Saturday, January 12, 2019

A Question For American Charedi Olim

Here's a question for all the American charedim, or charedi wannabees, who have made aliyah: Name five recent or current American charedi great Torah scholars. They can be charedi gedolim, but they don't have to be.

There's plenty to choose from. Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky, Rav Leff, the Novominsker Rebbe, Rav Yitzchok Sheiner, Rav Aharon Feldman. Or, you can go for the local younger generation in Beit Shemesh: Rav Chaim Malinowitz, Rav Elimelech Kornfeld. And in terms of recently deceased, there's also plenty of examples; Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, etc. Think of anyone that you want.

Now, I have another question for you: What do all these five Torah scholars have in common?

The answer is: They all went to high school.

(And, depending on whom you thought of, they might well have all gone to college, too.)

I mention this because there are numerous American charedi families in Israel who want to educate their children within a charedi framework, but instead of choosing one of the many options of charedi high schools which offer secular education and matriculation (bagruyot), they choose to send their boys to yeshivah ketana, which offers zero secular education. In some cases, the reason for this is that they want their children to become Great Torah Scholars. But, as the list of established Great Torah Scholars shows, it's perfectly possible to become a great Torah scholar even with a high school education!

There are further reasons to send your kids to a high school. You have the advantage that if the great Torah scholar career doesn't work out (as many people in such an intense system suffer burnout), or if it doesn't put bread on the table (as it often doesn't), then there are fallback options. And it's in line with Chazal's requirement that the duty of parents is to ensure that their children are capable of earning a living.

Plus, if you send him to a regular charedi high school and he decides to become a great Torah scholar, he'll do so with ease. Having grown up here, he'll already have a head start over the Torah scholars listed above. He won't resent your not having sent him to yeshiva ketanah. But if you send him to yeshivah ketanah, and he doesn't end up as a great Torah scholar who can make a living, he may well end up resenting you for not giving him the educational tools necessary to get a proper job.

Giving your child a few extra hours of Torah study each day, on top of the numerous hours that all yeshivah high schools do, is not going to be the determining factor in making him a great Torah scholar. It might even reduce his chances. But it will certainly reduce his chances of being able to support his family. It goes against Chazal's requirements, and it just doesn't make sense.


  1. "if you send him to a regular charedi high school and he decides to become a great Torah scholar, he'll do so with ease."

    So you think it's easy to become a great Torah scholar. This comment is extremely telling. This is the attitude of disrespect to Torah and Torah scholars is the root of why your books were tossed in cherem. I would have hoped that you would have learned something over the last 10-15 years but nope...

    1. You need to work on your reading comprehension. He meant that it's easier to become a Torah scholar in Israel now than in the US 50 years ago. That is obvious from the next sentence.

    2. Sorry, but that's not what he wrote. If he meant that he should have written it.

    3. Congratualtions on finding a nit to pick with such rhetorical gusto. May I assume that you agree with the main points of the post?

    4. I actually do agree with the rest of the post. But the sheer disrespect towards Torah scholars only crystalizes why the author has been placed michutz lamachane. It's unfortunate that anything useful he says will fall on deaf ears, because of his disdainful attitude towards Torah learning and Torah scholars.

    5. It is unfortunate that politics is placed ahead of truth, which is the problem with a concept of michutz lamachane to begin with.

      Listen to the truth from wherever it comes.

    6. DRosenbach -

      You know that's not how the world works, for better or worse. Most people are not going to sift through the rantings of a hater to find the legitimate observations. The blog author would be well served to drop the hateful rantings and disdainful attitude towards Torah and Torah scholars.

  2. I have soo much to say on this..But don't feel like writing all....I will say this...One of the MAIN reasons why I started exploring the option to leave Judaism is bec ( at first) Chaim Berlin forced my children to go to secular studies... Your question kinda makes sense but doesn't address the many , many issues on boh sides... And now I am the BIGGEST ORTHODOX JEW HATER ...And , if my kids weren't forced to go to secular studies , I would still be frum and love Jewish people...PS, I ALSO ( even then) was a big fan of Rabbi Slifkin and the ban on Rabbi Sklifkin is one of the BIGGEST reasons why I left Judaism.

    1. In what way did an encouraged secular education on the part of Chaim Berlin contribute to your decision to leave Torah law observance? This line of reasoning is counterintuitive to many people.

