I’m Back in the Middle Again

My last post is hibernating in my hard drive, still unsubmitted and unpublished. It’s pretty dark, as I was in a pretty dark mood when I wrote it. And even though I tried to lighten it up the second time through, I decided in the end it wasn’t something I wanted to post. Maybe I’ll wait till my next fit of melancholy and send it in then.

What had soured my mood was the set of circumstances that had prompted me to write another recent post, “It’s lonely in the middle.” Here you have it:

I teach in a yeshiva high school. Yeshiva high school is a curious phenomenon, an apparent oxymoron that attempts to create a hybrid combining the standard of learning and Torah commitment of a traditional yeshiva with a solid program in secular studies. And although Rav Hirsch invented this very approach and used it to save much of German Jewry from the influence of Reform, yeshiva high schools have, for the most part, gone the way of the dinosaur.

Like politics, the world of Torah has been steadily polarizing. The right gets farther right, and the left gets farther left. My principal gets calls from all over the country from parents who want a secular study program that will leave college open as an option for their children without sacrificing Torah study standards or separate education. Few such options exist.

But we exist, taking students from almost every background, providing boys and girls on separate campuses with first-rate Torah and secular educations. We’ve earned for ourselves an exceptional reputation from yeshivas, seminaries, and universities, beating private school SAT averages every single year for over a decade, and turning out class after class of committed young b’nei Torah. Some are chareidi, some are tzioni, some are learning in kollel, most go to college, many become established professionals. And the overwhelming majority continue to demonstrate the same level of Torah observance that I hope for in my own children.

So what’s the problem? Well, on the right: “You’re not a REAL yeshiva.” Possibly a good thing, since we’ve saved a number of kids severely damaged by real yeshivos. True, most of our boys don’t daven with black hats (well, one does — my son). Only a few wear jackets. Many of the families have televisions (or perhaps I should say, ADMIT to having televisions). And many of our students actually plan on having jobs when they grow up.

On the left: “You’re not Zionistic enough.” Never mind that 90% of our graduates go to learn for a year or more in Eretz Yisroel, and that our fourth student in three years is about to enlist in the Israeli army. Oh, don’t forget about the “benefits” of coeducation that our students are missing out on (since, as we all know, all those recent studies proving the benefits of separate education are wrong).

What do these people think about, I wonder, when they’re sitting on the floor on Tisha B’Av mourning the Beis HaMikdash that was destroyed for sinas chinom? The persistent, passionate rationalization of this war of ideologies that turns every one who doesn’t agree with MY VIEW OF THE WORLD into a heretic or a fanatic can’t possibly be bringing Moshiach any closer.

But the superficiality of so much of the frum world only seems to be getting worse, with a white shirt and a black hat becoming the line in the sand, either the hill I have to die defending or the enemy I have to kill at all costs.

Meanwhile, the boys I teach, despite their variegated backgrounds, demonstrate a degree of achdus the most shuls could envy, and the girls I teach are still complaining that our curriculum isn’t allowing us to continue learning Mesillas Yesharim.

Pity we aren’t a REAL yeshiva, isn’t it.

34 comments on “I’m Back in the Middle Again

  1. I refer everyone to Rav Emanuel Feldman’s essay in the current Jewish Action. When it appears online, I’ll post the link.

  2. Rabbi Goldson has written a great article that should become an inspiration and also a concern for our future. The criticism he states coming from the “right” and “left” sounds all too familiar. He articulates beautifully that sometimes the beauty of Torah will emanate not from religious positions, but from the study of Torah itself.
    This high school must be the diamond in the rough, and other yeshiva high schools should follow its lead.

  3. “By the way, you may have seen the quote from Rav Soloveitchik in my last post, https://beyondbt.com/?p=573

    Oh, how funny! No, I actually came across it quoted in another article written by a talmid of the Rav (and I don’t mean the Ba’al HaTanya, but R. J.B. Soleveitchik here :) ).

    “Maybe I’m phrasing it wrong. Maybe the problem is, as M suggests above, that EVERYONE believes himself to be in the middle, and therefore condemns everyone who is different from him as an extremist.”

    And here, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.

  4. Rabbi Goldson (#30)–I wouldn’t call it an “inclination within Orthodoxy.” Rather, it’s a human inclination which tends to appear in all fields of life.

    IMO it tends to indicate a lack of confidence in one’s chosen path. When we are confident, we won’t feel upset by those who are more lenient or put down by those who are more strict.

