Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Internet Schooling - Using One Good Crisis to Solve Another

Never let a crisis go to waste.

These are the (in)famous words of Rahm Emanuel, formerly President Obama’s Chief of Staff and currently the mayor of Chicago. (This rates in my book right alongside “I am not a crook!”)

Now this post is not meant to be about the Shidduch crisis although, now that I brought it up, and since it plays into my real topic, I will devote a few lines to it.

Loyal readers know that I have written a number of posts trying to push web cam dating. I am not finished with the subject and, in fact, want to expound on it some more - just not right now. But I will say this much in a follow up to my last post on this subject in August of 2014:

There seems to be very few revolutionaries among my scant readership. While I did not expect a deluge of responses to my clarion call for Skype-based trans-Atlantic dating featuring "Yossi", my then 23 y/o Prince Charming, I fully expected at least a smattering of interest. But I got absolutely nothing! Not a nibble. Save for one neighbor in Har Hof – a faithful reader - who wanted to set up my Yossi with his niece from Baltimore. And he couldn't get the job done because his sister's family is among the malachim (and I say it with sincere admiration) that do not have Internet in their house at all.  As I reported, Prince Charming (now a bit older) has since fled to the shores of the Goldene Medineh with a suitcase full of glass slippers (assorted sizes).

We are letting the crisis go to waste!

Undaunted, revolutionary that I am (or wannabe), I want to propose employing the Internet to help alleviate another great crisis. The one that most of us face shortly after successfully weathering the shidduch crisis – the day school tuition crisis catastrophe!!

Now, although this is a longstanding issue, this post was inspired by an interview I listened to very recently. The interview was conducted by Rabbi Dovid Lichtenstein on his weekly radio show Headlines. For the record, let me state that I think it is a great show and I highly recommend it for people who have the time. I think Rabbi Lichtenstein is a very brilliant, erudite and sincere individual and a great promoter of Torah and Chesed. (Although I question his support of the great sheffa-macher, Hillary Clinton). I was actually together with him during my year in Yeshivat Mir although we were not closely acquainted.

The interview was on his Jan. 23, 2016 broadcast and the interviewee was Harav Dovid Ozeiri. The subject focused on the address Rabbi Ozeiri delivered at the Agudah convention concerning how truly underpaid our Rebbeim (and teachers) are. Despite Rabbi Ozeiri’s claims of noticeable improvements, the underlying issue – the skyrocketing cost of education, was not fully addressed. Although some fundraising efforts may be effective to put a few additional dollars into our Rebbeims’ paychecks, it is difficult to envision a durable solution that does not facilitate another increase to the already crippling cost of tuition.

Can something be done?

I think so.

We have a Jewish mesora – it’s called Mesoras Avoseinu B’Yadeinu. The Torah calls it: שאל אביך ויגדך, זקניך ויאמרו לך.

What did my grandpapa do for my papa?

Well, there were no day schools in Munkacz when Totty was a tot. Not too many in the US either. But there were chadarim and Hebrew schools. Not nearly as costly as day schools. So it saved them a bundle. But…what about the three R’s?

There were compulsory no-cost public schools.

So that’s what they did in the good old days. Because, in Europe at least, they weren’t even allowed to have full scale private day schools. So the kids went to public school to learn the three R’s and national propaganda and all the parents had to pay for was the local religious education. And they didn’t splurge too much for the girls.

Today we don’t send our kids to public schools.

Why not?

Because it is not a very healthy environment for nice Jewish children (in more ways than one), that’s why. Also, because the standards of education do not meet the potentials of our children. Also because some of the study material is objectionable to our tastes (such as the national propaganda).

So we dig in to our pockets and hyper-pay for higher quality "kosher" secular education along with the religious education that we need. And we do this for our girls as well as for the boys. This is because the girls are required to receive the same compulsory secular education for which we cannot send them to public schools, either. And even though they do not need the same intensity of religious studies, we bundle it all up in one package we call "day school" with all the same perks and pay the same price.

