The past half century of Jewish experience has taught that education is the key to ideological success. Whichever group controls the schools wins the hearts of succeeding generations. But what seems clear in retrospect was not obvious at the time. In R. Ya’akov Ariel’s telling, Religious Zionism failed to recognize this and suffered great losses due to this blindness and accompanying institutional rigidity. R. Ariel’s recent book of religious ideology, Halakhah Be-Yameinu, includes two essays on the history of Religious Zionist education in Israel, the first on educational differences and the second on the broader history as it intersected with his personal experiences. I find this fascinating because it explains so much. However, I recognize that this is one man’s anecdotal, ideological narrative rather than a comprehensive history. Be that as it may, it still bears consideration. To avoid undue focus on issues such as gender and ethnicity which excite so many of us, I will only address native Israeli male education.

It’s All About Education

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I. Education is the Key

The past half century of Jewish experience has taught that education is the key to ideological success. Whichever group controls the schools wins the hearts of succeeding generations. But what seems clear in retrospect was not obvious at the time. In R. Ya’akov Ariel’s telling, Religious Zionism failed to recognize this and suffered great losses due to this blindness and accompanying institutional rigidity.

R. Ariel’s recent book of religious ideology, Halakhah Be-Yameinu, includes two essays on the history of Religious Zionist education in Israel, the first on educational differences and the second on the broader history as it intersected with his personal experiences. I find this fascinating because it explains so much. However, I recognize that this is one man’s anecdotal, ideological narrative rather than a comprehensive history. Be that as it may, it still bears consideration. To avoid undue focus on issues such as gender and ethnicity which excite so many of us, I will only address native Israeli male education.

II. Lack of Success

The founding rabbis of Religious Zionism emerged from what we would now call Charedi yeshivas. When establishing educational institutions for the Religious Zionist community, its leaders assumed that these same types of yeshivas would continue to produce great students would fill roles in the Religious Zionist community. And to some degree, they were correct. Leading rabbis, such as R. Shlomo Goren, studied in yeshivas like Chevron and Ponevezhe. However, overall, the opposition to Religious Zionism grew so institutional that these rabbis were the rare exception and were certainly insufficient to fill the many rabbinical roles required in the growing state. Merkaz Harav all but collapsed after the death of its dean, R. Ya’akov Moshe Charlop. There was another reason for the failure to establish Religious Zionist post-high school yeshivas–lack of students.

The initial Religious Zionist elementary and high schools, with a few noteworthy exceptions, were based on Western European gymnasia. They were essentially secular schools with some classes on religious subjects. The religious studies teachers did not set the school’s tone and did not have any more influence than any other teacher. While the goal was to attract the less committed and fight against an oppressively secular culture, the result was a generation full of religiously uninspired and uneducated students. On graduation, these students were interested in high achievements in career and army rather than in Torah.

III. Torah Revolution

In R. Ariel’s narrative, the savior was the Bnei Akiva youth movement. Its inspired youth demanded change, often meeting institutional opposition but slowly overcoming and eventually dominating. After they pushed for the establishment of Religious Zionist yeshivas, Kerem B’Yavneh and HaDarom were established and Merkaz Harav was revitalized at approximately the same time. These institutions of higher Torah learning not only taught Israel-centric values but encouraged army service among its students and graduates, often within the groundbreaking Hesder program.

Additionally, these activist youths successfully started elementary and high schools with more of an Eastern European flavor–with a rabbi as the primary instructor for each class whose job was to guide his students toward a life of religious devotion. These schools were yeshiva high schools. Rather than the secular studies setting the tone for the religious studies, the influence flowed in the reverse direction. The yeshiva high school, as opposed to the religious high school, succeeded in feeding the post-high school yeshivas. In turn, the yeshiva elementary schools grew with a similar model and fed the yeshiva high school. The reverse trajectory of this loose and disorganized movement as well as its grass roots nature led to slow growth.

IV. Growth

The Six Day War was not a turning point but an inflection point. The religious fervor of the moment boosted the expansion of this educational movement just as it was reaching maturity. The expansion not only grew the existing framework into the normative model but added another level–kollel. The Religious Zionist educational system was now ready to produce its own exceptional Torah scholars. And it did. These yeshivas and kollels have graduated hundreds of exceptionally capable rabbis, leaders, judges and decisors, not to mention laymen accomplished in Torah and secular pursuits. They have allowed outstanding students to devote many years to growth in Torah knowledge and wisdom.

However, the focus on Torah achievement creates social boundaries which have already generated responses. Not every yeshiva high school graduate is prepared to devote many further years to yeshiva study and army service. The growth of the Hesder yeshiva led to a perception of Torah elitism and a split in the community between those with advanced Torah education and those without. This was answered in two ways.

