this topic, which insists that the core curriculum must include “zionism, biology/evolution, jewish history, critical biblical theory and israeli history!”

What is most interesting about the story, however, is the involvement of the Israel Religious Action Center, affiliated with the Reform movement. The topic at hand is purely and exclusively Charedi education — there isn’t the least relevance to the Reform movement.

This being the case, what is the justification for Reform involvement? Is it their expertise in Jewish pedagogy, expressed in their ability to successfully place those less Jewishly informed than the average Jewish-schooled third grader into choice positions in Temple classrooms across America? Or is it, rather, their leadership in Jewish education, measured in the thousands hundreds dozens (I hope) of Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrants each year who continue their Jewish studies through high school? Or is it their ability to convey Jewish identity and pride, expressed in that fraction of graduates whose chosen spouse is not Jewish, yet, like Marc Mezvinsky (Chelsea Rodham Clinton Mezvinsky’s new husband), insist upon a Rabbi’s presence in order to place a Jewish imprimatur on the proceedings?

Sadly, none of these offers justification… but IRAC seems to have a habit of fighting Orthodox Jewish education while soliciting donations to support Reform Judaism. IRAC spent literally tens of thousands of dollars litigating to prevent an outreach center from building in Rechovot, and also went running to the Supreme Court to ban Chabad booths in Ben-Gurion Airport.

Needless to say, Jack and Edelle Schwartz of Temple Ahavath Shalom are blissfully unaware of how their generous donations to the Reform movement are being spent — to fight against Charedi control of Charedi education, with not the least benefit to Reform Judaism in Israel or anywhere else. It is clear that there are better, more urgent needs for the Reform movement to address in its own backyard — and should they not grasp this simple truth, better charities which the Schwartzes might support.

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50 Responses

  1. YM says:

    It is amazing to me how many frum Jews seem to think in a secular manner. Meanwhile, the same Israel that pays Kollel stipends is doing amazingly well in the world economy. Coincidnce?

  2. Ori says:

    Rabbi Yaakov Menken: Remember, the vast majority of its funding is indirect: donors give money to their Temples, the Temples pay dues to the movement, and the movement pays the budget of IRAC.

    Ori: This might be the critical point. If I’m a lay member of a Reform Temple and I’m opposed to IRAC’s action, I have three choices:

    1. Stop donating money to my Temple, where I pray and where my kids learn Judaism(1).
    2. Agitate for change, either by having the Temple leave the Reform Movement (unlikely) or try to get the Reform Movement itself to change (even less likely).
    3. Accept the current situation.

    I’m pretty sure that even if the Schwartzes knew, they’d still select option #3. It’s just not important enough to them.

    (1) Or what I consider to be Judaism. But that’s besides the point – the people who donate to Reform Temples are Reform.

  3. lawrence kaplan says:

    Alas, I doubt the Schwartzes read Cross-Currents.

  4. Yaakov Menken says:

    Ori — an on-topic question! I did close comments, but I’m going to reopen them exclusively for posts on the topic. Charedi education is an important topic, but is not my topic, and is tangential at best to the original post — so further comments in that vein will be rejected.

    Obviously, I would prefer that Reform Jews donate their money in favor of Jewish education, rather than in order to tell Orthodox educators what to do, or to close down Orthodox outreach efforts. But that isn’t really the point. Rather, it is this:

    One, I do not believe Reform Jews have any idea where their money is going. Most of them have imbibed the doctrine of tolerance as the supreme value, and do not believe, obviously, that litigating against the opening of an outreach institution expresses tolerance.

    And two, in America the Jewish and secular media both tell us that the Reform just want the ability to operate as equals in the Jewish state, and it is the Orthodox who express intolerance and fight the Reform. The efforts of IRAC put the lie to this claim.

    The activities of IRAC may be publicized in Israel, but I believe they are largely hidden from their American funders. Remember, the vast majority of its funding is indirect: donors give money to their Temples, the Temples pay dues to the movement, and the movement pays the budget of IRAC.

    David may call it “old news,” but it’s old news that the Schwartzes still haven’t heard. Shining the light on IRAC is more than worthwhile, because I don’t think its own funders would be very happy if they knew its true agenda.

  5. Yaakov Menken says:

    I’m going to respond to mycroft, and then, because this is so far off topic, I’m going to close comments so that I can write something new instead.

    mycroft is asserting a fallacy that simply doesn’t exist. First of all, the study was not of excellent yeshiva students, but of all yeshiva students.

    Second of all, and far more to the root of the issue, computer programming is largely not about writing code — it’s about thinking. That is the potential ability necessary to master Talmud — to take apart a question, to analyze, to solve problems. And, through practice, it is something that a person can be trained to do better.

    I know George Morgenstern shares my opinions and biases, so I spoke with a colleague who is not Jewish. He never finished his degree, but he does remember his first class in programming, which was ostensibly going to cover C++. The professor introduced himself and told them that they were going to design the software to operate an elevator, and began by getting the students to tell him the objects in the elevator — the elevator itself, the buttons, the doors, etc. [By objects, we mean those items which are relevant to writing object-oriented code to operate the elevator.]

    My colleague says that he has used this in job interviews, and is amazed at how many degree-holding programmers fail the question. He generally knows someone is in trouble when they respond, “I didn’t know you design elevators here.” A cousin of his, a welder, won top prizes in his state for his execution of various welds. Meanwhile, he failed the test to work in a shipyard — because in a shipyard, they don’t tell you “do this weld on this piece of metal.” They tell you “this is broken. Fix it.” Computer programming is 20% about the code and 80% about solving problems.

