Monday, February 8, 2010

Chareidi or religious state schools. Who has it right?

Every now and again you see an article in either YNET or The Jerusalem Post about a child from a Sefardi family whose parents have sent him/her to a Chareidi Ashkenazi school because they believe that the standard of Torah education is higher there. The parents complain that the school gives priority to Ashkenazi children, only allowing a few Sefardi kids a place. Then if the child is selected, the parents complain that the Ashkenazi school is brainwashing their child with Ashkenazi traditions, customs and prayer. Predictably, the article is always biased in favour of the parents because perceived racism and anti-Chareidi articles make for good page hits and talkbacks.

One could argue that if the parents choose to send their child to a school which they know in advance teaches according to the Ashkenazi tradition then they really should not complain. The article though always argues that good schooling should be open to everyone and that it is the school that should stop being exclusively Ashkenazi. The climax of the article is always that giving priority to Ashkenazi children is racist. No doubt the author then sits back and waits for the flood of anti-Chareidi talkbacks to come in. Job well done. Pat on the back.
Not only are they wrong but they miss the real story which is the misguided, mistaken and destructive practice of the State Religious Zionist (Mamlachti Dati) schools in Israel.

Torah Judaism teaches us to follow the traditions and customs of our fathers, to know who we are and where we have come from. Every Jewish community should be proud of who they are and their unique traditions. Every tradition should be respected. We are not here to make a soup from our kids in Israel, to be watered down to a generic form of Jewish practice, but a salad bowl of beautiful contrasts and flavours. The State religious Zionist schools have got it tragically wrong. They attempt to teach halacha (Jewish law) according to all minhagim (customs) and have mandatory common tephila (morning prayer) for all kids using some kind of "nusach Achid", a generic prayer ritual.

In many towns (including my own), the majority of kids who go to the State Religious schools are from Sefardi backgrounds. Inevitably, due to force of numbers and despite the supposed practiced "nusach Achid", the Ashkenazi minority are forced to submit to the tunes of Sefardi prayer and order of prayer according to Sefardi traditions and customs.

My kids complain bitterly about this but when I have spoken to the school, my words have fallen on deaf ears. In my experience, any attempt by Ashkenazi parents to suggest parallel Ashkenazi minyanim (services) are rejected out right. Any suggestion to be excused from the school minyan and to pray with their father in his shul in the mornings is likewise rejected!

It is not just tephila where the problem exists. My daughter came home a few months ago and told me that her Halacha Rav at school (who is Sefardi) had told her that Ashkenazim were not allowed to use teabags on Shabbat. She was very upset at the thought that we may have been performing malacha on Shabbat all these years. I calmed her down and opened up " Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchosoh" by Rav Yehoshua Yeshaya Neuwirth and showed her that we are allowed to use teabags on Shabbat from a kli shlishi which is indeed what we do. She was obviously greatly relieved. This is just one example of many.

Unlike all other religions which begin with a supposed revelation by a single person or a small group, Judaism claims that an entire people of some 3 million men women and children experienced Hakodesh Baruch Hu giving the Torah to the Jewish people. All other religions must by necessity begin with a leap of faith. You either believe that what this individual said he witnessed is the truth or not.

In total contrast, the entire Jewish people witnessed the same events from the 10 plagues to the Splitting of the Reed Sea to Har Sinai. We were told by Hashem to pass the record of this experience onto the next generation. This is the mitzvah of "Vehigadita Levincha" in Shemos 13:8 and is unquestionable proof of the truth of Hashem's Torah. This transfer from generation to generation is only possible with the use of a family tradition joining all the generations together.

This is why Leil HaSeder is so important and also answers an often asked question. Why are we so obsessed by so many family traditions on Pesach, many of them seemingly without reason? The answer is that these family minhagim connects us to all previous generations of our family. Just as our ancestor who stood on Har Sinai and heard Hashem's voice, passed down Torah, halacha and minhagim and the revelation experience to his children, so we continue that chain on Leil HaSeder.

This chain is made up of links such as the way we pray, the nigunim (tunes) we sing and the minhagim we observe.

