Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

4 Sivan 5766 - May 31, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Chinuch for Holiness is in Very Great Danger!

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

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

Part I


As educators, would you be able to present clearly the dangers that face us today? In other words, are we perhaps still fighting yesterday's enemy? What is our children's current enemy?

Rav Munk: Chinuch for holiness is in very great danger! The danger has a number of faces: 1) The cell phone, 2) The media, 3) The home phone, and 4) The street. I am not referring to the influence of the street's spirit; rather, I mean actual spiritual dangers. The yetzer hora knows that "the G-d of the Jewish people hates immorality," and he knows where to concentrate his efforts. Today, children are exposed to all kinds of things that never existed in the past.

There are another two causes that are very harmful to chinuch:

The first is arguments. Children need to grow up wholesome and pure. If you go to the small chareidi communities in the north and the south of Israel, you will feel the harmony and cooperation in the atmosphere; all the ethnic groups live together. In the large communities we do not have this, and this problem creates a sour heart; children grow up with the pronouncements that this one is kosher and this one is treif. Even if one matures out of these opinions, still, the feeling that the other one is treif remains.

There is another enemy, and maybe you will smile when you hear what I mean. Three years ago, I found a brochos chart in a Kashrus Guide which made me very unhappy. It was a chart of all types of treats and snack food. In the first year it was published, there were 90 treats. The next year, 120, and the next year, 150 treats. Chazal said that before a man should pray that the words of Torah would enter his innards, he should pray that delicacies should not enter his innards!

Rav Karelenstein: We have become materialistic and we need to emphasize this topic: when the home is materialistic it is a problem. When the weatherman speaks about snow in Jerusalem, hundreds of parents go with their children to see the snow — and this means there is a problem somewhere.

Let us say you approach one of them and ask, "Why are you going?"

He would not even understand what you want. He will exclaim: "Why, it's for the children!" One avreich rented an apartment for Shabbos for $150!

Rav Kook backs them up: Do you think a child can be holding in learning if his father runs to look at snow? The world is swept after desires and this has an influence on us.

Recently, we traveled on behalf of the talmud Torah to Geneva, Switzerland. One of the Jewish residents told us that ten years ago it was a cultured place, but today it is impossible to go out to the streets. Physical desires have an expression in every place — on the cell phone and public advertisements, and even the blinking lights of our neighborhoods. Today, there is no need to import it from outside; unfortunately, we have enough of the homemade product!

I want to point out another enemy, a new malady that is unconnected to what has been mentioned. This enemy is called confusion. Besides guarding a child from influence from the outside world, we have to build him up with a derech, with a path that rises to the House of G-d. This is a very difficult task in a period that Chazal welcomed but preferred to miss for themselves: "Let it come but may I not see it." The confusion has a progressively greater grip.

I feel that in earlier times everything was black and white. But today it is all mixed up. This one is against that one, this fights with that one, this one contradicts that one. We know that it is not true, and that it only seems that way — and I stress that it only seems that way — but it is expressed in all areas of life. We, as adults, have to know that we may be speaking about "news," but for the child it is a world that is continuously being filled with darkness!

This problem is unconnected to the topic of desires we mentioned. A child can grow up chareidi, frum, keeping everything — and yet confused! This is a new enemy, an enemy that we in the Torah institutions have to decide how we are going to battle.

Rav Luria: With our great sins, the enemy from yesterday has not disappeared. Rather, he has grown and reached awesome proportions. Every trip from our sheltered environments — even the ride to the talmud Torah in a bus — involves dangers that we must be aware of. Every radio program that is played there is full of ugliness and corruption, and the other programs a child may be exposed to are worse. They make friends with the driver, or they see groups of aimless youths on the sidewalks — and all this is on one short trip.

We have to pay attention to what the child is likely to encounter and to protect him in every possible way. The main way is to invest in his chinuch about guarding the eyes and keeping away from any foreign influences, and at the same time to implant in him the desire to fulfill "and you shall speak of them while you walk on the way," that is, to learn and look into the holy Torah on the way.