    That being the case, I think Morgenstern is mistaken. It is true that the Talmud student will catch up on the skills in less than half the ordinary training time — but will then outperform his raw gifts due to his training in thinking and problem-solving.

    Given five resumes, four from graduates in computer programming, and one with a degree in philosophy, my colleague would put that last resume on the top of the pile. Why? Because a philosopher, he says, has supposedly been trained to think.

  6. Ori says:

    Rabbi Yaakov Menken, to what causes do you think Reform Jews should donate in Israel? Is the answer anything except for political advocacy? Do you think Orthodox Jews should also not donate to Israeli political parties?

  7. mycroft says:

    “The US example (from 1994) was evaluating Orthodox high school students’ scores on a standardized state math test.”

    A 1994 study by a team of Israeli and American researchers, headed by Prof. Robert Sigler of Carnegie-Mellon University, found that yeshiva students surpassed secular students in their ability to solve geometry and mathematical problems. And American software entrepreneur George Morgenstern claims that students with a background in Talmud can master computer programming in one-quarter to one-half the time of those lacking such background.”

    True but only because the correlation between the potential ability necessary to master Talmud are similar to the potential ability to master computer programming. Typical causation/correlation fallacy. Of course, what happens to those without the ability to master Talmud is the not so hidden secret of modern North American life.

    ” then defended the BTL”

    To the extent the BTL given openly for studying in the Beis Medrash for x amount of hours, credits and grades were given contemporaneously, the titles of the courses reflected what was taught I don’t think there would be much objection. Sadly, there is a suspicion correctly or incorrectly that is not always the case.

  8. David says:

    “The point isn’t that Reform is bankrupt, but that Reform funding is used to interfere with Orthodox education and outreach…American Reform Jews give their money to Reform organizations to promote Reform Judaism — not to put down the Orthodox.”

    Part of Reform’s efforts in promoting itself is putting down the Orthodox so that it can portray itself keveyachol as a more authentic and moral stream of Judaism. It’s attempts to meddle in Kenesset’s decisions regarding funding for chredi schools is therefore not surprising, and naturally a part of their agenda. That doesn’t make it right, but, as Prof Kaplan said, it is old news, and something that the commenters here really don’t care so much about because it won’t really affect anything. The far more important issue is the state of charedi education, which many of us believe is heading down the wrong road.

  9. Yaakov Menken says:

    Had my post merely highlighted the bankruptcy of Reform, Prof. Kaplan would have a point. But Prof. Kaplan so thoroughly invested his attention in another subject — tangential to the JPost article, much less my own — that he overlooked my topic entirely.

    The point isn’t that Reform is bankrupt, but that Reform funding is used to interfere with Orthodox education and outreach. Dov’s reasoning is specious — MK’s are supposed to comment on political matters in Israel, that’s why they are MK’s. American Reform Jews give their money to Reform organizations to promote Reform Judaism — not to put down the Orthodox. But in Israel, that is exactly what their money is used to do, while in America, we are treated to a steady drumbeat that it is the Orthodox who fight and put down Reform rather than vice-versa. That’s newsworthy, and the the very fact that you won’t find it in the JPost is why Cross-Currents is needed.

    I, on the other hand, am not a Mechanech. I am not involved in children’s education, except as a parent — and, of course, being in the United States, all of my children receive a “core curriculum plus” of secular subjects. At no time did I express or imply any opinion regarding how matters are done in Israel, or whether a core curriculum is necessary. [I said that Israeli students ought to have the opportunity to receive some sort of credit for their religious education, as American yeshiva and seminary students do, and then defended the BTL. That doesn’t express an opinion on teaching Algebra II in high school. (As RY Rosenblum pointed out in his article of last year, secular education for boys “generally ends in eighth grade.”)] So Prof. Kaplan both claims to know my thoughts and believes he knows better than I where I should claim the necessary expertise to offer up an opinion — and that is what I don’t understand.

  10. lawrence kaplan says:

    I think part of the reason as to why Rabbi Menken and most of the commenters are at odds is owing to where he posted his article. Had he posted it in the Jerusalem Post, addrssed to a general audience, his focus would be understandable. But he posted it on Cross Currents, whose readership is primarily Orthodox. Rabbi Menken asks why the commenters don’t stick to the focus of his article. He should realize that for Cross Current commenters the bankruptcy of Reform Judaism is not a big hiddush. One more example is not terribly important. We are much more concerned abour the atate of Haredi education in Israel because it is closer to our hearts. When we see Rabbi Menken, even by implication, suggesting there is no need for a core curriculum, it troubles us. I do not understand why he does not understand this.

  11. cvmay says:

    Point #1, Donors to organizations, & I am including all organizations (yeshivos, hospitals, hatzalah, medical foundations, religious groups, funds to the poor, etc.)have ZERO IDEA where exactly their money is being funneled off to. Is it covering advertising, salaries, office equipment, travel expenses, advocacy or the hands of those in need. Therefore you can be sure that the Schwartz’s have no idea where, what or how their funds are being used and NEITHER DO WE,,,when we donate.

    BTL degrees are enabling Bnei Torah entry into graduate program and places of higher learning. Except for the gifted few, upon acceptance into the Law, pre Med, Psychology, Educational, Financial, Health program they are at a major disadvantage. The study load, organizational, writing, research, debating and communication skills are stuck in an elementary school level. The majority of Yeshiva students (average academic abilities)can not ace the LSAT, GMATS, etc….. so stop whistling an empty tune.

