The questions hurled at us from theIsraelarena are powerful and cogent: How long can the chareidi public shirk their responsibility to serve in the army?
Is their blood more precious than the non-chareidi’s blood?
And why can’t they add a little math and English to their curriculum?
How much can it impact their Torah study? Don’t many yeshivos in Americaoffer a richer secular curriculum without affecting the caliber of ben Torah products?
These questions need to be addressed head-on; not only for the sake of a response to “them” but for ourselves. We would be dishonest and insensitive if we did not ponder these questions with the gravity they deserve.
Let me first put in place two educational fundamentals:
The most significant years in a person’s development are the years between 18 and 23 or 25. These are the years when a person becomes “who he is.” Any prior education is done while the person is still relatively immature. His education prior to that serves well as an introduction to his later development, and will usually direct him to the setting of his next stage of education. But in and of itself, the prior education is of relatively minor consequence. Thus, a boy who has gone to a yeshivah high school and then goes straight to a secular college will be profoundly influenced by his college experience. He may still keep many or even all mitzvos, but his thoughts, emotions, and values are rarely Torah-oriented. On the other hand, after the age of 23 or 25 the person is fairly set, and any changes that happen are on top of a certain emotional and rational foundation.
A second point in way of introduction is in defining “education” itself. What we have in schools are actually two different processes that are both referred to colloquially as education. The easier process to identify is that of “instruction.” We teach information about events that occurred, natural phenomena, and we teach skills such as calculation and writing. Besides this, there is a more subtle and significant process happening, and that is the formation of values, the shaping of character, the imparting of cultural mores and norms and the standards of good and bad. This is achieved through lecture, discussion, peer interaction, school condemnation and commendation, and many, many other subtle influences.
Anyone with the slightest feel for education recognizes that these subtle and not so subtle influences are by far the greater factor in determining a person’s development than straightforward instruction. Thus, the mashgiach’s shmuess may be inspiring or dreary or nonexistent; it is the ruach of a yeshivah or a makom Torah that is most instrumental in shaping the character of its talmidim.
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