But suppose we can have our kichel and eat it, too. Suppose we can achieve a suitable level of secular education and sidestep the unhealthy environment (and monitor the study material) all at no cost?

Well, we can. At least in some parts of the country. But it means going back to the big bad Parah Adumah that invades our lives --- the INTERNET.

You see, one day, when I was doing my usual “blogging”, I came across a pop-up ad for this place. This is a site that offers online secular education at no tuition at all.

Online secular education! Free!

With free online secular education, we could simply cut out the general studies from the day schools and turn them back into the chadarim and Hebrew schools that our zeidies (and bubbies??) went to.

This would eliminate the need for general studies teachers, and administrators, textbooks and equipment and possibly even lunches. So, let’s say the boys could go to school for limudei kodesh from 8:30 to 2:00, then come home and do their mandatory secular elementary school education online. For girls, the communities could develop religious education programs that work for them (tip – they can use the Israeli system as a model) and they would be non-compulsory so that if somebody is really financially strapped, they can opt out. Of course, I think it is very important for girls to receive proper Jewish educations, but definitely not as intensive as boys, and a family should not be forced to go into debt for it. If it’s truly unaffordable, families have the option of forgoing it and letting the girls learn on their mothers’ apron strings. Save the money for the chasuna (or for the seminary year in Israel)!

Of course, frum general studies teachers and administrators may find themselves out of work but (1) there are other kinds of jobs out there and (2) the savings from lowering their own children's tuition costs may just cover the deficit (perhaps with change).

And--- to deal with Rabbi Ozeiri, more of the freed up tuition money can get to the Rebbeim!

Incidentally, this system goes all the way to 12th grade so the yeshivos can cash in on it as well. We can also solve the girls' high school crisis - a crisis within a crisis - by eliminating girls' high schools and just having local religious studies programs (and maybe chugim) that can be much more flexible.

Of course, there are down-sides - just like the Skype dating. The obvious one is that, once again, it means making peace with the Internet.

And, again, I will respond with everything I wrote in my first post on this issue – see HERE. Owing to the fact that we have learned how to “tame” the Internet, this is a small price to pay.

With this, we have solved the problem of the “unhealthy environment” of public schools. What is left is the problem of the second rate standards, if they are indeed lower, and the problem of objectionable material.

Both these issues can be readily solved if we –the Jewish community – or some organization such as Torah U’Mesora, can develop a custom tailored curriculum for the Jewish community that can be fully accredited. If this is not possible, then the two issues will need to be dealt with.

My assumption is that the standards issue is not a serious one. The standards may well be up to par, and even if not, any achiever will eventually find his or her potential. As for objectionable material, I think it could be deflected or circumvented but I don’t want to lengthen this post by going into details.

Currently, there is one major problem with this whole suggestion. It is not fully functional. The site that I linked to above told me that the free online program is only accredited in 27 states. All other states can only go private which indeed costs a bundle. The states off the list include some of the real biggies – New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. But, California, Michigan and Florida are accredited. They told me they are working to get all 50 states and they hope to get New York or New Jersey, if not both in the coming year, but right now they are off the table.

I think it may just be a matter of the great askanim of Brooklyn and Rockland County to bribe pull the right strings in Albany to get the job done. We’ve got the people in Albany who will help us as soon as they get out of the slammer.

Incidentally, I found another such online public school system (see HERE) that claims to be accredited in New Jersey and Illinois (but still not New York).

So, even though for now this may be a pipe dream, it can happen if enough people (and HKBH) want it to happen.Of course, for social reasons, the current system is a much better system, but, needless to say, it is a luxury that most of us simply cannot afford. Remember, just like the Skype dating, we aren’t trying to fix something that ain’t broke. 

I fully understand that the Internet is a makka that brings along its own refuah. This is truly an eis laasos l'Hashem - hefeiru Torasecha. We need an alternative system. And, if nobody is willing to experiment with a new system, there will never be one.