    2. How typical is it for a regular happy-go-lucky person already married with kids to change life's course, especially on a triviality like the kids' curriculum? Something doesn't add up.

    3. Chaim: considering that this nut went and burnt down people's houses.... It adds up quite well.

  3. In today's world, denying children basic secular education is arguably child abuse. Moreover, without a basic secular education there is much in the Torah, meforshim, Talmud, halacha etc: that can not be understood.

  4. Rabbi Avrohom (HaKohen) Pam ZL ZYA and Rabbi Yisroel (HaLevi) Belsky ZL ZYA were both math teachers, and therefore must have experienced secular education.

    Many years ago, probably in the 1990s, Rabbi Yisroel Belsky ZL ZYA was quoted by The Flatbush Jewish Journal as saying that there should be more math education for yeshivah students.



    QUOTE 1:

    Rabbeinu Yonah commentary on Mishnah, tractate Avot, chapter 3, last paragraph:

    The study of Mathematics [Chachmat HaCheshbone] sharpens the [mind of] a man.

    CHRONOLOGY: Rabbeinu Yonah of Gerona died in Toledo, Spain, in 1263 CE.

    QUOTE 2:

    Sefer Pele Yoetz, Perek Cetibah, paragraph 1 of 3:

    “An unmotivated Jew [literally, person] who has not learned the skill of writing correctly in Hebrew [literally, the sacred tongue] AND IN THE LOCAL LANGUAGE [literally, foreign language], he will be covered with shame and disgrace.”

    CHRONOLOGY: Rabbi Eliezer Papo lived from 1785 CE to 1826 CE.

    QUOTE 3:

    Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch:

    “Rabbi Hirsch’s positive view of the study of secular subjects was not limited to science and history.”

    MICROBIOGRAPHY: Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch was born 1808 CE, died 1888 CE, this great Talmudic scholar was the father of Orthodox Judaism in Modern Germany.
    He was a Chief Rabbi, Member of Parliament and an important author.

    SOURCE: Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch by Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Klugman (chapter 17, pages 204 to 205), 1996 CE, ArtScroll History Series, Brooklyn NY 11232

    QUOTE 4:

    Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel:

    “I am not against secular knowledge as such, where there is no question of apikorsus.

    It is the same as materiel wealth; it is wonderful to possess. Problems only arise when one comes to believe that riches or secular knowledge makes one into a superior person.”

    CHRONOLOGY: Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel was known as (the Alter of Slabodka) was in born in year 1849 CE and died in year 1927 CE.

    SOURCE: Remembering Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky by Rabbi Nisson Wolpin, Jewish Observer magazine, May 1986, page 21

  5. I am ecstatic, I can finally agree with Natan on something!
    Written respectfully without discounting any segment of Judaism.
    I must add however, this discussion of secular studies in Yeshivos, has been ongoing for more than a century....

  6. It seems that you don't even bother understanding the other side, even for purposes of debunking it. The Chazon Ish and the Netziv both made their position clear as to why Yeshivos should not have a secular studies program. If you want to argue, say why. But you ignore their opinion, leaving them the last word. They explained why you are wrong and you did not answer their points.

    1. Actually some talmidim of the neyziv wrote that the yeshiva did have secular studies at night and he was okay with it. Rabbi dr shnayer leiman has a lecture on it.

    2. Actually according to some of the talmidim the yeshiva did have secular studies at night when they were ordered to and the netziv was okay with it. He only closed the yeshiva when it was ordered to have full time secular

    3. The Netziv - about secular studies during high school? High school didn't exist then.

    4. The Netziv, as quoted by his oldest son, was opposed to the idea of secular studies in a yeshiva. When he had no choice, he allowed an ersatz version of secular studies for some boys, on order that the yeshiva shouldn't have to close down. He certainly did not want or endorse it, as he explained

    5. אחד, when you get older you will understand that not everything people say about their fathers is true.

  7. Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel was also on his high school basketball team.

  8. Along the lines of אחד above: You seem clueless as to the reason Anglo-chareidi olim send their kids to Yeshiva ketanah. You claim there are "many options of charedi high schools which offer secular education and matriculation (bagruyot)," but you don't seem to realize that:
    1) These high schools are decidedly outside the mainstream and are looked down in chareidi society as "second class". A sure-fire way to guarantee that your kids not remain in chareidi society is by making them feel second-class in the chareidi society.
    2) Many of these high schools--especially the ones which Dov Lipman endorses--certain have an agenda of mainstreaming their students into the wider Israeli society. They may continue to look chareidi and maintain chareidi social ties, but the goal is to integrate them.

