NAJDS and the Search for Meaningful Judaism

I spent the last two days at the National Association of Jewish Day Schools Conference in Philadelphia along with 1,000 other people who value their Judaism. I went as a vendor for my InfoGrasp School Management system as we prepare for the mobile version of our software.

The conferences hosts Reform, Conservative and Modern Orthodox schools, with the majority being Modern Orthodox. Financial sustainability is a major topic since the main value proposition of these schools is that they provide a sizable Judaism component in their education. However their cost is significantly higher than the good public school alternatives and their education quality is generally lower than the comparably-priced secular private schools. It seems that many have resigned themselves to stagnant and declining enrollments and trying to meet their budgets within those constraints.

Another theme was how to make Judaism meaningful for the students within the school. With a heavy secular studies focus, the Jewish studies take somewhat of a back seat because they are not so relevant to secular success in college and the working world. In addition the practice of Judaism by many of the students is not so rigorous.

As I returned to my regular minyan, I was reminded that the search for meaningful Judaism affects many of us. There are people who put on a second pair of Rabbeinu Tam tefillin, while glancing out their cell phones between the transition. There are Mussar Vaads working on thinking about Hashem randomly though out their work day, while admitting that they don’t have adequate focus during the 100 berachos a day that they’re already performing. And we can all find examples within our own practices.

Judaism promises an amazing life (and afterlife), if we follow its Torah and mitzvos prescription. However, as the Path of the Just clearly spells out, distraction and laziness prevents us from maximizing its benefit. I suggested to a philanthropist at one of the meals, that if we who value our Judaism take it to a higher level, those who currently place less value on it will take notice. She didn’t disagree.

The Jewish Flame – Free Torah Classes

The Jewish Flame, a Jewish education organization, will be holding its annual Summer IThe Jewish Flame, a Jewish education organization, will be holding its annual Summer Institute again this year. Four nights a week in Manhattan, you can learn any aspect of Judaism that interests you. Whether you’d like to learn Bible, Midrash, Jewish Wisdom or Jewish Philosophy, there will be a class just right for you. The teachers will be the best the Flame has to offer.

And… the classes are free!

Classes are held at Congregation Adereth El, 135 E. 29th Street near Lexington Ave in Manhattan. This year nine different classes are offered, each meeting for one hour per week. The classes take place Mondays thru Thursday evenings, through Aug. 4. For a complete brochure or for more information, visit www.jewishflame.org or call (718) 268-2448.

Classes are geared for non-observant Jews and recent BTs.

Class descriptions:

THE BIBLE THEY DIDN’T TEACH YOU IN HEBREW SCHOOL Mondays at 6 PM

Why is King David a hero even though he seemingly committed murder and adultery? Which creation story in Genesis actually happened? If Esau was a forgiving guy, then why do the rabbis hate him? The course will examine these and other stories, and enable you to better understand and appreciate the Bible and its messages.

THE BIG QUESTIONS IN LIFE – A JEWISH PERSPECTIVE Mondays at 7 PM

What is the purpose of life?  Why are we here, anyway? Isn’t it good enough to be a good person?  Let’s explore these questions and issues together.  Hard questions deserve real answers.  Come join us for a meaningful experience and discussion.

THE MIDRASH Tuesdays at 6 PM

This class will concentrate on selected topics in Jewish tradition, such as Marriage, Atonement, Fate and Free Will, Superstition, Medicine, and Dreams, by focusing on Rabbinic lore and legend as found in the Talmud and various Midrashic works. The class will also include discussion of the textual foundations of Midrash.

JEWISH PHILOSOPHY Tuesdays at 7 PM

Understanding the great issues of Jewish Philosophy, such as free will, existence of evil, and existentialism, as discussed by the greatest personalities in Jewish thought: Saadiah Gaon, Yehuda HaLevi, Maimonides, Luzzato, Rav Kook, and more.