Everything we have mentioned concerns turning away from evil. But there is no doubt that one of the enemies of our generation is superficiality, shallowness. Maran HaChofetz Chaim used to say: "When a Jew makes the brochoh in the morning `For not having made me a gentile,' he should ask himself if he is really a Jew with all of his being. Is his brain a Jewish brain with pure thoughts? Are his opinions made of good outlooks? Every step and every movement of the hand needs a reckoning."

We have to pay attention very much to this matter of bringing a Jewish spirit into each and every limb.

Rav Ziat: The dangers are indeed great, as we have mentioned here, but we must remember that young people of every generation have always been exposed to dangers, and the yetzer hora changes his guise. The greatest danger in our generation is the home's weakness. In the not distant past, chinuch in the home was very strong. Parents knew exactly what they wanted and they used their intellect to educate and pass the message on clearly to their children.

The parents should supervise everything their children do. Similarly, they must know who their friends are, where he or she goes and where he or she plays. A child must not run around without the knowledge of his parents, whether it is in the street, stores, or with friends. In my opinion, a normal child feels good with this kind of supervision, even if it limits him sometimes, because he grows up with the feeling that a warm, caring home is behind him. A home such as this prevents the problems and complications that lie in wait for the child's soul.

The greatest danger is when there is a lack of supervision, and it seems there is a weakness in some homes in this area. This exposes the child to the street and all the problems we mentioned before. There could be any number of reasons that cause a lack of supervision of the children: Burdens, lack of free time, weakness of the parents' authority, confused parents who do not know how to act, or make a philosophy out of being permissive. In any case, we have to remember that this is the greatest danger.

Rav Kugler: It is important to emphasize that the yetzer hora wears a different costume in every generation, and so it will be in the future! The works of mussar do not focus on any particular yetzer hora. Rather, they address the issue generally. If we concentrate on the present yetzer hora, where will they draw strength for the yetzer hora of the next generation? Our message must be clear: There is a yetzer hora! "I created the yetzer hora and I created the Torah as an antidote" (Kiddushin 30a). Our emphasis must be on the sweetness of the antidote, that Torah should be desirous, pleasant and joyous.


There is another ingredient; an enemy that is not so well known — and that is music. Is there someone who has an opinion on that? I had a conversation with the famous musician Rabbi Abish Brodt in the United States who works on the painful problem of youth dropping out of the educational framework, besides his heartfelt niggunim. He said that the spiritual breakdown of these youths often begins from what is known as "chassidic" music, which breaks down the barriers and brings the youth closer to the street.

Rav Ziat: Music certainly has great influence. Unsuitable types of songs, even if they are "chassidic," or singers who were far from Torah and came closer or the opposite, G-d forbid, or melodies that are influenced by the street—all these certainly contribute to breaking down the barrier between us and the street. These songs darken and cloud the sensitivity of a ben Torah, to the point where the children lose their aspiration to grow as a true ben Torah.

The talmud Torah's administration, together with the educators, could have good results in this matter with a bit of investment. There was a period when the rabbonim were not pleased with the orchestras at weddings because of the type of songs and dancing. A number of yeshivos decided to fight for their soul, and decided that no one may order a band that creates an unacceptable atmosphere. Rather, only a band that keeps to the boundaries of good taste in Jewish music. Nowadays, one can figure out what yeshiva the chosson learns in according to the band that plays at the wedding. In a similar way the talmudei Torah could take action and bring good results with a small amount of investment.

Rav Kook: Music is another aspect of the wave of desires we mentioned before, and it certainly has a strong influence. How music affects a person is another topic altogether, but there is no question that it is the "final hammer blow" in the process of a child's ruination.


We all are witnesses to the decline of the generations, or unfortunately, the fall of the generations. How does the generational decline affect melamdim, teachers? The decline is likely to be expressed not only in the children's level but also in the level of the educators; from this perspective the educators of the past generations must have been giants...

