Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Under the Black Hat

Yesterday I had the most fascinating miscommunication. Some of you might laugh at me, but it's really a powerful testimony as to the disparity between Israel and the US.

The daughter of a good friend was giving me a ride in New York. She mentioned that her son attends yeshivah ketana. And I was utterly shocked. After all, she had a Master's degree and she was a college graduate from a family that places a very high regard on academic excellence and secular education. How could she be entirely depriving her son of any kind of secular education?

I mentioned something in this regard, and now it was her turn to be surprised. She had no idea what I was talking about. Of course her son receives a secular education! To a very high level, no less. The school does all the State examinations, and participates in science fairs, etc., etc. And her son will eventually proceed to college and to a professional career.

It was at this point that it dawned on me that the term "Yeshiva Ketana" has a very different definition in the US than it does in Israel.

In Israel, if you send your kid to yeshiva ketana, that means, by definition, that there is not only no participation in State examinations (bagriyot), but that there is no secular curriculum at all. Nada, nothing. And the notion of an eventual progression to college and a professional career is absurd - not only do the students not have the necessary academic training, but they have been taught that it is wrong to go to college and to work, and that they should ideally be in kollel long-term and be supported by their wives and others.

Of course, this is highly significant in that it shows just how far apart black-hat Judaism is in the US from Israel. It's not just one term with two meanings - it's one superficially homogeneous sector of Orthodoxy that in fact is living in two utterly different worlds. That which is considered normative, admirable, responsible, and religiously appropriate in the US is rated as unacceptable, shameful, and religiously inappropriate in Israel.

Inevitably, the confusion of distinctions resulting from language and dress can lead to all kinds of dissonance and problems. Many graduates of a fine yeshiva ketana in the US will end up in a yeshiva gedolah which teaches them that they should not go to college and their kids should not receive a proper secular education. And many people who emigrate from the US to Israel mistakenly insert themselves into a community of people who dress like them, instead of a community of people who think like them. Indeed, much of the confusion and distress experienced by many people over the banning of my books was a result of their being under the misconception that certain rabbinic figures were their own rabbinic leaders, instead of being from a completely different worldview.

The lesson: Don't assume that two communities of Jews wearing black hats are anything at all alike.

31 comments:

  1. I've had a similar mis-communication, when my son started 7th grade in a Yeshivat Bnei Akiva, I mentioned to a Haredi cousin that he had just started at the local Yeshiva. He asked me whether it was a "Yeshiva" or a "Tichon", surprised at the question I said that he was at a Yeshiva. We now have a local religious High school which has a shorter day and less emphasis on Limidui Kodesh, and I hadn't even considered that as an option for my son.

    It was only later that I realized that the Haredi cousin mis-understood me - in his world, a Yeshiva has zero secular studies, he considers a Yeshivat Bnei Akiva to be a "Tichon" not a Yeshiva.

    Similarly, in the US there are many Jewish high schools, even co-ed, that call themselves a Yeshiva.

    Bottomline - the meaning of the word "Yeshiva" (or "Yeshiva Katana") means radically different things in different communities.

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  2. They aren't as different as you imagine. It depends on the yeshiva. I went to an American yeshiva ketana and mesivta, and although I was given a secular education,it was the bare minimum. I was also taught that working is bedi'eved, and that lechatchilah we should all learn in kolel or be in chinuch. I am the only one in my high school class to have gone to college, and I was considered a social pariah for doing so.

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    1. It really varies a great deal on the particular Yeshivah whether or not the secular education is strong. Where I went, if the kid tried, the secular education was good (we scored much, much better than the state average on government exams). But if a child didn't care and slacked off, there were no ramifications.

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  3. "the term "Yeshiva Ketana" has a very different definition in the US than it does in Israel."

    Sometimes in more ways than one. Not only re limudei chol.

    Yeshiva Ketana in Eretz Yisroel is the equivalent of a High School, or secondary school, in the USA (students 13-18 or so).

    In the USA, on the other hand, Yeshiva Ketana is at times used for an elementary school (e.g. typically students to bar mitzvah age). In Eretz Yisroel (and some places in the USA too) that is called 'Cheder".

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    1. When I worked at the Kamenitzer Yeshiva (Mea Shearim, 1981-1983), the Cheder was elementary school, Yeshiva Ketana was up to Bar Mitzva, and Yeshiva Gedola was post-Bar Mitzva. I've never heard of it being otherwise.

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    2. @FYI

      You're correct. And it might surprise RNS to know that in the U.S. after having gone to 'Yeshiva Ketana' i.e. Cheder, these boys (mostly in Lakewood) will end up in a 'Yeshiva Gedolah' i.e. High School, with no General Studies subjects whatsoever.

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    3. No general studies whatsoever?
      Really? Name a few yeshivishe high schools with no general studies. I'll bet you can't name two.