JEWISH ETHICS ON MATING AND DATING Wednesdays at 6 PM

No marriages and failing marriages are problems that beset contemporary Judaism. This course will explore how to find the right person and techniques based on traditional Jewish sources for making your marriage or relationship being one of the few that last so that you can live happily ever after.

HOW TO STUDY THE BIBLE Wednesdays at 7 PM

Once you learn a proven method for HOW to study the Torah, you can start to really understand it and see why it has sustained our people for thousands of years. Our focus will be to provide skills for analysis so that you can feel comfortable with the text. This method will work regardless of your background.

SECRETS FOR A LONG HAPPY LIFE Wednesdays at 7 PM

This course will supply you with the secret tools that will change your life. If you are growth-oriented and looking for a wedge to help you prayers get answered, come join us. Five meaningful, eye opening sessions for those desiring a long happy life.

 

JEWISH WISDOM Thursdays at 6 PM

A survey of the ethical, personal, spiritual and practical thought from the great Jewish sages and Jewish works over the centuries. The class will discuss how great Jewish writings have imbued the world with the answers to the ethical dilemmas that we regularly

TORAH BY THE WEEK Thursdays at 7 PM

Study the more controversial sections of the weekly Torah portion, emphasizing the ethical and moral aspects of Judaism. The class will focus on topics such as: “Is G-d too strict with Jews”, “Why is there anti-semitism?”, “Why are some people evil?”, “Is vengeance permissible?”, “What is a miracle?”, “What land is really part of Israel” and many more subjects from the book of Numbers.

A Quest for a New Type of Yeshiva

Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer is in the process of starting a new Yeshiva based on the principles of Torah Im Derech Eretz and ideas addressed by Dr Nathan Birnbaum.

Below is a 1927 address by Dr Birnbaum with comments by Rabbi Bechhofer regarding how he hopes to implement these ideals.

Organized Orthodoxy is obliged to come together and create societal tools that will teach:
1. How to deepen our awareness of Hashem out of love for Him [Da’as].
2. How to dedicate ourselves to love our fellow human beings [Rachamim].
3. How to pursue modesty [hatznei’a leches] as a manifestation of the glory of our Hashem [Tiferes]…

We must admit that cold intellectualism has penetrated our relationship with Hashem. Following through with that metaphor, Ha’Olim cannot remain at ease with this frigidity. They must toil until within their societies, within each of their groupings and within each of their members there arise divine hislahavus and inner spiritual feeling.

To achieve aliya in Da’as Hashem there float before my eyes the following ideas:

1. Torah study in a more profound manner: Every “Oleh” is required to expand and deepen his knowledge of Torah and Chochmas Yisroel. Before all else, if he does not possess basic knowledge, he must acquire it upon entering the society. The society must constantly supervise its members to ensure that they are fulfilling this obligation. It must provide the opportunity to learn and grow through shiurim that it will conduct within its circle. The society shall campaign among its members, their children and their students to convince them to embark upon a term of study in a yeshiva or under a renowned talmid chacham for one to three years.

[Rabbi Bechhofer’s comments:
Although this first clause was primarily directed at the German-Jewish milieu for which it was written, it is readily translated to address the crying contemporary need of the day.

Good boys, who may do well in other subjects in high school, are often miserable when compelled to learn Gemara. They may have never had a Rebbe who gave them a geshmack in the profound analysis of a Rashi, the minute dissection of a Rambam, the intellectual challenge of a Tosafos, the scientific approach of Reb Chaim, or the philosophical profundity of Reb Shimon.

Some yeshivos teach from an axiomatic religious imperative; others from “subject among other subjects” – albeit, under the best circumstances, a “first among equals” – approach bereft of specialness. And so fine talmidim can go through twelve years of traditional Chinuch with but the most fleeting glimpses of the areyvus of Gemara, of its hod v’hadar, of that which makes one exclaim: Ma ahavti Torasecha!

Particularly in the T.I.D.E. milieu that Yeshivas HaOlim promotes, a solid one to three years Kodesh la’Hashem out of Simchas HaTorah, is an essential cornerstone for life-long exciting and uplifting pursuit of Talmud Torah k’neged kullam.]