    But platitudes aside, my point is, human nature is human nature even by us frum peoples. As usual, what we need is achdut. And as usual, there’s not much to do in besides improve ourselves and daven. You can’t control those who want to criticize your way of life, so just ignore them and move on.

  5. Again, again, again, again, again, AGAIN!

    I am not advocating everyone or anyone occupying an arbitrary middle. I am rejecting the all-too-common inclination within Orthodoxy to invalidate others whom we perceive to be too frum or not frum enough.

    Maybe I’m phrasing it wrong. Maybe the problem is, as M suggests above, that EVERYONE believes himself to be in the middle, and therefore condemns everyone who is different from him as an extremist.

  6. “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”
    —Barry Goldwater, 1964

  7. I appreciate the quote of “All extremism, fanaticism, and obscurantism come from a lack of security. A person who is secure cannot be an extremist.”

    It is important to recognize that individuals may have differing views on just who is an extremist. Just as Rabbi Goldson believes that he is in the middle, and those to the right and left of him are to be categorized as “Right” or “Left”, so too may others have an alternate view of just what is “middle”. Rabbi Goldson is not alone in perceiving he is “middle”; the self-defined term is far from objective.

    Nevertheless, despite the inherent subjectivity in the perception of “middle”, Rabbi Goldson makes some important points, and his Yeshiva HS sounds like a really special place.

  8. anonymom:

    Objections to the “big tent” approach are more than justified, but I believe the concerns are often exaggerated and misapplied. Trying to put frum and non-frum kids in one “community school” and present a single philosophy that includes everybody is simply impossible, and will certainly fail.

    On the other hand, to work with kids who are all frum but come from homes with different hashkofos can benefit everybody. By explaining the nuances in halacha and hashkofoh that create different shitos, students can gain a respect for approaches different from their own as well as a better understanding of WHY one shita may be preferred over others.

    I truly believe that my students come out more secure and stable in their Yiddishkeit than students who have one hashkofoh rammed down their throats and are discouraged from asking questions about WHY, especially when they receive a message, either tacit or overt, that other shitos are less legitimate than their own.

    Again, we’re talking about approaches within the boundaries of halacha, not Conservative or Reform.

    By the way, you may have seen the quote from Rav Soloveitchik in my last post, https://beyondbt.com/?p=573

  9. Jaded, First of all, I may have completely misunderstood your metaphor. I often take things to literally. What I understood you to be saying is that not everyone has enough money to “live Jewish”. I know quite a few families that are extremely poor, poor enough that they are having trouble even keeping food in the fridge. If you want to discuss this more with me, just for the heck of a good argument, Email me REG_nimbulan@yahoo.com I really don’t like making a fool of myself all over blog’s, especially my teachers ];)
    ~~~Eli Goldberg

  10. Oh, trust me anonymom, the hours at Block are _EXTREMELY_ long and the Limudei Kodesh is _intensive_. It may be a small school, but all the
    up here.
    shiurim are And the same goes for the Limudei Chol! I have seen many Yeshivas (real ones as opposed to fake ones ];} ) that don come close to matching the shiurim. and I know from experience that there are few public OR private high schools that can match there secular studies. As far as I can tell, the classes are all honors/AP, except the ones marked AP which are effectively college courses!
    ~~~Eli Goldberg

  11. “anonymom
    February 15th, 2007 01:32 22

    I recently read a quote from ‘the Rav’ about how Americans are drawn to extreme positions because of insecurity and he decried this trend.”

    “The Rav” — you mean the Rav Baal Hatanya, right?

  12. I’m of two minds about this post. On the one hand, I understand the frustration of being the lonely man in the middle. As an aside, I recently read a quote from “the Rav” about how Americans are drawn to extreme positions because of insecurity and he decried this trend.

    However, isn’t it the nature of parents to want to educate their children in a manner that is consistent with their hashkafa? And while I understand your longing to sit under one tent, kippas and streimels together, learning from one another, I think it is hard to raise children in this manner. They need a strong strong sense of who they are and where they stand. And while yeshiva high schools have done wonderful things, there are those who would like to provide their sons with the intensive torah environment, along with the longer hours and added emphasis, devoted to torah study. This is a bad thing?

  13. Ron Coleman , surrender accepted.My metaphors don’t usually like being second guessed ;-)

    Bob Miller , oh I’m not a buyer anymore its smarter to be the designer.I never did understand the concept of trust the sales people of society hawking théir spiritual wares.the what’s in it for them is an easy question to answer way way too often.

