Sunday, December 03, 2006

Halakha vs. Hashkafa

First, over this past Shabbos I had the great pleasure of meeting my intellectual equal, if not my better, so I must mention how delighted I am by that.

Now, to address the topic of halakha vs. hashkafa.

I am coming to realize one of the main reasons that the Judaic studies classes I took at Templars (my first high school) were unsatisfying and often frustrating, why my arguments were never resolved, and why the teachers often struck me as being inept and incompetent.

I am coming to realize what I lacked simply because I now have it, I have now experienced it, most specifically in Rabbi Auman's class.

And that is exposure to the source. Exposure to halakha. Understanding the source of a law, how the different sages and Rabbeim derive laws, what it is that they are arguing about. I am talking, of course, about practical halakha. For halakha does not come from nowhere. It is written down, perhaps in the written Torah, perhaps in the Oral law, and from the way it is written, from the grammar used, the words specificed, the juxtaposition or similar verses throughout the Torah, laws are derived. Yet there is a logic to these laws. They are not the fanciful imaginings of a Rabbi who claims to be in touch with the Divine, they are a logical extrapolation, and as such, can be understood by the likes of you and me.

But this is what I was not taught at Templars. This is what none of us were taught. In part, I will argue it is because my school refused to teach Gemara. Had we learned Gemara, I daresay we would have had a much stronger knowledge base as to how the laws are derived, and how and why the opinions of various scholars and sages conflict. In part it is because my own teachers did not know Gemara, and what is worse, did not know the origins of the laws themselves. How could they teach what they themselves did not know?

In school we had two classes, Dinim (Laws) and Machshava (Thought.) In Dinim class, we often learned laws from an English book on the subject which simply laid them down (clearly, to be sure.) I did not know whence they came from, how we established them; I simply knew they existed. Since they were laws I had heard since elementary school (the Halachos of Brachos, for instance, or the laws of Shabbos), I was not very concerned about the sources. At this point, I believed them to be true, and was merely curious about intricacies.

Machshava, however, was an entirely different story. Our teacher would attempt to convey a certain attitude of Jewish philosphical thought to us, but it was based on nothing but her own opinions. Our Mechaneches often did this as well. We suffered through lectures that were really nothing more than rants, the teacher's opinion combined with the supposed opinions of Gedolim. It is no small wonder that I hated Gedolim. How could I not? I envisioned them as men with long white beards and black hats who were completely alienated from me. What could they know of me, and what could they know of teenagers? Who were they to attempt to control my life from the lofty spires of existence which they had attained? They were not human, they were saints, spurred by no human emotion, uplifted by no human thought. They were, to me, creatures so different from me that I could not accept their authority.

My teacher never actually showed me a source from the Gedolim to prove her point. I do not recall ever seeing photocopies that supported her opinion, sources that were listed or learned. The drill was not to teach, not to allow us sources, but rather the mantra of "Accept, don't think." We were to accept blindly, accept without thought, accept simply because we were told to accept and obey. And to me, it made no sense. What good were these words, these opinions she spouted? What good, even, were the opinions of these so-called Gedolim? They made no sense. There was no logic.

What my teacher and school system on a whole failed to realize (if I am charitable) is that one's hashkafa emantates from halakha. One can only accept a certain philosophical viewpoint and ideology once one understands whether this viewpoint is in keeping with halakha, with the law itself. One must understand the disagreements that arose, the divisions in thought, the reasons that the Yeshivish viewpoint, the Modern Orthodox viewpoint, and the Ultra-Orthodox viewpoint differs. Whether one permits or forbids socialization between boys and girls, whether one permits or forbids the learning of secular material- rests upon both halakha and history, and the way in which halakha was interpreted at various points in history. As Rabbi Auman likes to say, "Halakhic principles don't change, but economic or social realities may cause these principles to be applied differently in one generation than to the next."

None of this was taught or in any way given over at Templars. My teachers might engage in Reform-bashing or Conservative-bashing sessions, but it was always through grand generalizations about the movements as a whole. We all knew that Orthodox Judaism differed from these movements, but most of us were confused by the variant sects within Orthodoxy, how they had arisen, and what they meant for us as teenagers. We had no firm base to fall back on, no understanding of our own religion. What did our Judaism mean? Why did we do what we did? If laws did not seem to be written in the Torah, then where did they come from? Did the Rabbis just make them up? Some of us might have thought so.

You can understand our resentment toward Rabbis whom we felt controlled our lives simply to be cruel or mean. We had no concept of their reasoning, of why they might feel compelled to issue rulings that conflicted with what we wanted to do. We had no idea as to how their stances on contemporary issues resulted from their halakhic understanding and analysis. The only thing we were told was, "He said it, therefore it's so."

This approach is so off-putting, so stupid, so idiotic to the young mind, that it is no wonder that our only response could be to question, to ask so many questions that nobody could answer. Had the teachers known Gemara and engaged in analysis of the law, they would have been able to put many of our questions to rest- respectfully, kindly, competently. Instead, wars arose, flabbergasted, astounded, astonished expressions came to rest on their faces, as they gasped in horror at the thoughts we formulated.

