“If we really care about the chinuch of our children we must focus less on those whose actions we cannot control”
If You Truly Want, You’re Welcome [Inbox / Issue 939]
I haven’t been following the Growth Curve serial, but I very much enjoyed Rabbi Kahane’s main point in last week’s Inbox. As a good friend of Rabbi Kahane, however, I feel that one point was not fully clarified, and I hope he will allow me to clarify it.
Eretz Yisrael in general, and Yerushalayim specifically, is different because it is the “Palace of the King.” A couple looking to party away the year at the expense of parents should indeed not defile the palace.
But the Chovos Halevavos, among other Rishonim, explains the metaphor of the “Palace of the King.” Everybody, he says, wants to be close to the king, and everybody tries to get into the palace. Most people can get into the outermost chamber, and perhaps catch a glimpse of the king — or join a party that the king makes for his subjects. Some people merit the privilege of an audience with the king in his throne room, further inside. Only the closest of the close merit Heviani haMelech chadarav, when they can join the king for a private audience in his innermost chambers.
[Until this very day, palaces — at least Western European palaces — follow this blueprint, going from outer, public chambers, through a throne room, and to private inner chambers. Some guides or explanatory signs actually use variations of the explanation of the Chovos Halevavos — of course without attribution.]
So anybody who truly wants to be closer to the King of Kings is welcome in His palace. Some cannot manage going any further than the outer public chambers, some make it into the throne room, and there are a chosen few that are welcomed into His innermost chambers.
I find it astounding how many of today’s young couples actually make it past the outer public chambers. Even those who don’t — but really came to be “close to the King” — will treasure for the rest of their lives the glimpse of the King of Kings that they were zocheh to see, albeit from the outer chamber, the year, two or more, that they were in the Palace of the King!
Privilege and Responsibility [Inbox / Issue 939]
I would like to respond to Rabbi Kahane’s lengthy letter about what he sees as the shortcomings of many chutznik couples in Yerushalayim.
I, like Rabbi Kahane, sincerely feel I am living in the “Palace of the King.” In Yerushalayim, a higher level is indeed needed… in how we look upon other Jews. For how can we fail to see that the young couples the letter writer refers to are indeed growing?
They often have come so far from the level they were at abroad, and often grow so much more each additional year they live in the magical land that is Eretz Yisrael.
In the palace of the King we cannot so blithely disregard and judge other people’s spiritual level. We cannot condemn others to pack off to chutz l’Aretz if they do not match up to what we personally consider the higher standards of Yerushalayim.
I would also note that in a city with everything from Neturei Karta to avowed secularists, one cannot claim a uniform higher standard. “Higher” must always be a relative term, dependent on where our starting point was.
Many living completely dedicated Torah lives with what they consider the unblemished “higher standard of Yerushalayim” will find that there are those in places like Meah Shearim who consider them interlopers who are lowering standards — what with their short-jacketed men, women wearing any sort of sheitel, and foreign languages.
If we really care about the chinuch of our children we must focus less on those whose actions we cannot control. We must work instead on not narrowing our eyes and hearts to other Jews, since that is toxic for our children to witness. If we cannot see the good in others but only their “chutz l’Aretz ways,” then let us be blind and simply not notice at all. Because, as Rabbi Kahane writes, the privilege of living in Eretz Yisrael does indeed come with great responsibility. We lost hold of our land once before. It was not due to one group or another’s “lower standards.” It was due to disregarding and making light of other Jews — sinas chinam.
In the palace of the King, we cannot afford to make that mistake again. Especially in Yerushalayim, which is a city shechubrah lah yachdav, a city meant to bind us together, not divide us.
The Cure Has to Begin Earlier [Outlook / Issue 939]
Rabbi Rosenblum makes a good case for moving beyond affirmative action, which may, in fact, be found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. But will that alter the reality that a permanent underclass is a danger to society?
In the 1960s the NAACP had a slogan: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” The expectation at the time was that when the opportunity to get a higher education would become available and financially feasible for African American students, the results would be gratifying. Today any black student with a fine mind and a desire to pursue a college degree is deluged with acceptance letters and offers of scholarships, but the results are disappointing.