  14. As for the pink diamond thing—as usual, let the buyer beware. But don’t get so jaded as to reject all merchandise. Some might be the real deal.

  15. Ron Coleman, I wasn’t suggesting you decorate your life , heirlooms and “ebony bekeshes” with “rhinestone” notions.
    I was just tryin to explain how hard it is to shop for and obtain /experience the natural pink diamonds lifestyle. Thé pink sapphires, pink topaz’s and other pink stuff lifestyles are perfectly ok think pink happiness helpers.

    Thé natural pink diamond lifestyle is generally reserved for those with money for purchasing the pink diamonds of spirituality.Some purchase seats in synagogues some can barely afford the piece of faded pink pleather the chapel chair is upholstered with.
    Some purchase tuition cards others make frequent trips to money lenders and pawn shops.(they should shop around on craigslist you be suprised how much one can get for stuff.If Gd forbid one of my future kids ends up in a religious school I could always sell a kidney lung or piece of heart or bit of brain
    I wonder how much I would get for my çortex. I would throw in some runaway metaphors ,bundle of neurons and neurotransmitters as a bonus for no additional upcharge.

    So Ron we learn from the natural pink diamonds that A not everyone can afford to live the pink diamond lifestyle and B that is why there are a lot of individuals marketing hawking spiritual wares of dubious origin and or sugar çoated diamonds where the think pink color comes right off at the first lick and strong question.Ànd then your stuck with a boring treated colorless diamond that is just getting heavy and scratchy.

  16. Jaded, I guess I can’t just trust the saleslady. She has a financial interest in, unfortunately, and from what you’ve told me she has actually lied to me.

    That doesn’t mean I’m going to just accept rhinestones, though. I will have to find a more dependable salesperson. I am interested in the real thing.

  17. Ron Coleman , my question to you is pretend you were in the market for a pink diamond studded heirloom piece. Once in the lovely boutique you encountered a continuous stream of disconcerting contradictions.You were being offered pink topaz or pink sapphires of the in your face variety and being assured they were in fact natural pink diamonds.Óne pushy saleslady down on her luck even had the unadulterated audacity to attempt to convince you that a pretty in pink topaz centerpiece was the real pink diamond deal outrageous price included. How secure and happy would you feel on your little shopping spree for the pink diamond studded heirloom piece.Would you continue along in hyper happy spirits , being oh so sure of yourself that the supposed pink diamonds are in fact natural and not sugar çoated for color. Or will you just focus on stuff with less of an investment factor and subsequent hurt loss pain or blank inside.sometimes in life you just gotta focus on the topaz’s the sapphires the opals and the quartz’s …… and other non diamonds when one is tryin to create an authentic heirloom piece to hand down to the next set of little jaded or hopefully perpetually elated topaz’s in my çase.They are generally more genuine in outlooks and spirit.

  18. This thread is a fascinating exercise in seeing what one wants to see. Are we so conditioned by previous blog wars or life experiences that we can’t take an article at face value?

  19. The point that, IMHO, keeps getting lost here is that “moderation” does not require everyone to occupy some idealized “center” or everyone to follow the same halachic mean. I wear a black hat, dark jacket, and white shirt every single day of the year, but I am profoundly offended by those who believe that anyone who does not is a second class Jew. I have a broad secular background, which I attempt to integrate into my Torah observance, but I don’t believe that every yungerman who spends his entire life learning in kollel in Yerushalayim or in B’nei Brak is hiding from reality.

    Yes, there are those who consider themselves Torah Jews who are truly halachically negligent or halachically OCD, but it is not because of the kind of kippah they choose to wear, not because they do or don’t recite Hallel on Yom Atzma’ut, not because they keep this chumrah or that kula.

    And I most definately am not in favor of the kind of political correctness that requires us to validate everyone’s expression of what he wants Judaism to be or that forbids us from addressing problems because we might be flirting with the boundaries of avak loshon hara.

    Within limits of halacha, we can agree to disagree, as Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai did, while retaining respect for those whose approach to avodas HaShem differs from ours, as Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai did. It might even be healthy to make more effort to understand other points-of-view, not because we might want to consider them for ourselves, but so we can better understand our fellow Jews, purge ourselves of our petty prejudices, and work toward eliminating sinas chinom.

    By dividing ourselves into smaller and smaller groups, by refusing to engage other Torah Jews with whom we agree on 90% of halacha and hashkofah because we don’t want to contaminate ourselves and our children with legitimate Torah ideas that are not part of our own shitos, we really do turn ahavas Yisroel into the pipe dream that JT above (sadly) believes it to be.