  12. Dov says:

    Regarding why Reform have the “right” to comment on Chareidi education, it’s the same reason that Chareidi MK’s have the “right” to challenge when Chevrat HaChashmal moves big parts around the country, or where Misrad HaBriyut builds hospitals – we’re a people living in a land and things that we do effect each other. In the case of Israeli Reform (not American) it’s their money that goes into Bituach Leumi and other money sources that are then divided out.

    Regarding the ability of Chareidim to earn a living, try living in the areas that poor Chareidi men ask for tzedaka. The numbers of them are through the roof. Virtually all are in circumstances that would be manageable if they were working, like having to pay for a wedding that’s been predictable for 18 years. Some have tried getting jobs (only after their difficulties hit) and found that all the jobs open to them pay 18 NIS/hr and don’t help them enough. And many others declined job programs (like Superbus recently wanting more chareidi drivers) and stuck with begging.

    Regarding the defense of Chareidi education, I think that it’s pathetic how defensive and insecure people sound. I’ve had kids in Chodorim and in Bais Yaakov and in lots of other school frameworks, and there’s absolutely no reason to think that 1-2 hours a day learning math and computers and English and writing skills will destroy our talmidei chachamim. The Steipler became the Steipler even after the Russian army, and all American Gedolim became Gedolim even with minimal American high school educations.

    Lastly, halacha mandates lelamed li’bno umnus. That’s a chiyuv. And throughout halacha there are acknowledgements that education for the sake of earning a living is not only mutar but metzuveh. Why aren’t leaders who are on the side of Torah supporting a core cirriculum that fulfills our chiyuvim for chareidi kids, and as a trade-off, increases the amount of Torah that secular schools teach? Wouldn’t that be a better use of frum leadership than arguing about moving electrical parts and denying the right of tax-paying Israelis to question where their tax money is going?

  13. Tal Benschar says:

    Another confrontation is brewing, as Israel’s Education Minister intends to reduce funding to schools which do not teach a “core curriculum” — including Charedi schools, despite recent tests in which Charedi students demonstrated superior study, learning, and cognitive abilities compared to their secular peers. For those who don’t understand why this is such a third rail to the Charedi community in Israel, one merely needs to look at the third comment to the JPost article on this topic, which insists that the core curriculum must include “zionism, biology/evolution, jewish history, critical biblical theory and israeli history!”

    What some commentor may have written on JPost should not be taken seriously. Some of them are eccentric in the extreme.

    Is there a serious proposal in the Education Ministry to require subjects such as “critical bibilical theory” (which is outright heresy)? If so, then that should cause an uproar among the Orthodox community.

    Or is it limited to subjects such as Math and English, which are not problematic in and of themselves? (Although it is debatable how much time, when and by whom should such subjects be studied, it is clear that for a parnassah, one may learn secular studies, but not heresy. So paskened R. Elchanan Wasserman, and you will be hard pressed to find anyone who disagrees.)

  14. Miriam says:

    Rabbi Menken,

    You’re totally right. With all the other sources out there – including statistics of Israeli yungeleit struggling to get into the workforce, and recent calls from Charedi leadership for better (but appropriate) preparation – there is plenty of support for a modest (in all senses) core curriculum for Charedi schools. It’s a mistake to position a marginal minority like IRAC as the primary or most well-spoken advocate of the idea.

    Perhaps it’s JPost foolishly appealing to its Reform readership, or even more regrettably the Ed Minister working “against” the Charedi system rather than within it.

    For that reference to high-performing Charedi-trained students, you need not look too far from home (studies mentioned toward the end of the article):

    Israel’s greatest untapped source of brainpower

    But note these aren’t studies of how they perform at university level academics or qualifying for employment with Talmud-only backgrounds. The US example (from 1994) was evaluating Orthodox high school students’ scores on a standardized state math test. The Israeli example was Charedi adults who took the psychometric exam – all of whom took substantial preparatory courses that ran up to a full year, for a multiple choice exam that tests at a 9-10th grade level on math and (Hebrew) language and about native 4th in English. They are compared to all test-takers, the vast majority of whom are younger, taking the test for university admission.

  15. Yaakov Menken says:

    Steve questions why I identified his “friend” in quotes, before concluding that it must be some sort of rhetorical flourish. That’s incorrect, I think — perhaps it could be called a flourish, but was intended to highlight the fact that Steve has provided neither a first- nor even a second-person account. First we have what the administrator actually said and intended. Then, we have what the friend heard, and how he heard it. And finally, we have what Steve heard, and how he heard it. Given that we don’t know this friend or what chips his shoulder may be carrying, much less Steve’s, what reliability can we give this account?

    Last time I checked, yeshivos don’t give exams or semester-by-semester grades. As it happens, I earned my mediocre GPA while directing one of the largest student organizations on campus, participating in the debate panel (not class, it was extracurricular and only hurt my grades), participated in assorted other student activities and even enjoyed a brief and uneventful stint on an intercollegiate sports team. Had I spent all that time in the library doing my homework, my GPA would almost certainly have been 4.0… and I have yet to learn of the student who earned his BTL while spending less than six hours a day in the Bais Medrash. For good students, 12 hours is routine — an amount of time that, if spent in classes and the library, would earn the average college student a variety of uncomplimentary nicknames at the best of schools.