P.S. I personally think that every single Jew should make Aliyah and leave this whole tuition crisis behind (we have some way more exciting crises over here), but none of my suggestions seem to sell.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Great GAP [Year]

I still track Emes V’Emunah to see what kind of propaganda is being fed to the unsuspecting sheeple – the צאן קדושים . This is because my mission is to controvert this propaganda. Whenever I look at Emes V’Emunah, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Most often I do both.

Very recently (Jan. 01, 2016), he carried a post that he titled The ‘Gap Year’ in Israel - Evidence of Modern Orthodox Failure? in which he reviewed an op-ed post written by a 17 year old high school senior named Ezra Epstein. You can see the entire editorial HERE and Rabbi Maryles’ critique HERE.

Mr. Epstein contends that the traditional “gap” year – i.e., the year following high school graduation during which many MO high school graduates come to Eretz Yisroel to study, all of whom wear sweatshirts emblazoned with the word G. A. P.  – is, by its existence, an indication of the failure of the Modern Orthodox educational system. Mr. Epstein intimates that if MO education were doing its job, such a tradition would not be necessary.

This much is clear. What is left unclear is where Mr. Epstein himself stands on the issue. He ends his editorial with the statement: So, I ask, why should I submit to this desperate “Plan B” ideology? Maybe I’ll just stay home.

What do you mean? Are you telling us that your own MO education was successful and you have no need for this tradition even though most everyone else does? Are you telling us that you agree that your education was unsuccessful but you have had enough and are not going to “submit” to “Plan B” out of protest? Is “just stay home” Plan A or Plan C?
If, as you contend, the system is a failure, what is your suggestion to fix it? - Are you calling for a GAP year boycott?? (Heaven forfend!) Do you realize how much this would hurt the business of all the fast food joints on Ben Yehuda Street?? After all that the EU has already done to us??!!

So I am a bit baffled as to what Mr. Epstein’s conclusion is but I could not agree more with his premise. The GAP year is an indication of failure. But it is not the “GAP year” that is the issue. It is simply the GAP. The Great GAP. The GAP between Modern Orthodoxy and true yiddishkeit.

To understand this we must first acknowledge that there are four levels of observance within the greater population that is known as Orthodox:

Level 1 - Torasam Umnasam

Torah learning is the only passenger in the buggy. This is the hashkafa of Rabi Shimon ben Yochai (RSBY) as he states in Brachos 35b. In gemara Shabbos 11a this is referred to as the perspective of “RSBY and his colleagues – Torasan Umnassan”. This is the highest form of ameilus B’Torah and is in full compliance with Im Bechukosai Teleichu. As such, it is a fully legitimate hashkafa.

Level 2 - Torasam Keva

Torah learning and secular endeavors are both in the buggy. However, Torah learning is in the front seat and the secular endeavors are in the back seat. The only purpose of the secular endeavors is to facilitate the Torah study. This is the hashkafa of Rabi Yishmael as he states in Brachos 35b. This is deemed the more practical hashkafa and is called: Torascha keva u’melachtecha arai (Torah is primary and labor is secondary).  This is also considered ameilus B’Torah – albeit a milder form - and, as such, is likewise in full compliance with Im Bechukosai Teleichu. It is also a fully legitimate hashkafa.

Level 3 - Melachtam Keva (Torah Shelo L'Shma)

Torah learning and secular endeavors are both in the buggy. However, the secular endeavors are in the front seat and the Torah learning is in the back. The only purpose of the Torah learning is to give respectability to the rest of the lifestyle. This is the hashkafa in Brachos 35b that is called: Melachtam keva v’Torasam arai.  This is also referred to as: Torah shelo l’shma. This may be a bit of a grey area but, in my opinion, as long as it remains Torasam arai and Shelo l’shma, it most likely cannot be considered ameilus B’Torah and, as such, it is not in compliance with Im Bechukosai Teleichu. Rashi in Vayikra 26:14 ascribes this hashkafa as “V’Im lo tishmiyu Li”. As such, this hashkafa is totally not legitimate since following it is considered “not listening to G-d.”