One of the reasons I absolutely respect Rabbi Auman- and feel that I can learn from him- is that he does not ask me to take anything he says on faith. I do not need to "believe" in ideas; I can see them, they are there in front of me on the sheet of paper, in the sefer. There is logic to the rulings of various sages. I may not like their approach but I must respect their logic, their analytic insight. I may simultaneously discover why the logic of my personal Rav is also worthy, and also acceptable. The Satmar Rav does not simply say that he dislikes the idea of women learning Torah, but he quotes a Yerushalmi to support his view. R' Sorotzkin, in contrast, goes back to Avraham and the symbolic significance of his pitching Sarah's tent before his to add support to his point. R' Schachter will explain why he can or cannot accept brain death according to his understanding of the Gemara, and R' Tendler will argue on those grounds, explain why he differs from R' Schachter, and continue. These laws do not come out of nowhere.

So often they were misrepresented to me. I conceived a vague half-notion that the Rabbis were threatened by the idea of women learning Gemara, and therefore forbade it. I understood only fear, fear and control. I conceived of the sages as vicious men who simply wanted to control us all and make robots of us. I felt only the onset of emotion towards them, emotion towards the teachers who vaguely informed us of these cruel laws they made. I could not tolerate what I could only see as stupidity and ignorance, and my teachers could not answer me.

When the teachers themselves no nothing of sources, how can the students hope to learn? In a school where the Macshava class speaks only in vague grandiose terms about "missions" and "belief" and "leaps of faith," about "destinies" and "status," what was there of value to aid me in understanding my own religion, and understanding how others could or would disagree with it? Where was the logic, the analysis, the questioning, the answers, the sources and the disagreemens? Why, there was none of it...most probably because they did not know themselves.

Young male teachers, who might potentially have known Gemara and hence have had a better grasp on sources, were forbidden on a whole. The school was afraid of our attraction to these young men, and thought it better to prevent us from having them. So there we were, a school all of young women, taught by women who themselves did not know how to teach, argue or prove, but merely to indoctrinate. We did have one young Rabbi, married, and indeed we all were half in love with him (my love for him was more playful, however, and less driven by his physique- I loved seeing how far I could push him), and I admired him for his understanding- somewhat- what it was we wanted. As someone who had been more Modern and had only now become more right-wing, he understood what we were talking about; it was not a foreign language. As Dinim teacher, his tests were actually very practical- citing Sheva Brachos and OnlySimchas and commonalities nowadays in a very applicable manner. He was more willing to engage in discussion and answer questions than our female teachers- it was because he was more like us, and more open. I did not always like his viewpoint, and we had our stubborn disagreements, but I respected him for what he was attempting to do.

It is only now that I have come to Stern that I am beginning to develop a clearer perspective with regard to sages and Gedolim. I am beginning to understand, to comprehend, how very learned these men must be. They are learned in Gemara, in the Torah, in halachos and concepts that cause me to stand back in admiration. Of course, learned and scholarly are not the same as thoughtful and compassionate. Gedolim may apply halakhos based on their scholarly interpretations, but some of them, at least, will not take into account the feelings of those impacted by such a law, nor will they understand their complaints. So now, though I may differ from sages (where appropriate, and where there is room to differ) or may simply believe that what they say must be flawed, or an argument that cannot reasonably be applied today, I have much greater respect for who they are as people, and what they do with their lives. They have great knowledge at their command, and their rulings cannot be dismissed as stupid.

I am beginning to understand the interrelationship between halakha and hashkafa. I need sources; I crave sources when someone asks me to believe something. I want an argument, a proof, I want a reason, whatever it may be. Based on what I believe is permissable according to these sources and laws, I develop a hashkafa, an outlook on life, a Jewish weltanschaang. And perhaps, to some extent, it is the other way around- once I subscribe to a particular hashkafa, the analysis and rulings on various laws must proceed in a certain manner. The fact remains that there is a definite connection.

Were I to have seen it earlier...had I had sources in my machshava classes differentiating between the opinions of different sects, and how those opinions on different contemporary issues had come to be formed- my respect for Judaism on a whole, and the opinions of those more Orthodox than I am on a whole, would have been much greater. I would have understood rather than felt condemned and hated by all those supposedly more religious than I. I would have understood where they were coming from. And though I might have disagreed, I would have appreciated their logic.

This is what I lacked...this is what, I think, quite a few schools lack. The ability to demonstrate the logical derivation of laws, of outlooks, of ideas. It is much easier, of course, to simply assert, to make claims, to try to force belief. But this belief must be a short-term belief, as it is based on nothing but a desire to trust the person telling this to you. And should that trust ever be shaken...what do you have then? Why, you have nothing- a spiritually shaky person who has absolutely no idea what or why s/he believes.

It is for this reason, then, that I urge schools and parents to explain, to prove, to demonstrate the logic of various claims, ideologies and belief systems within Judaism. If something is flawed, there is a reason as to why it is flawed. Rather than falling back on mocking or deriding a certain sect, explain the logical reasons for why that sect is inconsistent, or illogical, or in some way cannot be reconciled with Judaism. If one were to apply this across the board, the result should yield more thoughtful, understanding, and therefore respectable (in the sense that others would respect them) teachers. It would also yield happier students- students whose questions were answered in a calm, comprehensive manner, or, if the questions could not be answered, were told that, too, rather than some false generalizaton aimed at quashing any feelings of doubt.

I have only been enriched through my exposure to different viewpoints (and the logic behind such viewpoints) and I argue that many others would benefit from this, too. Our youth as a whole could only benefit from such an approach. Understanding comes before acceptance.

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful.

