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As I See It - Rabbi Shneur Aisenstark "A"
Tahor or Tamei?
by Rabbi Shneur Aisenstark
Publication: Mishpacha Magazine

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We are living in strange times. On one hand, our mosdos hachinuch are at their most glorious, truly reason for us to hold our heads high. The dedication, skill and commitment of our Rebbeim and Morah’s are unmatched; they toil selflessly, often under great financial strain, intent on inspiring a new generation.

The askanim that volunteer to serve on the boards of these institutions are individuals who are themselves exemplary role models. Even with the many demands on their time, they still willingly devote the hours and energy necessary to keep these mosdos afloat.

We have every reason to be proud. These people are our best and brightest.

Yet at the very same time, we are witnessing a painful situation developing; one which is claiming innocent victims each day.

Our schools have become the unfortunate barometer of all that’s wrong in our heilege society, the polarization, the divisiveness, the ‘holier than thou’ attitude.

How can it be that these very same bulwarks of dedication and altruism are the cause of so much heartache? Let us examine the phenomenon a little more closely.

In the forties and fifties, the day schools and Yeshivos were happy if the mother of a student was Jewish in order to let them into our schools to learn how to become a better Yid. As you are not allowed to teach a non-Jew Torah, many shailos were asked regarding yichus, the “mi hu Yehudi” of students in our schools.

In the sixties and seventies, they wanted our parents to be Shomer Shabbos before one was allowed to learn how to become Shomer Shabbos, unless it was a Baal Teshuva Yeshiva.

In the eighties, they wanted the child to make sure that his mother wore a shaitel as a pre-prerequisite to the child becoming a better Yid.

In the nineties, they wanted the boys or girls to make sure that their parents discarded their TV, before they were given a chance to learn what’s wrong with having a TV, in order that they would not have one in their own home.

Now, in our progressive twenty-first century, some schools want a pre-requisite for admittance (please don’t laugh – I personally know of such schools);

-Father must be learning full time.

-He cannot wear a colored or striped shirt – both parents must have “my type of uniform”. For the mother, it can mean that her sheitel should be a certain length and style.

-A Sephardic family should have an Ashkenazi-sounding name in order to be admitted.

The list continues with various other issues that can be the difference between rendering a family ‘tahor’ or ‘tamei.’ One wonders where we are going from here.

Whose fault is this?

We tend to blame the schools for causing a divide in true-blue Yiddishkeit and creating so many streams of Judaism. Yet I firmly believe that it isn’t the schools or their dedicated personnel who are at fault. They are not the cause of this chaotic situation, and the division that it will likely create, chas v’sholom, in Klal Yisroel.

We are hard pressed to find a living Gadol that is satisfied and/or content with the situation we find ourselves in. I am told that a leading Mashgiach was asked by a talmid for his assistance in having his child enrolled in a certain school. “It would be much easier for me to help you start a new school, than to have your child enrolled in the school of your choice,” he commented.

We know that the Gedolim of the previous generation, such as Reb Moshe, Reb Yaakov, Reb Aaron, etc. would not approve of our differentiating based on the particulars of a family’s behavior before allowing admittance. This dangerous split was frowned upon by Gedolim, as evident by the fact that they did not insist on this practice in the schools that they controlled. The only criterion was if the parents wanted their child to grow in Torah and yiras shamayim.

So if it is not the schools and certainly not the Gedolim, then who brought about the present status in the Chinuch community?

I think that we must differentiate internal rules and external rules. The regulations that a student encounters in a particular school, (i.e. uniforms) is essentially the students’ choice, since they have chosen the school. Therefore, it is clear that they must follow all of its requirements. The problem arises when the school wants certain pre-requisites of the ‘arum and arum’-the surroundings of the child before he even enters school, assuming that the child will inevitably follow the behavior of his environment and will pass it on to his peers, and not rise and grow above it. Why take the chance?

A young mother cried out her plight to me when her first, a four year old, was refused by the third school that she applied to. No reason was given for the rejection, as the anonymous Va’ad, a volunteer group, is truly unable to handle the ensuing pressure and parental assurances of change. Simply, the psak is tamei, our mikdosh might be defiled – please go to another holier mikdosh, maybe they can withstand and overcome the tumah. ‘Bameh dantonu, by what criteria have we been judged?’ ask the parents. No answer comes forth. No chance for change or Teshuva allowed.

The young mother is beside herself. Her husband works for a living, wears only black and white, learns every morning and evening and is a recent alumnus of a famous Yeshiva Kollel, and the wife stopped wearing a fall with a band a year ago. In her sincerity, she has attested that she will truly do whatever is necessary to change, as she wants her child to have the best that can be obtained for her. Even if she does not understand the rationale, she will be mekabel. The bottom line is she does not know why her family does not fit.

When I asked her what is to happen now, she answered that the city Va’ad would place her child in one of the available schools. I then commented that, besides the embarrassment that you went through, everything else would be all right, as all the schools are Bais Yaakov type schools. That is when I clearly perceived the answer to my quandary as to why it is not the school’s fault. “No, everything will not be O.K. – they might place my child in a modern school!” was her reply.

This sweet, sincere mother articulated all of our thoughts. We are demanding of the schools, our proxy, who may sit next to our children and who may not – who is more “modern” and who is less “modern”. We are demanding from the Menahel that only “my type” be admitted to the school or I will take my child elsewhere.