V. Specialization

Specialized yeshivas emerged, focusing on different aspects of the religious personality. Yeshiva frameworks within academic institutions, most notably Bar Ilan, offered additional alternatives. Students with many different needs can find their place within the Religious Zionist system of Torah study, although R. Ariel cautions about the need for proper proportions in areas of focus.

Additionally, to the surprise of many, the army preparation schools wildly succeeded in attracting students. These schools generally teach intense one year courses in Jewish law and thought for those intending to enlist in regular army service (as opposed to Hesder). The schools’ success has been bittersweet because they attract students from across the spectrum, including many who would otherwise have enrolled in multi-year yeshiva programs. However, R. Ariel praises these programs for successfully instilling faith and devotion in its graduates, some of whom eventually end up in a yeshiva.

R. Ariel addresses some criticisms of the Religious Zionist educational system. He accepts its many flaws but argues that it has sufficiently succeeded to merit continuation, even if with nuanced changes. R. Ariel’s favored educational framework is one of personal choice grounded in Torah basics and a religiously nourishing environment. He savors the uniquely Israeli (i.e. Religious Zionist) aspects of study–Bible, history, geography, theology–that have flourished over the past few decades. In retrospect, the Religious Zionist community could not grow during the early life of the country until its religious educational system was put into place.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, 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 serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five 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.

41 comments

  1. note R. Ariel was the gadol who R. Elyashiv prevented from becoming rav ha rashi so that he could install someone he knew lacked qualifications but felt would be bendable to his will. A tragedy for klal yisrael.

  2. Whichever group controls the schools wins the hearts of succeeding generations.

    This is precisely why I have an issue with the glossing over of RHS’ answer about sex-segregation on buses. And also why Modern Orthodoxy needs YCT to be successful as an alternative to RIETS.

  3. No, you insist on interpreting RHS differently than his students, so your criticisms only reflect your anti-RWMO bias.

  4. No interpretation required. I take him at his word.

  5. R’IH,
    IMHO the real question is who sets the vision for MO. You might find Pres. Joel’s address of interest as to what he articulates as YU’s vision (link is at audioroundup)
    KT

  6. No, you insist on interpreting RHS differently than his students, so your criticisms only reflect your anti-RWMO bias.

    You mean that his students assumed he was musing and didn’t mean what he said and IH assumes he means what he said?

  7. R’ Joel — with no disrespect to the administrative President of YU, there is this wonderful story:

    [Physicist & Professor Isidor Isaac] Rabi got the Nobel Prize and Eisenhower [then president of Columbia University] asked Rabi to come and talk with him. And Eisenhower said, “Professor Rabi, I congratulate you on the Nobel Prize, and besides, I am always very happy to see one of the employees of the University.” So Rabi drew himself up to his full height of five feet five inches and said, “Mr. President, the faculty are not the employees of the University. They ARE the university!”.

    ref: http://tinyurl.com/8dbxqcf

  8. HAGTBG: Yes, I mean that his students know he was not talking about pesak or public policy but just speaking in theory. And that getting a pesak from RHS requires a more direct question.

  9. R’IH,
    If you saw my write up about the speech you might note that I might have been a bit tongue in cheek 🙂
    KT

  10. I did 🙂 But the Rabi story so fits this thread, it was worth leveraging.

  11. Gil — P’sak is a strawman. Neither I, nor anyone else, claimed that RHS was making a P’sak. What I said was the context of his response was “Listen to the OU Webcast segment and ask yourself what the OU msshgiach who asked the question (and the audience) walked away thinking was RHS’ position. There were no mitigating words in his response. Also note the stated purpose of that OU Webcast was to obtain practical guidance on issues spanning the breadth and depth of Yahadut.”

    If you have evidence that this response by RHS is not indicative of what he teaches his students should be the role of women in Modern Orthodoxy, please bring it forward.

    My point in raising this issue here is in support of your statement that “Whichever group controls the schools wins the hearts of succeeding generations.”

  12. How do you differentiate between “practical guidance” and pesak?

    If you have evidence that RHS’ response is indicative of his teachings, particularly in school, then please bring it forward. Otherwise, you are building a mountain out of a molehill–as others have pointed out to you–presumably in order to forward your glaringly obvious agenda.

  13. Maybe sex-segregation in the public domain is a molehill for you, but it’s a mountain for me. We’re going in circles. I’ve said my piece.