    Perhaps the administrator offered 3.75 because he felt this was truly what this particular student deserved. The assertion that this was “Geneivat Daat,” much less “in a major way,” has no evidence to substantiate it. And furthermore, from this single account Steve proposes to generalize to every single BTL degree offered to date, from every institution. One could similarly assert that all YU Rabbis wear jeans and sneakers and never crack a sefer from the time they walk out of the institution, with an even greater amount of evidence (and before anyone rushes to assert the contrary, I know quite well that this is absolutely false).

    rtw asserts that I am generalizing from this objective judgment of my own experience, because I’m an employer as I said. That does not mean that I relied only upon my own judgment. While the atrocious English-language skills of the average yeshiva student leave much to be desired, it remains the truth that these students, trained as they are in logic, cognition, and simple study habits — excel. Do you really think Johns Hopkins graduate schools would continue to accept so many BTLs from Ner Israel if the truth were upon anywhere near what Steve implies?

    As for the recent tests which demonstrated this to be the case, it was reported in Israel National News (Arutz-7, which is not Charedi by any means) and later by Mishpacha and perhaps by others — but my Google searches have come up empty. Perhaps someone else will find it.

    Now, does anyone have further comments about my article and its focus? Or is everyone only interested in bashing what they consider to be the state of Charedi education? We may have to invoke one of our documented standards: “Comments must be directly relevant to the content of the post itself. Moderators and authors reserve the right to refuse comments on tangential issues.” I certainly have said my fill on the tangents, and look forward to posting about a new topic.

  16. robert lebovits says:

    Miriam: See a 2007 assessment from the Begin/Sadat Center for Strategic Studies entitled “The ‘False’ Crisis in Military Recruitment: An IDF Red Herring” written by Stuart Cohen. It seriously challenges the assertion that the number of youth avoiding duty is as high as the military says & that the problem of recruitment exists at all.

    David: Miluim will never be abolished no matter how large the standing army may become. It is precisely what the name means – a reserve force that can be raised rapidly in the event of conflict requiring greater levels of manpower. It is an adjunct to any standing force, in effect, a second army on the cheap.

  17. Steve Ehrlich says:

    Rabbi Menken: I am perplexed as to why you put the word “friend’s” in my posting in quotes. This sort of rhetorical florish may gain you points in debating class, but it is unworthy of serious discussion. My friend did tell me this story, thank you. My own degrees I got the old fashioned way. But the point I was really trying to make was not that these BTL people dont do as well as others. No doubt many do. The point I was trying to make is that this is Genavat Daat in a major way, and is fundamentally unethical behavior. These, uhm, creative, transcripts are a form of cheating, plain and simple. It is *not* okay to get your degree that way, and to catapult yourself into graduate school ahead of people who dont do shannagans. I think this kind of academic fraud still happens a lot.

    As to the question of Reform vs Charedi education. I think its quite obvious that Reform’s Jewish education needs improvement and that Charedi secular education needs improvement. For each to point at the weaknesses of the other while ignoring their own weaknesses is indeed amusing. But both sides are doing it and they are both right. But, in a more positive vein, lets not forget that both sides have their strengths too.

  18. dr. bill says:

    I have noted this before but it bears repeating. R. dovid karliner (friedman)ztl one of the 2-3 top poskim in the generation following RYES ztl, wrote two tshuvot on secular education – one for eastern europe and one for the yishuv in eretz yisroel. his logic arguing strenuously for secular education in the yishuv, something he opposed in his european mileau, is written as if commenting on the modern day.

    ironically, in our olam hafukh, we have reversed his penetrating logic with less NOT more secular education in the cheder in the modern state of Israel, than here in the Golah. Were he commenting today, i suspect his view on the golah may be different; his view of eretz yisroel would probably be yet more resolute.

    the good news is however, that at the grass roots, the chareidi community is trying to find a new path, led by a growing number of chassidic and other moderate chareidi leaders.

  19. rtw says:

    “Out in the real world, yeshiva and seminary graduates (and college dropouts) routinely outperform those with four-year degrees. It’s my job to know, because I’m an employer.”
    Sounds like Rabbi Menken is generalizing his subjective judgment of his own experience to apply to the rest of the “real world.” Meanwhile, he hasn’t answered my question as to what “recent tests” show that “Charedi students demonstrated superior study, learning, and cognitive abilities compared to their secular peers.” That which is asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.

  20. David says:

    Yehudis:

    1) I am very happy for you and your family that your husband succeeded in finding a source of parnassah after yeshiva. But do you honestly believe that most are able to do that, and just “catch up” somehow? I am also a former yeshiva bochur then kollel guy who made the transition to working for a living. And there is NO WAY I would have been able to do it without certain skills I learned in my secular studies in high school and college.

    2) You wrote: “and that they are unlikely to be choosing fields that demand great investments of time and money to catch up (like medicine, hard sciences, tenured professorships of English lit)” – Don’t we want to have benei Torah in fields such as medicine and hard sciences? Is it good that charedim can’t get into these professions?

    3) Most importantly of all, you write: “And the entire basis of this conversation assumes that the statistics on poverty and earning in Israel are accurate, which they certainly are not. As anyone knows who lives here, approve of it or not, we are living in a very complex underground economy. V’hameivin yavin…”

    Doesn’t that reality scream out that there’s a problem? Is this “underground ecoonomy” what the charedi world wants? And isn’t it a source of embarrassment for the community? Isn’t this confession of yours the greatest indication that the system needs fixing?

  21. Miriam says:

    The manpower division of the IDF has long acknowledged that there are more conscripts than are necessary to maintain the standing army.

    Incorrect. The statistics on anticipated new recruits show a sharp decline over the next 4 years – the YUPifying birth rate of non-religious I imagine.