Do the failures of affirmative action obviate the need to speed along the integration of a minority that suffered slavery and continued discrimination for most of the existence of this country? Is the only possible solution the dumbing down of requirements in academia and the professions?
The problem is that the “cure” was poorly designed. Can an inner city student with an absent father and possibly a dysfunctional mother be expected to excel in a typical public school setting? Test results and graduation numbers have been consistently dismal in spite of over-the-top funding. There is an urgent need for vouchers and school choice.
Instead of donating to dubious minority charities, corporations would be wise to tackle the problem of children in disadvantaged settings. Childcare, preschool, longer school days with three meals, summer camp, and one-on-one mentoring would go a long way in helping the individual child and preventing a host of social problems. Early intervention is effective and, in the long run, economical. Waiting until a student is of college age invites statistical failure.
Corporations and charities should supplement government funding and concentrate on “what works” — perhaps a private/public affirmative style cooperation for disadvantaged children, starting at the youngest possible age, built on vouchers and school choice.
The Dayan’s Musical Motif of Restraint [Crown of Halachah / Issue 938]
Thank you for the beautiful divrei hesped written on Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu ztz”l. I particularly enjoyed reading Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag’s personal account of the Dayan’s signature Simchas Torah set piece of H’aderes V’haemunah in the Sunderland Kollel of the 1960s.
As a child of the Dayan’s London kehillah, I can report that not much changed half a century later. The Dayan would gather with all the bochurim and children between the hakafos, his voice perhaps not as strong as it was during his rosh kollel days, yet it rang forth as emesdig as ever. His fiery eyes landed on a different boy as he sang each attribute of the Borei Olam, and how we would wait for our turn!
The bochurim would try to speed up the refrain “Mi Hu zeh v’eize Hu,” singing faster and faster, and the Dayan with iconic handkerchief in grip would catch us in his fiery headlights, slowing the chorus back to his dictated measured pace. To us it was a game, but to the Dayan, it was his opportunity to imbue and teach us the middah of mesinus — patience, moderation, and restraint.
True growth is undertaken through measured and calculated steps — we climb rather than scramble, and we sing together without racing ahead. Every step, decision and chiddush the Dayan ever made was preceded by intense deep contemplation, and that we could feel, tangibly, before our very eyes.
Europe may have lost its general, but we lost our zeide.
Giving with Strings Attached [Ask Rabbi Greenwald / Issue 938]
As someone who was jointly supported by both my parents and in-laws, Rabbi Greenwald’s response hit a very raw nerve.
While we know that there is no giving that comes entirely without strings attached, my parents’ giving was as close to it as possible. My in-laws, in contrast, thought that a couple being supported was not entitled to any help or evening out. We learned not to tell them about our happy moments and getaways. My husband bought me a gift that I was careful not to wear in their presence.
The day that we were able to manage on our own, we let them know that we no longer needed their support. The response we got was shocking. They let us know that they are happy to help us anyway, and we should save up for bigger expenses.
Yet instead of feeling cared for and loved, we feel choked and beholden by their generosity. Rather than being something that fosters good feelings all around, the money burns. We feel them reviewing our spending habits and looking critically at every purchase we make. I am forever excusing myself with a “I got it for cheap on Ali” or “It was a hand-me-down....”
Parents, give it as a gift, or don’t give.
Necessary Pampering [Ask Rabbi Greenwald / Issue 938]
As someone who recently moved back from Eretz Yisrael after living there for a few years, I would like to respond to the question asked to Rabbi Greenwald by the parents who are not sure why their young couple spends so much time and money on eating out and vacations.
You don’t realize how amazing it is for a couple to start off their married life in Yerushalayim. Yes, there are also special opportunities that come with the kedushah of Eretz Hakodesh, but I’d like to focus on a very practical, basic level.
There is something very valuable about living far away from the hustle and pressure of having to keep up with every current trend. Living away from all that gives them the opportunity to bond as a couple, and to learn how to depend on each other rather than on their mother or sister.