Although I had the Gemara education in high school, I was never really smart enough to understand it's implications. Only now, a few years later, am i really beggining to understand.

anonym00kie said...

amazing post. i'm a bt but i had a similar "revelation". after a few years of learning from teachers/rabbis, i finally got to a level where we started using texts to back our learning up - and it really blew me away. it solidified so many of the things id learned in the past, but more importantly, it gave me this confidence i didnt have before - that i didnt need to rely on any one rabbi or teacher or book for the truth..
i could get it from them, but i didnt have to rely on their word only.

canadian princess said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
canadian princess said...

ha ha! chana's a rabbi groupie, even rosie couldn't do that!!
remember that guy who spoke to us and was like, judaism is great because you can ask questions, and we both burst out laughing from the back row?
anyhow, you really aren't looking at the fact that templars is a standard institution where the goal is to create a good resume to attract good boys to have a nice wedding to make lots of babies. the only reason they don't allow dating until after pesach in senior year is because miracle of miracles, they actually realized that most of the girls in the school would not follow said pattern. unfortunately they did not apply this fact to countless other areas where it was actually needed, and so the result is apparent in your post. one of the things i love about seminary is that everything is up in the air. when the teacher reads a chazal i have no shame in yelling out "well, that's just weird!" so you have a point, granted, but you really have to address the fact that the school was not meant for you and that girls who it was established for are quite happy with having less of a workload and following the set rulebook.

Ezzie said...

First, over this past Shabbos I had the great pleasure of meeting my intellectual equal, if not my better, so I must mention how delighted I am by that.

I haven't read the rest of the post yet, and won't until later, but I just wanted to whine. Only on Shabbos?! Not on Tuesday?! :P

Torah=MayimChayim said...

Chana,

Nemo said it himself--when he learned Gemara in high school, he didn't understand it. Understandable--in fact, many full-grown adults have a hard time understanding Gemara as well. Still, I do approve of men learning Gemara even at a young age because young yeshiva bochurim eventually learn to become competent baalei batim and even talmidei chochomim.

Yet for girls, it's a different story. I know that had I been in high school arranging all of the different opinions and thought processes in halacha, I would have been confused. Because unlike boys, we are not taught to learn Gemara at a young age (why this is, is perhaps a different discussion) and are therefore not trained to think in that mindset.

This is not meant to say that girls do not think--chas v'shalom! Yet we have different training and different mental capacities--for after all, this is part of the beauty between the distinction between men and women.

That being said, I am willing to agree with you that perhaps the learning style your school offered (ie. the method I just alluded to above) may not fit every girl who enters their doors--and you are a classic example of this exception. There is nothing wrong with that (although I doubt you need me to tell you that!).

Based on what you have said, you have been blessed with a mature mind--may you use it well. But my point is that not everyone is blessed with such a mature mind as yours, and not everyone is able to comprehend the derivations of halacha and machshava that occur within the different Jewish communities. First we teach children the basics of science: that there is a cell, that there is a concept called electricity, and so forth--only afterwards do we delve into the mechanics that underly these phenomena. So too, we teach overview introductory classes in college in order to allow the student to see a general picture, and only afterwards do we go deeper into the material.

That being said, is it fair to teach someone something that they are not ready for? Is it fair to teach young high school girls coming of age the minute differences in opinion between R' Shachter and R' Tendler? Sure, the issues are important, and are therefore only taught in the broad scheme of things--or in your terms, incompetently.

These teachers are not incompetent, or else they would not be hired. I assure you that Templars is not a school of morons (although I've never even heard of the school until now) who blindly teach their students. Perhaps when confronted by questioners like you, they were unable to give you an answer they thought you would be able to understand correctly.

As a footnote to this last point, I'd like to mention that sometimes the questioners are not always looking for answers. Sometimes some frum Jews, particularly the younger ones, are just looking for holes in Yiddishkeit so that they will no longer be bounded by its laws. This phenomenon is sad, but true. Not everyone is in truth as much a soul-seeker as you are (again, for this I commend you, but your case is not the norm), and will therefore misconstrue what they are taught so that they have "an easy way out."

The above points made, I see where your opinions come from. But I also think that they are not to be made as a blanket statement over every student and teacher in Templars, and certainly not over the Bais Yaakov school movement at large.

(By the way, it may come to be that you will look at my profile and try to discover more about me. I am a new blogger, although I do not plan to heavily dab into blogs as you do a) because I am uneducated in this area b) because I will become addicted. Either way, I may try posting weekly divrei Torah on the parsha on my blog--but there's not much to be learned about me otherwise.)

Jewish Atheist said...

Very interesting post. I look forward to reading about your continued education. Now I have two questions about the content of your post:

1) A majority of Orthodox Jews may not be intelligent enough to understand the sources or the logic with which they are used. What approach would you recommend for teaching them?

2) Do you demand sources for the foundation of Judaism? For example, what's your source that the Torah is from Moshe from Sinai? What's your source that the Oral Torah is true Judaism when it often contradicts the plain meaning of verses from the Written Torah? That's the thing that got me most about Orthodox Judaism -- there's all this rigorous logic built up laboriously generation after generation, but where's the foundation? I haven't seen any non-kiruv-clown proofs that the whole system isn't simply an elaborately detailed, meticulously-built structure based simply upon some old myths and the opinions of the earliest Rabbis.

Anonymous said...

hey, I wrote you a few treatises way back when as a fellow compatriot ex-BYer. I'm glad you are finally being exposed to Torah and not one-year-post-seminary drivel that BY teachers are famous for. You are finally learning IT and not about it. There is no way that someone who is learning true Torah can walk away uninspired.

