It’s about two hours long. So I am not necessarily suggestion one listen to the entire thing. But Klal Perspectives – an online magazine dealing with many of the issues I discuss here – had a panel discussion on same. The panel consisted of what I believe to be moderate Charedi personalities. Some a bit more to the right than others. But moderate just the same.
My ears perked up when the discussion veered into the idea of striving to be a Gadol… a top Torah scholar of the generation. Jonathan Rosenblum made what seemed to be a contradictory comment. On the one hand he said that everyone should be given the opportunity to become a Gadol. Then he said not everyone is cut out to be one. They are therefore being given the wrong message if they are told that is what they should strive for.
Indeed that is contradictory. But one of the panel members asked, ‘What’s wrong with telling everyone to strive to be a Gadol’? That remained unanswered - ending up being a statement rather that a question
This, in my view is the crux of the problem in much of Charedi education. Instilling in these young men the idea that they should strive to be among the most learned men of the generation no matter where their capabilities lie does a great disservice to Klal Yisroel. I have said this many times. As a Centrist this is a point of departure for me. In my view a person should be encouraged to pursue a career in the area to which he is best suited. And that is not always in Torah study.
This is not to eliminate those studies completely. As Jews we must learn how to be a Jew and the best way to do that properly is to study Torah. It is also true that Torah study is considered to be of the highest value. So it should be studied intensely by all. But not to the exclusion of all else. Nor should anyone be discouraged from pursuing areas of study where their real talents lie. They should instead be encouraged to explore where their talents lie and them to pursue them.
Yes, we need great Torah scholars. Our generation is no different than any other. And perhaps more than any other generation our technically advanced world today gives rise to far more Halachic questions than at any time since the days of Chazal. Those whose talents lie in Talmud study should therefore be encouraged along those lines - guided to pursue the Gadlus they are capable of. But certainly not everyone. Just because a student happens to be very bright should automatically be directed into a life of full time Torahs study. And yet in the Charedi world, this is the message they are promoting.
In my view this is one of the biggest contributing factors to the so called OTD problem - children from Charedi homes abandoning their religious heritage. How many times have I heard about a bright child that just couldn’t pay attention to a Gemarah Shiur. He might be daydreaming about a book he read about the cosmos. That child will be better served by guiding him into the field of science. That is where he will excel.
A bright student may even do well in his Torah study. But if he sublimates his true passions, he will not in my view be using his God given talent where they belong; the field of study where his true passions lie. So he may become a competent Torahs scholar. But he will likely not become a great Torah scholar. Had he on the other hand pursued his true passion – like science for example – he would become a great scientist and contribute far more to Klal Yisroel than he would as merely a competent Torah scholar. Why should this child be encouraged to only pursue Torah study?
Why must a fellow like this end up in a Kollel whose level of Torah study can stagnate instead of having been prepared to pursue his true passions and talents and thrive?
And yet, the rabbinic leaders in the Charedi world insist that this full time Torah study is what everyone should pursue. And that only after realizing that they are not going to become that Gadol, should they try something else. In some cases that works. But they may have missed the opportunity to become great at what they are really good at
So to answer that panelist's question about what’s wrong with encouraging everyone to strive to become a Gadol is – plenty!