Rav Munk: Melamdim today are very good and wonderful but they are more teachers (morim) than melamdim. Once, melamdim received a very low salary. I have a number of books filled with appreciation for melamdim, some of them from our people and some of them from those who once learned Torah and rejected it. In any case, the melamdim were not appreciated because of their low salary. There were humiliated because people did not respect someone who earned less, not because they were not good melamdim.

They worked from morning until night, some of them far away from their homes. They worked with tremendous self-sacrifice and created talmidei chachomim. There are not many of these types of melamdim who do not watch the clock anymore. As is known, Maran HaChazon Ish was concerned that melamdim would turn into teachers when Chinuch Atzmai was founded.

Rav Luria: I once heard in the name of the Nesivos Shalom zt'l who said that a educator has to know that Divine Providence placed him in the position to educate the future generation, who are pure from sin. If they receive the proper education they are capable of becoming gedolei Torah who will enlighten the eyes of Yisroel. Every educator must feel this heavy responsibility and he must know that any cheapening of his duties is a perversion that cannot be repaired.

The melamed has a role that one must think about when he is occupied with it and when he is not occupied with it. If not, he could be "as one who does the work of Hashem dishonestly." One must firmly believe that he is a messenger, and not just a professional. This attitude is seen clearly in the results.

The Nesivos Shalom told about melamdim of the previous generation, special Jews whose lips moved in every spare moment with the words: "I shall place Hashem before me always" (Shivissi Hashem . . . ) or they repeated the Thirteen Principles of Faith, or the like. The community expressed their appreciation of their high status by choosing a melamed to be the chazon on erev Shabbos.

The conditions may have changed, but it is still a holy work. Our obligation is to arouse the feelings for the love of mitzvos at every age and level, and to open the children's minds and hearts to holy feelings.

Rav Kugler: I feel the question about the generational decline among the melamdim is invalid for three reasons: 1) We should not discuss here the generational decline of melamdim unless we are prepared to discuss the decline of menahalim as well. 2) We should not discuss the generational decline of educators in the public eye, in a newspaper, where the students will also have access to it. 3) If we determine and print in the newspaper that there is a reality to this idea of a generational decline amongst the educators, we will be causing shame even to those educators who were never afflicted with any generational decline, and they are likely to think that we intended them as well.

Actually, there are areas where the generation has improved and there is a generational elevation in these areas. For example, in the area of diagnosis of learning disabilities there has been improvement, applying the principles of "from all of my teachers I learned and from my students more than anyone else," and "wisdom exists by the gentiles." Our generation also merited that the possibilities of communication have increased and now many things have become public knowledge that were once only known to a privileged few.

We have to remember that in the past many were victims of ignorance, even though the melamdim were holy and splendorous figures. We can only praise our generation's melamdim who are saving hundreds of students from a life of failure in the spiritual and material realms.


The discussion erupts into a hearty debate amongst the menahalim about the level of today's educators compared to the past. We listen and take notes:

Rav Karelenstein: I ask the opposite question; isn't today's melamed on a higher level than ten years ago?

Rav Munk: I do not know if it is possible to make any general rules. We know today and we knew in the past of Jews who were talmidei chachomim who were melamdim, such as Rebbe Yisroel Zalushinsky zt'l and ylct'a Rebbe Shaul Kravitz and Rebbe Moshe Turk.

Rav Luria: Once there were melamdim on the level of roshei yeshivos who taught in a cheder. Today there is no such thing.

Rav Munk strengthens his point: Chinuch Atzmai once had a staff of outstanding talmidei chachomim who had no other interest in the world besides Torah. Today, an avreich on such a level would never dream of being a melamed; an offer such as this would be a disgrace in his eyes.

Rav Karelenstein: This is true regarding the level of learning. But in any case, today there are talmidei chachomim who have entered the field of chinuch and they are contributing greatly. I began to work in the field of chinuch 52 years ago. Then, it was very difficult to find melamdim. Today there are more and more important avreichim who are turning in this direction. I agree there was a sharp decline from 52 years ago to about ten years ago, but in the last ten years there has been an upward trend.