Please do the Jewish world a favor. Next year go to an intellectually challenging seminary (MMY, Shaalvim, Michlalah, Midreshet Tehila, etc) where you can spend 12 hours a day learning the sources in their awesome libraries and have intellectually equal peers and teachers to challenge and debate. The Jewish community needs women like you to be educated. While one Rabbi Auman class is awesome, think about 10 Rabbi Auman classes a day plus access to a library that would blow your mind away. Then think about how much true knowledge you would have to give the world.

That devotion of time could be the beginning of a long, lifetime journey of learning. You don't need seminary to challenge - you just need the classes that are on a caliber that only Israel has to offer.

(BTW, I see a commenter brought this as proof that women should learn gemara, unfortunately I have seen MO schools and products of MO schools be equally as dogmatic in teaching their philosophy. I have seen just as much ignorance from women who learn and teach gemara because they lack the breadth of knowledge that true talmidei chachamim have so don't think that this plague is just in BY schools. I think it comes from the fact that few, true talmidei chachamim will teach girls. The top talmidei chachamim will most likely try to teach in a beis medrash, second tier will go for a boys high school. The truly devoted will teach in Stern. Who is left to teach girls' high school?)

Anonymous said...

Wow- the arrogance level in these posts is so high- it could drive one back to the BY schools for a bit of humanity

Chana said...

I daresay you mean humility, last anonymous of mine. Humanity, I believe we are all privy to through virtue of being born.

Anonymous said...

No- I meant humanity- not the kind one gets by being born but the kind one develops- kindness, compassion and lack of arrogance.

Torah=MayimChayim said...

Chana, I noticed that so far I'm the only person who seems to disagree with you. Care you to tickle my fancies and address my counterattack?

Torah-MayimChayim said...

Anonymous,

I am disgusted--yes, DISGUSTED--by your post. I will have you know that I have been zoche to have been taught by many talmidei chochomim in my girls HIGH SCHOOL, not only seminary, B"H. I will not give names because I do not wish to disclose my identity, but suffice it to say that at least one of my teachers has been zoche to publish many seforim and is known as an ADAM GADOL throughout my community and beyond. Another one of my teachers is a ROSH KOLLEL who is also very well known, and another is the daughter-in-law of one of the greatest gedolim of our time (and if you in your anti-women tirade don't count women, that's fine with me--but just remember that the women are the ones who make their husbands talmidei chochomim). I am not exaggerating, although you may not believe me. And if you don't believe me, that's fine as well. Sit and wallow in your anti-women, anti-BY philosophy. All I can say is--I'm sorry you feel that way.

Chana, judging by your post, I know that you may feel this way as well. But something I neglected to mention in my previous postings is that it is NOT right for you generalize your bad experience to all BY schools! Just a word of mussar.

Chana said...

Torah-mayimchayim,

Let's take this piece by piece.

Nemo said it himself--when he learned Gemara in high school, he didn't understand it. Understandable--in fact, many full-grown adults have a hard time understanding Gemara as well. Still, I do approve of men learning Gemara even at a young age because young yeshiva bochurim eventually learn to become competent baalei batim and even talmidei chochomim.

You have therefore defined learning Gemara as necessary in order to "become competent baalei batim and talmidei chochomim." You do not appear to admit for other reasons one might desire or need to learn Gemara.

Yet for girls, it's a different story. I know that had I been in high school arranging all of the different opinions and thought processes in halacha, I would have been confused. Because unlike boys, we are not taught to learn Gemara at a young age (why this is, is perhaps a different discussion) and are therefore not trained to think in that mindset.

You make a two-part argument here.

1. You would have been confused in high school if you had had to process more than one opinion

2. This is because you were not trained to think in the mindset that supports logical analysis

The simple answer to this problem, of course, is that you ought to have been trained to analyze texts in a logical manner, and this would have allowed you to appreciate more than one opinion. As I personally don't know what boys have at a young age that girls don't (unless you refer to the actual learning of Mishnayos and Gemara, in which case it is my opinion that girls ought to be taught this as well), I do not see why boys are privy to this mindset while girls are not.

This is not meant to say that girls do not think--chas v'shalom! Yet we have different training and different mental capacities--for after all, this is part of the beauty between the distinction between men and women.

You make several points here.

1. Girls do think (I'm glad we agree on this)

2. We have different training and different mental capacities- Here I absolutely disagree with you. We have different training, most definitely, but I would argue our mental capacities are just as good as any male's, and had we had their training, we could think just as well.

3. This is all part of the beauty and distinction between men and women- I absolutely disagree. Withholding knowledge from women, then claiming they would not be able to understand it, has nothing at all to do with the "beauty and distinction between men and women."

That being said, I am willing to agree with you that perhaps the learning style your school offered (ie. the method I just alluded to above) may not fit every girl who enters their doors--and you are a classic example of this exception. There is nothing wrong with that (although I doubt you need me to tell you that!).

Glad we agree.

Based on what you have said, you have been blessed with a mature mind--may you use it well. But my point is that not everyone is blessed with such a mature mind as yours, and not everyone is able to comprehend the derivations of halacha and machshava that occur within the different Jewish communities. First we teach children the basics of science: that there is a cell, that there is a concept called electricity, and so forth--only afterwards do we delve into the mechanics that underly these phenomena. So too, we teach overview introductory classes in college in order to allow the student to see a general picture, and only afterwards do we go deeper into the material.

I don't go in for the classic "you are the exception" argument. Every single classmate of mine has the ability to have a developed mind, as do I. All we need is the material and teaching to develop our minds. Your analogy to high school vs. college falls short. What about AP classes in high school? In the same way that AP classes cater to those who can do well in those subjects, there ought at LEAST to be classes for Honors students or AP students demonstrating halakha and Judaism through varying opinions and sources.