You say that your young couple keeps going on vacation and eating out. Well, that exists in America too, but in Yerushalayim it is a much bigger need. Life is a lot harder there for the young couple — making meals, going shopping, missing out on family simchahs and events, managing in small apartments, no car, and not speaking the language of almost every office and store (even in Ramat Eshkol!), is very hard on a young couple.
Yes, they do need to pamper themselves a little more than you would want. And yes, they need to get out of their small apartment with the noise and neighbors and go away sometimes. Remember, they can’t come to Mommy for Shabbos.
You say you thought your son-in-law is sitting and learning well. Maybe he is, and he is doing this for his wife — and you just don’t realize because she isn’t crying to you, because she doesn’t want you to think she isn’t happy. (She probably is happy but still finds it hard.) And maybe he also needs a break because he is human, and to go to Netanya for two days is a lot better that going to Florida or Arizona.
So just calm down and know that they are fine, and keep helping them with an open heart like you have been until now, because it means the world to them. And appreciate their sacrifice a little, even if you don’t see it that clearly — because it’s there.
Someone who’s been there
Wrong Emphasis [Not Black and White / Double Take – Issue 938]
The Double Take story about the gabbai who made a “black hat” rule really upset me a lot, because it’s an issue that has bothered me for a long time.
I grew up in Brooklyn, and my family is chassidish. Simply put, we knew who we were and didn’t have to work hard to fit in or find our place in our community. When I was in shidduchim we looked for a boy who wore the right clothes and had the right havurah, went to the right schools, etc., etc. I get it that we have certain values and want to marry into families that have the same ideals, but it got way out of hand. The emphasis that we put on the way people look has gotten extreme, to the extent that we don’t even care who they are inside, just what they wear!
My husband and I settled in an established Tristate community after we got married and this feeling only worsened. From wearing the right clothes to sending to the right schools and going to the right shul, the pressure to fit in just never ended. And boy did you get the look when you wore something not accepted in the specific circle you joined....
The emphasis on looks and looking right bothered me so much I just didn’t feel comfortable raising my kids in a society where looks and types seem to override everything else.
I grew up that way, so I get it. We want our kids to get the right chinuch and be raised with the values we hold dear. But since when is our mesorah all about black hats and jackets? In the Midbar, the Yidden wore robes and sandals. They were frum, and we all came from those Yidden! Let’s make room in our hearts and lives for people who may dress differently than we do and yet are just as frum and erlich as us. Let’s not forget that clothing is just a cover for what is really going on inside each and every one of us.
Some people will read this and say “yeah, yeah, of course the inside is more important, but people who dress like us are obviously more frum on the inside too.” Well, I have moved out of town, and you would be so surprised to know how erlich and frum people are and want to be, if you’d only look past their external dress!
An out-of-the-box believer
Cracks in the Foundation [Not Black and White / Double Take – Issue 938]
I understand that developing stories mirroring life’s situations is challenging.
Your most recent Double Take featuring the scenario of the gabbai and his reluctance to allow someone without a black hat to daven from the amud because “those are now the new rules,” was something that I felt had to be addressed.
There is never an excuse for disrespect in our houses of worship. Nor should we give any leeway to allow guests who do not revere the sanctity and decorum of a synagogue.
However, in a day and age when we are measuring one’s character by the width of a brim, it is time to step back and take some deep breaths.
We are, often, forgetting some basics. And that leaves a deep and unforgiving gap in our development and in the messages we are sending.
What emerges instead, becomes somewhat artificial and unrealistic — which allows for cracks in the foundations of our lives. It is through those cracks that our moral and ethical development is slipping.
I do not know what our forefathers, Yitzchak and Yaakov (who initiated Minchah and Maariv) wore as head coverings.
I do know what they did not wear.
Sarah Spero, Baltimore, Maryland
One-Sided Compassion [Not Black and White / Double Take – Issue 938]
I once heard a story about a father who went to Rav Aharon Leib Steinman ztz”l after trying very hard to get his son into a specific cheder, with no success. He complained to the gadol that the yeshivah had no good reason not to take his son and were nitpicking on ridiculous things. They had rejected his four-year-old child because he wore a yarmulke without a band!