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  4. It isn't just the words "yeshiva qetana" which differ. As you say, there are different things "under the black hat" or snood. It's what they mean by self-labeling as "chareidi".

    And this is a rude awakening to many yeshivish olim in places like Har Nof, Ramat Eshkol or your own Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef. They get to Israel and find they really don't have a spiritual home. Most don't even consciously notice, they just go crazy trying to fit round holes despite their 90° corners.

    Some end up assimilating, some stay at the periphery with their sons in Maaravah and their girls in... I don't know, I'm in the states. But there is no Lakewood in Israel.

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  5. Yeshiva is almost as meaningless a word as 'school' or college. It includes a lot of very different things.
    A Bnei Akiva High School with kids learning half a day may look very Yeshivish to secular Jews but it looks very secular to Hareidim.

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  6. Natan,

    As others have pointed out, yeshiva ketana here can also have limudei chol, especially in the non-Charedi world.

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  7. Nice of you to finally show up
    where have you been all these years
    while this may be Revelation for you and your chevra

    For most Americans including those who are hardcore antagonistic
    of your agenda this is nothing new and they arranged their modus operandi based upon this And have been doing so since before you were born



    what does that mean practically
    for some this may be sending their teenage children across the pond


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    1. Now I understand what the song means "A gantz yohr Peerim". You were clearly under the influence when you wrote this.

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  8. "Of course, this is highly significant in that it shows just how far apart black-hat Judaism is in the US from Israel. It's not just one term with two meanings - it's one superficially homogeneous sector of Orthodoxy that in fact is living in two utterly different worlds.
    "The lesson: Don't assume that two communities of Jews wearing black hats are anything at all alike."
    Is this something that needs clarification, are there any readers of this blog that assume that all Jews who wear black hats are the same?

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  9. You'd be surprised how many MO PhDs (and MDs, attorneys, smicha, otherwise educated) send their children (or children send grandchildren) to secular education lacking schools in Lakewood.

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  10. In the US if you don't teach secular subjects (while taking tax payer money) the school gets shutdown and the head will go to jail - and hopefully for a long time.

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    1. You are completely misinformed. In NYS, you can now earn a NYS recognized diploma(non regents) without any secular studies.

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    2. Not legally.
      Must meet . . . standards
      Of course, they don't check too hard

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  11. Another difference between the US and Israel: 40% of children in the Religious Zionist community in Israel do not remain observant as adults (the most important upshot of the survey linked to in the post below), whereas in the US, children raised in observant Modern Orthodox homes have, as far as I can tell, a much, much lower rate of no longer remaining religiously observant. The Chareidi leadership in Israel will never allow their community to embrace secular education as long as the retention rates among religious men in Israel who get secular education are appallingly low. Those who want to convince the Rabbonim to change will have to prove that you can allow Israeli children access to secular education without a substantial risk of harming their Yiddishkeit down the road. No Chareidi Rav would let his people visit Pardes relying on the אחד שיצא בשלום.

    Shmooli

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    1. If learning math and basic science is the cause of anyone going OTD, then the religion is absolutely worthless. Charedim are scared of their own shadows, and comments like yours exemplify this.

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    2. Do you have statistics to back up your claim that Modern Orthodox kids in the US are more likely to stay Shomer Mitzvot than Religious Zionist Kids in Israel.

      There is a serious problem in Israel of religious Zionist kids giving up observance, but it varies a lot between different religious Zionist communities. I have heard the statistic that 40% of religious Zionist kids in Israel become "Datlash", but not sure how that is measured, there are many kids from traditional homes who are not Shomer SHabbat at home but learn in religious schools, there are many kids who stop wearing a kipa for a year or 2, but then start again after the army. There are also Religious Zionist communities which are extremely careful about Mitzva Observance, more careful than many Haredi communities which have a very low dropout rate.

      However, as bad as the retention rate in Israel is, I believe that it is much worse in the US where a very high percentage of kids stop keeping Shabbat when they go away to college, or even while still in High School (how many MO kids in the US keep "Half Shabbat"?).

      Just curious if you have any statistics that a higher percentage of MO kids in the US retain their Mitzva Observance, I would have thought the opposite.

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    3. You are turning a simple correlation / association into a causal factor, which is incorrect. Moreover, the evidence you cite contradicts what you say. Religious Zionists in Israel supposedly leave religious Judaism at a higher level than do Modern Orthodox in the US, yet BOTH study secular subjects in school. So what is the true cause of the difference? The authors of the research in Israel don't offer a definitive reason for the numbers they found. Your conclusion is (no insult intended) simplistic; this is a multi-factor problem which you reduce to a simple linear connection.