That being said, is it fair to teach someone something that they are not ready for?

Who determined these young women are "not ready for" what is being taught? Only the teachers. And why did they determine this? Why, most probably because a) they were never taught the sources themselves or b)it's easier to control people when you only teach them one viewpoint.

Is it fair to teach young high school girls coming of age the minute differences in opinion between R' Shachter and R' Tendler? Sure, the issues are important, and are therefore only taught in the broad scheme of things--or in your terms, incompetently.

I will agree that teaching high school students the minute differences in opinion between R' Schachter and R' Tendler (though I argue with your use of the word minute) is not necessarily of primary importance in high school. HOWEVER, teaching students there is more than one view regarding whether one can brush one's teeth on Shabbos, for example, is absolutely required. When I brought in R' Soloveitchik's ruling that one CAN brush one's teeth on Shabbos (found in Nefesh HaRav) my teacher refused to teach it on the grounds that it would "confuse" us teenagers.

These teachers are not incompetent, or else they would not be hired.

This statement is patently untrue. Incompetent, cruel, abusive, even sexually-abusive people exist, and all of them are hired to teach- sometimes without the principal's knowledge, sometimes with. You are also assuming the person who hires the teachers is competent in his/her job, which is not a fair assumption.

I assure you that Templars is not a school of morons (although I've never even heard of the school until now) who blindly teach their students.

It's interesting that you can assure me of something when you have never heard of nor attended the school.

Perhaps when confronted by questioners like you, they were unable to give you an answer they thought you would be able to understand correctly.

That's evident.

As a footnote to this last point, I'd like to mention that sometimes the questioners are not always looking for answers.

I definitely agree with you here.

Sometimes some frum Jews, particularly the younger ones, are just looking for holes in Yiddishkeit so that they will no longer be bounded by its laws. This phenomenon is sad, but true. Not everyone is in truth as much a soul-seeker as you are (again, for this I commend you, but your case is not the norm), and will therefore misconstrue what they are taught so that they have "an easy way out."

Some people may indeed be looking for loopholes and a way out, but I do not think this proviso is enough to cause the teacher to refrain from teaching different opinions and approaches about various subject matters. As well argue that we should not teach evolution because some would find permission to disbelieve there. What people choose to do is their responsibility and of their own free will. The teacher should not decide what to withhold in order to ensure how we will react.


The above points made, I see where your opinions come from. But I also think that they are not to be made as a blanket statement over every student and teacher in Templars, and certainly not over the Bais Yaakov school movement at large.

Surely not EVERY teacher. But almost every one. As for the Bais Yaakov movement at large, I can only judge from what I have experienced and from the experiences my friends have had in such institutions. That is all I claim to do. On the basis of these experiences, I write.

(By the way, it may come to be that you will look at my profile and try to discover more about me. I am a new blogger, although I do not plan to heavily dab into blogs as you do a) because I am uneducated in this area b) because I will become addicted. Either way, I may try posting weekly divrei Torah on the parsha on my blog--but there's not much to be learned about me otherwise.)

As you have not included a link to your blog, I don't see that I can do this even if I would like to do so.

Torah=MayimChayim said...

Chana,

I just wanted you to know that I did see your response. I am willing to respond back when I have time (which may not be for a while, since I am drowning in schoolwork at the moment--alas, it is finals time for many students), so this conversation is to be continued. In the meantime, I am welcome to the opinions of other bloggers/anonymous posters, etc.

(By the way, I do have a profile. I just haven't logged in with my blogger account, and that's why the link comes up inactive.)

canadian princess said...

anonymous who i do not have to specify because i think it's pretty obvious who i'm referring to - if you're into the whole ignorance is bliss thing, stop arguing with knowledge. your power is seriously lacking. at least back up holier-than-thou claims with an actual argument.

Ezzie said...

Before I start, one note from skimming the comments: Studies seem to show that men and women *do* think differently, with men tending to excel in the more logic-based fields (math and science) while women do in more esoteric fields (say, English). That's precisely what got Lawrence Summers into trouble at Harvard, because he dared to suggest as much while the dean there.

On to the post, which was quite good...

I don't think that the Templars problem stems from a lack of teaching Gemara whatsoever. Girls we know who *do* know practical halacha, and have learned where it comes from, have done so without learning Gemara; moreover, one of the 'knocks' on yeshiva bochurim is often that while they learn plenty of Gemara, they fail to learn practical halacha.

Often, when learning Dinim or Halacha, whether a girl in a BY or a guy in yeshiva, there simply isn't the time to actually go back through the sources to each halacha. If the objective is simply to teach practical knowledge, this usually will be skipped. Our halacha classes in HS would present many opinions on different issues, but rarely if ever mentioned the original sources; to do so would have reduced the amount of halacha we learned to near nothing.

Hashkafa/machshava, though, is where the problem lies. The way your school seems to have approached issues is almost the complete opposite from the HS I attended (yay, my HS!), and the problem that many people I know faced in other schools throughout the country. It also is the problem I faced in one school in Israel, which resulted in my escaping that school after a few months before I became completely disinterested in Orthodox Judaism.

You are absolutely correct in your conclusion that schools must explain, prove, and demonstrate the logic of various claims, ideologies and belief systems within Judaism. I don't think that it is the lack of Gemara whatsoever that causes this problem; it is the inability of many to handle serious questions and difficulties, and the preference to gloss over these issues rather than try and deal with them.

SJ said...

Chana: this was an absolutely incredible post. That is all.

Anonymous said...

