Three Ladies, Three Lattes: Enable education

Is secular education not necessary for a lifetime of studying Torah?

Enable education! (photo credit: Courtesy)
Enable education!
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I am a secular American. Almost 20 years ago my daughter became haredi [ultra-Orthodox]. She and her husband live in Jerusalem and send their seven children to Torani [religious] schools: the girls get a basic education in math and English, the boys almost nothing. My daughter encourages her daughters to support their future husbands who will study in yeshiva; she hopes her boys will find wives who work for them. Secular education is not necessary for a lifetime of studying Torah. What do you ladies think?
Worried as Hell,
Philadelphia
Pam Peled:
This is like asking me what I think of the old Chinese practice of crippling little girls by breaking their feet. Why would anyone support handicapping another human being, let alone making a child’s life harder? Not giving a youngster the tools to earn an honorable living effectively means condemning them to a life of poverty. The Yeshiva bochers [youths] will endlessly bless God for providing bread from out of the ground, but it won’t be God at all – it’ll either be their rich parents or in-laws, or you and me. Our hard-earned taxes will enable them to sit all day debating whether it’s okay to peel a grape on the seventh day.
The unsustainability of the growing numbers of haredim, their deepening poverty and lack of secular education is a huge, huge headache. Ex-Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy cautioned, “Ultra-Orthodox radicalization poses a bigger threat than Ahmadinejad,” and added that their extremism has darkened our lives.
At this moment, the shocking results of the OECD PISA examinations are being studied – Israeli pupils lag behind the Western world. According to Dan-Ben-David of the Shoresh Institute for Socio-Economic Research, few of the ultra-Orthodox pupils even take that test – their scores would be significantly lower. How can Israel flourish if its youth is badly educated? I would cut all funding to schools that hobble the youth by not teaching the core curriculum.
I’m sorry, I can’t see anything Divine in sponging off others for money. On a recent visit to Bnei Brak I was stunned by the filth in the streets and the chaos on the roads. If this is what studying Torah all day looks like, I’m not in favor.
Tzippi Shaked:
I advocate incentivizing the haredi community by dangling financial carrots in front of schools that incorporate math and sciences into their core curriculum. Still, I fear economic rewards won’t work, just like this wouldn’t convince secular state schools to incorporate more serious Torah classes (not the Bible taught as allegorized fairy tales, as is the case today.)
I propose creating a think tank comprised of like-minded haredi educators who agree that education, along with faith, is necessary for haredi sustainability. Change must come from within, not by appointing secular ministers whom the ultra-Orthodox don’t trust as having their best interests in mind.
Not one sector in the country trusts that any other cares about them. We are a “people of the book,” but every sector operates according to its own rules. This is where a think tank comes in, conditioned on team-building, while safeguarding inviolable principles.
Long ago, I sat facing a haredi bride-to-be, days before she stood under the huppah [wedding canopy]. Her mom, of haredi conviction, sat quietly at the other end of the table, letting me do my “work.” I depicted a future of financial hardship, based on the young woman being the sole breadwinner and a product of an ill-equipped haredi education. She absorbed the information and smiled at my ominous foreshadowing of what might lie ahead. That bride’s mother was none other than Danit Shemesh. With faith in Hashem and trust in my true intentions, she wanted the bride to understand what a kollel lifestyle might entail. To even hold such conversations, there must always be trust. BTW, today both Danit’s daughter and her husband hold good jobs and continue living a Torah-centered life. It can be done!
Danit Shemesh:
The reader has ambivalent feelings about her children’s choice of education, something over which she has no control, unless she becomes a veritable monster-in-law. And you, Pam, read her the Riot Act! Is that not brainwashing? You trump the real live person with the ideal. Is the sacred cow you call “academia” more important than the reader’s relationship with her grandchildren? Do your statistics prove themselves? Do statistics create good, happy, respectful, contributing individuals? In the words of Mark Twain, “lies, damned lies and statistics.”
Anyway, post-high school, our children take courses or complete specific curriculums to give them tools to make enough money to live. I’m not worried about their lack of secular education.
A better question than what we think would be what you, our readers, think. With what values and ideals have you nourished your children? What spiritual food have they imbibed from you? You don’t sound dogmatic; you did not raise them to think there is only one way of doing things and the rest of the world is simply wrong. Wrong and damaging. You respected them enough not to brainwash them; you offered them a choice!
Eulogizing our father, my brother thanked him for his pluralism, his social plasticity. My father was the classic academic: “information is power.” Initially he was aghast at our educational choices; he later understood that raising spiritually connected Jewish people exceeds academic savviness both personally and socially. The haredi system will teach your grandchildren to honor you.
Comments and questions:
3ladies3lattes@gmail.com



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