“The last thing our children need, in my opinion, is more time away from home. I say the best thing you can give your kids is time at home as a family”
Safe, Secure, and Captive [Inbox / Issue 949]
Let me second the comment by T.W. in response to Martin Gruen, who seems to think that Communist China’s surveillance state is a wonderful place to live.
Why doesn’t Mr. Gruen move to North Korea or Cuba, where the totalitarianism is even more extreme than in China?
As President Dwight D. Eisenhower said: “If you want total security, go to prison. There you’re fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking... is freedom.”
Checks and Balances [Outlook / Issue 949]
I carefully read Yonoson Rosenblum’s opinion pieces on the proposed judicial reforms Israel’s Supreme Court. Unfortunately, Mr. Rosenblum has missed the crucial point of this story.
There are many in Israel who think that there needs to be reforms to the judicial system. There are very few who think that Simcha Rothman’s plan is a good one.
This is why members of the right and left, religious and secular, have been seen at the demonstrations. When 61 MKs can overturn a Supreme Court ruling, what power does the Supreme Court have?
Israel’s courts need to be reformed and their influence reduced, but there needs to be checks and balances in both directions. I hope that the political leadership will find the courage and responsibility to change their course of action, and find balance, moderation and broad bipartisan support.
A Concerned Citizen
Yonoson Rosenblum responds:
It is true that there are those in Israel who recognize the need for reform of the judicial system, but who think the Levin/Rothman proposals to be too extreme. But thus far no one has put together a serious counterproposal, and one is not likely to come from those calling for blood in the streets, like former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai. Even the “concerned citizen” who penned the above letter mentions only the 61 vote override provision, probably the proposal most likely to be jettisoned and far from the most crucial.
On what basis, however, does the High Court strike down Knesset statutes in the absence of a constitution? Even the High Court does not believe its own fiction that the Basic Laws provide the necessary constitutional warrant, as the judges have asserted their authority to strike down Basic Laws as well. And if the Knesset overriding a High Court nullification of a particular statute sounds strange to America ears, consider the strangeness of a Supreme Court rewriting statutes to its tastes, adding here, subtracting there (see my column this week for a more thorough treatment).
What AI Can Never Achieve [The Great Fake Brain / Issue 949]
I was intrigued when I saw that Mishpacha was featuring a look at Artificial Intelligence, as I just experienced my first encounter with ChatGPT the previous week.
In my dual role as a rebbi/teacher, I teach multiple AP Computer Science classes. It’s quite amusing, yet comforting, that students seeking to stall the progress of the curriculum will resort to asking for a devar Torah. (I usually comply.)
In one of my classes last week, I mentioned to my students that I was scheduled to speak at the daytime seudah that Shabbos at our yearly boys’ shabbaton retreat. I had already prepared one of my favorite divrei Torah for parshas Yisro. Perhaps as a means of diversion, a student offered to find a devar Torah on ChatGPT. Being curious and wanting to see how advanced AI has become, I accepted his challenge.
Since I lack a ChatGPT account, I allowed him to login to his account (caution to all teachers — all your students already have ChatGPT accounts!). At my request, he typed in five words — “mussar devar Torah parshas Yisro.” Within seconds a coherent, basic-level, three-point message based on the events in the parshah started to appear on the screen. Nice, but it lacked any depth — and I quickly discovered a very basic error in the description of the Aseres Hadibros.
But there was something else lacking that I couldn’t quite put my finger on until a fellow rebbi spoke at the Friday night seudah that Shabbos. The rebbi, himself an alumnus of our yeshivah, had the students spellbound while relating a personal episode from his life. That was when I realized the missing link.
The next day I began my devar Torah by sharing my class’s attempt to create a ChatGPT devar Torah. “Aside from the shallowness and the mistake of the computer generated devar Torah attempt,” I told them, “it lacked a basic component. It was a guf bli neshamah (a body without a soul). As the saying goes, “Devarim hayotzim min haleiv nichnasim el haleiv — words that come from the heart, enter the heart.” When we heard the rebbi last night speak from the heart, we all felt the message and it penetrated the depths of our hearts. That is something that Artificial Intelligence will never be able to recreate.”
I then proceeded to offer my devar Torah — mitoch haleiv, from my heart!
Far Rockaway, NY
Unfortunate Stereotype [Missing a Beat / Double Take – Issue 949]
We were truly puzzled by your decision to print this past week’s Double Take about the rav who tried to ban DJs.
A DJ is no more inherently problematic than any singer or band. He can choose music and effects to suit any standard.
