Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Elul 5765 - September 7, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Becoming Mentschen or Becoming Western?

Every year the Israeli media in this season is full of self- congratulatory, heartwarming articles about the opening of the new secular school year. Education is certainly a good thing, isn't it?

Education is certainly a good thing — at least compared to the alternatives.

However any chareidi observer's heart will ache at the thought of a million-and-a-half pure Jewish children who are going to receive their education under Jewish auspices but will not even receive a positive exposure to our Torah tradition or the basics of emunoh.

The real aims of education can be stated quite simply: to give children the skills that they need to function properly in their lives, and to develop their character — to make them mentschen.

The secular Israeli education does not look to Jewish sources to fulfill either of these tasks, even though they are demonstrably excellent at accomplishing the second and quite good at much of the first. But the self-described "enlightened elite" of Israeli society limits itself in unfortunate ways.

In its press release marking the opening of the school year, the Ministry of Education wrote, "School year 5766 will stress the enhancement of students' life skills. This year special attention will be given to preparing students to use computers and the Internet, to meet the challenges of the 21st century." This hardly seems like the main problem of a system that in the next section of the press release has to explain that the Ministry will make a special effort to reduce violence and will authorize the educational staff to make "unannounced inspections of the bags of the students, in cooperation with the Ministry of Internal Security . . . "

The Ministry of Education is proud of its creative enrichment programs, but to us they are more evidence of its cultural poverty. In Ramat Hasharon, for example, fifth graders will have two weekly hours of folk dancing. The first half will concentrate on dances based on Israeli songs, and the second half of the year will focus on songs from the non-Jewish world.

Israeli youngsters learn how to think and feel and relate to the world from the models of Western civilization, and then they behave like the products of that civilization around the world.

Is it any wonder? One of the greatest modern Hebrew poets, Dalia Rabikovitch, committed suicide last week. It turns out that for a long time before her final act she was not happy about living. She was a gloomy and depressed person who had a hard life. She had writing talent, according to the critics, but what kind of message can someone who is truly suicidal be expected to convey? Does it make sense to us poetry written by such a mind to educate children to become mentschen?

Many of the other "people of the spirit" honored by what Chief Justice Barak has called "the enlightened camp" were no better, or even worse. In the context of a eulogy for Rabikovitch, one critic wrote: "Are suffering poets good people? Often their sensitivity to suffering does not express itself in their relationship to those around them. Alterman was truly evil. Ratosh was a malicious man. Avidan did not care about anyone. Rabikovitch felt the pain of all the weak and persecuted, but more than anything else she wallowed in her own pain."

It is truly tragic that the largest Jewish educational system in the world has such magnificent resources that it ignores. The kisvei kodesh are literally the words of Hashem, and they certainly contain all that anyone needs to develop culturally and intellectually.

Torah education has areas that could use improvement, but a good many of the problems come from leaks of outside influences. If anyone has any doubt about an education based on Torah Shebichsav and Torah Shebe'al Peh we suggest a surprise inspection of the bags of the talmidim of a typical Torah school.

One day they will all return, and the entire earth will be filled with knowledge of Hashem, like water covers the sea.

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