A number of retired melamdim who once taught for us can be found today learning enthusiastically like yeshiva bochurim. Of course, this is something special that was in the past, but if you will come into a classroom today during the 10:00 a.m. break you will find melamdim discussing Torah, learning without interruption.

Rav Kook: In fact, in recent years awesome talents, which we did not have in the past, have reached the chadorim. There has been a revolution in Jerusalem that is in large due to the merit of Rav Kugler.

Rav Karelenstein continues: If it is possible to point to a specific decline in the educator it would not be in the level of learning. Rather, the decline would be in the educational approach, in the willingness and motivation to invest time, in a word: the heart. Here there is a decline but at the same time there is an inclination in a positive direction.

Rav Munk requests to strengthen the words with a story: Maran HaRav of Ponovezh ztvk'l used to claim that there was more Torah today in Israel than in chutz la'aretz, but Maran HaRav Shach ztvk'l used to claim that the heart was lacking today. Maran HaRav Shach told us the story about Maran HaRav Yitzchok Elchonon of Kovno ztvk'l who rested once in Slobodka. Slobodka was a small neighborhood outside of Kovno, separated from it by a river. Suddenly, an urgent letter arrived in Kovno from Rebbi Yitzchok Elchonon in which he requested that they should feed the cat he was accustomed to feed every morning. This is humanity! Mentchlichkeit — this is what there once was and we do not see so much today.

Rav Ziat gives another perspective: Maran HaChazon Ish ztvk'l used to say that you can influence others only when you fill your cup to the brim with goodness, and then when it overflows you can influence others. A man who is full of yiras Shomayim and the love of Torah will have much greater influence on his charges, that is clear.

In fact, lately there has been progress in the pedagogical approach and there is an overall improvement in the educational system with regard to the melamdim's approach to students' problems. Institutions and organizations have been established, and their activities assist in the diagnosis of learning difficulties and behavioral problems. They have developed methods of dealing with the problems.

But this is not the main thing. In the past, melamdim who were yirei Shomayim and devoted to their task were much more successful with the bit of life wisdom they were endowed with, and they had excellent results.

It could very well be that the development of these methods comes as a reaction to the situation in the educational system where a portion of the melamdim did not have the correct approach. For example, they may have been too strict in their relationship to the students, or they may have had a lack of understanding of how to deal with behavioral problems and learning disabilities. Therefore, we have to be thankful for all those involved in making progress in improving the methodology and educational approach.

However, the main success in the past, the present, and the future depends on the melamed's heart, his devotion and his love of his students. It was told about HaRav Moshe Tikutczinsky zt'l, the mashgiach of Yeshivas Slobodka, who asked Maran HaRav Yechezkel Sarna ztvk'l if he should learn psychology to assist in his role as mashgiach. Rebbi Yechezkel asked him, "Do you love your students?" When he answered that he did, Rebbi Yechezkel told him he had no need for all this. "If you love your students you will be successful!"

The heart speaks to the students, and this is a reality that is proven in the field.

I think there was a period where the incorrect approach to chinuch was used, for instance, concerning strictness and the like. There was an insufficiently proper approach from some of the melamdim and today there is an attempt to correct this. However, as far as the heart is concerned, it is clear that in the earlier generations everything was different. It was a much better situation.

Rav Luria: There will no doubt be those who claim that the pedagogical approach of melamdim today is improved due to the many hours of classroom instruction and teacher training they receive. But it is well known, with all due respect for the professional approach, that a melamed whose heart is aflame with the love of G-d, who speaks in a refined way (without any slang expressions), who is exact in halochos, and whose prayer and behavior testifies about his real yiras Shomayim, is immeasurably more powerful in influencing his students than the expert teacher who has a to'ar (degree), but is not tahor (pure).


Let us assume that the salaries could be doubled, wouldn't the talmudei Torah be able to attain melamdim twice as good?