This past week’s Double Take perpetuated an obviously untrue but unfortunate stereotype of rabbanim as out-of-touch purveyors of irrational bans with little regard for the financial or emotional costs.
There is no shortage of nuanced scenarios suitable for a Double Take feature that include a rav who demonstrates wisdom, reason, and compassion.
As the Sirens Wailed [More than a Memory / Issue 948]
Thank you for your feature on the Zichru movement. Last week, I had the harrowing experience of accompanying my young daughter as she was rushed to a hospital. What does a Yid do in a Hatzolah truck with a small child? He says Tehillim, to be sure. But what then? He might envision numerous frightening and overwhelming scenarios and “what ifs,” as sirens wail and cars rush out of the way.
A Zichru Yid does not. He calmly does what he does at all other times, and in all other places: he chazers another 30 blatt....
Is Eretz Yisrael a Must? [Money Talks / Issue 948]
Thank you for your feature on seminaries in Israel and for having the courage to challenge their exorbitant cost and to question their necessity.
While I’m sure that many readers will be happy to wipe the floor with the Israel seminary industry, I would like to address something related, which is: when will the English community finally wake up to the crying need for a post-Eretz Yisrael yeshivah? While many such yeshivos exist in the US, nothing at all is available for English bochurim.
I’m happy to see that the notion that all girls must go to seminary in Israel was challenged in the pages of this magazine. I think that the same has to be done to the belief that the only place where bochurim and yungeleit can learn seriously is in Eretz Yisrael.
As far as I understand, bochurim going to learn in Eretz Yisrael was never something instituted by the gedolim; rather it came about by way of social trends — rightly or wrongly.
While it may be true that many may grow tremendously from learning in Eretz Yisrael, this is not the case at all for everyone. In fact, many would do a lot better not coming to Eretz Yisrael at all. This is something I have also heard from others, including in the name of a great rosh yeshivah who is no longer alive.
Additionally, as was articulated in a question from parents of a young couple living in Eretz Yisrael to Rabbi Greenwald some months ago, the party life and hefkeirus that exists among a portion of bochurim, seminary girls, and young couples in Eretz Yisrael is on a level they would never be able to get away with were they living in chutz l’Aretz.
While everyone is welcome to do as they please, I strongly feel that attitudes have to be changed in a very meaningful way so that not everyone has to be beholden to the culture and social pressure created by party goers or those who have money, whether it comes to seminary, yeshivah, or starting married life in Eretz Yisrael.
A Languishing Bochur
Keep Them Home [Money Talks / Issue 948]
Our educational system has had 14 years to educate my daughter: playgroup, kindergarten, Pre 1A, first through eighth grade, and four years of high school. But Rabbi Greenwald would have us believe that all that is simply the preparation for the year of seminary and implies that parents are hurting their daughters by not financing this transformative year.
Oh and by the way, you really need shanah beit, too, because you just can’t get whatever lifelong preparation seminary provides without it.
Let’s add this up, shall we? Figure $6,000 a year until eighth grade, $8,000 a year for high school, $30,000 for one year of seminary (!), $30,000 for your share of the chasunah, plus $20-40,000 or more for career training. Oh, I forgot support for the newly married couple. Multiply this by the number of daughters you have.
Am I really not doing the best for my daughter if I don’t want to pay for seminary?
I’m tired of being told as a parent that I’m not doing the best for my children if I don’t give them this or that expensive experience. I’m disgusted that “everyone” knows you must do this or that — be it seminary, summer camp, or vacations during yeshivah week. It seems that every year another “must have” or “must do” something forces everyone to pay up again and again. How much can people reasonably be expected to do?
I’m also aware that the pressure comes from some anonymous societal norms, but it’s time for parents to take back how we each want to parent our child. Instead of always pulling our wallets out for the latest must-have, how about thinking deeply what your child really needs?
The last thing our children need, in my opinion, is more time away from home. I say the best thing you can give your kids is time at home as a family. How do we expect our children to become good parents if they don’t see how a family works? We only have a short amount of time to provide our children with the knowledge of how families work. Let’s not squander those years by sending our kids away during those precious years.
Now, I’m not blaming Rabbi Greenwald. I know him to be an outstanding mechanech. But perhaps it is time to look at seminary in a new light. Rabbi Greenwald makes it plain that a seminary does not fundraise. Why not? Is the education of our daughters any less important than that of our sons? Is there not some way to offset the enormous expense of this penultimate year?
We need to think deeply as a society about what we are doing for our children. Are we doing what everyone else does because we’re afraid to be different, or are we doing what is best for our kids? The question is not whether we send our girls to seminary; the question is what do you think your children need — and whether you have the courage not to follow what everyone else does.
