Why Do Centrists Send Their Kids to Extreme Charedi Yeshivos? The Answers!
In this post I would like to finally address a question that I raised several months ago. There are many thousands of wonderful families in the Centrist and Modern Orthodox communities. These are people who value the State of Israel, one of the greatest miracles of Jewish history. They also value modern science, which has unlocked so many mysteries of the universe. These people also share the values of Chazal and the Rishonim in rating it as very important that a man work for a living and support his family. And Baruch Hashem, there is no shortage of wonderful yeshivos in Eretz Yisrael which share and teach these values. Why, then, do so many of these people send their children to yeshivos which teach the exact opposite?
These are yeshivos in which students were encouraged to attend a rally and pray to Hashem to pour out His wrath upon the State of Israel for somewhat equalizing the burden of military service. Yeshivos in which the Roshei Yeshivah, the revered heads of the institutions, attend Satmar anti-Israel hatefests. Yeshivos in which modern science is disparaged and students are taught an anti-rationalist outlook. Yeshivos in which students are taken to the Kosel to davven that their fellow students should not be forced to attend YU. Yeshivos in which it is drilled into the students that they must spend endless years in kollel, and rely on their parents to support them, rather than training for a profession. A student at one yeshivah told me how, when he told his rebbe that he was leaving, the rebbe took a Gemara, spat on it, hurled it to the ground, and said, "That's what you're doing to Chazal!"
Why do these people send their children, at a highly impressionable stage of their lives, to be immersed in an environment which teaches the exact opposite of the values that they hold dear? I would like to suggest several explanations for this disturbing phenomenon. (Note: I am addressing the topic of post-high school yeshivos, not yeshivah high schools.)
1. They don't do proper research into the yeshivah
This is probably the most common, albeit least excusable, reason. I was speaking with someone recently whose son is in Toras Moshe. The parent was horrified to discover the extent to which Toras Moshe is rabidly anti-Zionist and anti-YU. The mother said to me that she assumed that since Rabbi Meiselman has a PhD and is a nephew of Rav Soloveitchik, then Toras Moshe must be a YU-type place. Good grief! You really don't have to do too much asking around to find out what kind of place it is!
2. The yeshivah misleads them
Sometimes, the parents are misled by the yeshivah itself about its nature. Of course, rabbonim whose goal it is to steer students away from university and towards kollel, or away from Zionist hashkafah to charedi hashkafah, are not going to advertise that as being their goal. People need to know that they have to do independent research about the yeshivah.
3. The starter yeshivah sends them
There are several starter yeshivos which cater for students from centrist homes, but which have charedi-oriented rebbeim or roshei yeshivah. These rebbeim often encourage students to spend more years in yeshivah, and since this yeshivah is only designed for a one or two year program, they send them to more "serious" yeshivos. In order to avoid this problem, parents must be sure to check that not only is the student body of a centrist hashkafah, but so are the faculty.
4. They overestimate their children
Some parents are aware that they are sending their kids to a place where the rebbeim have a very charedi approach, but they are convinced that their child will not be affected. This is naive. Most people would probably rate me as being intelligent and independent-minded, yet I was completely and utterly brainwashed in yeshivah. People do not realize the extent to which the yeshivah environment is immersive, and the power of pressure exerted by revered rabbonim.
5. They are under the impression that Charedi Judaism is Torah-True Judaism
Many people are under the mistaken impression that charedi Judaism is authentic, traditional, Torah-true (TM), "real" Judaism. As I have shown in several monographs and countless blog-posts, this is very much not the case. But it is going to take a lot of outreach by a lot of people to correct this popular misconception.
6. They feel that the "level of learning" is the most important factor
Some parents feel that they should be looking for a place which as a good reputation for the level of learning, and that other things are not so important. However, they fail to realize that these other things often determine whether their children will be gainfully employed in twenty years or desperate for hand-outs, and can also determine whether their grandchildren will receive a secular education. I would add that if a yeshivah's rosh yeshivah is someone who expresses poor middos or hateful attitudes, then what is the value of the "high level learning"?
7. A combination of the above
There are countless families of a centrist hashkafah whose children end up living an extreme chareidi lifestyle, and many of these instances are due to a combination of the above factors. They send their kids to a yeshivah or seminary that has rabbonim who are on the chareidi side, but they don't see it as a big deal. At the end of the year, the kid wants to spend another year in Israel, which they agree to. Then the kid wants to go to a more serious yeshivah, and the parents, who are reluctant to get into a serious confrontation with their child, begrudgingly agree. Before you know it, the kid is married with children and the parents are fully financially supporting them with no end in sight, and the grandchildren are learning in a Talmud Torah with little or no secular education.
That's the stage where many parents come to me and ask me what to do. But at that point, unless you want to threaten cutting off all financial support and risk your relationship with your child, there's not much to be done. You have to be vigilant in advance!
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there is, Baruch Hashem, no shortage of wonderful yeshivos in Eretz Yisrael where the faculty share and teach the values of Torah, Zionism, and chachmah. If you're not thinking about sending your kids to one of those yeshivos, think again. The stakes are higher than you think.