At the risk of disagreement with Yonoson Rosenblum becoming habit-forming, I’ll take some exception to the conclusion of his column last week. After writing in praise of his alma mater’s rejection of the assault on freedom of thought and expression prevailing on today’s college campuses, Yonoson added:

 

The “Torah is not politically correct, and Torah Jews are a small and increasingly vulnerable minority. . . . Unless we want Jewish students to have to become Marranos in the higher echelons of academia, we should pray that more universities follow theUniversityofChicago’s lead.”

My feelings are much more mixed than Yonoson’s seem to be about the growing inhospitality of college campuses to Jewish kids. Given the twin threats that radical promiscuity and militant atheism/nihilism pose to Orthodox students, what’s happening on today’s campuses seems like a net positive development for our community.

In 2003, two Orthodox Ivy League graduate students published

“A Parent’s Guide to Orthodox Assimilation on University Campuses.” It caused a major stir with its contention that a “significant number of our children are entering secular universities and despite having received the best our day school system has to offer, despite having had Orthodox values emphasized in their homes, and even despite a year or two of intense Torah study in Israel, no longer consider themselves Orthodox Jews by the time they graduate.” I don’t know that the situation has changed appreciably in the intervening 13 years.

Just recently, Rabbi Dov Fischer, writing on Cross-Currents, shared his first-hand observation of this phenomenon:

I saw this happen frequently when I was an undergrad atColumbiaUniversitybetween 1971–1975. I still remember the names of the guys from yeshivah high school — there were 13 of us who wore kippot as Columbia freshmen in September 1971 — and only two of us still were wearing kippot by our senior years... I remember each of them, and I remember, en passant, many of the girls from Barnard and elsewhere who took them away... I have seen it. Many, many times... I saw it 40 years ago, and I have remained deeply involved with college youths through the generations.

I remember the loneliness... that we few Orthodox fellows felt when we first settled in. We are so different, with our yarmulkes defining us and isolating us as outsiders even among the advocates of diversity. The culture of “Diversity” does not include the Orthodox...

Young Orthodox fellows are overwhelmed as they embark on the liberal contemporary campus environment. They are confronted by unprecedented social possibilities in front of them, and they are emotionally and psychologically unprepared to turn away so much social opportunity that they never before have had, in an environment where they are so free from parental oversight or restriction. Meanwhile, in class their professors all extol the virtues of progressivism... and hedonism... while denigrating the backward values of their parents and religious mentors. All the classmates fall into line. I saw this; I experienced this... And these overwhelmed Modern Orthodox young people just cannot handle being alone — being Avraham ha-Ivri, where everyone is on one side and they alone are on the other.

And this only addresses the v’lo sasuru acharei... eineichem aspect of the college environment. There is much to say (but not now) about the grave intellectual dangers of acharei l’vavchem that lurk there — sometimes at the hands of professors wearing yarmulkes, too.

And of course, there is a symbiosis between the two threats — the exposure to that which stirs bodily lust and that which corrodes emunah. Chazal’s teaching (Sanhedrin 63b) that “lo avdu Yisroel avodah zarah ela l’hatir lahem arayos b’farhesya — the Jewish people only worshipped idols in order to give intellectual cover to their involvement in promiscuity,” expresses an axiom of human psychology that remains every bit as relevant today as it was at Sinai in 2448.

The threats I discussed above are far reduced for frum students pursuing advanced degrees in a particular discipline and living off-campus. But as for young observant Jewish undergraduates in the very thick of campus life, the more intolerable the college environment becomes for them due to the P.C. culture run amok, strident pro-Palestinian and Black Lives Matter activism and all the rest, the more likely it becomes that they (and the parents who are funding their schooling) will be forced to seek out other, far less spiritually inimical alternatives for their higher education. And the far better off they, and our nation, will ultimately be. 

TO FEAR AND TO TRUST One of the subtle joys of the months of Elul and Tishrei is the opportunity to say the words of L’Dovid Hashem Ori twice daily, to let those reassuring lines of trust in Hashem linger on one’s lips long after davening ends. M’mi eerah? Hashem ma’oz chayay, m’mi efchad? So secure do we feel in the Eibeshter’s embrace that we phrase the question rhetorically: Is there someone, anyone, out there of whom I need to be afraid in the slightest? Because I can’t think of a one…

But, wait — this is Elul we’re talking about, the prelude to Rosh Hashanah, whose essence is yirah (Sfas Emes, Rosh Hashanah 5651), and to the Yamim Noraim, the Fearsome Days. Why, then, does their designated kapitel Tehillim speak primarily of bitachon?

