Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

5 Iyar 5762 - April 17, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Preserving The Integrity Of Bais Yaakov

by HaRav Tzvi Cohen, Coordinator of the Rabbinical Committee for Beis Yaakov Seminars and Additional Study Programs

Why the Protest?

At the massive gathering of all the seminary students in Yerushalayim that was held on the last day of the shiv'oh for HaRav Shach zt'l, HaRav Yosef Efrati ylct'a, announced in HaRav Eliashiv's name that no changes should be made in the running of the Bais Yaakov seminaries and that the structure that was established by gedolei Torah when Bais Yaakov was founded, should remain.

At a gathering for Bais Yaakov students that was held recently in Bnei Brak, HaRav Aviezer Piltz delivered a similar message in HaRav Eliashiv's name. At the same meeting, HaRav Michel Yehudah Lefkovitz expressed his opposition, in a letter, to the changes that are being proposed.

These calls have prompted many concerned parents to ask what the hue and cry is about. Surely hitherto, a Bais Yaakov education has always been one of holiness and purity, without any foreign influences.

In order to provide a response to this question, I have been asked to briefly explain Rav Eliashiv's fears, with which I am familiar by virtue of the mission that he entrusted to me, namely, to serve as the coordinator of the Rabbinical Committee for these matters. (Although the entire subject requires fuller treatment, which will be forthcoming, an essential explanation is important at the present time, especially in the light of the call of the gedolim to take action in order to prevent any breach.)

The Ministry's Agenda

The Ministry of Education, which is the arm of the irreligious regime for dealing with all educational affairs, is also in charge of our educational institutions. However, according to our leaders' instructions we are vigilant in maintaining full educational autonomy, so that no outside influences affect the content [of our programs] or the structure of our schools. We must never forget though, that among those in power are parties whose stated objective is to put an end to Bais Yaakov's uniqueness. (And unfortunately, there are serious grounds for fearing that these arguments have been accepted to a degree and that they are liable to infiltrate our institutions.)

Officially, these attempts are presented as "professional" arguments and demands for "criteria of equality." They argue that one cannot recognize a certain type of educational institution as being on a par with all others when the teaching and tuition in the latter are on a "higher" level. They therefore demand that there be equality between all institutions. Anyone with a little insight can see the struggle between purity and impurity taking place behind this facade. What they want is to uproot Bais Yaakov's purity and holiness.

They are not trying to achieve their ends by open defilement of our educational system, for they know that by using such methods they will not succeed. Instead, they work cleverly and insidiously.

The Ministry of Education is supposedly concerned that the level of the studies in Bais Yaakov should be sufficiently high. In their opinion, high school studies should be oriented towards the students taking [finishing] exams on a high and at a suitable general level. The students ought to invest such time and effort into their studies that they may thereby attain certain minimal accomplishments and general knowledge that are required of any intelligent modern woman. They employ all the means at their disposal in order to attain these objectives. We must be aware of this, for every little erosion they succeed in making leaves a hole, with unforeseeable consequences for the future.

Pressure to Adopt Bagrut

For example, when the argument that the Bais Yaakov External (Chutzim) exams, which are prepared for the network by Marvad (the Bais Yaakov-Szold Examination Center), are not on a sufficiently high level was voiced to the Education Ministry, they immediately saw an opportunity for introducing "enlightenment" into the schools. They deducted the wages of the teachers who prepare the students for these exams and of the teachers who grade them from the Bais Yaakov budget, arguing that the funds are only earmarked for the Bagrut finals of the general school system!

We must realize that gedolei Yisroel view the Bagrut exams as posing grave danger for the spiritual welfare of Bais Yaakov students, for two reasons. First, passing these exams enables students to progress to forbidden places of study or work such as universities, which will not accept applicants who do not have Bagrut. Second, taking the examinations allows the Ministry of Education control over the programs of study in preparation for them, with the obvious dangers that this entails.

These budget cuts were a trial for the Bais Yaakov institutions. The additional earnings from work associated with the External examinations made a significant difference to many teachers' monthly wages and the Ministry's move made many principals consider switching to Bagrut exams. This proposition was also considered by the Education Ministry.

Although on the whole, government bodies are not known for their generosity towards the chareidi community, and they are on the lookout for opportunities to make cuts and reductions, in this instance they were prepared to finance such exams, provided that they would be organized by a special department of the Education Ministry, namely, "Bagrut for Chareidim."

Though they promised that the exams would not lead to any changes in the programs of study, in who prepares them or in who grades them, it was clear that once all the examinations would come under their direct control, there would be no long- term guarantee of freedom from tampering. At a time when all sorts of budgetary cuts are being made, nobody looks for additional expenses. Indeed, at a preparatory meeting held by the Education Ministry to discuss the proposal, there was already talk of the need to make changes in the English exams. Who knows how such a process might end?

We remember that HaRav Shach fought determinedly against all Bagrut studies. It is well known that at a meeting of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah on the eighteenth of Sivan 5729 (1969), a clear and unambiguous resolution was passed not to introduce the program of Bagrut studies into Bais Yaakov. In Sivan 5748 (1988), a letter signed by HaRav Shach, the Gerrer Rebbe (the Lev Simchah) zt'l, the Slonimer Rebbe zt'l and ylct'a the Vishnitzer Rebbe, declared, "We hereby express our Torah opinion that the decision of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah of the eighteenth of Sivan 5729 forbidding the introduction of Bagrut examinations into Bais Yaakov seminaries, remains in force."

