Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

20 Sivan 5764 - June 9, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
The Gaping Chasm Separating the Objectives of Chareidi and Secular Education

by Rabbi Nosson Zeev Grossman

This essay provides a concise statement of the essential approach that characterizes chareidi education and how it differs from the approach followed in Western education. It should be required reading for anyone who thinks about chareidi education, which is just about anyone reading Yated Ne'eman.


The entire spectrum of Torah education, from tinokos shel beis rabbon to avreichei kollelim, from yeshiva boys to Bais Yaakov girls, has come under attack on several fronts of late. The Education Ministry is trying to interfere with curriculum and study arrangements at talmudei Torah while tendentious criteria are formulated to harm the yeshivos kedoshos because they do not include secular studies.

Last year talmidei chachomim who devote their lives to Torah came under attack in the form of a threat to the very subsistence of avreichim when ranking Finance Ministry officials openly declared that the main intention of the biased economic decrees is to drive avreichim out into the work market. Meanwhile, there are continued attempts to alter the nature of Bais Yaakov schools and to push the seminaries toward a more academic framework.

Taken as a whole these threats that seek to destroy the basis of our existence appear to have something in common: to strike out at the most sensitive, essential spot, the heart of the lofty idea that forms the foundation for education in Torah and yiras Shomayim as passed down to us through the generations.


Over one hundred years ago, the Enlightenment Movement made its way onto the Jewish street. The leading rabbonim of the generation came out strongly against it, seeing in it a real and present danger to the existence of Klal Yisroel. The early Enlightenment figures were not porkei ol bereft of Torah. They did not promote heretical studies or a curriculum directly opposed to halochoh. Why was there such strong resistance?

The answer lies in understanding the essential difference between an education in Torah and yiras Shomayim, and a non-Jewish education. The distinction is not merely in the curriculum and the subjects studied but extends to an underlying question: What is the purpose and goal of education?

Education not founded on Jewish principles sees its entire vision in material and national objectives. From primary school through high school to university, studies at these institutions have a single purpose: striving to achieve and to accumulate scholastic knowledge to help the student improve his material life as an adult with a family, etc.

As people who live in a world of hevel vorik in which the birth of man into this world is considered purposeless and all that remains is to get through one's allotted time, as people who see themselves as the most highly cultured form of animal life, the only goal of study is to take advantage of the human mind to accumulate knowledge and skills that will make their lives easier and more pleasant. The race for a respectable, ample livelihood heads their list of goals and aspirations.

This is the goal secular and non-Jewish education aims to achieve, from first grade through college graduation.


On the other hand, traditional Jewish education guides the student, from early childhood until old age, toward the goal of the spiritual existence of a member of Am Yisroel. The opening lines of Mesillas Yeshorim speak of the primary and basic need to recognize man's obligation in the world and what his course in life will be. This is what guides Torah education.

Thus, education whose goal and purpose is merely to amass knowledge and skills for future material achievement--even if the curricular material itself does not include apostasy or contradictions to halochoh--represents the antithesis of Jewish education. This is the enormous gap between education for Torah and yiras Shomayim versus education in the spirit of the Enlightenment.


The success of chareidi education--including ethical conduct and values such as derech eretz, respect for parents and teachers and respect for other people's property--is clear to all, particularly following the studies published during the past year. The blessed fruits of the chareidi approach do not result from any specific class or study period during the course of the day, but are drawn from the essence and character of Torah education, which is designed to raise menschen, to nurture the G-dly portion from Above--the Jewish neshomoh seeking to fulfill its obligation in the world.

This is the fundamental mistake made by our wayward brothers: in light of the enormous mussar gap separating Jewish youth educated in secular schools and the pure flocks that quench their thirst at the well of Torah, the government education officials are looking for what can be "adopted" from the chareidi education system and replicated in their schools.

Likewise they and other likeminded individuals are mistaken in thinking general studies can be "integrated" into chareidi institutions "to bring students up to par" with students in the general population, based on the illusion that the level of ethical conduct and Torah can be retained along with "supplements" of this kind.

When we present them with the achievements of Torah-based education and they see with envy how parents from our camp get nachas from their well-raised children compared to the anarchy in education and the decline of youth in secular society, they start slinging mud: "Then why don't you take the `good things' we have to offer as well, and enjoy the best of both worlds? Why not integrate the two worlds? Continue passing on Torah values and Jewish ethics while providing them a full cup of general studies as well. Then your children will be chareidim, well-raised and educated (sic) too!"

But just as fire and water don't mix, so too the Torah legacy cannot be integrated with Haskoloh teachings (even if the clearly, explicitly forbidden elements are censored out). This distinction comes to us from Rabbenu Yisroel Salanter, who explained why the luminaries of the generations voiced such staunch opposition to ideas for institutions like the Beis Medrash LeRabbonim (Rabbinical Seminary).

The book Zichron Yaakov by HaRav Yaakov Lipshitz relates how when HaRav Salanter was offered the post of overseer of curriculum and study arrangements at the Beis Medrash LeRabbonim, he made haste to leave Vilna (Part I, Chap. 70).

Years later he was asked why he refused the offer so decidedly. After all, were the institution under his constant supervision he could ensure everything was run properly.

But an institution of this kind is unfit by definition, thus there is no way to rectify it.

"We can see from day-to-day experience. When a shailoh comes from a poor man, the rov quickly stops what he's doing, even interrupts a meal, exerting himself and carefully looking up the poskim in the hopes of finding a way to permit the matter the pauper is asking about. And when presented with a shailoh from a wealthy man he does not exert himself as much . . . but experience shows the opposite is true of the doctor. When the doctor is summoned to treat a rich man he rushes to him in great haste, but when asked to make a house call at the poor man's home he makes every efforts to avoid the visit . . . This would seem to be a big question for the field of psychology: Why do rabbonim love the poor and doctors the rich?