  14. That is a sneaky rhetorical trick. I did not claim that sex-segregation in the public domain is either a mountain or a molehill. I claimed that you misrepresented RHS’ remark to turn it into a mountain about sex segregation.

    But please, enough. I’ll take you at your word that you’ve said your piece.

  15. I have to agree with IH that the OU Webcast seemed to be practical halacha … if RHS was not speaking l’maaseh that should have been clarified. It seemed he was asked concerning segregated buses whether we should oppose them, allow them or prefer them and he said we prefer them (but not that we mandate them). That preference – very far from the MO norm – is what IH has issues with. I think IH is wrong to focus the issue on RHS but right to raise the issue of his de facto leadership of RW MO concerning whether the MO yeshivot are spreading “desired” values.

  16. One might ask as a thought experiment (since we have no data) as a starting point
    1.Is the sum total of arayot related aveirot less in a society that leans more to separation of the sexes (might take out the word arayot and see how that works)?
    2.Is the mixing of the sexes a philosophical or practical “MO norm”
    KT

  17. Additional:
    3.Is there a single MO standard? Should there be?

  18. R’ JR – there are arayot and then there “ARAYOT”. they are not all created equal in the eyes of many.

  19. Re: Moshe Shushan’s comments regarding Rav Elyasiv and Rav Ariel.

    That, like all the nasty stuff that came out of his court, was the work of Rav Elyashiv’s henchmen.

    It was they who sought to diminish the status of the Rabbanut — and hence feared having a prestigious, independent, and likable person as Rav haRashi.

    It was they, not Rav ELyashiv, who were financially benefiting from Shemittah and other hashgochos — and heavily involved in such.

  20. R’Ruvie,
    And I am the last to be HKB”h’s accountant and I don’t know the answers. Intuitively (and R’ Gil raises my age old issue, what is the tzibbur you look at for many halachic issues)there is some dynamic stasis point ( a function of time and place) between totally separate (except for the bedroom) and an almost androgynous approach that meets the test (my test) of maximizing the avodat hashem (although one could argue minimizing aveirot also as a test)
    KT

  21. Just to throw in my Chareidi 2 cents: There’s a diff between segregation on a bus where it’s nearly impossible not to touch the person next to you and segregation in say, a store.
    Also the question of what if majority (including women) want to be segregated?
    http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/159218/the-male-rosa-parks/

  22. Is there anything in the book about educating how the disengagement came to pass?

    Also “Students with many different needs can find their within the Religious Zionist system of Torah study.” has a word missing somewhere, I think.

  23. R’SS
    It’s bderech remez that they have to first find what they have to find:-)
    KT

  24. Ruvie wrote:

    “R’ JR – there are arayot and then there “ARAYOT”. they are not all created equal in the eyes of many”

    Please clarify. RYBS felt the entire Parsha of Arayos was read on YK to remind us of their severity and a means of showing that our adherence to these issurim which together with Maacalos Asuros form Sefer Kedusha were meant to show that we were different than ancient societies( and possibly contemporary society as well) with respect to how a Jew is expected to act.

  25. Steve — Regarding the present day, you yourself have observed that abuse issues in the Charedi community are “no worse” than in general society. That is hardly a boost for the superiority of the obsessive strictures of Right Wing Orthodoxy regarding seperation of sexes.

  26. Arnie Lustiger

    Religious Zionism started its downward spiral when “it’s all about education” morphed into “it’s all about territories”. A party which was to be a source of inspiration to secular Israel has become a source of antipathy to religion. Mossad Harav Kook has hijacked the religious Zionist narrative.

  27. Arnie Lustiger

    Sorry. I meant MERKAZ Harav Kook.

  28. “One might ask as a thought experiment (since we have no data) as a starting point
    1.Is the sum total of arayot related aveirot less in a society that leans more to separation of the sexes (might take out the word arayot and see how that works)?
    2.Is the mixing of the sexes a philosophical or practical “MO norm”
    KT”

    Personally, I think separating the sexes is a bad idea. The reason is the following. I went to co-ed schools all my life except for one year. That one year, is when I experimented the most with members of the opposite gender. I was never with anyone again until I got married, despite being in co-ed environments. I met the girls, and communicated with them by leaving notes in various places, as if I was in a spy movie, or passing information through siblings of friends etc.

    I’m sure my personal experience means nothing for the greater society, but it certainly convinced me that the restrictions breed creativity, desire, and less self control.

  29. Steve b. – It’s simple just read it. One example, Would you equate incest with mei niddah as something on the same ethical and moral level of a transgression?

  30. Why time and time again must we re-interpret and apologize for Rav Schachter when he says something? Maybe he means exactly what he says?

