Changing the "System"

by Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro

Whenever I speak about chinuch, the audience never fails to express their dissatisfaction with our educational "system". They want Yeshivos to be better able to inspire the "average" student; they want Bais Yaakovs to be less straining; and they want all schools to lower their admissions standards, to accommodate the not-so-elite student.

Whether their complaints are right or wrong, there certainly is a problem with our educational system. That is, control of it is not in the hands of the educators.

Over 50 years ago, the previous Bostoner Rebbe, Rav Moshe Horowitz ZTL, had suggested in a meeting with Rav Shraga Faivel Mendelovitz ZTL, that a Yeshiva be created where an easier curriculum of Gemora-Rashi, some Ain Yaakov, some Halachah LMaaseh, and Hashkafa is studied, to better accommodate those students for whom the intense Gemara B'Iyun-centered program is too much. Rav Mendelovitz replied, "You are right, Bostoner Rebbe, but what parents will send their kids there?"

More recently, in a meeting regarding the elementary school curriculum in his Yeshiva, Rav Yitzchok Hutner ZTL stated that in his opinion, starting Gemara in the fifth grade is too early. Seventh or eighth grade would be better, but there is a problem instituting the idea. "What will be," he said, "when a father of a 7th grader from another Yeshiva meets a father of a 7th grader from our Yeshiva in Shul. 'My son finished 20 blatt this year, and 10 blatt last year,' says the father from the other Yeshiva. 'My son, well, he's still learning Mishayos', says the father from our Yeshiva." There goes the Yeshiva's reputation, and, soon thereafter, the Yeshiva's students.

So our educational system has its problems, but the "educational system" is comprised not only of educators. The parent bodies, and the student themselves, also maintain power and say over what happens in our Torah institutions. They are the ones - not the Roshei Yeshiva - that create the reputations of the Yeshivas. It is their judgement - not that of the Roshei Yeshiva - that determines which Yeshivos will be successful and which will fail. The "hamon am" make their own demands of Yeshivos, demands which are often detrimental to the well-being of the student. Demands that are often based on standards that defy logic, experience, and Torah leadership. But woe be it to the Yeshiva that fails to meet those demands.

Mechanchim are choked by the fact that to be successful they have to satisfy the free-wheeling agendas created by people with no expertise in Chinuch. If you do what is right, you lose.

We are gripped in the clutches of a Judaic "pop culture" which, like secular trends, is all fluff and no substance, but nevertheless is blindly complied with by thousands. We laugh at the mindless devotion of the goyim to fashions and fads, yet we have allowed purveyors of political correctness to create "designer chinuch", where it becomes fashionable not to finish more that 10 blatt of Gemorah a year, despite the begging and pleading of our Gedolim to speed up the pace. And the designers have as much taste for Torah education as those in Paris do for menshliche clothing.

Thousands of laymen who do not know how to make tea on Shabbos according to Halachah, who have no clue as to whether you must wash and bentsch if you eat one slice of bread, will shortly be dedicating all their learning time for years to come to the study of how to be makrev korbonos. Finishing shas is an accomplishment, but so is keeping Shabbos. And, the Chofetz Chaim said, the only possible way to do that even once is by knowing thoroughly all the halachos. But who wants to do what's right? We'd rather do what's popular. ("The Shach, Taz, and Drisha write that a Baal Habayis who only learns a few hours a day should learn Halachah, not Gemara. Every man must know Orech Chaim, and some Halachos of Yoreh Deah, Even Haezer, and Choshen Mishpat . . . but we see that if we will tell them this, they will not learn at all, because they only want to learn a daf of Gemara each day. Therefore, we should not disallow them to [learn daf yomi], and we hope they will do even that . . . " - Aruch HaShulchan 246:17)

We can change the system. We can improve it. But we can't do it by constantly pointing the finger at others. We need to employ a bit of sensibility when choosing Yeshivos: "What is best for my son", should be the question; "what is best for me", when choosing your own seder hayom. We should listen carefully to the direction of our Gedolim and Mechanchim. And we should remember what our Rebbeim taught us in Cheder: Don't pay attention to fashions.