"But in my opinion it is very simple. Ever since his youth the rov learned Torah for its own sake, i.e. for the sake of knowing Torah. Therefore the Torah and Torah study have become an acquisition of his, an acquisition in his soul, and the way of Torah is to guide through natural functions, with all of the Torah's ethics and words recorded in his entire body. If it should happen that this lamdan is forced to take a rabbinical post, he would act according to his nature, based on the spirit and path of Torah, which is tzedokoh and chessed and rachamim through and through. And the pauper's regret would be much dearer to him than his own. For this is the way of Torah.

"Yet the doctor is different. He does not enroll in the university for the love of humanity and the benefit of mankind, to heal the sick and mend their troubles, etc., but to make gains through the study of this discipline, which is a `clean and easy trade,' while providing wealth and prestige as well. And since he aspires to earn a degree and reach the goal he rushes to the rich man and avoids the poor man.

"The same applies to the rabbinical seminaries, which are also directed toward a degree and the goals of the university, and talmidim enroll there as well in order to acquire a trade that provides wealth and prestige. Thus it contains two evils. For it will cause the rabbonim to love and pity only the rich while despising the poor, and this would constitute a new decree. Thus I washed my hands of this affair."


This sharp distinction is the acid test for all of the new ideas raised by various figures seeking to introduce changes in the way we educate our children and to harm our institutions.

Education toward careerism, toward knowledge and scholastic achievement whose only purpose is to smooth the path to a coveted materialistic standing the child is striving to achieve in keeping with what his teachers and schools inculcate in him from early childhood through adolescence -- this is the root of all the ailments that have been visited upon this education system, which are not by chance but are the direct consequence of shaping a world of yearning and ambitions. For career-based education and value-based education do not mix, just as fire and water do not mix.

The fundamental and constant striving for material gratification that is achieved and improved the more one studies creates, in both an overt and a subconscious manner, the jumping-off point for a life of chasing after worldly desires, crude egoism and unprincipled conduct. Lesaavoh yevakesh nifrad (Mishlei 18:1).

Our rabbonim of past generations objected to the idea of rabbinical seminaries that do not direct their scholars towards Torah lishmoh from the outset, but toward courses of study whose sole purpose is a rabbinical post and a livelihood. Essentially, it is another Technion, another institute for career training, which proclaims to the student in advance that his years of study are limited and intended to prepare him just to make money in the future. The period of study is considered as a necessary stage on the way to achieving a degree and a good job.

Therefore gedolei Yisroel voiced firm, unequivocal opposition to initiatives by various amei ha'artzos and haters of talmidei chachomim, who declared loud and proud that they will not support "the old type" of "regular" kollelim, but were willing to provide limited support on condition studies are held according to the rabbinical seminary approach, including a series of conditions that are essentially to ensure avreichim do not dedicate themselves to their studies for the sake of Torah learning alone.

According to this baalei batim approach, which fails to recognize the noble value of a life dedicated to Torah, the long-term goal is to make money and leave the kollel bench, thereby transforming Torah study into an interim stage and a means toward an end.

In a letter written in 5732 (1972) Morenu HaRav Shach writes against initiatives to alter the kollelim in order to train rabbonim and spiritual leaders, "for the kollelim have no objective other than Torah learning, just as it has always been . . . and the holy kollelim should not be even slightly changed, chas vesholom, from the way they were established by the pillars of previous generations, zechusom yogen oleinu. And anyone who endeavors to make changes will have to stand judgment and no avreich ben Torah should place himself among them, choliloh" (printed in Michtovim Umaamorim III).

Here Rabbenu teaches us what he received from his rabbonim regarding the essence of a kollel and the secret of its success and the foundation in spiritual elevation that avreichim acquire. Different kollelim are different. Some study Seder Zero'im, others Seder Moed and still others Seder Nezikin. Some use an approach of deep iyun, others stress broad knowledge of Shas and still others learn shemateso alibo dehilcheso. What all share in common is a singular goal: Torah lishmoh and self-refinement through toil in Talmud.


This approach does not apply to bnei Torah alone, but also to the way girls are educated. Our rabbonim taught us that although girls are not required to learn Torah, the goal of studies at Bais Yaakov schools is not the accumulation of general scholastic knowledge within a chareidi framework designed to provide kosher professional training, but to pass on to them emunoh and yiras Shomayim, mussar and good middos, with which to build Torah homes and prepare themselves for lives of Jewish purity. Thus, study hours devoted to acquiring a trade are subordinate to the primary objective.

But if this situation is altered and girls' schools and seminaries aim toward professional and scholastic achievement, toward degrees and academics, then these institutions will be unable to produce mothers and teachers whose aspirations and way of life are shaped by the proper Torah way.

When education, work and salaries become the primary objective then, just as HaRav Yisroel Salanter warned, we will start producing doctors instead of rabbonim, and in the case of women we will produce doctors instead of educators and careerists instead of mothers.

The fundamental rule: the character of an educational institution determines and shapes the character of the students there, along with the totality of their ambitions and yearning. The educational agenda of every institution inculcates in its students a hierarchy of values and priorities as well as what they will see as the objective and what they will perceive as tangential.

A gaping chasm lies between the goals yirei Hashem place before the students at pure Torah institutions and the aspirations porkei ol place before their students.

The foundations of education for tinokos shel beis rabbon will never converge with the core of the general education system; yeshivas will not become places that prepare students for Bagrut certificates too, kollelim will not turn into rabbinical seminaries and Bais Yaakov schools will not adopt an academic character.

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