  31. “Why time and time again must we re-interpret and apologize for Rav Schachter when he says something? Maybe he means exactly what he says?”

    It seems that what he says isn’t very clear. What -exactly- did he say?

  32. Dude: It isn’t apologizing for him. It’s just listening to him without an agenda.

  33. Avi — the full exchange is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyjtD-if5Js (1 min, 23 secs). Decide for yourself.

  34. “Avi — the full exchange is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyjtD-if5Js (1 min, 23 secs). Decide for yourself”

    Thanks for the link, but it would have been easier if you just transcribed it.

    The question asked is if the current behavior in some communities in Israel is Going to far, minhag chasidut, halacha etc.
    I see him say, “It matters what is mekubal, what is accepted by the community” He further says that if people are not properly dressed, and and rubbing up against eachother, that it’s not a bad idea, women in front, men in the back, is not a bad idea.

    In other words, he didn’t answer the question, and wasn’t very clear about what he thought. “Not a bad idea” can mean anyone of the choices that were given to him.

  35. Arnie Lustiger – Have you ever been there? It’s a great vibrant place. They haven’t hijacked anything.
    And I’m not even a Kooknik.

  36. Lawrence Kaplan

    Moshe Shoashan: I heard that Rav Elyashiv blocked the candidacy of Rav Slmo Daichovsky. Perhaps he blocked rhe candidacies of both Rav Daichovsky and Rav Ariel, both of whom are very knowledgeable and independent, and would not be subservient to Rav Elyashiv’s will.

  37. Lawrence Kaplan

    IH and Gil: RHS said what he said, would that he not had said it. How much weight one should accord to what he said and exactly how seriously he meant it is a matter of interptation, and there is room for differing views. But what I would like to know is whether any other RY at YU has publicly said that sex segregation of public buses is a BAD idea

  38. Yes, that is the issue. As I said about Rav Aviner last week: There is an internal consistency to his comments over time:

    It seems he does not see a difference between halacha and secular society in regards to the role of women. He is opposed to the change in the role of women in secular society, but recognizes there are practical limits that prevent him from taking them away to the degree he would prefer.

    I obviously disagree, but I respect the internal consistency which I find absent in the typically expressed RWMO approach.”

    To which Emma correctly elaborated:

    rav aviner is willing to say that he thinks women should, ideally, not be involved in “Secular” civil society, not just shuls and the like. so-called RWMO types are generally silent on the propriety of women being secular politicians, lawyers, etc, and focus on the synagogue. it often feels like the arguments the “rwmo” are making re: synagogue should equally suggest women should not pursue public professions (cf rabbi davidovich’s post). but they never quite come out and say it, perhaps because they know it goes against the intuitions of even “rwmo” americans.
    being in america vs. israel has a lot to do with it, of course.

    My raising this issue is not about RHS, as a person; but about American RWMO as personified by RHS as key educator. As Gil correctly states: “Whichever group controls the schools wins the hearts of succeeding generations.”

  39. Yes, that is the issue. As I said about Rav Aviner last week: There is an internal consistency to his comments over time:

    It seems he does not see a difference between halacha and secular society in regards to the role of women. He is opposed to the change in the role of women in secular society, but recognizes there are practical limits that prevent him from taking them away to the degree he would prefer.

    I obviously disagree, but I respect the internal consistency which I find absent in the typically expressed RWMO approach.”

    To which Emma correctly elaborated:

    rav aviner is willing to say that he thinks women should, ideally, not be involved in “Secular” civil society, not just shuls and the like. so-called RWMO types are generally silent on the propriety of women being secular politicians, lawyers, etc, and focus on the synagogue. it often feels like the arguments the “rwmo” are making re: synagogue should equally suggest women should not pursue public professions (cf rabbi davidovich’s post). but they never quite come out and say it, perhaps because they know it goes against the intuitions of even “rwmo” americans.
    being in america vs. israel has a lot to do with it, of course.

    My raising this issue is not about RHS, as a person; but about American RWMO as personified by RHS as key educator. As Gil correctly states: “Whichever group controls the schools wins the hearts of succeeding generations.”

  40. Lawrence Kaplan

    Shaul Shapira: If Haredi women and men want to be separated on buses, then let them have their own private buses. In the news article you cite a group of Haredi women threw a man out a sherut run by a non-haredi sherut company that presumably serves the general public. Do you really see nothing wrong with this?

    Again I ask: Has any RIETS RY stated that sex-segregated public buses are a BAD idea? And if not, why not?

  41. Again I ask: Has any RIETS RY stated that sex-segregated public buses are a BAD idea? And if not, why not?

    Nu, so what do you conclude?

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