How Worldly?

Jonathan Rosenblum’s paean to the accomplishments and contributions of Baalei Teshuva are a fitting accessory to the Agudah Convention, which always has provided huge chizuk for the attendees. His article will certainly inspire much commentary and reaction.

Those of us who could not make it might find solace in the recent availability online of a classic from a previous convention, in this case the West Coast Agudah Convention. Although sixteen years have passed, many of us vividly remember the debate between Prof. Aaron Twerski and Dr Aharon Hersh Fried on the topic of “Are Our Children Too Worldly?” Prof. Twerski was powerful and engaging, but it was Dr. Fried who dropped the bombshell in his opening lines: “The question is not whether our children are too worldly, but whether they are worldly enough!”

It got even better after that. (A small number of kanaim/ zealots were seen making a bee-line to the payphones to phone various East Coast personages in protest. The vast majority of the audience gobbled up the rest of his presentation respectfully.)

Rabbi Dr. Fried is a Munkaczer chasid, professor at Stern College, and authority on special education, with great traction in the haredi world. (A number of years ago, it was he who took on the rapidly spreading belief in “facilitated communication,” through which otherwise uncommunicative autistic children used computers to send messages from beyond, usually in broken Brooklyn yinglish. He is respected enought that Hamodia printed his scathing report, despite the fact that facilitated communication had gained a following in some yeshiva circles.) He committed the presentation to paper, with significant upgrades. It was published in volume 4 of Hakirah, whose policy is to make its contents available when an issue sells out. That time has arrived; the article is now available for free download.

I will throw out some tidbits as bait. Keep in mind that his observations are not those of a disgruntled lone ranger. He backs up all his assertions with anecdotes about and conversations with gedolim of the past.

Communities faced with these breaches in their walls usually respond by rededicating themselves even more zealously to building still higher and thicker walls. It does not work.

And this:

There is an unwritten but whispered rule amongst Bais Yaakov girls that, “If you have some really serious questions, whatever you do, don’t ask your teacher, not unless you don’t care what it does to your shidduch chances!” This attitude towards thinking and questioning drives away some of our brightest and most honest young people. It also flies in the face of Rishonim like the Mabit who insist that it is imperative that we learn to think and to question and to chase down answers on our own


And this, from the Baal לבושי שרד:

The masses, when they see a foolish person who doesn’t know enough to do bad and also doesn’t know anything about worldly matters and who behaves in foolish and crazy ways, they consider him to be the holy one. But (on the other hand) when they see a wise man conducting himself in the ways of the Torah, without deviating to the right or to the left, all of whose ways (the Torah’s) are pleasant (i.e. moderate), he is not as highly regarded in their eyes because they think that the Torah, God-forbid, commanded us to be idiots, not to know anything about worldly matters.

Most readers of Cross-Currents, I suspect, will find the entire article an intriguing read.

While you are getting used to downloading from Hakira, make a point of getting a remarkable tour de force on Maharal and the explication of Aggada, written by my good friend R. Chaim Eisen of Yerushalayim. When it first appeared, I called him to ask if he had written the article (with more substance in the footnotes than most people can digest in a lifetime) just to embarrass me for writing my sefer on Maharal. Had I known then how little I knew of the context of Maharal’s contribution, I don’t know if I would have written it!

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14 Responses

  1. Moshe S. says:

    Rabbi Eisen’s article on Maharal should be required reading for all Jerusalem seminary and yeshivah mechanchim. Many of them are under some very false impressions about Maharal.

  2. Moshe Schorr says:

    Thank you for this article.

    I did go to the article about “Are our children too secular?” I found the wording there slightly different. He writes “Are our children too _worldly_. I think there is a huge diference. Perhaps it was the use of “secular”, that sent those _kanaim_ to the payphones. :-)0

  3. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Moshe –

    Thank you. You may be correct. I’ve changed the wording. But I assure you, it was not the title that sent the kanaim scrambling, but the drift of his remarks.

  4. HILLEL says:

    The RAMBA”M writes that, if you live among evil men, you should escape to the desert, if necessary, to avoid associating with evildoers and degenerates. At the Agudah convention, Rabbi Yaakov Bender, a great MeChanEch who is certainlyqualified to speak on this subject, called for more isolation, not less. He said that we should become “cave dwellers.”–and the deeper the cave, the better.

    Of course, we need to have the tools to remain viable in the highly-secularized world that surrounds us. But, does that mean that we have to become participants?

  5. Hesh says:

    It is impossible in this day and age (and perhaps even since the invention of the railroad) to build a cave deep enough to permanently guard oneself (and one’s children) from the outside world. The truth is that since the days of the Avot (as we have been reading), Jews have been “participants” in the outside world. The key is to educate our children (and ourselves) about how to critically view society and live al pi halachah.

  6. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Interesting. The last time somebody used the caveman motif, it started a war between R Elya and Dr Lamm. Somehow, people in the yeshiva world were none too happy to be thought of as cave-dwellers. (And,no, the difference was not tone of voice. Anyone who listened to Dr Lamm’s remarks in context realized that he did not talk about the cave pejoratively, only about remaining within it when there was work to be done outside.)