Rav Munk: Someone who does not enjoy the work will not become more devoted, no matter how much money you give him. I have not seen that institutions that paid higher salaries had better teachers. Maybe this is a question of taste, but I believe they did not.

Rav Karelenstein: Thirty or forty years ago there were periods where melamdim did not receive any salary for six or eight months, but nothing would deter them from the quality of the chinuch they gave to their students.

Rav Luria: "Melamed" has to be the very nature of the man. If he is a good melamed he will be highly devoted even if he earns little. HaRav Shimshon Pincus zt'l told the story about Rebbi Yaakov Yosef Herman zt'l who served as a melamed for decades in the United States. At his funeral, his son told that he had once asked his father why he fasted for so many years from morning until evening.

Rabbi Yaakov Yosef answered based on the gemora that told of Rebbi Chiya who first planted flax, made nets from the flax, and trapped deer in order to make parchment. On the parchment he wrote the chamishoh Chumshei Torah and the six orders of the mishnah to teach children (Bava Metzia 85b). It has been explained that Rebbi Chiya wanted all the preparations for teaching children to be completely in holiness and purity from the start.

"When I teach Jewish children," explained Rebbi Yaakov Yosef, "I am like the parchment. The children learn from me, and therefore I must be holy and pure."

Since his wife was not happy with his fasts, Maran HaChofetz Chaim zy'a was asked for a ruling, and the Chofetz Chaim agreed with his path.

Rav Kugler: Regarding teacher's salaries, it is important to emphasize that anyone who sits in a classroom knows that his work requires great effort and sometimes even drains all one's strength. It is work without rest, and they must be continuously alert, every day, every hour. There are no vacation days; the intersession is shorter than in yeshivos, kollelim, or schools. They have to miss the simchas of even the closest relatives, such as going to the bris of nephews (which is not prevalent in kollelim).

We are obligated to give them as much as possible, especially since this expense is for the most important function there is! We have to remember that we are speaking of a vitally necessary expense and so parents should be prepared to give willingly, in joy.


The reality today is that the street has come to us; we are in the street and the street is with us. How can we make a separation? Have you given thought to that?

Rav Ziat: Maran HaChofetz Chaim said that darkness could not be driven away with sticks. Rather, it needs light. Children lack aspiration and a good taste from their learning today. In my opinion, we must set goals for the children that will provide them with satisfaction, goals that can be translated into action and will get them involved, such as learning mishnayos or the gemoras shakla vetaryo, by heart, and similar ideas. Certainly, this light will push away a lot of darkness.

Another point is to create a feeling of Jewish pride in the child, so that the child will walk with an elevated feeling of joy and happiness, compared to those who have not merited a Torah chinuch. This is as the verse says: "And he shall lift his heart in the ways of Hashem." If so, the street will not attract the child.

But if his father travels to Switzerland the child will also want to.

Rav Munk: Not many travel to Switzerland.

Rav Ziat: True, but there are other things that everyone has. For example, a child comes home and he finds the local newspapers that are distributed for free. These fill his entire head; it is very hard to find a child today whose head is clear.

If we make more goals in a way that arouses kinas sofrim, envy of scholars, such as learning by heart or preparing a small Torah discourse, I think this can dispel a lot of the darkness. When a child occupies himself in learning the fact is that his mind changes.


Maybe this is a question of chutzpah, but is it possible that in a certain measure we have missed the boat?

Rav Ziat: I think not. In our talmud Torah we have begun to invest a lot in this direction and we see a great blessing from it. Children are very involved in their learning. There was one boy with difficult behavior who changed his complete nature, his entire spiritual content, due to this encouragement. I agree that we have to know what the problems are in order to know our enemy, but what served us in the past was that children were occupied in learning Torah, and if we strengthen this we will certainly see results.

Rav Munk: But how is this done?

Rav Ziat: We have tools. The melamdim and the menahalim can create different types of motivation, which are not for the sake of Heaven, and will lead to the proper motivation. It could be encouragement with prizes, or status and honor that creates kinas sofrim.

