Isaac Kaplan

"Is it any wonder I've got too much time on my hands?"

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Too Smart for the System?

A few weeks ago, I saw an old friend of mine. He had attended high school with me and went to a black-hat yeshiva in Israel. So where'd he go following that? You'd assume a place like Zucker's or Shor Yoshuv, but no--- this guy chose Harvard.

Now, I don't think there's anything wrong with going there, it's just highly unusual for anyone to follow in that particular path. Besides, I've yet to hear any rebbi or mashigiach recommend that a kid go to Harvard. And I've heard of rabbeim tell individuals to attend college, but usually only Touro, and that's only with attending yeshiva concurrently. Therefore, most guys who go to college after Israel will go only at night, following a day of learning. Where did this guy go wrong?

One thing always stuck out about this guy, and I'm not the only one of my buddies to notice this. The guy was quite a thinker; he was very opinionated. After all, it's kinda hard to get into Harvard if you're a moron!

But what separated this guy from the pack was that he thought philosophically. He had the challenging questions that many other Yeshiva guys don't ask. I've always found it remarkable how so many guys out there are smart enough to ask the same kashos on the gemara as R' Akiva Eiger, but when it comes to Hashkafa, they shrivel like a lemming and just nod their heads.

How do some Rebbeim react when a kid asks a hashkafa question? In 12th grade, one of my buddies asked such a question (the question was, how can we expect this generation to all sit and learn and then expect the generation afterwards to do the same? If their parents are all learning, how will the next generation be supported?). All I remember was my Rebbi using buzzwords like "k'firah" and "poison." Like the liberals described in Ann Coulter's "Slander," there was lots of name-calling, but little, if any, discussion of the issues.

So when you have the occasional kid who sees the rebbi call him names but not deal with the issues, the kids gets turned off! He'll start to think that the mehalech is a sham, and will go his own way.

And even if you'll say, "maybe there were other reasons why the guy went to Harvard," it still doesn't absolve these name-calling rebbeim from their acts. Having rebbeim act like George Orwell's "thought police" can be very harmful for the genuine thinkers. One of the worst things you can do to anyone is train them not to think, to just nod their heads at what everyone says. And if a rebbi can't think of arguments dealing with the issues to counter these guys, maybe he should go back to kollel.

(As an aside, R' Eli Teitelbaum has put out another winner in this month's Country Yossi, dealing with the importance of critical thinking and how nowadays many people lack this important skill.)

And what became of the guy who asked the question in 12th grade? He went to fervently black-hat yeshiva in Israel, then was the only one of that year to go to YU, where he ended up doing very well.

Is it just me, or do I see a pattern forming?


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