    Forget teaching Israeli Charedim English – HEBREW!!! Learn one language right first – even those who study in Hebrew could do a lot for their reading, writing and speaking skills.

    One of the things that Israeli parents get that American parents do not is school choice without the double burden of paying taxes plus tuition.

    Private schools in neither country are “free” from government requirements. School attendance is mandated, and the curriculum can’t just be training future muslim terrorists for example. All the more so if a school takes government funding or wants certain accreditations.

    We are better off getting into the (minimal) core curriculum debate as part of the collective, rather than trying to exclude various minorities from the discussion.

    The bigger problem within Charedi education (and American Agudah-type schools as well) is the disrespect toward secular studies. That keeps the average students permanently behind.

    Some justify the who-cares approach because nebbich our average students won’t succeed in Torah if we overburden them with a little algebra, teva and grammar (so much for their minds being trained to handle it easily…). But I wonder if it isn’t a general disrespect for anything secular including government authority:

    As anyone knows who lives here, approve of it or not, we are living in a very complex underground economy. V’hameivin yavin…

  22. Yaakov Menken says:

    It is interesting that David said that “if a Reform rabbi wrote a post on Cross Currents about why charedi education is terrible, we (meaning, the commenters) would respond to him and point out why he’s wrong. But we’re responding to a post that you wrote and which we feel is off target.”

    Those two statements are entirely self-contradictory. A Reform rabbi made statements to the JPost about why charedi education is terrible, which is why I wrote a response pointing out why he’s wrong to meddle in our affairs — and hypocritical, having major problems to deal with in his own camp. To say that my article is off-target is to say that Reform rabbis should be given a free pass to comment upon charedi education while ignoring the miserable state of affairs in Reform circles. It cannot be otherwise, as that was the sole point made in my brief post.

    Steve seems blissfully unaware of the [lack of] relevance of one’s GPA to academic performance in the most elite of secular institutions. My peers who cared about their grades more than their coursework made sure that “Rocks for Jocks” and “AstroGut” were there to pad their GPA, while no one cared about a mediocre 3.2 when the courses included Game Theory, Artificial Intelligence, and the Politics of Civil Liberties (with Robert George). So even if his recounting of a “friend’s” tale of how he got his grades happened to be accurate, those of us who got our degrees the old-fashioned way also need not engage in hypocrisy. Out in the real world, yeshiva and seminary graduates (and college dropouts) routinely outperform those with four-year degrees. It’s my job to know, because I’m an employer.

    Speaking of the academic world, Prof. Kaplan, at least, should know that the use of second-person argument in a debate is regarded as impolite. Given that my opinions on secular education in yeshivos are as directly relevant to my article as my opinions on ObamaCare, I don’t think we need search further for red herrings.

  23. lawrence kaplan says:

    Rabbi Menken: Did any commenter say that a yeshiva education devoid of secular studies is a worse crime than what Reform Judaism is doing to Reform Jews? You are raising a red herring. They decried the former in strong terms and said it is very bad and self-defeating policy. Do you agree with this policy? Do you really believe everyone can catch up?

    What I find striking and encouraging is 1) how many commenters responded critically to Rabbi Menken; and 2) that their comments were not deleted.

  24. Aharon Haber says:

    Rabbi Menken Writes:
    “If one honestly thinks that a yeshiva education devoid of secular studies (especially when those who wish to enter the workforce are able to so quickly catch up and excel due to their years of mental preparation) is a greater crime than what is being done to Reform Jews by Reform leaders, then that is a person with severely misplaced priorities.”

    As I tried to point out in my first post, one thing my secular education has taught me is not to say something categorical like the above statement unless backed up by serious research. I will admit that I have not seen any of the studies mentioned but I remain skeptical until I do.

    “Excel due to their years of mental preparation”?

    How many people? Out of how many studied? In what fields? How is success measured? How about those that presumably do not perform as well – could a secular education have helped them? Is this a siman (that independantly intelligent people go to yeshiva and then try to get a job) or a siba (is the Torah education the REASON for the success)? etc. etc.

    Again as I said before I actually think (though have no proof of) that traditional Torah education may excersize the mind but sometimes also trains people to think uncritically. I feel it trains people to accept some things as absolute faith (e.g. the infallibility of Chazal) and unfortunately allows and sometimes encourages tenuous connections between things to be accepted or at least legitimized (I sometimes find “yeshivaish” devrei torah to be full of nonsense).

    I am not comparing Yeshivah learning to Reform education (I have no knowledge of the latter) but I think it is not always, in all its facets, something to be proud of and without need of a little reform itself.

  25. David says:

    Robert: “The manpower division of the IDF has long acknowledged that there are more conscripts than are necessary to maintain the standing army.

    Are you sure about that? People are still called up for miluim every year. Fathers of young children have to miss work for a few weeks every year to do reserve duty. You don’t think the IDF would be better off with more conscripts?

  26. David says:

    Rabbi Menken:
    “If one honestly thinks that a yeshiva education devoid of secular studies (especially when those who wish to enter the workforce are able to so quickly catch up and excel due to their years of mental preparation) is a greater crime than what is being done to Reform Jews by Reform leaders, then that is a person with severely misplaced priorities.”

    Not one commenter to this post wrote anything that implied anything of the sort. If a Reform rabbi wrote a post on Cross Currents about why charedi education is terrible, we (meaning, the commenters) would respond to him and point out why he’s wrong. But we’re responding to a post that you wrote and which we feel is off target. When did we say that charedi education is worse than Reform education?