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    4. I'm not saying that secular studies is the actual cause of so many in the RZ community leaving religious observance. But it will be very difficult to get Chareidi leaders to agree to open door to encouraging men to seriously undertaking secular studies as long as the religious communities they see in Israel that do adopt that approach have such an appalling dropout rate.

      To those asking about retention rates in the US, first of all, anecdotally speaking, I grew up with a ton of US Modern Orthodox kids, at least half of which were raised in what would be called "Modern Orthodox-Liberal" homes, and I can attest that at least 80% of them are currently Shomer Shabbat 2 decades later (and almost all of them went to secular colleges). Furthermore, I have seen US surveys of Jewish denominational retention rates in general, and the Orthodox retention rates are way more than 60%, but I don't know of any specific links at this time I can point to.

      Shmooli

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  12. Rabbi Israel Drazin makes this point clear in his Maimonides' book series. Maimonides was not afraid to study secular subjects, even if its from non-Jews. Indeed, he studied the famed pagan Greek philosopher, Aristotle. Actually, Maimonides had to hide some of the names for his sources because they came from non-Jews and he feared that the Jewish community would not read his books. but Maimonides was correct when he taught the truth was the truth no matter the source, even if it comes from a pagan Aristotle. Jews in Israel should get a secular education. We are not living in the 1900s' nor are we living in biblical times. This is the 21st century.

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  13. In Chaim Berlin Yeshiva, college is allowed and I remember scores of Bochrim went into computers.

    The usual YA

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  14. I think your whole post needs to be revised for clarity vis-a-vis the very definition of Yeshiva Ketannah/Gedolah in America vs. Israel, because while you are correct that the nature of the "chareidi" schools differ between America and Israel you may have been having a conversation with both of you referring to completely different age groups. In America, yeshiva ketana means elementary through middle school (i.e., until and including 8th grade)–and this must be what the daughter of your friend was referring to (hence I'm not sure it'd be correct to write that the chareidi counterpart in Israel, the cheder [elementary school], is utterly lacking in a secular curriculum)–whereas in Israel yeshiva ketana means high school. In America, yeshiva gedola means high school whereas in Israel it means post-high school Beit Midrash. What's with the terms in the UK?

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    1. In the UK, the word yeshiva is generally used fora place of exclusively (or near exclusively) torah learning.

      Yeshiva ketana generally would be for boys aged c. 13/14 through about 16-18, while yeshiva gedola would be from age 16-18 onward. Yeshiva ketana may have a degree of secular learning, especially for the younger students, as there are legal requirements around education up until the end of the academic year in which a child turns 16, however in general if it is called "yeshiva" then this will be minimised to the degree possible.

      Any place of learning with a significant degree of secular studies would be known as "school". Primary school up until the age of 11 and secondary / grammar / "high" school (high school is really an Americanism) from 11 through 18 (although plenty leave earlier, e.g. to go to yeshiva ketana or join the workforce).

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  15. This post reminds me of an uncomfortable conversation / argument I had with a modern orthodox friend and helps explain why things are different in ch"ul.

    He told me that he could never live in Israel because its disgusting how Jews are always labeling each other and live in completely separate communities. He's particular upset over how the Modern Orthodox look so negatively at Charedim and we have to just stop labeling.

    There is some truth to what he is saying after all he lives in a mixed neighborhood in Toronto where the modern orthodox and black hatters get along very well. I know this cause I lived in that neighborhood as well.

    However, as this post points out there is a lot of similarity between the MO and BH communities in North America. After all many of them go to the same schools, shuls, and live of the same streets and they have full time jobs. The curriculum in both schools are similar. We often find MO parents sending their kids to more yeshivish schools. So in those communities everyone can get along and not label eachother (except when it comes to shiduchim which at that point its ok to label).

    However in Israel if you are MO good luck living in a black hat neighborhood and forget about sending your kids to a yeshiva ketana. They wont be allowed in.

    So yeah in Israel we label. But not cause we dont respect the other communities but rather because we need to know where to live, where to send our kids to school. We need a community that we will fit in to. One that shares our hashkafa on life, school, army, work etc.

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  16. This post is all wrong. It is not that there are different types of yeshiva ketanas in America and Israel. It is that the terms refer to totally different schools. U.S. terms: Yeshiva ketana is grade 1-8, mesivta is 9-12, yeshiva gedola is post-high school age. In Israel 1-8 is cheder, 9-11 is yeshiva ketana, and post-11th grade is yeshiva gedola. So the chareidi schools in Israel that are parallel to the American "yeshiva ketana" most certainly do have secular studies.

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  17. The lesson: Don't assume that two [communities of] Jews wearing black hats are anything at all alike.

    You're generalizing and that isnt a good thing. Just because others think and act differently u dont need to hate on then

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  18. I wouldn't have gotten into the miscommunication because I assume there can be differences concerning corriculums.

    The usual YA

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