    SO if Anglo-chareidi parents make the fateful decision to integrate their children into MAINSTREAM chareidi society IN ISRAEL, then it's a no-brainer why they don't send their kids to these high schools.

    The real question is why Anglo-charieidm wish to integrate themselves into mainstream Israeli chareidi society in the first place.
    But I fear that you would only engage in stereotyping, dishonest straw-man arguments, and loshon horo in the process, so better not.

    1. "The real question is why Anglo-charieidm wish to integrate themselves into mainstream Israeli chareidi society in the first place." Well the reason may very well be because they think that this the only way to learn Torah. So the article may help them rethink that a bit.

    2. Anglo-chareidim grew up with high level Torah learning all around them in their native countries. (We are mainly talking about anglos who were chareidi before coming to live in Israel. Baalei teshuva anglo-chareidim should be a separate discussion,) It is quite insulting to their intelligence to think they were unaware that Torah can really be studied outside Israeli yeshivos until they read this post!

    3. I agree with you -- I believe most olim into Israeli charedi society are not aware of how much it differs to charedi society elsewhere, specifically the deep adherence to uniformity combined with a fortress mentality.

    4. Well put. I myself am making aliya to Israel and will have to send my kids to these extremist high schools, because, IMO, one should try to integrate with mainstream chareidi society despite its flaws. However, I do wish there was some type of socially mainstream chareidi yeshiva with secular studies akin to Torah Vedaas.

  9. The first name that popped into my mind was Rav Asher Weiss.

    Granted that he is a well-read and naturally curious person; granted also that I am in favor of general education for my children, and in general, so I don't disagree with the conclusions of this post.

    Still, all that notwithstanding, he is an American Haredi Gadol, and he had no formal secular education after his bar mitzvah.

  10. He said why: so that they should have a fall back option in today's world. Read the article

  11. >>In some cases, the reason for this is that they want their children to become Great Torah Scholars<<

    The more common reason to send a young student to yeshiva ketana is that this is the normal path for haredim and therefore the path of least resistance. The boy starts in cheder, and then the cheder will suggest one or two yeshivot ketana. Even if the boy is below average in Talmudic studies (whether b/c of limited talent or motivation), they will place him nonetheless. The yeshivot have an understanding with the cheders that they will accept quotas of lower tier students along with the hot shots.

    The typical cheder will never suggest a place with secular studies. From their POV, this is not a haredi option but rather is a choice for boys that are already "off the derech". To choose that option is to accept the consequences which include a stigma on the boy and also his entire family. Nobody likes to go down in the pecking order.

    Furthermore, the choices are quite limited. In J'm, there are exactly two "haredi" yehshivot that offer secular studies. Chedvat haTorah and Chochmei Lev. They both have particular types of culture and the family and student might not fit in or even get accepted. There are a few other options out of J-town, but it ain't easy. Probably a better option for most families is to simply cut the chord with haredi society and embrace DL / chardal just as Rav Natan has done. But that is also not simple.

  12. No difference than professional sports. If you DO get to the top, be it sports or Torah, there is really good money to be made (though in the latter case I think that prestige is the motivating factor). Not that many decent job opportunities in the talmud chacham world. So get a good education because only a small percentage will make it.

    Although in the Torah world there is a fallback opportunity for someone who can't reach Gadol level: if you have some charisma you can always get folks to give you money for some parnassa/shidduch/whatever miracle working scam.

  13. I have yet another question for you, Rabbi Slifkin:

    What do all the American-born high-school educated tamidei chachamim on your list who raised children in Israel have in common?

    The Answer Is: they sent their own boys to a typical chareidi yeshiva ketana with no secular education!

    According to your logic of following their example, why indeed should an anglo chareidi not follow their example?

    1. (Hi R Kornreich. Lackey here).

      The argument was not that they should copy these Gedolim. It was that learning some English and secular studies won't ruin their chance of learning Torah at a high level.

      And what is best for the children of people in very high positions in the Chareidi community is not what is best for every Oleh. Most people can't expect their children to get the positions that the children of the aristocracy of the community do. You can give your kids the same opportunities that you had as a child without detracting from their Torah study.