  27. Steve Ehrlich says:

    I found it ironic that, in the same piece in which Rabbi Menken bemoans Genevat Daat, he lauds this Bachelor of Talmudic Law degree after which the holder can then go to graduate school. Glorious!. Do you know how this works in the field? I have a friend who got such a “degree” from a major yeshiva in the 70s. After learning for 4 years he walks into the office and asks them to create a transcript. They have the following dialog:

    “What kind of GPA would you like”?

    “Whats a GPA?”.

    “Grade point average.How about 3.75”?

    “Whats that mean”?

    “Twice as many A’as as B’s. That okay?”

    “That would be fine”.

    And he takes this, gets into graduate school and lives happily ever after.
    For those of you out there who earned your degrees the old fashioned way, you should have nothing but scorn for this sort of thing. I have no doubt that plenty Charedim will think this is wonderful. Nebich on them.

  28. yehudis says:

    Yes, granted I am speaking about a bright and motivated latecomer to secular education, but also realize that what you need to learn depends on the demands of your chosen field. Since we can safely assume that charedim entering the world of general studies will be seeking applied education rather than the overall (and skimpy) survey that passes for a “well-rounded” education, and that they are unlikely to be choosing fields that demand great investments of time and money to catch up (like medicine, hard sciences, tenured professorships of English lit), so what are they looking for? The training that will prepare them for a “parnasah kalah u’nekiah” which I believe allows a person to conserve the better part of his mind and heart for the time he can find for Torah study.
    My take on this is just born of experience–I’m a University product who also had excellent teacher training, and married a learner who has generations of learners behind him (and hopefully before him!) who eventually picked up the skills he needed as parnasah demands increased. My writing skills outstrip his, it’s true. But he has so much more to write about! And, given his abilities, he will eventually catch up. Until then, he has an editor. I realize that our particular situation is a little unusual, but I see here in my little enclave of Yerushalayim many more charedim finding their way into wage-earning situations without having followed the expected educational trajectory than you might think.
    And the entire basis of this conversation assumes that the statistics on poverty and earning in Israel are accurate, which they certainly are not. As anyone knows who lives here, approve of it or not, we are living in a very complex underground economy. V’hameivin yavin…

  29. rachel w says:

    Most people agree that something must be done to improve the financial and Chareidi employment situation in Israel. The question is: Is forcing the core curriculum into the Chareidi the answer? Why would any one in their right mind entrust their child’s education in the hands of a department which so badly messed up their mandate (which is, of course providing every child with a good education in a safe environment.)

    I do not know how the secular studies system works in Cheder schools- is there any at all. If they do teach the basic 3 R’s, can those studies be made more intense, perhaps also be taught in 9th grade, so the boys will have enough of the basic knowledge and have an easier time catching up later on?

  30. robert lebovits says:

    If the goal of the requirement of a core curriculum is to assist chareidi youth so that they may acquire the skills necessary to become productive members of a modern society, then let their leadership become partners in the creation of such a curriculum & be in charge of its implementation. It is the State’s demand that the Ministry of Education direct chareidi educational institutions that is wholly unacceptable to Israeli Gedolim. Further, let the job market be opened to chareidi youth without the hurdle of military service. In fact, let the job market be accessible to all Israeli youth without requiring military/State service. How? It is past time for an all volunteer military. The use of army service as the great cultural equalizer is no longer viable or effective. The number of non-religious youth exempted or avoiding army duty is significant, perhaps 15 – 20%. The manpower division of the IDF has long acknowledged that there are more conscripts than are necessary to maintain the standing army.

    To create a more unified & integrated Israeli society will take major shifts in basic institutions, not just educational coercion.

  31. Yaakov Menken says:

    In response to David, what I was referring to was the JPost story, which features a brief comment by MK Moshe Gafni and a much longer quotation from the head of the Reform Movement in Israel. My question is, and remains, what is the justification for their involvement?

    The Charedi school system functions independently, as it always has, and is not going to be “fixed” by intervention from the government, which has its own agenda that extends well beyond the three R’s. [Were that not the case, it is quite certain that IRAC would have no comment.] It’s completely irrelevant to the question of how Charedi students “ought” to be educated, so as far as I’m concerned all of those focusing upon that issue have wandered off on a tangent. One of the things that Israeli parents get that American parents do not is school choice without the double burden of paying taxes plus tuition. Let the commenters go convince the Gedolim or the parents, or, on the flip side, question why Israeli students, unlike their American peers, receive no credit at all for their education. American students can get college degrees built upon their seminary education or, on the men’s side, a Bachelor of Talmudic Law and go straight to graduate school. But again, that’s a tangent.

    It is interesting that all those speaking about the “tone” of my criticism of Reform have nothing to say about the comments which prompted my article, which said that charedim are “dooming students… to a life of ignorance, poverty and total separation.” It seems that the requirement of politeness is only applied to one side of the discussion.

    It is also incorrect. “Poking fun” does not at all describe my remarks. It is a very sad truth that Reform Jewish education is a pathetic failure. I spent a year in a Reform Sunday school when my parents decided that three days a week was too much time to spend in Hebrew school. It only took a year for them to change their minds. The only thing I remember learning that year — and this is not a snide remark, it’s the absolute truth — is how to fold a $10 bill in order to dupe the maître d’ of an exclusive club into believing he was to receive a $100 tip for guiding the holder to a good table. We didn’t learn anything about Geneivas Da’as, deceit, other than a good methodology for doing it.