How Long to Train a Teacher?

An additional cause for concern are the small breaches that have already been made, that can lead to wider ones. The Education Ministry has introduced a four-year course of studies into its teacher training colleges and does not allow anyone to teach without a B.A. degree. For years, the Ministry claimed that the level of teaching in Bais Yaakov was low and that it was impossible for the Bais Yaakov graduates, or anyone else, to become teachers by spending just one extra year in preparation after the four years of high school. They succeeded in making a second post-high school year mandatory.

We can appreciate the gravity of Chazal's admonition about listening to the yetzer hora: "Today he tells a person, `Do this' [a `slight' transgression] and tomorrow he says, `Do that' [something much more serious]." We must guard against any further changes.

After the authorities had managed to introduce the second post-high school year, the gedolim of the time, led by HaRav Aharon Kotler zt'l, told the seminary principals that even though a second year had been agreed to -- to their great regret -- without asking them at all, if the idea of a third year were to be proposed and accepted, the rabbonim would fight it publicly.

The gedolei haTorah saw then and see today, that such an idea holds many dangers to the establishment of new Jewish homes. One problem is that it would cause girls to marry later.

Another objection is that it would mean devoting time unnecessarily to studying for the sake of studying, as the universities do. This in turn would create a need for filling the extra time with new study programs that would introduce modern learning, which banishes yiras Shomayim. All the studies that are truly necessary for training to teach Jewish daughters are already provided.

At present, all the gedolei Torah are united in their strong opposition to the introduction of a third post-high school year. The Education Ministry is trying its hardest to have the measure adopted by withholding certification from the new seminaries that are opening at an increasing rate, besiyaata deShmaya. They refuse to approve a seminary that does not have a third year and will not issue its graduates teaching certificates. They are also threatening to withhold funding.

Higher Teachers' Qualifications

The Ministry fights Bais Yaakov in another way. Graduates of the two-year post-high school teachers' training program can only teach in elementary schools (this includes graduates of old, established and fully certified seminaries). In order to teach in the high school grades, a Senior Teacher's certificate is necessary. In other words, further study is needed, which amounts to the third year which the ministry is trying to introduce. However, since the gedolim oppose this, the students cover these studies by taking one of the Additional Study Programs. Usually these involve a broad range of topics which the gedolim have also forbidden, stating that in the absence of a permanent supervisory system, the introduction of undesirable study programs or material is inevitable.

In order to teach in post-high school grades, a qualification that is the equivalent of a B.A. is necessary. In order to obtain such qualification, the graduate must study for four or five years and hear lectures delivered by speakers who have doctorates, or an MA. at the very least. Where these speakers obtained their education and their qualifications is obvious -- and as we know, the products of an unclean animal are also unclean.

This is how modern learning finds its way into Bais Yaakov, not through the back door but by the main entrance. The ministry will not approve a principal's salary budget for any teachers lacking these qualifications. This is a very short step away from forcing the principals to accede to their demands.

A Slippery Slope

With university style learning and ideas and ambitions for further education already squarely inside the system, the two existing post-high school grades now offer various specialized courses. These are purportedly on a higher level and are of assistance in securing jobs, just as in the universities. These courses are taught by university graduates, and include assorted topics that are very risky for the spiritual welfare of a Bais Yaakov student.

This is what has lain behind Rav Eliashiv's frequent outcries during the past two years. Parents ought to be aware for example, that in some seminaries, students of computer engineering are connected to various Internet sites. Even linking up with a harmless site is terrible, for it establishes a connection with the source of impurity and evil.

There are also seminaries that work together with external academic programs that provide professional training for the chareidi community. These programs are supposedly under rabbinical supervision but the fact is that there is no supervision over the yiras Shomayim and terrible mishaps have already taken place.

The community should also be aware that there are seminaries that offer specialized courses in biology, history and the like, at high levels, because of competition. To teach these subjects, they bring in teachers who obtained their knowledge in university. Although these women are observant, they imbue their students with ambitions for education and for further connection to the sources of impurity. Rav Eliashiv has been protesting all of this.

Let Us Decide!

This article has dealt very briefly with several major areas of concern. There are many, many more nuances involved in training young Jewish daughters, who are on their way to setting up Jewish homes. Not all of the students can appreciate where the damage lies but we must follow the directives of the gedolei Yisroel.

We must certainly say to the Education Ministry: Leave us alone and grant us full educational autonomy. Let us determine the structure and the framework within which the future teachers of our daughters will be trained and within which tomorrow's Jewish homes will be fashioned.

We are the only ones who know how to convey Torah education. Outside parties do not comprehend it at all. They judge it according to their own narrow views, that are accustomed to a completely different type of educational system, which we distance ourselves from all contact with. Our Torah leaders, and they alone, will determine the style of the learning, the number of years, who will convey the material, what image the teachers ought to project, how the desirable level of studies and training is to be fixed and what the programs of study ought to be. We will determine everything ourselves, from within.

Everybody understands that a rosh yeshiva, a mashgiach or a maggid shiur, don't obtain their positions according to how well they meet the criteria of the Ministry of Education. Neither should a teacher of girls have to meet the ministry's criteria before she can obtain a job.

Fulfilling the instructions of gedolei Yisroel alone is all important. If we insist on this, we will be able to uproot the ideas of connecting ourselves to the world of academic learning that have begun to take root. We will be able to return to learning in purity and providing a Torah education in a framework of holiness and yiras Shomayim, in keeping with the true Bais Yaakov spirit.

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