Chana - Ezzie is correct about men and women thinking differently. It is a scientific fact that is undeniable. In fact, even many feminists have (reluctantly) agreed with this point. As for the rest of your post, it is awesome.

Chana said...

Oh, I agree that boys and girls think differently. Girls have the advantage on you. And we get better grades. ;)

Anonymous said...

I'd like to call your attention to the title of that article:


Girls Achieve RARE SAT Scores
AFTER 35 YEARS, Girls Outpace Boys in ONE Category.

I know, I know -- girls have been mistreated for the past 35 years and it has taken that long to catch up to the boys and overcome all the educational discrimination :-)

canadian princess said...

hey moshe - use your skills and read to the end of the article:
"Ironically, the SAT was designed to help predict how students would do in college. But while boys still score higher on the tests, girls get better college grades."

Ezzie said...

...which also may have to do with how seriously the different sexes take college. My grades sucked, but not because I don't know the material or am not intelligent. I just didn't give a crap... and neither did most of the guys I know. Women, meanwhile, take each and every grade far more seriously and don't understand why the men don't care.

Torah=MayimChayim said...

Ezzie,

I agree with your question of halacha and gemara. As you said very nicely, in a high school environment this is not the place for basic halacha l'maaseh.

However, I disagree with your philosophy of high schools and machshava/hashkafa. There is no school where everyone is the same, where everyone can be taught the same material and be expected to accept it. While you might say that no one is required to accept it, you're right, but generally (and again, Chana you are the exception) adolescents in high school are not in a position where they are able to reason out their personal approaches. More often than not, this comes from the families of students, their communities, etc. It would just confuse them to bring down different opinions that are foreign to them, and it is very difficult to find a level of hashkafa that everyone can relate to without bringing some sort of discomfort. And I believe that during adolescent years, students think enough about individuation without needing to be presented with new ideas that they are not ready to handle.

Having said this myself, I know that was very heavily influenced by my class in high school, and though I loved my classes and teachers, I found it difficult to relate to many of them hashkafically. Not because I couldn't understand them or because I didn't want to accept what they did, but because I was simply unable to relate to them. That being said, it would only be fair to mention I did have one hashkafa class in TWELFTH GRADE(meaning, that anyone younger would not necessarily be able to think as well as a senior in this matter) that spoke about very general topics such as bechirah and bitachon--but on a very general level. Perhaps, then, this could be an exception--but this class was again, general.

But in general I do not think hashkafa should be taught in the complex form you mention because adolescents have enough to deal with without being confused with foreign approaches--and to many, you will not find a topic that is not foreign to at least some people.

Torah=MayimChayim said...

Chana,

"You have therefore defined learning Gemara as necessary in order to "become competent baalei batim and talmidei chochomim." You do not appear to admit for other reasons one might desire or need to learn Gemara."

I agree with you--this is not the only reason one should be learning Gemara--but your comment misses my point.

"The simple answer to this problem, of course, is that you ought to have been trained to analyze texts in a logical manner, and this would have allowed you to appreciate more than one opinion. As I personally don't know what boys have at a young age that girls don't (unless you refer to the actual learning of Mishnayos and Gemara, in which case it is my opinion that girls ought to be taught this as well), I do not see why boys are privy to this mindset while girls are not."

I think that by now this question has been answered. Girls are not trained to think this way because this is not within their normal patterns of thinking. Why not develop what they are good at during elementary and high school, and then they can voluntarily learn to study Gemara on their own?

"2. We have different training and different mental capacities- Here I absolutely disagree with you. We have different training, most definitely, but I would argue our mental capacities are just as good as any male's, and had we had their training, we could think just as well. 3. This is all part of the beauty and distinction between men and women- I absolutely disagree. Withholding knowledge from women, then claiming they would not be able to understand it, has nothing at all to do with the "beauty and distinction between men and women.""


Again, I think and hope that this concept has been addressed. It's not a question of thinking that women can think as much as men--that was never an issue. It's a different STYLE of thinking. Women can understand Gemara if they want to, but that's not within their natural tendencies. See above for my opinion on this issue.

"I don't go in for the classic "you are the exception" argument. Every single classmate of mine has the ability to have a developed mind, as do I. All we need is the material and teaching to develop our minds. Your analogy to high school vs. college falls short. What about AP classes in high school? In the same way that AP classes cater to those who can do well in those subjects, there ought at LEAST to be classes for Honors students or AP students demonstrating halakha and Judaism through varying opinions and sources. "

In this issue I agree--to have an honors class, an OPTIONAL class, would be fine. By the way, I didn't mean to imply you are the only one who is mature-minded--what I meant was that you are developed perhaps in certain areas where other girls your age are not. If everyone had the same mental capacities, where would be the uniqueness in man?

"Who determined these young women are "not ready for" what is being taught? Only the teachers. And why did they determine this? Why, most probably because a) they were never taught the sources themselves or b)it's easier to control people when you only teach them one viewpoint."

Your point here is emotionally-based, as is much of your post against Templars. To be honest, I don't think that it is fair to make such an emotional argument in an intellectual context. But I will say that teachers generally are teachers because they understand the minds of developing adults. They decide things because they've lived through childhood and adolescence themselves, and because they have learned much about the human mind through formal education and experience.

To be continued...

Chana said...

Torah=MayimChayim,

I agree with you--this is not the only reason one should be learning Gemara--but your comment misses my point.

What is your point?

I think that by now this question has been answered. Girls are not trained to think this way because this is not within their normal patterns of thinking. Why not develop what they are good at during elementary and high school, and then they can voluntarily learn to study Gemara on their own?

