Sunday, June 14, 2009

you can't argue with success

A short while ago I was in my son's yeshiva for their annual gala siyum. Close to 50 mesivta boys finished Baba Basra, another group finished Sukkah, and another group finished reviewing Gittin again (which the yeshiva learned the previous year). I am happy to say that my son was not the only 9th grader who managed to get through all 175 blatt of Baba Basra, the longest masechta in shas. The yeshiva he attends is not on the far right-wing of the chareidi world; it has a mix of boys from the Far Rockaway and the Five Towns. Many of these boys will go on to professional careers of one sort or another after their yeshiva years. Yet, it is still a "black-hat" yeshiva in the traditional mold.

For all the discussion of the importance of "rationalism" and the touting of modern orthodox hashkafa, the bottom line is talmud Torah k'neged kulam; the achievements in limud haTorah of the yeshiva world are unparalleled in the modern orthodox high schools. The same level of accomplishment is simply impossible in an environment of co-ed classes and a Talmud period of an hour a day.

Sure, there are problems with the yeshiva system. The cookie-cutter mold disenfranchises many students who are just not cut out for the system. Students' questions in many areas are not addressed properly and lead to superficial conformity without depth of commitment (i.e. towing the party line). But these problems are not solved by the modern orthodox education system and a good case can be made that they are even exacerbated. Greater openness to secular knowledge and culture has not proven itself to be a more effective barrier to assimilation in and of itself.

For all the talk of kids at risk and the weaknesses of our institutions, I think once in awhile we need to take stock of our successes as well.


  1. "The same level of achievement is simply impossible in an environment of co-ed classes and a Talmud period of an hour a day."
    that is likely true. but I'm a rationalist and consider myself quasi-Modern Orthodox. But I went to an all-boys school, and learned gemara for a lot longer than an hour a day. We learned gemara both bekius and beIyun. (no, we did not finish bava basra in 9th grade.)

    secular knowledge is not, to my mind, a barrier to assimilation, and that is not its value. its value is to be a well-rounded individual and to be able to more fully appreciate and understand Torah.

    that said, a broad knowledge of gemara is certainly an ideal, and it is very nice that your son has had this achievement.


  2. I basically agree with the post, both in terms of the success of the hashkafa of the Right("Arguing with Success"), and in general, the need to be positive(a point relevant to communal issues beyond the topic of this post).

    Two Points:

    1) My point in the comments "chiyuv of chinuch on ikkarei emunah" still stands. If one wants to apply "nebach an apikores" and judge and compare individuals , one must also deal with the question of the superiority of the faith of the sheltered person(I see arguments both ways), and also whether the community fulfilled it's obligations to research certain areas.

    It really goes back, in part, to the Rishonim's question of Emunah Peshutah vs. Chakirah. But the above is a different question from what you raise here, namely, recognizing success of a derech.

    2) There is also the opposite issue of excessive sheltering discusses in R. Fried's article, linked below. Again, this doesn't negate the arguable better track record of the Right's chinuch("Right", in your terms, seems to be a broad label, including any non-coed yeshivah :) )

    Here is a quote from R. Fried regarding what all yeshivos have in common(pg 40).

    "I should also point out that I am not talking about one or
    another isolated segment of our community. To different degrees theproblem of “children at risk” or “children alienated from, or just cold and indifferent to, Yiddishkeit” exists about equally in every segment of the frum community, from the very chassidic, through the yeshivish, to the Modern Orthodox. I don't really see any fundamental differences
    between the fences built by Torah Vodaath, Chaim Berlin, and the Mir and the fences built by Satmar, Skver, Bobov, and Gur, certainly not in the past 10-15 years. My experience is that even the more “Modern Orthodox” have similar, though lower, fences, accompanied by similar problems and conflicts. Thus each group at its level ought to look at what it is doing."

  3. great unknown9:09 AM

    Just to be pedantic, the proper expression (also it has been corrupted lately) is "toe the line."
    Aiyin Haitaiv wikipedia.

    Secular knowledge, as expressed in six of the knei ha'menorah, is critical: we all know the opinion attributed to the Gra. More critical, however, is "el mul pnei ha'menorah..."

    It's nice to see a school where the menorah is being properly lit.

  4. Chaim,

    Mazal tov on the siyum. As josh said, the value of secular knowledge is not in what it prevents, it is in what it engenders.

  5. Anonymous2:49 PM

    Chaim B,
    Does your hardcore talmud curriculum theory apply to yeshivas only ?
    Im nòt sure that your right wing boys only cheder is the only place this talmud curriculum could be emphasized. Girls schools should also adopt the talmud curriculum and do away with all that flaky navi, and moronic hashkafa.

    Also right wing yeshivas r hardly the only institution getting it right in terms of a talmudic curriculum.

    jaded topaz

  6. >>>Girls schools should also adopt the talmud curriculum and do away with all that flaky navi, and moronic hashkafa.

    I wouldn't quite put it in those words, but agree with your sentiments. The only caveat is that girls have no obligation to study Talmud, so why push them all to do so (by making intensive talmud as part of the standard curriculum)? But by all means they should also have a rigorous text based curriculum.

    >>>right wing yeshivas r hardly the only institution getting it right in terms of a talmudic curriculum.

    What school(s) do you have in mind?

  7. Anonymous3:41 PM

    Chaim B,

    I dont understand the whole commandment concept, but i think talmud studying does good things to the brain , neurochemically spèaking, which in turn leads to a sharper and smarter way of understanding life,
    Winning and being super súccessfúl too.
    Especially when it comes to halacha and understanding the concepts in a smart way.

    Also, How would the original RJJ high school of the Lower East Side rate in terms of black hatted right wing levels, compared to your sons mesivta.

    Would the original lower east side RJJ be considered black hatted right wing. Name one school with a better talmud curriculum than the original LES RJJ high school.

    A Coed Modern Orthodox Day School in 2009 that is doing alot of things right is Ramaz.

    Im sure there r more examples but black hatted perspectives has absolutely nothing to do with the súccess of a talmud curriculum. The talmud is so beyond that.

    As a born again French oriënted litvak(on most súnny mondays ) and a firm believer in logical and analytical learning,i think the Jerusalem and Babylonian talmud should be the basis of any judaic curriculum. Save the mora nevúchim and mússar shmoozes for the Beach with the drinking.
    Any mússar is probably found in the Jerusalem and or Babylonian talmud if one learns hard enough.And talmud learning is
    Especially important for the majority of functional individuals that work for a living. Anything òther than talmud learning in the spare moments pèr week is a waste of brain cells.

    jaded topaz

  8. And your son has uncle yg to make sure he stays on top of BB.

    And I will do my part to harass him, too. Ask your son what the problem is with Eid na'aseh dayan.

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