  20. I don’t deny the existence of such thinking, nor do I claim to be entirely guiltless of it myself. But I do think that a mindset imputed or even indicated is a far cry from the level of opprobrium that you suggested you had been a victim of. That doesn’t make either one of them right. I don’t think it muddies the waters; rather, if your interest is in urging moderation, moderation in tone is a good place to start, isn’t it? You’re right; it is a distraction; yet it cannot be overemphasized how much finger-pointing undermines an opinion essay, especially when the essay is about finger-pointing!

    Jaded, accusations of brainwashing are convenient straw persons for former and bitter ex-BT’s and ex-frummies, and other living things, that would rather rage on about extremism than own up to their own failures at keeping basic aleph-bais mitzvos even in the most un-extreme fashion, wouldn’t you agree?

  21. Rabbi Goldson,
    “halachachical ÓCD” lol well other than a humorous presenting its actually quite the disconcerting flavor of ÓCD.I’ve seen so many folks bitten by the teshuva bug only to be channeled down very wrong especially myopic paths. Many myopic paths focus théir tourism marketing and attracting on specific weaknesses which then result in the wrong sort of tourists/end users ….. Many of which go back home and don’t bring friends back either.Kiruv is not just about money and making everyone frum.

    My wordy verbose and long winded point is that” halachacically ÓCD ” is not ok neither is brainwashing with toxic bleach techniques.

    Back to your call for loving all ends of the religious spectrum.
    Just continue smoking that pipe dream , I would add some of the more potent herbal stuff though.

  22. Ron —

    As a matter of fact, some of us have been called much worse (you’ll excuse me if I don’t cite specific epithets).

    But even if they hadn’t, I believe that the context of the words you have quoted makes it clear that I am not refering to specific slurs but a mindset that justifies looking down on Jews who are “less frum” as halachically negligent and those who are “more frum” as halachically OCD. Do you deny the prevalence of such thinking?

    IMHO, shifting the argument to whether or not I am justified in attributing general attitudes without having witnessed particular vocabularies muddies the waters and obscures the problem.

  23. The persistent, passionate rationalization of this war of ideologies that turns every one who doesn’t agree with MY VIEW OF THE WORLD into a heretic or a fanatic can’t possibly be bringing Moshiach any closer.

    Has someone actually called you or your hanhala one of those things? I ask because if they have, you are right — it is terrible sinas chinom.; shocking; disgusting Whereas if they have not actually used those words, and one were accusing them of doing so because perhaps they have done something that offended one or left one feeling inadequate or looked-down upon, yes … but quite a bit short of being called a “fanatic” or a “heretic” … well, what would be the effect of one’s own behavior on the geulah?

  24. So…let a family spend all the money for a poor young rabbi to marry their daughter. Or let another Jew try to be comfortable with the Christian family that his child married into. And everything in between. As long as enrollment at your school doesn’t take a nose dive things aren’t so bad. It’s February. Everybody’s glum. You could be living in upstate New York. Purim is just around the corner. Get drunk and be happy.

  25. For many parents, and not just in the Midwest, these issues are important. However, IMO, one has to realize for instance, in NY, many similar high schools have a variety of extra-curricular activitives and APs, etc that create an atmosphere where Limudei Kodesh competes for a child’s attention and development as a Ben Torah or Bas Yisrael. It can be argued that a child’s spirituality can be in such instances compared to a diamond in the rough, waiting for the right person and atmosphere ( EY) to uncover and polish the same.

  26. The issues Rabbi Goldson raises are not related to superficial externals only. They’re very basic and hard to deal with.

    There are many parts of the country where the total Orthodox community is, and will probably remain, too small to have a separate school system for each flavor of Orthodoxy. So, at least in those areas, unified institutions like Rabbi Goldson’s are a fact of life.

    These high schools feed their graduates into a wide spectrum of higher educational institutions, each with its own specific idea of the ideal incoming student’s background, knowledge, dress, outlook, etc. How is one high school to equip its students to reach all possible destinations? That this school has managed to do so is a wonder!

  27. Sounds great! How do I contact you?

    Was in Monsey (NY) yesterday, speaking briefly to a service provider. First question to me, “what’s your home email address, I’ll email you the information.” — In Monsey, location of major Internet ban.

    Somehow, we run from our strength, achdus, and energy, shining the light of Torah, back into the corner and hide.

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