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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.