2. Festive gatherings of Charedim, for spiritual purposes (such as the introduction of the Eastern European Shalosh Seudos, etc.).

3. Special instruction in the history and development of Hislahavus and Dveykus in Israel and its practice.

[Rabbi Bechhofer’s comments:
The davening in many contemporary yeshivos needs improvement. In some places, there is somewhat more of a sense of tzurah, of decorum. But ha’tzad ha’shaveh is that for all too many talmidim, davening is “down-time” – for shmoozing, at best for sleeping and/or sleeping.

Yeshivas HaOlim will strive to make davening meaningful and uplifting, and to ensure a talmid is not just “acting,” but knows and means what he is saying. This can be accomplished by shiurim and va’adim in Emunah, in the power of davening, and biurei tefillos.]

4. Great emphasis must be placed upon a stipulation that every Oleh to refrain from any excesses or immodesty in speech, clothing, deed and from any competitive sport or gambling.

5. The development of a pure esthetic that will free the architecture of our Shuls and the nature of our music from the influence of other religions…

To achieve aliya in bein adam l’chaveiro I consider:

1. Instruction in the issues of bein adam l’chaveiro and guidance in expanded practical applications. Both modern and classic texts should be employed, with a particular stress on current situations. To develop a greater sense of belonging to Orthodox society as a whole.

2. The obligation of every Oleh to engage in Cheshbon HaNefesh at least once a week, to ascertain if, and to what extent, he has fulfilled mitzvos and refrained from aveiros according to the instruction and guidance provided to him.

3. An outright ban on certain material pursuits.

4. Substantive and apolitical common counsel to resolve Jewish societal problems in the spirit of Torah and Mesorah.

Even if the manner in which we display the public image of our lives does not currently convey our glory as the Chosen Nation, even if we are uncertain how to properly become the glory [pe’er] of the world, Ha’Olim cannot allow the status quo to continue. They must attempt to rectify as much as possible.

To achieve aliya in the manners of creating public lives, I depict to myself:

1. Instruction in issues concerning glory [Tiferes] and its correlation to religion and Mussar… [and] practical guidance in the application of these principles to the creation of appropriate public lives.

2. The development of an independent Jewish social structure following Judaism and Mussar.

3. The development of arts, especially architecture, music and poetry, rooted in the spirit of true Jewish Mesorah, and the establishment of competitions in these areas.

4. The previously mentioned (in the section on Da’as Hashem) ban on excesses.

[Rabbi Bechhofer’s comments:
The Internet is here to stay. There is no way the bulk of Yahadus HaTorah can hide their collective heads in the sand. And if that means that a bachur today – even a “good” bachur – is exposed to pornography, we have to deal with it.

If it means they will be texting constantly, acting inappropriately on blogs and on Facebook, we also have to deal with it. Many of our talmidim are into “goyishe music,” are up on TV and movies (even if we have no TV’s in our houses! even if we have extensive web filters – amazing, right?! Are you aware, for example, of the existence of a site which helps yeshiva kids get around filters!!).

So we have to deal with it. Moreover, but we have hid our faces to our detriment for far too long from the problem that many bachurim with the prohibited behavior that we can delicately call ni’uf b’yad. So we must deal with it.

Part of the problem is that many of our talmidim find a certain sippuk in these pursuits that we are not giving them (in no small part because 75 years ago we failed to implement the vision of Dr. Nathan Birnbaum).

Yeshivas HaOlim will deal with it. (This is not the place to explain how, od chazaon la’mo’ed.)]

