Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

4 Nissan 5761 - March 28, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Thoughts About Yeshiva Dropouts

By HaRav Moshe Goldstein

The education of the younger generation has been a fundamental objective of the Jewish nation ever since its inception. "That he may command his children and his household after him." The transmission of Judaism's message to the next generation has always been one of its central characteristics. In fact it constitutes the very pulse of our nation, and if something goes awry with this age-old inter- generational process, it is a danger signal for the whole of Klal Yisroel. The gedolim have always been the trustees in charge of preserving the integrity of the nation's education.

There is no truth in the current opinion that the problem of "dropouts" (known as "noshrim" in Eretz Yisroel) from educational institutions has only arisen in recent years. The media's obsessive interest in this issue is just one more example of the harm they do, even if it is couched in terms of "concern for the Yeshiva world" and discussed in the "chareidi" press.

I have the impression that all the irresponsible discussions about this topic on inappropriate occasions are only meant to soothe the public's conscience, which wants a fundamental, effective and quiet solution to this painful problem. People pay lip-service to the issue, without offering any practical solution. Sometimes, you could even be forgiven for suspecting that some people derive a certain masochistic and perhaps financial enjoyment from discussing these disturbing matters.

Although it must be obvious to all of us that this is not the right forum for solving these problems, we have a duty to point out some damaging tendencies which may magnify those problems substantially, due to carelessness. As Chazal put it, "Make sure not to spoil and ruin My world." I have come today with more criticism than solutions, but my purpose is constructive and not merely to make demagogic statements.

Two unfortunate phenomena, which cannot be overlooked, have reared their heads recently as a result of the "dropouts." First, we have been witnessing the infiltration into the chareidi home of non-Jewish values through the back door. People with a twisted outlook have been trying to tempt us to participate in "lectures" with "academic" titles relating to education. The lecturers are quite unqualified for their task. At best, these "lectures" use quasi-philosophical material, taken haphazardly from popular non-Jewish "scientific magazines."

Often these sources are infected with old-time apikorsus a-la "what do the rabbis know anyway, let them stick to their religious chores." The transition from Torah shiurim given by rabbonim and roshei yeshivos to "lectures" by people lacking a Torah background, is a very dangerous one, quite apart from the sheer stupidity of it all.

In parentheses, let me say the following: someone in the audience objected to my use of the word "stupidity" and the implied disparagement of non-Jewish wisdom. My answer is that my use of the word is no coincidence or slip of the tongue, it is premeditated! Non-Jewish "haskolo" claims that it aims to map out and describe the workings of the soul, but a close analysis of this "scientific" method reveals that its real aim is to limit man's responsibilities in this world, and to find empty excuses for their deficiencies. This attitude contradicts one of the fundamentals of our belief, contained in the Torah: that every person has absolute free will, as it says, "I set before you today etc."

This is the way the Rambam puts it in the fifth chapter of Hilchos Teshuvoh, "Every person is faced with a choice: he can choose the good path and become righteous or the bad path and become evil, it is up to him. Do not pay any attention to the stupidities of non-Jewish fools, as well as the majority of the ignorant amongst the Jews, to the effect that Hakodosh Boruch Hu decrees on man when he is first created whether he shall be righteous or evil. This is not so: every person has the potential to be righteous or evil, wise or foolish."

He goes on to berate the "inventions of foolish astrologers." It is well-known that the Rambam was very particular in his use of language and we must try to understand his choice of words in this context.

We can understand the Rambam by citing the Maharam Meir Rottenburg who was asked while in prison about the contradiction on the one hand between the Rambam cited above about each person having free choice whether to be a wise man or a fool and the gemora on the other hand which states that Hakodosh Boruch Hu decrees who is to be wise and who foolish. His famous reply was that a person's abilities are decreed from above, but he has the choice of whether to stick to foolishness.

In other words, the capacity of a person's mind is beyond his control, but it is in the hands of each of us to decide whether to learn from others or not. Foolish people think that a person's abilities and tendencies are fixed absolutely in advance, without being aware that such a view is foolish. If they were smart, they would learn from others that everybody has free choice to choose the path of wisdom. This point is self-explanatory for anyone with some understanding of this topic.

Then there is another matter which we must mention. This is the phenomenon of people not immersed in the Torah world offering "advice" to roshei yeshivos about youngsters who have gone off the path. From this platform I wish to make a strenuous protest against this development, which smacks of chutzpah and apikorsus. A person who had not learned in yeshivos since his youth was disqualified by the Chazon Ish from being a member of a yeshiva's administrative staff. How then, can we permit a young man to get up in public and hand out advice to the heads of our holy yeshivos. This is unheard of!

The fact that people do not seem too perturbed by this, means that we have to reiterate the principle of absolute respect for and obedience to daas Torah. I once heard from my late father zt"l (who was not one to preach, except by his own personal example: his whole life was a symbol of unquestioning obedience to daas Torah) that when it says that a person is not allowed to get angry, this refers not only to a situation where there is no reason to be angry; but even to one where his anger seems totally justified: there is still an absolute prohibition to become angry.

Similarly, when we talk about the duty to obey daas Torah, this does not only apply to cases where the person himself realizes that this is daas Torah, but also, and perhaps especially, to situations where the real daas Torah is not the same as our way of thinking. Even then are we obliged to listen to our gedolim!

These points should be plainly obvious, but just because they are so well-known, they tend to be forgotten easily. To clarify the point further, I would add the following. We are all familiar with Chazal's phrase, "If you have toiled and found [success], [you can] believe it." The deeper explanation of this statement is that although on the one hand anyone toiling in Torah is assured of success in his studies, there is no automatic connection between the degree of toiling and the level of success: the quantity and quality of one's achievements in Torah is a matter of Metzia, a kind of gift, not necessarily related to the amount of effort that has been invested. It is clearly impossible to predict the value of the Metzia just based on the amount of time you have spent toiling in Torah.

If you go into it carefully, you will discover that this point is included in Chazal's other statement that "you cannot compare someone who has reviewed his learning a hundred times with a person who has reviewed his learning a hundred and one times."

Those who consider themselves bnei Torah should be the first to realize that they are incapable of attaining daas Torah on their own, and are obliged to set aside their own views in favor of those of the gedolim.

Yes, I have heard those who make the impudent claim that there is a lack of attention and warmth in the yeshivos. Every Tom, Dick and Harry is starting to point fingers at the administrators of Torah institutions. Let me make my position quite clear: If these lightheaded people would be put in charge of educating our youngsters on a day-to-day level, they would have no more success -- not even regarding minor matters.

Apart from the fallacy of the substance of their arguments, we must not delude ourselves: these people, in their foolishness, are attempting to attack the heart of the Jewish world, and to damage the whole yeshiva world, all for the sake of a small group of misguided youngsters. About this situation, we are obliged to say, "Let Shlomo and a thousand like him be nullified, but let not one letter of the Torah be nullified."

We have already said that this is not an appropriate platform for offering practical solutions, but still, I would like to convey one important message: let us give strength and encouragement to the roshei hayeshivos who dedicate themselves materially and spiritually for the sake of the dissemination of Torah amongst the Jewish people. I am not referring to financial generosity, but primarily to respect for and obedience to daas Torah, both of which have been honorably displayed at this conference. Only that way will we be successful in expanding the borders of kedushoh, and drawing the sons' hearts closer to their Father in Heaven, until the redeemer shall come to Zion, when "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Hashem, as the waters cover the sea."

HaRav Moshe Goldstein is rosh yeshiva of Shaarei Yosher Yeshiva, Yerushalayim, a successful yeshiva for boys who were not sucessful at other yeshivas.

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