Rav Munk: But there are still the newspapers, the news, and a thousand and one things. What can we do to overcome these? I cannot prevent this from penetrating. What can we do to strengthen the influence of learning Torah, as you said.

Rav Kugler: The boat has been sailing in this way for many years. There are those who missed the boat, and the Sages said in regard to this: "Kinas sofrim increases wisdom" (Bava Basra 21a). This applies equally to students and to the administrations of talmudei Torah. The method of using prizes is proven clearly, and is a permanent part of the picture, not an idea that comes and goes.


Bnei Brak is a city of scribes and book stores. Today we see more and more clothing stores, falafel, and lately pizza. The child sees it all. How can we cause him to want to only learn Torah?

Rav Kugler: There is much more learning, but there is a problem of cooling off. The coolness penetrates. In the cheder we try to keep the old guard, and it is one of the few places where we simply try to keep things the way they used to be, as much as possible.

There is the problem of "emes," though; we have to act with truth, and not just speak truth.

It used to be that a very frum person tried not to display his frumkeit; today it is the opposite. This is very extreme, but the children absorb this! Today there is much knowledge, and a desire to know more and more pages of gemora, but we see less and less that the Torah builds the inner world of the student.

The preparation for this comes from the holy Yeshivos that build the student's personality over the course of years, and not from a course with a certificate. We have to check carefully before we hire a melamed, far more than the model lesson. We have to check on the root of the melamed's personality and behavior.

Rav Kook: As Rav Kugler mentioned, we have to see to it that the melamed radiates true inner truth. This means we should take a melamed and prepare him with a number of years of learning, as the Levites prepared themselves before their work in the Beis Hamikdosh.

This type of melamed could truly fight against the following phenomenon: Today we do not need to import any problems from the outside. There is a pride in being a ben Torah, but there are many problems within the community. The battle against cell phones is within the Torah world, and who are the consumers of wedding music? I do not intend to generalize about everyone, G-d forbid, but HaRav Shlomo Wolbe zt'l used to say: "I am not talking about the street, I am talking about the street inside the yeshiva!"

This "street" is the consumers of the cell phones, ties, and media. The external street has acquired a place amongst the youth. This does not find expression in childhood, but afterwards it comes out. Here is where we can confess about the mistake we have made. I want to ask: If the child sees the melamed playing with his cell phone, his beeper, and his lap top computer, can we expect the child to be holding in learning?

Rav Luria: To tell the truth, I hear all the talk here but I do not see that the situation is so black. Maybe it does not fit so well with all that we have heard here, but, boruch Hashem, I see children coming out from the Talmud Torah and growing up to be bochurei yeshivos.


We are not speaking about any specific Talmud Torah that chooses only from a quality population. We are speaking about all of them.

Rav Munk: All over Bnei Brak there are children who finish the six orders of the Mishnah in one year, and there are many other frameworks and chevros. This is a wonderful situation, and we cannot ignore it. There are points we have to think about and discuss, but there are wonderful things that we did not have in the past and we cannot ignore them.

Rav Karelenstein: I agree with what Rav Luria said earlier that today's situation is that the children are learning well. Children in the upper grades even continue after the end of the day's learning to learn in other frameworks. During Shabbos they may learn up to six or seven hours!

On the other hand, we have to be careful not to cause a breakdown amongst the children, especially amongst weaker students, who cannot attain high achievements. We have to build up their self-esteem so that they will not be harmed, because a low self-image is one of the greatest dangers to a child. My question is: Maybe the large amount of hasmodoh, continuous learning, is part of the problem? Maybe it will burst out in the future because the child did not satisfy himself in his childhood? One of the big principles in education is that a child has to satisfy his childish nature in play.

Rav Luria: Children have their childish satisfactions. I remember from my childhood when we lived in the neighborhood of Maran HaRav Shach. When we were let out of the talmud Torah early on Rosh Chodesh, he would meet us next to the neighborhood beis haknesses and make us happy by playing all kinds of childish games with us.

End of Part I


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.