    אכשרא דרא, I guess

  7. Ori Pomerantz says:

    HILLEL, can you remain viable without working with people from the outside world? How can you work with people, without participating in their culture?

    G-d could have made us autonomous beings. Instead, He made us so that we’d be a lot more efficient if we specialize, which requires trading. He could have given us so few specializations Jewish communities would be able to be autonomous even in exile. Instead, we were born in a generation where there is a huge number of specializations, and it’s hard to imagine a Jewish country that wouldn’t need to trade with the outside world.

  8. HILLEL says:

    What may be more apropriate is the “incubator” analogy: Children should be allowed to stay in a Torah-centered “incubator,” where they are sheltered and strengthened, until they are ready to contend with the hostile forces in the outside world.

    If we vaccinate a baby with dangerous germs, before his immune system has become sufficiently mature, he may actually come down with the disease that we are trying to prevent. Or–even worse–according to some credible research, he may develop autism.

    So, too, if we expose our children to the full–or even partial–spectrum of degenerate influences in our society, they may be ruined.

  9. lacosta says:

    while it is probably true that all frum jews lived in an underground cave
    there would be much less shmad, it is kind of sad that
    1] being an ohr lagoyim needs to now be replaced by hermetically sealed darkness
    2] it makes one wonder what the vision of the Ribbono shel Olam was, allowing jews out amongst the goyim. avraham managed, so did yitzchak—but both with a 50% shmad rate. only yaakov’s torah house did better…

    apparantly, close the Teivah, and let the Boiling Water [Nuclear Fallout?] rain down is the only model left that works.

    in LA ,CA r adlerstein could comment on the AishTamid organization, which deals with the Boys who fall into trouble. and it ranges from the leftest liberalist MO thru yeshivish, chabad , maybe a little yeshivish. ein eidah asher ein sham….

  10. Ori Pomerantz says:

    HILLEL, your vaccination analogy is perfect. If we vaccinate babies too early, we can cause terrible damage. If we fail to vaccinate at the correct time, we leave our children vulnerable to deadly diseases.

    Eventually, your children will be exposed to outside influences. Even if your son only learns Torah, he might need to make a living as a sochet some place where land is cheap enough to raise beef and poultry. Your daughter might need to go to a non-Jewish hospital to give birth. Even in an Orthodox Web site such as you can come across various heretics and their non-Torah ideas (imagine I point at myself while saying that).

    Since blocking outside influences completely is impossible, the question is how to manage them. At a young age, this could be done using the incubator method. At an older age, when they can understand more, you need to expose them in a controlled manner, and to explain that some people don’t follow the Torah. By the time they get old enough to decide for themselves, they will be old enough to look. You want them to be able to interpret what they find in a Torah light, which will be easier if you prepared them for it.

  11. Baruch Horowitz says:

    Rabbi Dr. Fried was also interviewed on OU Radio about his Hakirah article; I found the interview very insightful. As Dr. Fried mentions on approximately 25 mn on the segment, Torah Umesorah and Hamodia both asked him to speak/write about his Hakirah article in their forums(the interview is titled “Worldliness and Walls”, scroll down in the “Around the Dining Room Table” section).

    On another note, for those who want an alternative to the cave parable, I’ve seen a more contemporary and conceptually different “space-suit” analogy, defined as “a multi-layered moral compass that is gradually developed during a child’s formative years”.

  12. ZB says:

    Hillel, the “credible” research that you sited that vaccinations cause autism is I believe conjoined to the belief of facilitated communication. By sheltering your children from the world, by building giagantic barriers we unfortunately separate ourselves from reality. This is what Rabbi Dr. Fried and many of us fight against, this sheltering gives rise to the lack of critical knowledge that may pervade much of the right wing world. I don’t know how common it is in the charaidi world to believe that vaccinations cause autism, but the lack of “derech eretz” in which I mean chochma and madah, does our people no good and can lead to the way to common belief in quack sciences.

  13. Steve Brizel says:

    Excellent article and links. Unfortunately, as ZB pointed out, too many of us think that avoidance of vaccinations and the use of unproven quack remedies such as facilitated communication are all the “Refuah” that we need from serious medical and educational issues. At least R A Z Weiss in Minchas Asher on Parshas Behar viewed the latter as not being a “refuah” that would warrant Chillul Shabbos. OTOH, one wonders about a convention whose theme was kiruv in 2007, long after kiruv has been a major part of the Charedi and MO worlds. Of course, since RYSE came out against any proposed division of Yerushalayim , R”L, the Agudah passed a strong resolution in this regard as well.

  14. HILLEL says:

    To ZB and S.B.:

    Are you denying that the Sabin poilio vaccine actually triggered poilio in many of the children who took it?–That’s why it was eventually withdrawn from the market. There are many, many such horror stories, and I don’t understand your attemp to link opposition to the inappropriate use of vaccines with “facilitated communication.”

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