Level 4 - Lo Lamad (Mitzvas Anashim Melumada)

Secular endeavors are the only passengers in the buggy. These people may indeed keep Shabbos (somewhat) and eat only Kosher, burn their chametz and observe other mitzvos that they are aware of so therefore they are called “Orthodox”, but in terms of compliance with Im Bechukosai Teleichu, there is no connection.The navi Yeshaya (29:13) refers to this as Mitzvas Anashim Melumada. This is no grey area. This is the Lo Lamad stage and the inception of all of the tochachos in sefer Vayikra (R”L), as Rashi (Vayikra 26:15 L’Hafrichem) tells us.

So we see clearly that of these four levels of “Orthodox” observance, only the first two are legitimate and in compliance with HKBH’s decree in Vayikra. The second two are not legitimate. And between them there must be some kind of GAP.

My readers know that I refer to the first two levels as “One Above” in reference to the single edict of Im Bechukosai Teleichu and the other two levels are the “Seven Below” in reference to the aforementioned Rashi. I also called the first two – the One Above – the chareidi camp and the second two I called the non-chareidi camp. I have refrained from using the term "Modern Orthodox" in light of the “grey area” I mentioned in Level 3.

Now we return to our hero Mr. Ezra Epstein. When he refers to the “Modern Orthodox” and contends that their system failed, to which of the above levels of observance is he referring?

It is definitely not Levels 1 and 2. When he talks about a population that is bent on attending college – “be it a Jewish college or a secular one” – and those who are in need of some apparatus “to straighten out … before college arrives and the yarmulke comes off…” he is referring to those on Level 4 and to those on the underside of Level 3.

Well, now that we have seen that these hashkafos are those that are rejected in the Gemara Brachos and sefer Vayikra, this means that as far as true Yiddishkeit is concerned, any educational system that promotes these levels are failures from the get-go. We do not need any “GAP year” traditions to tell us this. Without the “GAP year” there is a tremendous GAP. This is the GAP between Levels 1-2 and Levels 3-4. This is the GAP between Im Bechukosai Teleichu and V’Im Bechukosai Timasu. This is the GAP between Har Gerizim and Har Eival, between Bracha and Kelala, between Chaim and Maves.

And there is only one way to cross this GAP. There must be some compliance with ameilus b’Torah. It’s the only bridge. And it’s a very, very narrow one.

And so, Mr. Epstein is very correct. The GAP year in Israel is not the answer. Because Israel is not the answer. Torah is the answer. One needs Torah, not Eretz Yisroel. And, in theory, one can get Torah anywhere. One does not have to go to Eretz Yisroel.

And this is where Modern Orthodoxy has failed it’s “successors”. Modern Orthodoxy does not provide any GAP years of Torah in the US. Ameilus b’Torah is not on its curriculum. But, fear not! We will export our students to Eretz Yisroel where they can spend another whole year on a buggy ride. Perhaps there will be Torah study in the buggy and perhaps it will take the front seat. If so, it may actually prevent some students from letting their yarmulkas come off.

All of the above is what Mr. Epstein must mean when he says that the system has failed. But where does Mr. Epstein go from here. He clearly told us what he “Maybe” won’t do, but what is he “Maybe” gonna do?

I am not sure. But, here comes Rabbi Maryles – who is very proud of him and is certain that this fellow’s real father and rebbi are, as well – and gives him words of caution: That doesn’t mean you abandon Modern Orthodoxy completely and become Charedi.

Well, how about if we reread his words and substitute “Levels 3-4” or “V’Im Bechukosai Timasu (Seven Below)” for the term “Modern Orthodox” which is how Mr. Epstein is using it and likewise substitute “Levels 1-2” or “Im Bechukosai Teleichu (One Above)” for the term “Chareidi”?

Now, Rabbi Maryles’ words look like this: That doesn’t mean you abandon V’Im Bechukosai Timasu completely and become Im Bechukosai Teleichu. Or: That doesn’t mean you abandon Level 3-4 completely and become Level 1-2.

