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The War on Charedi High Schools
Last week, in Pigs In Shtreimels, I reported on the war by the charedi gedolim against the new charedi college programs for girls. But there is another war that in some ways is even more disturbing - that against charedi high schools for boys. The latest front of this battle is in my home town of Ramat Beit Shemesh (as recently reported in Kikar Shabbos and Life In Israel).
A few years ago, the charedi gedolim - Rav Elyashiv, Rav Steinman - came out against a charedi high school that opened in Ramat Beit Shemesh (see pashkevil at right). The school was eventually forced to move out of the city. It was around this time that Rav Steinman visited Ramat Beit Shemesh and said that there is no correlation between secular education and parnasah.
Now, there is a new pashkevil circulating. It is not signed by top-tier gedolim, only by local Beit Shemesh Israeli charedi rabbonim who are very much on the extreme right end of the spectrum. This one targets Mesivta Beit Shemesh and Meorot, which are charedi high schools offering full secular education and bagruyot. But it also mentions Arzei Levanon, which is a yeshiva ketana rather than a high school, and which follows the directives of the gedolim in not offering bagruyot in the framework of the yeshiva, but which offers electives in carpentry, math, karate, music, English, and so on. It should be noted that Arzei Levanon is specifically backed by charedi rabbonim who oppose high schools, but this does not suffice for the chareidi rabbonim at the even more extreme end of the spectrum.
Most disturbing of all, however, (and for a variety of reasons,) is a letter from Rav Chaim Malinowitz that appeared in last week's Mishpachah magazine, in response to an article in the previous week's edition that praised Mesivta Beit Shemesh. It stated as follows:
Yes, it is an unavoidable reality in chinuch that boys who have particular, specialized needs must have those needs addressed. And these may in fact include a secular studies program in a boys' high school. Yet most of the mainstream chareidi Anglo rabbanim in RBS, of which I am one, remain opposed to creating such schools for the general public as a typical, standard option. It is against the wishes and guidance of our gedolim in Eretz Yisrael, and we are their faithful representatives. And indeed, the majority follow that guidance.
Sure, many parents making aliyah find it hard to wrap their heads around their son not even getting a high school diploma during his teenage years (gasp!). But having personally researched the matter extensively, I assure them that opportunities abound for eventual "catch-up" and beyond. One who decides at some later point to enter the workforce can find numerous and varied programs geared to their specific desires and aptitudes. I am willing to share this research with anyone desiring information.
With regard to the claim made in the second paragraph, that everyone is able to "catch-up" later, the following comment posted at Life In Israel points out that this is not at all the case:
Rav Malinowitz wrote that he did a lot of research into options for boys who decide to study something later on. He claimed that it's no big deal to "catch up" without doing Bagruyot in high school. Here are links to some of my (contradictory) research: m.bhol.co.il/article.aspx?id=101205
There is loads more (see http://taubcenter.org.il/he/haredim-in-higher-education-heb/ - N.S.). For those who don't want to slog through it all, the main point is that while there are many programs out there, the number of men who start and don't make it through the mechina programs, plus those who don't make it through the course programs comes to around a 70% failure rate- as documented by the programs themselves. On top of that, there are thousands of others who don't even try to start a program because they know that they won't succeed due to various life circumstances. To try to convince people to send to yeshiva ketana by telling them it's not a problem AT ALL to "just do it later on" is more than just misleading- especially since all the above evidence to the contrary is very well known to anyone who cares to look.
Twelve years ago, many people in the Anglo charedi community in the US suddenly realized that due to the charedi rabbinic approach to science and rationalism, the charedi world was really not the place for them. Now, many people in the Anglo charedi community in Ramat Beit Shemesh are waking up to the same thing, due to the attitude of the local Anglo charedi rabbonim to secular education. For most of these people, however, it is too late, since they are already embedded in the system.
I am eternally grateful to the charedi gedolim for waking me up to this twelve years ago, which led to my wife and I putting our children in the non-charedi educational system, of which there are an abundance of wonderful schools in Ramat Beit Shemesh. Although our youngest, who just turned four, is still struggling with being in a Hebrew-speaking gan. The other day, he said to me, "Who is Auntie Ochus? Who is she?"
(Sign up for your Chanuka tour at The Biblical Museum of Natural History at this link.)