Wednesday, July 28, 2004

New Posts

Posting has been light over the last few weeks, but within the next 48 hours, this week's Jewish Week piece will be posted, along with seven recent essays about contemporary Orthodox life.

UPDATE: Following are excerpts from three of the newly posted essays:

There are questions about kollels that should be raised, questions that accept the fundamental importance of these institutions in our contemporary religious life and yet do not accept uncritically the view that in a community where resources are obviously limited and priorities must be set, it is right to place so much emphasis on kollels while ordinary Torah education is increasingly being relegated to the status of a stepchild in Orthodox philanthropy.

It is also necessary to question whether the continued expansion of kollels is to be encouraged, without any regard being given to what the young men who study in kollels will be doing down the road.

There are kollels that make a major difference in the places where they are located and there are kollels that are, in effect, the breeding ground for the next generation of Torah scholars. It remains, however, that most kollels do not fit either of these profiles, that they exist for a host of other reasons, including ego gratification for their sponsors or because no one else knows what else to do with the rapidly growing number of married young men who need to be accommodated...

What is happening is part of the larger story of the abandonment by our community and leaders of ordinary yeshiva education, certainly at the elementary school level and, at times, above that...

I have made this point often and I recognize that, as in the past, what is being written here is likely to fall on deaf ears. As I write these lines, I am mindful of the example of the Great Roshe Yeshiva of Lakewood, that Torah giant who for all of the extraordinary burdens that confronted him worked tirelessly for basic Torah chinuch in Israel and North America. In a state of constant exhaustion, he raised funds for these institutions and was their leading advocate.

Has anyone seen even once during the past ten years a kol koreh from Roshei Yeshiva and Torah leaders proclaiming that it is a sacred obligation to support basic Torah chinuch? Just once? Their names are plastered everywhere, prohibiting this and advocating that, but when it comes to basic Torah education they are silent.

Full essay can be read here.

I have long believed that the functional division between kiruv and chinuch - outreach and Torah education - is a tragic strategic blunder. The two activities must be organically integrated in day schools (as they are in our Jewish Foundation School Division), else they cannot be effective...

Whatever directions kiruv may take, we need to examine why too many are moving away from Orthodoxy, why we are losing many who were "frum from birth." We must take a hard and honest look at what is occurring and see what we can do to reverse the trend.

There are, I know, situations that are beyond our reach. This is a large country and an open society and people can choose where and how they live and how they wish to be identified. We could do everything right and yet there will be some Orthodox who decide to abandon a religious life. Besides, America has been enmeshed in a drug culture which entraps the young, some of whom are our own. It may also be that we are losing adherents because of our own failings. I will not develop the thought here, except to say that whether or not we are more prone to wrongful business practices and other ethical lapses than persons who are not Jewish or not Orthodox, the moral condition of Orthodox life is in serious need of repair. Moral laxity by presumably Orthodox Jews serves as a deterrent for other Jews who might consider returning to Judaism. Likely, it is also the case that our derelictions serve as an incentive or excuse for some who want to abandon a religious life.

At a Torah Umesorah dinner years ago, I said that while we focus on Kiruv Rechokim - reaching out to those who are distant - we are Merachek Kerovim, turning away those who are close. This is sadly too true, at times, of yeshivas and day schools.

Full essay can be read here.

At the communal level, the precarious condition of many day schools could presage the deterioration of religious life in the communities where they are located. Without stable day schools, more families will move away and few observant families will move in. Prospects for meaningful kiruv could be lost, with Chabad filling the vacuums with its increasingly feel-good brand of Judaism...

The Orthodox day school movement and yeshiva world that directs it have settled on kollels and adult education as the best way to prop up communities in distress. These are meritorious approaches because the promotion of Torah study is always meritorious. Available evidence suggests, however, that kollels and adult education do little to strengthen communities or day schools unless there are meaningful corollary efforts to assist the schools.

Long ago, in the 1940's and 1950's when the Orthodox prospect was less promising than it now is and to a large extent newly-founded Orthodox day schools were reaching out to parents who were minimally observant, great Torah leaders gave inspiration and strength to the educators and lay leaders who accepted the responsibility of day school education in their communities. These Torah leaders recognized that communities and schools could be build only from the bottom up, not from the top down.

Full essay can be read here.