      And of course, I frankly believe that the you can't get your Torah straight if you are not exposed to a decent amount of science, math, economics, history, etc. But you don't have to go that far.

    2. (Never fail to disappoint, David.)

      "And what is best for the children of people in very high positions in the Chareidi community is not what is best for every Oleh. Most people can't expect their children to get the positions that the children of the aristocracy of the community do."

      Not everyone on the list are "in very high positions". The educational choices of the mid-level rabbonim on the list are still highly relevant to the average chareidi anglo-oleh. And the vast majority of them do indeed send their boys to a standard yeshivah ketana.
      Maybe they should be interviewed in order to raise the seriousness of this discussion?

      I happen to agree with your last paragraph. But I thought the argument was for sending kids to a religious high school and getting bagrut. That doesn't follow at all. Of course you don't need that kind of secular ed. to get your Torah straight.

    3. “Of course you don't need that kind of secular ed. to get your Torah straight.”

      What part of bagrut is superfluous? Where do you expect people to get the necessary level of science, mathematics, economics, history from?

      I suspect that we have vastly different ideas of how much secular information should be considered basic before ones view on pretty much anything (much of Torah inclded) should be considered as serious, but I would be interested in your view on this given that you think that bagrut being superfluous is a matter “of course”.

      FYI I have no knowledge of what is needed for bagrut, not being close to the Israeli education system so the question is genuine.

    4. Bagrut exams require the following:

      Religious Scriptures – Tanakh, the Christian Bible, or the Qur'an, as relevant to the appropriate sector of the population
      Hebrew or Arabic grammar
      Hebrew or Arabic composition
      English language (written and oral)
      Knowledge of the nation and state
      Civics and Minorities studies
      History of the Jewish People
      World History
      Hebrew/Arab and world literature
      At least one elective, such as geography, physics, chemistry, biology, computer science, Arabic, French, social sciences etc.
      Physical Education (only for students who studied in a traditional high-school setting, i.e., not those studying under the "external" track)

      As you can see, many subjects-- excluding Tanach, Hebrew, and SOME math and SOME Jewish history-- are not needed to get your Torah straight.
      From what I saw from my daughter's preparation for her matriculation, there was a LOT of math (like solving quadratic equations) and Jewish history (like modern Jewish history) she had to know that a yeshivah student would not need-- to get his Torah straight.

  14. Umm....I've been learning Seder Zraim lately and I've been wondering how people ever get through it without some basic knowledge of mathematics...I guess they must really be gedolim...But here's the sad truth: last year my college brought in a panel of Hareidi college graduates to help us understand the special problems faced by Hareidi boys who decide to go to college. They explained that the greatest challenge did not come from courses in the humanities and social sciences, but rather from math and the physical sciences. Why? It's easy for a Hareidi guy to belittle the value of literary criticism and psychology, which basically just require the ability to read and understand texts. However, they discover that math and physics are objectively difficult subjects which give objectively correct answers to questions that their rebbei'im simply don't know how to answer. They can't avoid the conclusions that their rebbei'im don't know everything worth knowing and that their yeshiva background did not make them into instantly succesful students in any field they set their minds to. And THOSE are dangerous conclusion for a Hareidi guy to reach.

    1. This is why it is important to learn math and science even if you want to become a Mechanech or Dayan or Rav. You are missing a key piece of the intellectual universe if you don’t.

    2. >They explained that the greatest challenge did not come from courses in the humanities and social sciences, but rather from math and the physical sciences.

      Which parts of math and the physical sciences are relevant to which careers?

  15. "Now, I have another question for you: What do all these five Torah scholars have in common?

    The answer is: They all went to high school."

    I suspect that they have another thing in common: They would all recommend that their talmidim living in Israel send to Yeshivos Ketanos that don't have secular studies.

  16. Point taken, but recognize this question can be asked of all people, not just charedi. Take yourself, for example. You had the benefit of a black hat yeshivah education, but you've now evolved into the mizrachi/DL world. So will you make sure your children have the same black yesivah education you did?

    And the same is true with countless scholars who left traditional orthodoxy to preach different variations thereof. They became scholars by traditional methods, but they proceed to teach new methods that virtually never yield the same results. Likewise, on the flip side, you have wealthy ballei teshuvah whose background gave them tremendous opportunities in life that they are now denying to their children by becoming frum.