    If Reform Jewish education was successful, if it was not turning off students in droves, they might have something to contribute. It might make sense for them to involve themselves in the discussion. But it is the Reform movement itself which is dooming students of their Hebrew schools to a life of Jewish ignorance, the belief that Judaism is spiritually vacuous, and the search for a Jewish potential spouse, unimportant. The consensus of counter-missionary professionals is that Hebrew school education appears to make the average recipient into a better target for missionaries.

    If one honestly thinks that a yeshiva education devoid of secular studies (especially when those who wish to enter the workforce are able to so quickly catch up and excel due to their years of mental preparation) is a greater crime than what is being done to Reform Jews by Reform leaders, then that is a person with severely misplaced priorities.

  32. Aharon Haber says:

    First I should say that I agree with David’s comment about poking fun at Reform. To me this kind of polemic and its tone seriously reduce the respect I have for the writer. I consider myself Modern Orthodox but have learned in semi-charedi like environements growing up and have much respect for many of the torah personalities i have had the privelege to learn from. I dont consider this appropriate language from “our” side of the table. And I do understand the stakes involved.

    But on another topic that has interested me – the implication that chareidi education – and specifically gemara learning – is a substitute for secular education – from the observation that yeshiva students do better than their non-religious counterparts on standardized tests. By the way this thinking is not restricted to Chareidim. I remember hearing the same thing at YU several times about gemara students preparation for Law School. I didnt accept it then nor do I now (though I spent high school through college learning Gemara b’iyun at a level I would compare to any yeshivah – chareidi or otherwise).

    Without getting into to much detail I find it ironic that such a premise being bandied about as a proven fact exposes exactly what I feel is wrong with Gemara education without some some scientific formal logic behind it. I feel that while traditional Gemara education might excercise the mind (though I am not prepared to say it provides an advantage over solid secular education until I see a scientific double blind study) it may also reinforce flawed thinking in a way that may be very very difficult to fix later in life. I am not saying Gemara study does this inherently, I am saying the way it is taught does so.

  33. David says:

    Rabbi Menken wrote: “What is most interesting about the story, however, is the involvement of the Israel Religious Action Center, affiliated with the Reform movement.”

    From the comments it appears that many (or at least some) readers disagree, and do not find Reform’s involvement to be the most interesting part of the story. What we find most interesting is the burning question of what will be with charedi education. It is the best interest of both the charedim and general Israeli society – and we are concerned about both – for charedi youngsters to receive a solid secular education whcih prepares them for gainful employment. This is vital not only economically, but also to bridge the gaps in Israeli society. Chilonim have much to gain from first-hand exposure to charedim.

  34. Dov says:

    Yehudis, you’re right in theory, but when someone already has a few kids and hits the need to work, and picking up some professional education to get a job will take 2-3 years, they don’t have the extra 1-2 years to add to that to catch up on basic fundamentals.

    The real problem, of course, is that most people when deciding after they have a few kids that they need to work, they don’t even have ANY time to spare. This is why Chazal said that we have to lelamed li’bno umnus BEFORE he needs it. And that’s why Chazal define a person in need as someone who doesn’t know where their upcoming year’s worth of food will come from.

    The vast number of people knocking on the door for tzedaka are people who were hit with a situation that could and should have been prepared for. An illness, a wedding, an expense. If their only option for working is (a) earn minimum wage in a store, or (b) spent 2-3 years to get the skills to earn more, neither option works.

    The worst part of it all is that Chazal knew this, but the schools today don’t care.

  35. Barry says:

    So who are Jack and Edelle Schwartz. And have you asked IRAC why they are concerned?

  36. Ori says:

    Yehudis, I can see how religious education will teach the same analytical skills as the math and sciences used in secular schools. But what about English? Can you start learning a language at the age of 22, and be as good with it? Considering how much of Israel’s economy involves exports, English is important.

  37. pk says:

    To Yehudis,

    When you are talking about a 22 year old motivated Chareidi student picking up in one year what it takes the average student 12 years, you are not only talking about a motivated and capable student, you are talking about a a VERY BRIGHT, motivated and capable student. The average Charedi student needs much more time. He may not need 12 years, but he will not pick it up in one year.

    In America the way the average Yeshiva 12th year graduate (who does study secular subjects)writes and speaks is an absolute embarrassment to the American Chareidi public. I think this is because the importance of basic English speaking and writing skills is downgraded in favor of Gemarah and not enough time or capable teachers are provided to teach these skills

  38. L. Oberstein says:

    I may be wrong,but my feeling is that there are lots of great rabbis and laymen and women in Israel who know that today’s situation is not tenable. They want more young men to gain the skills needed to earn a living wage and escape life long poverty. The system in chareidi eretz Yisroel is something that is unique to Israel and the result of historical developements. What the government doesn’t get is that change won’t come from outside legal pressure. It is like boiling an egg, it doesn’t get softer. Taking away the money will have an effect. The use of the internet by young chareidim will have an effect, the desire for worldly comforts that their neighbors who work have will have an effect. The Reform have their agenda but they are not players in this debate. Change will come from within the system and non confrontational means will have a greater effect.