Rav Steinman uncharacteristically responded, “If it’s not such a big deal, then why not change your son’s yarmulke?”
If wearing a black hat is so insignificant to you that it bears no reflection on your level of Yiddishkeit, then you would make the switch in order to stay in a place you want to be. Or at the very least, borrow a hat for the times you need it. (Especially since the gabbai clearly said you only need a hat if you want to daven from the amud.) Black-and-white thinking goes both ways, and somehow we are so much more compassionate toward the seemingly less frum than those we consider frummer.
Miriam Schnurman, Five Towns
Preservation, Not Discrimination [Not Black and White / Double Take – Issue 938]
I read the story regarding the shul gabbai and the frequent mispallel who wanted the amud but felt slighted because he was denied on account of not having a hat.
With all due respect to David, his childhood struggles and eagerness to find a place do not overrule shul guidelines and preferences. Every shul has the right to draw up its own rules, regulations, and guidelines to ensure that proper decorum is kept, regardless of the personal feelings of the other party. I know it doesn’t sound fair, but that’s the only way to preserve the tzurah of any kehillah. Once you bend for one, you need to bend for another one, and the saga never ends until the original tzurah is completely lost.
It’s not a matter of discrimination. It’s a matter of preservation. It’s obvious from the story that the guidelines were put in place to preserve the decorum that the core shul members were striving to keep, and which were at risk of being wiped away by a newer, trendier crowd that sought to do things a little differently.
This is not a novel idea. Shuls have been doing this for generations and still do it today. Here are some examples:
1) Most chassidish minyanim without exception only allow someone at the amud who: a) has a beard b) is married c) has gone to the mikveh that day d) is wearing a gartel.
2) I’m familiar with a right-wing Modern Orthodox shul where the rabbi insisted that mispallelim wear [at least] a jacket to every tefillah.
3) In Breuer’s in Washington Heights, no one may put their tallis over their heads with the exception of the rav. All regular mispallelim must wear a hat instead.
4) There are even some shuls that restrict one from davening for the amud if he owns an unfiltered smartphone, and/or has access to social media platforms. (For that matter, there are shuls that forbid taking out a smartphone in the shul altogether regardless of whether it is filtered.)
In all the above, do we have the audacity to come and tell the higher-ups in these kehillos that their standards must go because they don’t agree with us? They understand that we’re Yidden just like they are. But it doesn’t change the standards of the kehillah. It’s their shul and their guidelines. One who does not want to abide can go and find another shul that suits his preferences.
And, frankly, if you’re not a member of the shul, don’t you think it’s kind of rude to tell the host minyan how they should be running their shul? Just being a mensch and living with it might be the right attitude.
It’s nothing personal. And it’s not even a matter of halachah. Any takanos in any shul, be they halachah or chumra or something in between, are simply put into place to give the shul its unique identity and ensure the purity and sanctity of the tefillos davened within. And that way we can be assured that the tefillos in any kehillah will find their way to the Kisei Hakavod, which hopefully is the goal of our tefillos in general.
Learn from Their Mistakes [Growth Curve and Half Note fiction serials]
Several weeks ago, there were two serial stories in the same issue — one in Mishpacha and one in Family First — that included characters purposely not talking to their spouses. In both cases, the characters were feeling too hurt and overwhelmed to communicate, so they simply disappeared and/or ignored their spouses.
I don’t know if anyone else found this slightly disturbing. In real life, this is a serious issue calling stonewalling. And it is very harmful to marriages. I have learned this from bitter experience.
There is another way. Even if you are feeling unable to talk, take a minute to tell (or text or write) your spouse something to the effect of: “I know we need to/should talk but I can’t right now. I will let you know when I can. I recognize this is hard for you.” To make this a safe and doable thing, the other spouse should respond (and internalize) something to the effect of, “Thank you for letting me know. I am here when you are ready.”
Even though both stories are fiction, I think we can learn from the characters’ mistakes.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 940)
Oops! We could not locate your form.