Girls are not trained to think this way because this is not within their normal patterns of thinking?! I hope you have some scientific proof to back up such a statement. This is the most ridiculous statement I have ever heard. First, the fact that girls think differently than boys in no way impacts their textual and analytic skills. If anything, girls ought to be better at Gemara than boys because they are better at the verbal portion of various standardized tests. But I digress. Suppose that you WERE correct. Since when is it a bad thing to train someone in ideas outside of their normal realm of thought? When did we decided to refrain from teaching someone something because it's not within their "normal ways" of thinking?

Moreover, what exactly is it that you think girls are "good at" and that is being developed in high school? Obeying authority, and heeding ideas without ever seeing the proof behind those ideas? You have chosen to address Gemara throughout these posts. I'd ask you not to forget that I am referring to Gemara as a source. Were there to be other sources or teshuvos, I'd also want them to be taught in the class.

Again, I think and hope that this concept has been addressed. It's not a question of thinking that women can think as much as men--that was never an issue. It's a different STYLE of thinking. Women can understand Gemara if they want to, but that's not within their natural tendencies. See above for my opinion on this issue.

Again, before making such a blatant statement: "that's not within their natural tendencies," Well, I hope you have something to support that.

In this issue I agree--to have an honors class, an OPTIONAL class, would be fine. By the way, I didn't mean to imply you are the only one who is mature-minded--what I meant was that you are developed perhaps in certain areas where other girls your age are not. If everyone had the same mental capacities, where would be the uniqueness in man?

If everyone were given the same opportunities, we'd find out, wouldn't we? Moshe desired for all the people to be blessed with prophecy, and he wasn't concerned about whether or not people would be unique should they share that characteristic. If the world over were made up of smart, intellectual people (or at least learned people, such as existed in the time of Chizkiyahu), uniqueness would not disappear. To be learned is not to share the same opinion; it is, however, to be well-informed and have a background upon which to base one's thoughts.

Your point here is emotionally-based, as is much of your post against Templars. To be honest, I don't think that it is fair to make such an emotional argument in an intellectual context. But I will say that teachers generally are teachers because they understand the minds of developing adults. They decide things because they've lived through childhood and adolescence themselves, and because they have learned much about the human mind through formal education and experience.

I find it surprising that you choose to critique my emotionally-based argument while simultaneously stating with great confidence that it is not within a girl's "normal pattern of thinking" to learn or comprehend Gemara. If I deal with emotions, at least I am honest about them. You appear to subscribe to great generalizations and over-simplifications without any basis.

Teachers are generally teachers for all these wonderful reasons? Bah. Perhaps the best of them are. The rest of them are failed professionals who need a job, choose teaching because it is supposedly easy, and proceed to ruin children's lives. Our elementary schools (at least Jewish day schools) are filled with Rebbes who are there, not because they are passionate and enjoy teaching children, but because they need a job. Your desire to think well of teachers on a whole is nice, but hardly the case. I believe there's probably a mixture of those who desire to teach, and those who desire nothing but to be paid.

I also notice that you've only selectively replied to my points. You've neglected to explain, for example, why my teacher couldn't teach more than one opinion with regard to brushing one's teeth on Shabbos. Too confusing for us teenagers, do you think?

Nor have you retracted your statement (though you have ignored my response to it) that "teachers are incompetent, or else they would not be hired."

You have also not addressed why it is you feel that it's the teacher's responsibility to prevent teenagers from "becoming confused" rather than the teenagers' responsibility, through their own free will and judgement, to determine what confuses them, and act as a sieve to choose the "good" material (whatever has value for them) from the "bad" with regard to whatever is taught them.

Since you have ignored these points, I will assume either that you have conceded them to me, or that you have no answer.

Torah=MayimChayim said...

Chana,

As I look over this argument, I am starting to realize that it is going to be pointless.

Because we are talking GENERALIZATIONS. You're speaking of generalizations one way, I'm speaking of another. You grew up one way, I grew up another way. I do not agree with you now, I am not going to agree with you later. But we are not going to agree, neither of us are going to admit to defeat. Continuing this discussion is beyond the benefit of either of us.

And so, I humbly and graciously bow out--yes, midargument. You may think of me as inept, you may think of me as incompetent, you may think of me as a coward. But I assure you, I am not. I only think that the wise thing to do is know when the discussion will become fruitless. And so it has.

I hope you will have the wisdom to accept that I do not admit to defeat. I admit to withdrawal. This is not a question of victory, for neither of us shall win a pointless war.

Chana said...

As you're the who asked me to "tickle your fancy" and combat you, I don't particularly care as to whether or not you bow out. I figured this would be pointless, which is why I did not initiate it.

I find it slightly funny that you defend yourself against everything I "might think" before I say a word. Who is judging whom now?

I'll leave it at that.

Ezzie said...

(woah)

Anyways... Torah = MayimChayim, I think you misunderstood my points almost completely.

Part of my point was agreeing with Chana - no two people are the same, and obviously there is a tremendous spread in the hashkafos of a single class. The idea is to present that there *are* numerous hashkafos, each with their own reasonings. You also seem to contradict yourself - if everyone is different, you can't just present them with one idea. And I don't buy that it's "too confusing" for them - everyone I know managed just fine. It was when people were presented a couple of hashkafos but they were represented as one that the contradictions became troubling.

Again, my class dealt with hashkafa and mussar throughout HS, with a specific class in senior year that discussed controversial issues. Everyone managed very well and gained tremendously from it.