  39. yehudis says:

    The tests in question are the “mivchanei chutz” which Beis Yaakov students have had to take forever. The Beis Yaakov girls always outshine their secular counterparts. This is a little bit of a red herring, because it is well known that girls’ charedi schools do incorporate much, much more secular education than the chadorim with their “schreibers.” But it has also been shown that charedi graduates of the cheder system can pick up the necessary skills for integration into the work force later on pretty quickly, since they have good analytical skills and the power of focus and application that are engendered by years of Torah she b’al peh. As I have explained to family members, students, visitors so many times, your 12 years of standard education is a kind of glorified babysitting for the most part, with instruction parceled out at a pace fit for the average mind, when students lack inner drive or passion about their subjects. To posit that you actually need that much time to get your basics down is just ridiculous; no educator believes that for a minute. A motivated and capable twenty-two year old can learn in a year what the average student learns in twelve. So the argument is not about producing productive earners, but about the usual issue: control. Der vos hot der meiah hot der deiah.

  40. David says:

    I don’t quite understand why Rabbi Menken decided to use this opportunity to poke fun at the Reform movement. I agree with his points – wholeheartedly, in fact – but as Torah Jews, shouldn’t we be sticking to the moral high ground and avoiding childish rantings like these? Why provide fuel for the non-Orthodox who like to portray us as unrefined, overly ritualistic, rude and annoying people?

  41. Steve Ehrlich says:

    Seems to me that if the Charedim dont like the suggested core curriculum, they should propose a different core curriculum and then we can talk about it. But the fact of the matter is that there are many Charedi institutions that offer little to no secular education at all. Even here in Chicago, where I live, the Lubavitch Mesifta high school has no secular eduction. Zilch. That is not defensible and I dont know why its tolerated. My impression is that in Israel this problem is much worse.

  42. chareidi leumi says:

    What is wrong with making funding contingent on a core curriculum?? It sounds reasonable to me. No one is forcing chareidi schools to adopt the core curriculum. But since there is an overriding government interest in creating educated working adults, I do not see why they should invest their money in educational institutions that give very few tools for functioning in general society.

  43. Ori says:

    Charedim are afraid that if they allow the supervision of core studies, the Chiloni majority will eventually force their kids to learn Zionist History and Evolution. Chilonim are afraid that without the core subjects, too many Charedim will be stuck in poverty. In a country with a welfare system like Israel’s, poverty is not just a private matter. Israel is so small and interconnected that it is extremely difficult to respect other people’s freedoms.

    What I’d like to hear is a Charedi vision of how Israel would work with an Orthodox (Charedi and Religious-Zionist) majority. What would be the laws, how the economy would be run, etc. I think Israel will get to that point, Chilonim have less kids and are more likely to leave the country, but how would it work?

  44. Dov says:

    First, anyone who knows anything about Israeli education knows that the standard bagrut tests, with all of their options, pose no ideological problems for chareidi education, except the desire to avoid purely practical secular education. I just had one child finish, and I have two more in the process, all in religious schools, so this is from my memory of how it works in practice:

    Biology, or any science that could be an ideological problem, are not required. Computer science is sufficient for an elective and for any science requirement.

    Literature can be replaced by Torah hashkafa (“machshevet Yisrael”).

    History can include a wide variety of time periods, and I believe someone can pass the History Bagrut with only pre-war Jewish history.

    The bagrut tests include halacha, Tanach, hashkafa, and Gemorah.

    They also include meth, computers, grammar/writing, English, and a social studies course titled “ezrachut” (literally “citizenship”) which teaches how the government functions. All of these are purely practical for anyone wanting to work.

    I happen to think that the bagrut requirements are incredibly weak, and explain why Israel is falling in worldwide education comparisons every year. But that’s what they are.

    Claims that bagrut tests pose ideological problems are simply not true, unless preparing for practical work ability is an ideological problem.

    Second, in the USA all the frum schools teach basic math, english, writing, history, etc., according to the department of education.

    Third, it’s beyond me why the Chareidi parties don’t accept PRACTICAL core cirriculums in return for the core cirriculum being amended to include more Torah. Wouldn’t that be the mandate of religous parties, lehagdil Torah uleha’adira?

  45. David says:

    Charedim cannot demand or expect that their schools be publicly funded but privately run. If the taxpayers fund their schools, they have every right – through their elected officials – to determine what goes on in those schools. If the charedim want the Knesset to leave them alone, then they have to fund the schools themselves.

  46. Ben Waxman says:

    Chareidim can not demand the right to involve themselves in every aspect of Israeli life and then complain when others involve themselves in Chareidi life. Plus, given the fact that everyone in Israel – secular, dati leumi, arab, russian – has to deal with never ending calls to raise child allowances, yeshiva stipends, permit building of chareidi only cities – then yes, everyone, Reform included have the right and even the obligation to get involved.

  47. dr. bill says:

    Reference those who want the core curriculum to include zionism and evolution, invoke the reform on the side of your advesary, attack whomever for what ever you like, etc.

    The issue we are talking about is the 3R’s in elementary school when the school TAKES government money. Halevi the 3R’s were taught and we were arguing about zionism and evolution!! I would be on your side; i know little about either subject and have been able to earn a living.

  48. rtw says:

    what “recent tests?”

  49. Bob Miller says:

    I find it scandalous that not all schools attended or operated by Jews include the essential core curriculum of Torah subjects.

  50. Menachem Lipkin says:

    This post is just a tad ironic. Tax paying Israeli reform Jews have a much bigger stake in how their educational dollars are spent than does a Chareidi Rabbi in Baltimore. Forget reform, most orthodox tax-paying Israelis that I know feel the same way.

    Also, regardless of any studies regarding “superior study, learning, and cognitive abilities” of Chareidi students, the lack of core educational background in math, science, and English make Chareidi adults woefully unprepared to enter the work force. This is evidenced by the growing and often frantic effort on the part of many in the moderate Chareidi world to rectify this situation.