Houston, We’ve Got A Problem!
by Rabbi Dovid Landesman
I hate to always be the harbinger of discomforting tidings, but the older I get, the more pessimistic I become. Instead of being proud of the unprecedented growth of the olam ha-Torah, I find myself increasingly critical of its shortcomings and that is enormously disconcerting.
I can already hear those who will complain that my words should not be publicized because they represent rechilus about an entire community, an enormous sin. I can only respond to them that I am confident in this case that my words are meant completely l’toles and I will be as careful as possible to hide the identities of those involved.
Others may feel that I am blowing the problem way out of proportion, that it concerns only a insignificant minority of the subject population. To them I reply that none of has real statistics. Moreover, if what I say is only true of one small group of yeshiva students, it is still too much and must be dealt with.
This past Sunday I had occasion to attend a wedding. Let us ignore the wedding itself; my feelings about the lavishness of the spread can be left for another posting. Rather, I would prefer to focus on two points; the dancing and the drinking.
I have little quarrel with the type of music played. When I was a yeshiva boy, we enjoyed styles of music that made our parent’s ears cringe; because of the volume and because of the tempo. I can accept that the musical preferences of each generation differ and I do not expect to see any consistency.
Nevertheless, I will comment on the dancing, understanding that this has peripheral relevance to the music itself. A few years ago, a talmid challenged me to explain why I saw certain types of music as being “kosher” and other types as being “undesirable” or “distasteful.” The question has probably been raised in many homes as well.
I responded that the means that I would use to characterize music would be to analyze what part of the body moves to the sound! When the rhythm and beat clearly appeal to the lower torso, I think it is unnecessary to go into any graphic explanation as to what the music is doing and why this constitutes a lack of tznius and propriety.
I watched the boys dance at this wedding – especially when keitzad m’rakdin was being played which should reflect the dancer’s attempts to showcase their special talents so as to bring joy to the chasan and kallah. Frankly, the movements would have done the ‘bros’ in the ‘hood’ proud.
Even the standard circle sets made me uncomfortable. I resented the fact that the younger crowd saw fit to totally ignore the presence of a large crowd who wanted to participate. The indiscriminate shoving and pushing, combined with the apparent constant need to be the center of attention evidenced by the chasan’s friends, was extremely disquieting. Instead of widening the circle and occasionally allowing the older generation to participate and also fulfill the obligation to be mesameach each, the boys tried to insure that the speed of the dancers equaled their own youthful exhuberance – even if that literally meant stepping on people’s toes or kicking them in the shins. Eventually, most of the older people made their own circle, including the couple’s fathers and grandfathers.
More disconcerting than the dancing, however, was the drinking. It began at the chasan’s tisch where a number of bottles, stored in the proverbial paper bags, were passed around and quickly placed under the table whenever a waiter or suspicious looking adult came by. Unlike brown baggers, however, these bottles weren’t filled with rot gut; only single malt scotches and eighteen year old bourbon were deemed suitable.
I watched as water glasses were filled with two inches of brown liquid, drained and then refilled for another round. The bags reappeared during the seudah, necessary I guess because the hosts had not placed wine bottles on the three tables reserved for bachurim and the bartender would not serve without carding.
To add to my chagrin, the rosh yeshivah, the mashgiach and a rebbi from the yeshiva were seated with the bachurim and clearly saw what was transpiring. The boys made no attempt to hide their drinking from the rabbis and none of the rabbis made any apparent attempt to stop the drinking; as a matter of fact, at one point the rebbi joined with them in a l’chaim.
I finally could not take it any more and decided to talk to them. I was as non-confrontational as I know how and asked the boys why they drank. Three boys claimed that they had not touched a drop; later I discovered that they were the designated drivers. The bachurim looked at me with absolutely no understanding. Some of them were not coherent enough to comprehend my reasoning; others, somewhat less soused, pointed out that drinking made them less embarrassed and self-conscious and thus more capable of dancing without inhibition.
I admit that I was a little less respectful in my conversation with the rosh yeshiva who pointed out that in his view it was not so bad and besides, wasn’t it better that they should drink under supervision?
Let me point out that the said yeshiva is mainstream – i.e., not meant for “kids at risk” – and that prospective in-laws are pledging top dollar for their products. For me, all I can say is that I am exceedingly grateful to the Ribbono shel Olam that all my daughters are spoken for.
[Rabbi Dovid Landesman is a veteran mechanech and observer of the scene in Israel]