As a means of ascent in all three aforementioned areas I consider:

Involvement in the education of young men and young women according to the demands of Ha’Olim – an involvement that will become especially substantial when it will be possible to arrange such education among large groups of Ha’Olim or in their respective communities…

[Rabbi Bechhofer’s comments:
Maharal, Be’er Ha’Golah, end of Be’er 7 (free translation):
When an individual does not intend to scoff – rather only to state his belief – even if these positions stand against your belief and system, don’t say to him: “Don’t talk, seal your mouth!” For then the system will not be clarified. On the contrary, in such matters we should say: “Speak as much as you want, all that you want to say, so that you will not be able to say that were you granted permission to expand you would have spoken further and convinced me with your beliefs.” If, however, you do close the questioner’s mouth and prevent him from speaking, that points toward a weakness in the system.

This approach is the converse of the general impression, which is that it is not permitted to discuss the system, and that thus the system is strengthened. On the contrary! That approach undermines the system!…

It is only by inviting questioning that a person comes to the inner truth of matters… For any hero that comes to compete with another to demonstrate his might wants very much that his opponent muster as much strength as possible – then, if the hero overcomes his opponent, he proves that he is the mightier hero. What might, however, does the hero display if his opponent is not permitted to stand strong and wage war against him?…]

Rightsizing Our Children’s Education

Educating our children l’derech Hashem is a chiyuv that we have as adults, rabbonim, educators, parents and a community. This is certainly not a newsflash. So why do I raise the issue?

Imagine that after camp ends in August, you take your child shopping for new Shabbos and school clothes. Money, of course, is usually a factor but you look for the one store that has the proper size and best selection. After spending several days going to numerous clothing stores, you’re unable to find one that carries your child’s slim, husky, tall or short sizes. Even the few shops that carry those special sizes have merely one shelf or rack to select from. With school starting the next day and your child experiencing meltdowns from the boredom of shlepping and shopping you decide to look no further and, out of convenience, settle on the regular sizes. Besides, the store is filled with attractive, regular size, and since everyone else from the neighborhood is buying their childrens’ clothes there, it makes sense to do the same. Sure, it’s a half size too small or big, a little short, tall, tight or big, but, hey, it’s good enough. For the most part, it works. So what if it isn’t the best fit. Nothing’s perfect. Admittedly, it’s not very comfortable but it’s okay. Most parents would obviously want their children to look and feel their best. Why then, do we do routinely send our children to a yeshiva or bais yaakov merely because it is ostensibly the frumest, the largest, the toughest, convenient, popular or they’ll be able to get a better shidduch?
Read more Rightsizing Our Children’s Education

A College Education?

A blast from the past. Originally posted on June 13, 2006.

I’ve seen many comments in response to “Sam Smith’s” “Financial Realities in the Frum World” that talk about the undesirability of sending one’s kids to public schools. Specifically, part of Alter Klein’s comment #169 stood out to me:

“If we send our kids to public school it is like offering them up as korbonot (sacrifices). Yes, they could turn out ok, however odds are against it. Don’t stand by while your brother’s blood is being shed. The so called colleges that many kids are going to are also destroying many of those kids. ”

While I do not have kids (nor am I even married), and am therefore not yet thinking about educating them, I’d like to offer an opinion from the “other side.”
Read more A College Education?

Was Yehoshua In Danger of Going Off the Derech

Rabbi Yaacov Haber, who resides in Eretz Yisroel has a great piece in which he gives us some insights into children who might walk away from their heritage:

Over the years I have worked with hundreds of these young men and women. It has been my experience that many of them are the sweetest, gentlest, most sensitive, and sometimes the brightest children around. Because of their non-aggressive nature they don’t easily say no. They don’t aggressively argue their point and sometimes don’t have the koach to stick to their guns and resist peer pressure.

Read more Was Yehoshua In Danger of Going Off the Derech

Suggestions to Address the Tuition Crisis

Although some commentors had suggested a desire to get Beyond Tuition, we clearly see this issue is causing much pain for the frum middle case. We thought it made sense to “promote to post” some suggestions Charnie, Tzvi, Sefardi Lady and others in the Beyond BT community have made on the tuition issue to date.

Please add any additional thoughts in the comments.

