Short Takes

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  • Charedi Education in Israel: Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai (link) is absolutely correct that Charedim in Israel educate their students towards ignorance — they don’t teach basic math, science or language. And the Charedi critics are correct that Israeli public schools are pretty lousy about these subjects anyway and terrible when it comes to Jewish culture. Fix them both. Certainly claiming that learning Torah is an academic degree (link) is not a solution, nor is claiming that mixed-gender office settings are religiously untenable (link).
  • Rubashkin: I don’t think the sentence recommendations by the prosecution — life and now reduced to 25 years — are reasonable. But why hasn’t he apologized for his crimes? In the apology reported in the news (link), he doesn’t mention the crimes for which he was convicted. I’m no legal expert but isn’t that standard fare for someone begging for judicial mercy?
  • Siyum Mishnayos: I went to the event described here (link). The report is blatantly false. The boys were uncontrollable — constantly talking and walking around. Whenever the video camera captured images of boys, which was sent to large screens throughout the room, the boys would stand on their chairs and wave even though there were rabbis addressing them. The speakers were repeteadly asking the boys to sit down and be quiet, frequently drawing raffles and saying that prizes would not be given to boys who are standing. It’s understandable because the elementary school age boys were on a trip without parents (generally, although I was there with my son) and it was an opportunity for them to be a little wild. And it was only a (sizable) minority who were wild. And their wildness was not violent, just disrespectful. At one point, a speaker yelled at the boys on the balcony not to throw things down and while the Novominsker Rebbe was speaking, R. Fishel Schachter interrupted him to yell at the boys to be quiet (it didn’t work). It isn’t even worth mentioning except that the portrayal in this news story of “mesmerizing the boys with his amazing storytelling and keeping his listeners at the edge of their seats with suspense” is laughable. Probably half the boys were mesmerized by R. Fishel Shachter’s truly amazing story-telling ability. But even he could not overcome the opportunity for a youthful chaos. And “kavod haTorah was evident as Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the Novominsker rebbe and rosh Agudas Yisroel, entered the large hall to the spirited singing of ‘Yomim al yemai melech'” is also funny because R. Fishel Shachter started the singing and kept it going for a while until a few other people joined in. Kavod Ha-Torah was, in general, not evident among this group of boys.
  • About Gil Student

    Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

    One comment

    1. Nachum 05/05/2010 01:54 AM
      1 person liked this.
      Ouch, Gil. (Re: #3.) I’m really sorry to hear that, and sorry that you and your son (especially) had to see it.
      ReligionStateIsrael 05/05/2010 03:21 AM
      re: Charedi Education in Israel

      “Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai is absolutely correct that Charedim in Israel educate their students towards ignorance — they don’t teach basic math, science or language. And the Charedi critics are correct that Israeli public schools are pretty lousy about these subjects anyway and terrible when it comes to Jewish culture. Fix them both. ”