If a topic is foreign to many that is often exactly why it SHOULD be taught. You seem to think that most students are incapable of understanding any semblance of nuance - I think this is grossly mistaken.

Chana - Curious about your take on the comments from people other than T=MC...

Charlie Hall said...

'Yet we have different training and different mental capacities--for after all, this is part of the beauty between the distinction between men and women.'

It is true that *on average* there are small differences between boys and girls in specific mental abilities -- Boys are better at spatial relationships, and girls at language-related tasks. But we statisticians are always concerned about variability -- there is far more variability within the sexes than within. In addition, women are now *on average* outperforming men at all academic levels -- even though men tend to outperform them on standardized tests. But again there is far more variability within the sexes than between.

Thus there is no justification for discrimination against women on the basis of average performance on standardized tests or psychometric instruments. This would apply equally well to biostatistics or to gemara.

What we actually observe today is that in many scientific fields, most graduate students are women and therefore will likely be dominating the field in another generation. (Larry Summers should have done a bit more research before speaking out.)

FWIW I teach medical students and notice no difference in ability between men and women.

Chana said...

To the anonymous who posted here and whose comment I deleted,

I don't allow profanity on my blog.

More importantly, attack YU all you like, but give me reasons. You sound like you have absolutely no idea as to what you're talking about. There are a whole lot of us here who turned down Ivy League schools to come here. Not because we're stupid. Because we're dedicated to Judaism, dedicated to our future, and dedicated to our religion. You, however, would have no concept of what that meant.

As to professors. Aside from being mistaken as to how well-known they are, the level of fame is not how I judge a professor. I judge him or her based on whether s/he is good as his/her job. Unknown professors can be just as excellent as those who are known and applauded.

You'll have to be more explicit in your complaints if you'd like to challenge that.

Anonymous said...

“More importantly, attack YU all you like, but give me reasons. You sound like you have absolutely no idea as to what you're talking about. There are a whole lot of us here who turned down Ivy League schools to come here.”

Touro also has students that got into ivys, does this mean it’s a top school?

As an 18 year old who just finished highschool, you have never had the opportunity to be around the very best and brightest students so there is no way for you to truly know what you are missing out on. You will most likely not experience this until graduate school.

Although there is no way to empirically prove something subjective as “good school”, using criteria the rest of the world uses to determine what makes a school “good” we can conclude that YU is a very “junky” (is this word acceptable on your site?) school.

(This post is not taking into consideration any type of Jewish studies under YU, only the college as compared to other colleges).

Using any criteria of school quality you can think of, YU can not be considered a good school :

1) strength of student body
2) selectivity
3) reputation of institution
4) reputation of professors
5) publication
6) citations in journals and media
7) diversity (although some disagree)
8) rate at which students become academics at elite universities
9) rate at which students go on to elite professional schools
10) etc.

In every category listed, as well as any objective category you could come up with, YU doesn’t finish in the top 200 universities in the U.S. (use google and you will find that all these are ranked by different publications or organizations). If YU qualifies as a good school, which colleges wouldn’t? and why?

If YU does in fact does have top professors, why does the rest of academia not recognize this? What are you basing this on? There are hundreds of rankings of professor reputation and quality, why does YU do so poorly on every single one of them?

Chana said...

Anonymous,

"Junky" is fine.

To some extent, I actually agree with you. It's a given that if not for my Jewish studies, I wouldn't be here right now. Since I do care about my Jewish studies, however, I'm here- and with regard to that, my environment is fantastic.

I've actually discussed this (regarding YU as a school) in the past (the comment threads are the important piece- not the posts.)

About colleges/ regarding YU.

About my decision to go to Stern.

Enjoy.

BTA said...

"First, over this past Shabbos I had the great pleasure of meeting my intellectual equal, if not my better, so I must mention how delighted I am by that."

Did Pauly Shore give you his autograph as well?

Chana said...

BTA,

What a mean comment. But I'm sure it gives you a rush of excitement to make fun of me. Enjoy that. Run with it. Have a party.

To my readers-

As many of you obviously misunderstood what I wrote, let's qualify and clarify this again.

You've made it pretty clear that I come off as an arrogant bigshot. Perhaps I am one. Perhaps you're right. But in my defense, let it be said that it can be pretty lonely to attempt to think in a place where even trying to think is often mocked, derided, and laughed at. Or worse, where people can think when it comes to certain subjects, but completely block others from their mind.

What about you in particular, BTA? You've certainly thought about Judaism in a way different from those who are still observant, or Ba'alei Teshuva who are still observant. Perhaps you felt lonely when you were still in a community of Ba'alei Teshuva who were trying to tell you that you were wrong, that your reasons for leaving Judaism were wrong, and that you were overall a flawed personality. You are now part of a blog for those who are like-minded, those who think like you, those who are your equals- in your ideas, in the ideas you share.

So you have experienced the very thing for which you mock me.

I'm unused to encountering people in school who like to think about the things I enjoy thinking about, and it is a true joy and pleasure to meet such people. When I say I have met my intellectual equal, what I mean to say is that I have met a like-minded person, someone with whom I can have a conversation without constantly editing and checking myself.

Perhaps that was not clear enough. Perhaps I didn't explain myself well enough. Perhaps I truly am an arrogant bigshot. Perhaps I am an elitist snob.

Perhaps.

But all I meant to say was that I was happy to have found such a person, and I wanted to share my joy with others- because it truly delighted me.

BTA, you've been lonely too. Kindly consider that the next time you make fun of someone.

Thanks.