It tears my kishkes inside out to think that families of generations of Torah and mitzvos observant Jews who have kept the light of Torah alive through the worst that the golus has thrown at them, including pogroms, forced conversions and forced deportations and kept loyal to Hashem by keeping their traditions and customs, finally come home to Eretz Yisrael only to have these schools expunge the very thing that has kept us all alive for 2,000 years and that which defines who we are.

Please don't think that this is an exclusively Ashkenazi war. I was speaking to a work colleague of mine who is Sefardia. She was telling me that she went to a State Religious school in the 1980s in Yerushalayim where the majority of teachers and kids happened to be Ashkenazi. To this day she feels uncomfortable praying Friday night in her grandfather's beit-knesset. She prefers the Ashkenazi services. She get's confused as to what is exclusively Ashkenazi Jewish law or customs or that which applies for all Jews because of what she was taught in school. She never learnt the Jewish law and customs exclusive to her family. She told me that she sends her kids to a Sefardi Chareidi school, despite having Zionist ideology, because of this.

These schools are unwittingly tearing at the very fabric of Judaism. If parents wish to send their kids to Zionist religious schools then it is the responsibility of parents to compensate for the school's error and make sure that at least on Shabbos, father and son, mother and daughter daven together in a shul true to their nusach.


Anonymous said...

Although, to a certain extent I agree with Mordecahi, I don't think that I see it as such a disaster because, in my opinion, it is healthy that the kids are exposed to other's traditions as well as their fathers. I think that this leads to more religious maturity.

In any case, very few of the nusachim we have really fully come from a pure tradition and I don't think it is clear cut that everyone's tradition (whether ashkenazi, sephardi or even taimani) has not be tainted by traditions of other communities.

I will elaborate.

Some might want to say that the Yekke (Germanic) congregations have never changed their tradition, but even the most Yekke of congregations sing (or chant) l'cha dodi on Friday night despite that it is well known to be a 16th century kabbalist thing, and never existed before then.

Although there are some yekki congregations who (still) do not say b'rich shmay when taking the sepher torah out, one would find that the vast majority of ashkenazi congregations (whether nusach sephard or nusach ashkenaz) do say it.

Thinking about it, the majority of ashkenazim in Israel, actually use nusach sepharad. In Ma'aleh Adumim, there is only one bet k'nesset (afaik) that exclusively uses nusach ashkenaz.

Taimani are actually divided into two main nusachim, one which might be pretty pure, but the other with a strong sephardi influence.

Among the sephardim, unless one is lucky enough to live close to a bet k'nesset which is your tradition (Morrocon, Tunesian, etc.), you probably end up in a "yerushalmi" sephardi bet k'nesset.

Anonymous said...

Concerning teabags on Shabbat - the vast majority of chareidi ashkenazim do not use teabags but only tea essence. This from experience of almost a year's living in a chareidi neighborhood. Shmirat Shabbat Khilchato, allows it if one really needs to be lenient, but not as the ideal. Most of us, though, in the more modern circles accept this as a heter (permission) from the outset (provided using "third" cup).

All of us are going to fall into situations where the kids teachers will tell them certain halachot, whereas the parents do it differently. It is part of a healthy Jewish education of the kid to know that there are variations and we should help them trace through the sources so they and we understand why sometimes halacha (Jewish law) can be learnt in different ways.

Reb Mordechai said...

Thanks Anonymous for your comments.
regarding teabagg. I should have mentioned that the sefer does say that it is permitted with kos shlishi which is the normalative practice even in some Chareidi homes I have spent Shabbos with. I shall amend the text just to clarify that.

Reb Mordechai said...

Also, I'd like to clarify that I wasn't saying that nusach and minhag doesn't change from generation to generation. Obviously it does but this fact only strengthens my argument. Those changes are actually a living record of the history of your family. By examining your family minhagim it may even be possible to tell from which community your family came from hundreds of years ago.