      What do you mean by “fix”? Are you advocating that the Independent Haredi school system teach the core curriculum?
      mycroft 05/05/2010 05:05 AM
      Re Rubashkin sentence-the Sentencing guidelines although no longer mandatory on courts are still very iunfluential and usually start as starting point. They treat white collar crimes very harshly-much more than many MO bekieve. Gil is right that one of the factors the guidelines use for reduction of sentences is remorse for performing crime. BTW Pollard who was from before the sentencing guidelines also did not act in a way to encourage lenient sentencing-when one wants to act as a cause celebre one often has to pay the harsh price for such actions.
      M. 05/05/2010 05:08 AM
      And Gil – I’m sure those Charedim who have a problem with mixed gender offices are going according to their poskim. Why should you blame them?
      Nachum 05/05/2010 05:25 AM
      Maybe he’s blaming the poskim. 🙂
      hirhurim 05/05/2010 07:20 AM in reply to Nachum
      It wasn’t a bad experience. My son always enjoys this event and I’ve gone to quite a few. This year, the kids were the worst behaved I’ve seen but, you know, kids without supervision… At least the Agudah propaganda was at a minimum. I remember one year they showed a video about the builders of Torah in America, all of whom coincidentally were heavily involved in Agudah with the exception of the Satmar Rav who was bizarrely included.
      Rena 05/05/2010 07:59 AM
      Oh, please. Who ever convinced you that chadorim don’t teach “basic math, science or language”? They most certainly do and they teach it better than the public schools because the kids are actually listening to the rebbe teach. What they don’t teach is trig, functions, calculus, physics, chemistry or 12-grade dikduk. If you are going to complain about something it should be truthful and accurate. Lying or exaggeration never makes a point in one’s favor and Ron Huldai seems not to understand that.
      M. 05/05/2010 08:16 AM
      Boys stop all secular education at 14. You try building an advanced economy with people who have nothing more than a basic eighth grade education. And the limmudei chol in Israeli chadorim is very basic – what science do they teach exactly – as you have noted they don’t teach physics or chemistry – as far as I am aware they are not so strong on biology either. And why do you assume that kids are paying attention for the limmudei chol – in my experience kids pay attention to the stuff they are taught to value and which they are taught at the beginning of the day – as opposed to the limmudei chol which gets tacked onto the end.
      hirhurim 05/05/2010 09:26 AM in reply to Rena
      So you’re saying that if I were to go into the yeshiva gedolah (high school) of, say, Kol Torah in Yerushalayim I would see the boys learning math and science for a part of the day? That’s just not true.
      Harry Maryles 05/05/2010 09:30 AM in reply to Rena
      Rena, your comments are completely misleading. Girls may get that kind of curriculum but you know very well that pre high school boys get only basic arithmetic and Dikduk. No science. No English,. No history… none of the core curriculer items you mention. And post 8th grade they get nothing but Torah. all day long. I have grandchildren in the sytem. I know whereof I speak!
      STBO 05/05/2010 10:24 AM in reply to Rena
      Rebbeim are teaching science, math and languages? This I have to see!…
      American Charedi 05/05/2010 10:43 AM in reply to Rena
      My kid was being taught that the sun goes around the earth. And any secular studies after 8th grade was not an option. That’s why we are back in the US, and why we are visited by Israeli meshulachim almost daily. (It is a great way to keep my Hebrew in shape).
      Fotheringay-Phipps 05/05/2010 01:25 PM
      Some commenters seem to be conflating Israel with the US. Nonetheless, it’s true that secular studies for charedi boys is not much even in the US, and the trend is for even less of it. That said, IMHO secular studies is overrated anyway, unless you want to get some advanced degree, and even then it’s not much. Very few people even remember what they may have learned of math and science in school, and even fewer have any practical use of it. The reason many charedim are ignorant of secular subjects is not because of schools, but because they don’t read reliable and informative news sources.

      Rubashkin can’t be too specific in apologizing for his crimes because he intends to appeal his conviction and needs to maintain a stance consistent with claims of innocence. I think his approach (apologizing for errors in judgment etc.) is SOP in such cases.

      Gil’s report of the mismatch of reporting vs. reality is interesting but unfortunately unsurprising to anyone who reads media accounts of these types of events.
      Nachum 05/05/2010 02:00 PM in reply to American Charedi
      I hate to break it to you, but lots of schools in Israel teach secular studies very well. The fact that you refused to consider them (I can guess why based on your name) is of no fault of Israel’s.
      Nachum 05/05/2010 02:00 PM in reply to Fotheringay-Phipps
      Overrated or not, employers like to know that their hires have some minimal degree of knowledge. Fair or not, those classes are necessary.
      American Charedi 05/05/2010 02:35 PM in reply to Nachum
      I’m not blaming Israel. It’s my fault. I started my kids down a path that I thought was more rational than it is. By the time I realized what they were actually being taught, and what the options were, they were too far down that derech to jump the wide ideological gulf that exists in Israel between the different religious camps. (Advice given to me my people on both sides of the gap — I did check out other options). Note to potential Olim: forget about gray. Pick white or black, and pitch your tent proudly.
      Chaim Markowitz 05/05/2010 02:40 PM
      >>> Ouch, Gil. (Re: #3.) I’m really sorry to hear that, and sorry that you and your son (especially) had to see it