    The common denominator in all cases is that people who evolve from A to B, think they're moving from bad to better. Therefore, they don't focus on the good they obtained in their previous life, they focus on the perceived advantages of the life they are now joining. So its quite understandable why people who themselves went to HS wont be doing the same for their children.

  17. Replies
    1. Unknown/DF

      What I meant was, that American olim might feel they should follow what these talmidei chacahmim recommend - not what they happened to do themeselves. Particularly in consideration of the fact that Israel is VERY different from America and it is not necessarily fair to compare.

  18. What do all the American-born high-school educated tamidei chachamim on your list who raised children in Israel have in common?

    They have beautiful homes , plenty of money and love what they are doing . And advise their students to follow the opposite path .

    1. "They have beautiful homes , plenty of money and love what they are doing . And advise their students to follow the opposite path"
      2 points:
      1. by "opposite path" do you mean that they advise their students not to love what they are doing? if so that is blatantly false.
      2. the only one on the list who's home i spent time in was r' noson tzvi finkel zt"l. if by beautiful home you mean spiritual beauty, then yes, there was that. but since you put it together with "plenty of money" i assume you meant physical beauty. in which case you have no idea what you are talking about. he lived in a small, cramped, minimally furnished apartment, and never had 2 nickles to rub together. that wasn't what he was seeking in life.

  19. Years ago I was at MTJ and also drove Rav Moshe OB around at times. One of the general statements the was often repeated is the Rav Moshe said that America would never produce a 'godol in Torah', the reason being that there is no עניות in the USA.

  20. Everyone knows that Haredi schools are not designed to produce exceptional scholars. They don't segregate by ability and they waste most of their resources trying to teach dimbulbs to 'learn' a few lines of Gemara. In many ways, they resemble some of the loopier educational experiments from the 1970s.

    On the other hand, Haredi schools clearly are the most effective at keeping people within the fold. It's not everything, but it ain't nothing either.

  21. This post exhibits total ignorance as to the motivations of Anglo-Chareidi parents in choosing high schools for their children. I do not know of anyone who do so because they think that their son may turn into one of the gedolim and learning secular studies will prevent that.

    1. I live in America and I admit total ignorance as to the motivations of Anglo-Chareidi olim. (although I doubt the blog author would ever do so.) What are their motivations in sending their sons to schools with no secular studies?

      I suspect it's possibly related question someone raised above - "The real question is why Anglo-charieidm wish to integrate themselves into mainstream Israeli chareidi society in the first place."

      Any insight on any of this would be appreciated.

    2. Generally speaking, there are no schools that precisely match all of the priorities of parents, or students. So parents (or students) are forced to choose the best option among several non-optimal choices. Anglos integrating into the chareidi world in Israel may prefer a high school with secular studies. But they also prefer that their son continue learning with his friends, and that he can go to a high school where he does not feel “second-class.” The facts on the ground now, though it might change in the future, is that the standard in the Israeli chareidi world is no secular studies for boys in high school. There are sociological and historical reasons for that fact, but that is a fact. True, there is Ma’arava, which is an excellent yeshiva high school, but that is not an option for most, as admission to there is very difficult.
      The parents I have spoken to figure that keeping their son as an accepted part of his peer group is a value, one that outweighs the lack of secular studies. They believe (perhaps overly optimistically) that their son can catch up on missed secular studies later on. While chareidi men do have trouble with this, their greatest troubles lie in acquiring proficiency in English, which is not a factor in this case. A 20-year-old with a good head can catch up on all math up to and including the lower levels of algebra in a few months of work at night with a tutor. True, his parents probably learned trigonometry and perhaps calculus, but to be honest, I have made no use of either of those since graduating high school decades ago. IN short, are the Anglo chareidi parents thrilled about it? No. But overall, they believe it to be the best, though imperfect, choice.

  22. Didn't Rav Keller attend public school? Shall he do that to his children? No, because the odds are against them ending up like him. Acc. to the devil's advocate, high school reduces the odds of becoming a Godol. Had high school been skipped by everyone when these Gedolim were in school we'd have more Gedolim today. Also the Godol himself could have reached higher had he skipped high school. R Pam said that explicitly about himself.

    So much for the proof from the Gedolim. As for the actual question, I see pros and cons on both sides.

    1. I'm sorry, R Pam spoke about college, not high school. But the devil's advocate says it's the same thing.


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