May Hashem bless us all with the wisdom to make the right choices.
A Thinking Parent
What They Need [Money Talks / Issue 948]
As a parent who did not send her daughters to seminary, I want to add another perspective on this topic.
Not only did we not spend $30,000 for seminary, my daughters worked and made money. (Think $40-50,000 in the bank when their friends came home.) True, I added them to my car insurance plan a year ahead of their friends, but they barely ate out or even went for a coffee — because all their friends were in Eretz Yisrael. So not only did we not spend or go into debt, our girls had nice savings at the end of the year.
Anecdotally, my oldest daughter was married eight days after her 19th birthday and my second was married three months after her 18th birthday. The point being that not going to seminary did not affect their shidduchim. HaKadosh Baruch Hu is a kol yachol and He — not seminary — makes shidduchim.
Another important point is the lessons my girls learned by not going to seminary. They learned to make decisions based on their own needs, child’s needs, or their family’s needs. Not what everyone else does. They learned to work hard and cope. They were never spoiled, taken on tiyulim, or wined and dined. These are the most important (and forgotten) lessons for life!
Today my girls kein ayin hara have families, husbands learning in kollel (one is a successful rebbi), and they use the lessons they learned that year each and every day.
There are girls who need seminary and should be encouraged to go. Most want to go to seminary. When making the decision, parents should look at their child and think of the lessons they will learn if they go, and the lessons they will learn if they stay home, and then make a decision. If a decision is made based on their child’s needs, then the money factor plays a small role.
Just Another Point of View
Market Forces in Ramat Eshkol [Inbox / Issue 947]
The inbox letter by M.K. decrying astronomical rent price hikes in Ramat Eshkol seeks to blame the situation on “Tama 38, greedy landlords, and (spoiled) Americans” who are willing to pay the price. Actually, there is a basic rule in economics — when supply goes down, demand (and consequently, the price) goes up.
Ramat Eshkol was built in 1972-3 by the Jewish Agency on land captured in the 1967 war. Apartments were sold to the original owners for $20,000. These apartments now go for around $1 million.
For the unfamiliar, Tama 38 is a national housing program (it applies equally to downtown Tel Aviv and Ramat Eshkol), whereby the government has poured tens of millions of dollars into encouraging developers to substantially improve and expand housing stock in high-demand areas.
In Ramat Eshkol, a developer must strengthen the building against earthquakes by pouring a massive outside foundation, build a modern (all four sides) facade, add an elevator to the original four-story walkup, provide at least one extra room for all apartments, and provide a 20 percent discount for the extra work if the current owners would like to renovate the rest of their apartment.
In return, the developer obtains the right to build an additional two floors of apartments plus two penthouses. The current owners vote to accept the proposal of the developer they choose, and when executed properly, this purely voluntary program is a win/win for all involved.
It is painful to live through the Tama 38 process (builders and their Arab workers aren’t necessarily pleasant people), and buildings empty their tenants sooner or later during the course of construction. Every Tama 38 project — which includes virtually every other building in Ramat Eshkol — takes dozens of apartments off the market. The ensuing housing crunch has doubled the average rental price.
M.K. refers to the former “Housing Vaad of Sanhedria Murchevet” as an example of a rent control solution. That solution was actually not accepted halachically by many rabbanim. Add the fact that Sanhedria Murchevet, at that time, had one shul and one rav with near absolute control over the English-speaking community. By comparison, Ramat Eshkol of today enjoys eight Anglo shuls plus a beautiful “minyan factory” building. This makes enforcement of such a solution, even if it were accepted by all the rabbanim (highly doubtful), untenable.
The good news is that the Ramat Eshkol housing situation is not a permanent crisis. Starting at the end of this calendar year, first a trickle and then a flood of hundreds of newly renovated apartments (plus all the older apartments) will hit the market and prices should stabilize.
The bad news for M.K. and other low-budget kollel families is that the cost of housing continues to surge in Israel as well as the US (Lakewood’s housing prices have doubled in the past three years). Rental prices must necessarily keep pace with the cost of housing. That’s why native Israelis buy apartments in places like Neve Yaakov, Pisgat Zev, et al, as soon as they marry; it’s all they and their parents can afford, and it insulates them from future market conditions.
Neighborhoods change over time. Just look at what Shaarei Chesed is today, compared to what it was 50 years ago (a poor, ten-foot wide apartment neighborhood morphed into upscale glitz). M.K. and other Anglos who want to stay in Israel would be wise to follow the example of their Israeli neighbors and get themselves into a more permanent residential situation asap.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 950)
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