      I think you might have misunderstood Gil’s point. I was also at the siyum mishanyos and I happen to agree with all the facts as Gil stated them. However, I would not say that there was negative Kavod HATorah-that boys were purposely disrespectful etc. I didn’t find that to be the case. While it is true that the boys did not go out of their way to show Kavod HaTorah, neither did they go out of their way to be disrespectful. They were acting like boys will act in such a setting. I don’t think there was anything either positive or negative about their behavior. There is nothing to be sorry about.
      Fotheringay-Phipps 05/05/2010 05:09 PM in reply to Nachum
      I don’t think so. Anyone who has a yeshiva “degree” has as much as someone with a HS degree – even more so, because you can get into law school with the former (for example). I don’t think employers are genuinely concerned that their employees know some geometry. They don’t want to hire HS dropouts because in their minds that equates to “shiftless deadbeat”, not because they value the knowledge.
      moshe shoshan 05/05/2010 05:24 PM in reply to Nachum
      Actually Nachum, the media constantly report how Israeli school rank near the bottom of industrialized nations. The Bagrut system encourages rote memorization over thinking. There is a serious crisis in the Israeli education system, grade one through PhD. It stems in part from a lack of valuing education on the part of Israeli society.
      However, I am not sure that the need for massive investment and reform in Israeli education in general is necessarily linked to the need to give Charedim basic education.
      Michael_Rogovin 05/05/2010 05:43 PM
      FWIW I have been inside the local public elementary schools in Teaneck and in several day schools in NY and NJ, both mixed and single gender. The public school kids were the best behaved and the yeshiva/day school students the worst. I have also noticed this on field trips. I am not claiming that this is generally the case across the board, but it is true in my experience. There is more (self) discipline in the public schools I have seen, while day schools seem chaotic. I am sure others can and will point to different experiences.

      Also, I think that the sentencing recommendations of the prosecutor are outrageously high when compared to sentences given to white collar criminals whose actions caused harm to millions of people and damaged the national economy. The labor charges were not adjudicated — this is for the financial crimes only and while criminal conduct should be punished, one must have a sense a proportionality.
      Y. Aharon 05/05/2010 09:51 PM
      Fotheringay-Phipps, some of us do remember the math we learned in High School and make use of it regularly. I would argue, to the contrary, that students not exposed to mathematical methods are deficient in their talmud studies, as well. For example, the gemara and commentaries go through a rather elaborate geometrical procedure for arriving at the conclusion that a revi’it is the volume of 2x2x2.7 etzbaot, i.e. 10.7 cubic etzbaot. The latter can be arrived at simply by equating the minimum shiurim of a mikva in amot and etzbaot, and that given by the volumetric measure of 40 seah. The equation is 1x1x3 amot x 24 etzbaot/ama, i.e. 3x24x24x24 cubic etzbaot = 40 seah x 24 lug/seah x 4 revi’t/lug. Simplify by cancellation and you get 10.7 cubic etzbaot per revi’it. Now, how many of today’s yeahiva students can do the calculation? Besides, the lack of knowledge of mathematics, the greater issue is the lack of fluency in the language. How many employers are willing to hire someone who needs to interact with the public but who can’t speak properly? These yeshivot are crippling their students in terms of earning a livelihood without being a hustler.
      Fotheringay-Phipps 05/06/2010 12:50 PM in reply to Y. Aharon
      These math gemaras almost never come up. It’s not worth the massive effort to learn math so that you can do a calculation more simply on a few extremely ocasions at most.

      Re language, that’s again not something you really get from school. People don’t talk or write well because they remember what their teachers taught them about prepositions. The reason charedi kids tend to be loose with English is because they’re in a society that talks that way, and they have little exposure outside that society. Similar to Ebonics. If they would be more used to reading things in English, they would speak better as well. And absent that, secular education won’t help either.
      joel rich 05/06/2010 01:07 PM in reply to Fotheringay-Phipps
      Rivh’s 80/20 rule:
      You’ll never use 80% of what you learn in school, the problem is you don’t know which 20% you’ll need till it’s too late.
      common sense 05/06/2010 01:52 PM
      I’m shocked, shocked that thew Jewish media would distort an event and report only that stereotypical events occurred.
      Y. Aharon 05/12/2010 11:43 PM
      F-P, my point wasn’t that one must learn math in order to understand some sugyot in shas. One must learn at least basic math as a required skill in the job market and as a meaningful intellectual pursuit. An added important benefit is that it allows one easy entry to some halachic sugyot that would otherwise be neglected. As to the value of language skills obtained in a proper high school education, that should be obvious. The problem with obtaining such skills from reading literary works is that one generally doesn’t learn how to pronounce the more elegant words thereby absorbed, or even have the motivation to pursue such reading. I doubt that I would have become familiar with classic literature had I not been assigned many book reports in yeshiva high school. We spent 2 years of English classes focused on book reports as a means of introducing us to world literature. We were also discouraged from speaking Brooklynese, and I retained little of my native idioms, inflections, or pronunciation.

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