Perhaps it’s because bitachon is the natural end-product of the kind of yirah that we’re called upon to develop during this period, when the call of the hour is to learn to fear Him so pervasively, so genuinely and viscerally, that it banishes every other fear there is.

If that fear is truly real to us, if we live with it, then the one great fear — of His majesty and might — cannot but chase out and reduce to insignificance all the imagined fears and real, but ultimately petty, fears that fill our lives. It is an alternative path to bitachon — achieved not by surmounting one’s fears as much as by making them recede in the face of a fear greater than them all.

But isn’t yirah something one has or doesn’t have? Can one work directly on acquiring yirah?

There is a way that’s available to all of us, that we can implement fairly quickly without the need for prolonged mentoring and training and will give us very quickly the sense of being actively, dynamically, involved in cultivating our yiras Hashem. It’s called dikduk b’mitzvos, thorough knowledge and punctilious observance of the many details necessary to fulfill even the most basic of mitzvos in the most optimal way we can.

Think of the time, physical effort, and expense so many people expend in selecting arbah minim of superior beauty and halachic fitness. Now apply those same elevated standards to other areas — which are relevant for not just once daily for one week, but throughout every day of the year — in which for some reason many people seem quite content to settle for mediocrity, dubious heterim, and a laissez faire attitude of “it’s probably okay.” Kashrus is one example. Mastering the complexities of the halachos of brachos or Shabbos is another. Ensuring all of one’s objets d’mitzvah — e.g., tefillin, tzitzis, matzah — are in good halachic working order is a third.

This is not about chumros, nor even necessarily hiddurim. It’s about doing legwork and research, making phone calls and trips, consulting poskim and experts, all so that you know you’re simply doing this mitzvah right in all its particulars.

It’s about becoming busy, preoccupied, with fulfilling Hashem’s will, instead of just getting by. When someone once suggested to the alter Kapishnitzer Rebbe, ztz”l, that a certain way to fulfill a mitzvah b’dieved was good enough, the Rebbe’s magnificent response was, “Ich bin nisht arup gekumehn oyf dem velt yotzeh tzu zany — my soul didn’t descend from On High all the way down to this lowly world just to be yotzei.”

Motivating it all is a desire, nay a compulsion, to do precisely as you’ve been commanded by your Creator in Whose awe you stand. And even if you didn’t start with that motivation, the Sefer Hachinuch’s axiom of “external actions stirring internal feelings” will make it so in due time.

It may be readily implementable, but it sure isn’t easy. The Chazon Ish wrote that a surefire path to tikkun hamiddos is dikduk b’mitzvos, because the effort challenges the whole battery of middos raos within man: laziness, stinginess, arrogance, impatience, and more.

But the prize — yiras Hashem, of which Mishlei says that it alone is wisdom — is so very worth it. 

OF MORE THAN PASSING INTEREST As we approach the days of heightened spiritual accounting, I recommend to readers’ attention an article in the current issue of Kolmus whose great halachic relevance is hard to overstate. Written by Rabbi Daniel Osher Kleinman, aBrooklyn rav who authored the nine-volume Kovetz Halachos (Piskei HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky) and published Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin’s teshuvos, it addresses an unfolding halachic crisis that has drawn the attention of numerous prominent rabbanim who deal with sh’eilos of ribbis on a daily basis.

Thousands of Torah-observant Jews have already taken, and continue to take, mortgage loans from American lending institutions that are owned by Jews, in violation of the Torah prohibition of ribbis. These include some of the country’s most prominent lenders, including the leading issuer of mortgage loans in theUnited States, Quicken Loans, whose majority owner is Jewish. To date, Quicken has not implemented any sort of heter iska.  

It is highly disturbing to think that countless ehrliche Jews are unwittingly violating an issur whose gravity is so clearly set forth by the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 160:2). Rabbi Kleinman’s thorough discussion of the topic is an important contribution to our individual and communal efforts to be zocheh b’din during these Yamim Noraim.