1) that all parents – baring the most extrememe circumstances, pay at least a minimum;

2) that yeshiva boards not be made up only of the wealthier end of the parent body, but have a broader representation economically;

3) that schools look to cut costs by combining facilities where it is geographical feasible;

4) that every school makes sure it is taking advantage of every possible grant out there. BYQ is a wonderful example, as anyone who’s seen their computer lab can attest;

5) accept the fact that a Rebbe or Morah’s reduced tuition is a barter – they’re making less then many of us, but they’re providing an important service;

6) we work together with other groups (Solomon Schector, Christians, Catholics, etc) to gain more in the form of vouchers &/or tax credits;
a) that also means considering political candidates positions on these issues when we go to vote.

7) scholarships should not be given out based totally on an applicant’s 1099.

8) that in NYC we learn from some OOT yeshivas that require parents to help out at a school in exchange for financial aid. Some schools might even be able to cut salaries that way.

9. Along with point #1, we must state that NO CHILD will be denied a yeshiva education because the parents can’t afford it.

10. Aside from schools “combining facilities” (a pipe dream IMO, unless the crisis — for them — becomes severe), schools should at least coordinate efforts
a) to encourage community members (including non-parents) to direct more $$ to the community’s schools,
b) to ensure that every child has a place in a school, and that scholarships are available and equitably distributed across the schools (ala Chicago’s Kehilla Fund)
c) to pool resources for expensive special programs (ala the 5 Towns / Far Rockaway’s CAHAL)

11. Yeshivos should seek help from parents and others on how to increase fundraising, especially from alumni.

12. Parents must be encouraged to take a hard look at their priorities, and be reminded that tuition (full if at all possible) must be the first item budgeted and paid, before vacations, camp, new cars, home additions, etc., etc.

13. Community members, especially those pre- or post-tuition years, and those with fewer children and more resources, should be reminded to direct their generosity first and foremost to their community yeshivos.

14. Look at the possibility of combining duplicate functions and providing enhanced functions through cooperation (a big example being the need for vocational courses and the lack of an adequate size classroom if one school where to provide such).

15. We should also look at the possibility of spreading tuition out over 12 months, instead of 10

16. Tell the schools to stop making our children the middle man when it comes to requesting money

17. Stop punishing parents who pay over 10 months with “fees.”

Inspiration Winter Retreat – A Workout for the Soul – For Women Only

Our contributor, Dina Mensch, is an organizer of an Exceptional Three-Day Torah Learning Experience for Beginning and Intermediate Learners.

on Presidents Weekend Shabbos-Mon February 17-20, 2006. Sunday learnng program begins 9:00 AM.

at Congregation Beis Torah U’Tefila
218 Aycrigg Ave, Passaic NJ in the Downstairs Simcha Hall.

For Reservations and information contact
Mrs. Dina Mensch at (973) 458-0059
Mrs. Laurie Baum at (973) 773-4413
Mrs. Rina Kasper at (973) 778-3636
or email dmensch -at- optonline.net

Space is Limited. All meals and classes for one low price of $175.00.
Home hospitality offered for out-of-town participants.
Read more Inspiration Winter Retreat – A Workout for the Soul – For Women Only

Using Art Scroll

It’s interesting that Chafetz Chaim allows ArtScroll Gemaras inside the Beis Medrash. OTOH, I see that my comments re gaining textual fluency are not completely unfounded. I think that textual literacy means the basic ability to work at ease with the classical texts and understanding what is happening in a passuk with the classical Mfarshim and or a sugya based on the classical Rishonim and Acharonim. If you learn on the Daf Yomi level, you will discover that the same machlokes HaTanaim pops up many times and is the key to understanding many different questions raised in a particular masecta.

Education

I’m glad that my comment generated some responses. Here are some comments:

1) It helps if you are a voracious reader. I have been since my childhood days. That being said, it pays to read the best of the Charedi and MO world’s publications. I like Jewish Action, Mishpacha and the Jewish Press. The Jewish Observer is better than it was but the JO/ & Yated are way too ideologically driven for my taste.
Read more Education