This scenario is one that I have experienced many times in my tenure as principal. As Menahel, I was able to control and do what was proper and correct, but only to a certain extent. However, on a grand scale, it is impossible. The parents, or the board at the behest of the parents, wouldn’t allow it; our school would be “out of business” as the saying goes. The schools are placed into taking this stand by their constituents – the parents – and to some degree the large donors, with the approval of certain Rabbanim.

What could be a suggested solution to this imponderable situation? Only the Gedolim can answer this question. However, I would like to humbly suggest an acceptable starting point.

Modern day parents are busier and busier as the years go by, with more and more interests outside the home, on a grander scale than ever before. The yoke of providing a respectable parnasah for our families has become a huge struggle in today’s world. We have therefore harnessed our wives into careers outside the home, even in situations where the husband is not a full-time learner. We need to keep our homes, with their two-car garages, fashionably furnished. The vacations from our harried lives are imperative, and this is aside from tuition, camps, visiting the kids in Israel, the exorbitant chasunah costs, Simcha expenses even with the “takanos”, keeping the children in learning, etc. All this keeps us hopping.

We are expected to be involved in chessed activities outside of the home, and the fact that the husband has an obligation to learn at night, seems to also be tearing us apart at the seams. To be a Torah-true Jew and live ‘today’s life’ seems to be almost impossible to achieve.

Something has to give. What has it been? Our connection with our children!

We have relegated our responsibilities to our schools. We want the schools to achieve that which we cannot achieve at home. We feel inadequate, poorly equipped with the necessary time and energy to teach them all that needs to be taught.

We want the schools to teach the importance of being a Torah Jew, to teach Torah, to teach Middos, Derech Eretz, responsibility, erlichkeit and myriad other necessary traits for becoming a true Ben/Bas Torah. We should be doing most of the above in the home, but cannot because of the demands that have entrapped us.

Well, guess what? The school is unable to do it either and it really is not their responsibility – they are not surrogate parents and the parents, deep down, know that. Therefore, to compensate, they try valiantly to maintain an atmosphere outside the home, much like the one that they would have inside the home.

When they find that their child’s choice of friends or the atmosphere in the school does not quite fit their personal ideals, then the fine differences become extremely conspicuous. To accomplish what he has no time to do for himself, today’s parent must therefore separate from his neighbor. He must select like-minded people, preferably frummer than himself, in order to keep his children on his own high level.

The school is choosing his child’s friends for him by placing “those kids” in the same classroom. If they are not exactly what he wants, then either they must leave or he will leave. There is no compromise.

The Gr’a teaches (Mishlei 17,3) that each person has his individualized way according to the shoresh, root, of his neshama and each one must find his particular derech, way. The same as the appearance of every individual is different, so is his da’as - brain, and tevah - nature, different from one another. Each person must find their particular niche in Torah and Yiras Shomayim that fits somewhere within the parameters of halacha. We must work with the child in sync with his nature.

We have lost the berov am hadras melech to the shtiebel generation we now live in, because we must daven with “our kind” and/or “my type”.

The same is happening to our school, but for what gain? I don’t think it leads to any more Yiras Shomayim. It does, however, lead to elitism and the cheapening of the next Jew, with the bad middos that come along with it.

As I mentioned, our Gedolim are einei ha’eido, do not approve, nor do they support exclusivity for different Jews with different Mosdos.

However, we need to build walls to protect our children and give them what we cannot do at home. What should we do?

I recall a story circulating during Reb Moishe Feinstein’s zt’l, lifetime, where he was quoted as saying, “I am constantly asked shailos in all four chalokim of Shulchan Oruch – however I am waiting for someone to ask me their shailos in chinuch habonim”.

I believe that this generation can be referred to as achshero doro – a generation that has leapt forward greatly in Torah and Yiras Shomayim. However, Reb Moshe’s quandary still stares us squarely in the eye. We don’t ask the Gedolim of our generation, our einei haeido, how to run our mosdos Hatorah and if some of us do ask, it is to the Godol of our choice who we think will answer what we want to hear. Everyone makes, “Shabbos far zich.”

May I humbly suggest of the “Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah” that they add yet another responsibility to their already full workload. This is dinei nefashos. For once and for all, they should hand down clear guidelines on matters such as whom to accept and whom not to accept, what chumros should be cherished and perpetuated and which are matters of personal preference, what we should insist on and which extras are to be discarded. In a most transparent way, the majority vote should carry the day.

Everyone should be clearly aware that all of our decisions and all actions have the haskomo and guidance of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah. If every mossad will officially be given a “teudat hechsher”, the certificate should come from the same and only Moetzes, clearly stating that this Yeshiva/Bais Yaakov is glatt kosher, then I think we will begin to unite and create the true Ben/Bas Torah. This haskomo should be under the auspices of both Torah Umesorah and Agudas Yisroel – the Torah organizations of our Gedolim, so that an individual school that does not participate will become “eino min haminyon” – beyond the pale of what is considered good Jewish education.

In order for this to work, it must be refined and clearly defined with the lenses of our Gedolim and must have the input of our Chinuch community. However, Klal Yisroel should not be, chas v’sholom, a congregation beles din veles dayan, where no one is liable, and must be accountable to Da’as Torah of our Gedolim.

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