Like: Sure the system is a failure and not a legitimate level of observance and is a harbinger of tochacha but no need to abandon it completely.

And he says: Sure you should send your kids to Israel for a year high after school. Just be aware that he could… come back from his gap year wearing a black hat – bringing with him all the Hashkafos associated with it.

In other words, he might advance to a level that is actually a legitimate form of observance, but…this is a “drawback”!! After all “You raise your child one way (i.e., in a failed system) and he comes back unrecognizable (i.e., improved) in some cases.” 

Watch out!

Of course, he has no problems if they do this “honestly”, i.e., by thinking for themselves. But to be "indoctrinated" to the philosophies of the gemara in Brachos (and the rest of Shas, BTW) is just unacceptable.

So...Please make sure that they don’t learn any Shas just like they didn’t in high school. (And no Mesilas Yesharim under any circumstances!) They may get "indoctrinated" to Talmudic ideals and that wouldn't be honest.

Rabbi Maryles warns: Once they have your children without the distractions they had back home (and sometimes they consider the parents themselves distractions) - they disparage the Modern Orthodox (i.e., Seven Below - YH) lifestyle and many of its values.

What values?

Do they disparage mitzvah observance? Do they disparage good midos?

Oh, perhaps they do disparage “Melachtam keva” – just like the Gemara in Brachos that Torah true Jews revere does. Chas v’shalom, your kids should come home only wanting “Melachtam arai”. I know that chazal prescribe it, but we Modern Orthodox – or, I mean Centrists – know better!

Who knows? Perhaps, “Instead of going to YU (which is commonly denigrated in many of those Israeli Yeshivos) they will ask if they can instead attend Ner Israel.”

How awful! Or, worse, they may even hang around E"Y and land up in Ohr Sameach, R”L!

So if you send your kid to EY for the year, make sure it is only for an empty buggy ride.

Well, all right. If it really comes down to between this and abandoning Yiddishkeit altogether, I suppose that subscribing to Im Bechukosai teilechu is a far better alternative (whew-w-w!). “But it ought not be the only alternative. It should not be an either or: Either you become Charedi or you become secular.”

It ought not be just between Im Bechukosai Teleichu and V’Im Bechukosai Timasu. Between Bracha and Kelala and between Chaim and Maves. No! There should be some other choices too!

There should be a GAP!

Of course, there are a few empty buggies that will not indoctrinate your child to these invasive One Above hashkafas. Such as Kerem B’Yavneh and Michlala. Nobody flips out in those places. Oh no. Rabbi Maryles’ son – currently a rosh chabura in Mir – didn’t flip out in Kerem B’Yavneh! Rav Moshe Stav (of KBY) doesn’t live in Har Nof and daven by Rav Yitzchok Rubin. And Michlala is not the brainchild of the Coopermans (may the memory of Rav Yehuda Cooperman, ZT”L be blessed). There is nothing chareidi about the Coopermans!

So, our hero Mr. Epstein will have to come up with a plan. More accurately, he will have to make a choice.

העדתי בכם היום את-השמים ואת-הארץ החיים והמות נתתי לפניך הברכה והקללה ובחרת בחיים למען תחיה אתה וזרעך

Monday, January 4, 2016

Shidduchim VII - [?V’Lo?] Me’Eiver L’Yam Hee – Going for Broke

ולא מעבר לים היא לאמר מי יעבר לנו אל עבר הים ויקחיה לנו...

She is (not) across the sea, to say: Who will cross over for us across the sea and bring her here to us…

I am not getting paid enough for writing these posts. Truth is, I am not getting paid at all. What’s more, I am not being paid enough for anything I do. I sometimes do get paid and usually it is all that I am entitled to, but it’s never enough.

In today’s economy and with my limitations there is no natural way for me to earn as much as I need to cover primary expenses and this spells “difficulty”. One thing is certain: I must try to be as frugal as I possibly can. Of course some expenses are very predictable: mortgage, arnona (property tax), utilities, etc. Every month, like clockwork, the expected amounts show up (as debits) on my already overdrawn bank statement. Quite dependable. Even groceries I can more or less regulate.