I also accept your point that there is a need for a certain amount for intermingling of different traditions. Perhaps the best situation would be a school where every Israeli learns together including halacha but has a separate chug for learning halacha according to their own nusach. However I believe that there can be no compromise when it comes to tephila. There must be a separate Ashkenazi and Sefardi minyan, and if there are Temanim then a separate minyan for those children as well. This should apply both to boys and girls schools. Every child whilst respecting the traditions of others should have pride in their own nusach and be able to practice it.

Bouncer said...

I think it depends on which brand of tea bag. If it's PG Tips, then I would say it should be okay to use on Shabbos - as long as it is a chimpanzee who makes the actual tea! If it is a Typhoo pyramid shaped tea bag, thenI would be more lenient, as it is arguably "zecher letziyas mitzra'im". Witzovsky tea bags don't matter either way, because their tea is so weak it can be considered "botel beshishim".

Reb Mordechai said...

LOL Bouncer, you crack me up. Thanks for the comment.

Bouncer said...

Well, it's nearly Purim - innit

Anonymous said...

Shemirat Shabbat K'hilchata 1:57 (my translation from Hebrew):-

Pouring from "second cup" or "third cup" we are accustomed to be lenient .... but on egg, on tea leaves, or on salty things that are inedible without rinsing (like salty fish) since the water makes them edible one should not even put them in a "third cup".

The term that I heard used for this is "kallei bishul"=things that can easily be cooked. Thus, although many of us are lenient with tea bags, someone who defines himself as chareidi ought to keep away from it. This is far from being a sephardi/ashkenazi divide.

I once saw in a chareidi hotel in London, a permanent notice on the wall with three rules for its guests. The first two rules I do not remember but the third rule was something of the order: "Thou shalt not use tea bags on Shabbat".

Anonymous said...

I realize now, that there might be two shuls in Ma'aleh Adumim that exclusively use Nusach Ashkenaz. I forgot about the chareidi ktav sofer shul.

Anonymous said...

There must be a separate Ashkenazi and Sefardi minyan, and if there are Temanim then a separate minyan for those children as well.
According to what you say:-

For ashkenazim should there be four minyanim in the school:
1) Nusach Ashkenaz
2) Standard Israeli Nusach Sepharad
3) Nusach Ari
4) Pure Nusach Gr"a

The few Taimanim there would also need to divide themselves up into:
1) Shammi
2) Biladi
Apparently these nusachim are substantially different from each other.

I think it would be very unfair that a boy of Morrocan descent has to go to the sephardi yerushalmi school minyan.

Where does one draw the line?

Bouncer said...

Anonymous said "The term that I heard used for this is "kallei bishul"=things that can easily be cooked."

Don't have access to achronim right now, but I remember reading a detailed explanation of this point in Me'orot Shabbat. The majority opinion is that khallei bishul only applies up to and including kli sheni, but not kli shlishi.

Bouncer said...

.... in fact I believe that the MB recommends kli shlishi specifically in order to avoid the risk of kallei bishul. The main objection to using tea bags on Shabbos, i think relates to the problems of sechitah (sqeezing) and (possibly) tzivuah (colouring)

Brenda of London said...

I don't think any body is right.
It is a shame that all schools don't treat each student will respect and not to brain wash them to their point of view.
very good article.
Brenda from London

Anonymous said...

The answer is "probably neither". Though you should have seen the Purim production of my daughter's ulpana class--a real "bourekas musical" with lots of very chazak edati partisanship. All in good fun, but the main point seemed to be that we all love our Ashkenazi brethren, even though we know they're probably not capable of combining yahadut with our intrinsic coolness. Velvele, Baylah-- We love you even though you just ain't got that swing. Plus, you think paprika, pepper, and salt are the only spices Hashem gave us. But this doesn't mean your kids can't marry proper Jews who can say chet and ayin.

One thing the haredi system fails to do with the boys is to give them an educational background that enables them to enter the labor market without major trauma. There are some clever bochurim who manage, somehow, to make up the mathematics they haven't gotten since 5th grade, but most of them flounder miserably on the English language requirements, and that's a good deal harder to fix.