But it’s the little ones things that kill you. Especially after they grow up into big things and start demanding things of their own. All of a sudden girls need things like braces, contact lenses, acne medicine, fancy clothes and other feminine things so I can try to get some dude to take them off my hands (for a price). Boys need braces, acne medicine, driver’s licenses, black hats, ugly ties, shavers and other masculine things so they can get expensive maidels.

I’m just not earning enough overdraft every month to carry it all.

So every so often (on the half hour) I have to put my shoeless foot down and say: the shekel stops here!

Now, a little more than a year ago I wrote a post featuring my (now) 25 year old tachshitel “Yossi”. Yossi is a serious learner (aside from being tall, slim, good-looking, witty, humble, etc.) and he wants to remain as one. He is also an unmarried bochur, and he does not want to remain as one.

So now he has two goals – to learn Torah and to find a wife. He is holding by perek HaIsh Mekadesh and wants to do perek Besula Nissas next. (Some people hold these are in seder Nashim and others say they are in seder Nezikin).   

These are perfectly doable tasks here in Eretz Yisrael. Yet, Yossi could not help noticing the words of chazal:

 אין יצאים מארץ ישראל לחוץ לארץ אלא ללמוד תורה ולישא אשה.

Chazal tell us that there are only two reasons to go to chutz laaretz (Chu”l): to study Torah and to find a wife. Accordingly, Yossi determined that he now has two reasons to go to chu”l. I didn’t understand it that way but maybe Yossi is the bigger talmid chacham.

Yossi knows what he’s looking for and [he thinks] he knows where to find it. Until last summer, he had been on my case for almost two years to send him to learn – and go wife hunting – in the “old country”. I did not disagree on the principle (keren) but I did disagree on the interest (ribbis). I am not budgeted for such a venture. I cannot afford the tuitions of the American yeshivas nor can I afford the rebbeh-geldt of the American girls. If he really wants to go this route he has to come up with the funding himself. He will have to “go for broke”.

So he did (kind of…)

He held out for about another year but finally, last summer, he took the bull by the horns. First he needed to locate a yeshiva that is willing to give him full scholarship (after the PELL grants). He found one just outside of Lakewood. Then he needed to cover his airfare. So he found a job in a summer camp in Lakewood that would just about do it.

Of course, he needed to get overseas to Lakewood before he would be paid so somebody (imagine who?) would need to lay out the cost of airfare. I found the cheapest one-way deal available on some third world communist propeller plane airline and advanced him the money (and a parachute). B”H, he arrived as planned and did not need the parachute. He had a successful summer and got paid but somehow, the money hasn’t made it back to me.

All of this goes back to last July and it’s been six months of battle in the trenches since. No Mazel Tovs yet but every day brings something (or somebody) new.

I have already written numerous posts about the shidduch crisis going back to 2008. Not a lot has changed much, although, if you ask me, they should have. Thanks to my Yossi I am now able to reassess the situation with a more personal first-hand approach.

Although he is a resourceful and independent young lad, his mother and I are still fully involved in his shidduch adventures. The fact that we are oceans away has given us many challenges but also some advantages. It has given us a long distance bird’s-eye view of what is going on in the American shidduch scene where the “Shidduch crisis” may be a bit more severe than it is here. I have learned a lot about where things can be improved and why they haven’t (or won’t be anytime soon.)

The saying goes: If it ain’t broke – don’t fix it. But people in the know are saying that the system is broke. It’s not really, B”H there are weddings all the time; but it’s not fully intact, either. I intend to deal with the details in some upcoming posts, bl”n.

But, in the meanwhile my Yossi is in the USA going for broke. Playing a game where some of the rules are broke. Anticipating that the churning waters of Yam Suf will broke.

And, as for me, I am just flat broke. Because nobody pays me for writing these posts.

כי קרוב אליך הדבר מאד, בפיך ובלבבך לעשותו.