Isaac Kaplan

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

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Have People Changed?

When you look at some of the chinuch experts of our generation, you'll sometimes find a rather liberal approach. For example, Rav Wolbe ZTL was very opposed to hitting children or getting angry at them. And Dr. Benzion Sorotzkin seems to advocate more of a hands-off approach in some regards, such as not forcing your kid to go to shul. And in general, he encourages teachers and parents not to be too strict.

But when you talk to past generations, you hear about hard-line, ultra-strict rabbeim. You hear about "the strap," and parents and rabbeim who would occasionally give their kids a beating with a belt or ruler.

The question is, were these mentors wrong for practicing this kind of discipline (and possibly lucky that more people didn't go off the derech or have serious issues), or perhaps such methods aren't intrinisically wrong, but simply were more suited for previous generations, and are no longer effective approaches in 2006?

Of course, you also have some hard-liners who will stick with their age-old approaches, and mumble something about "mesorah" or "chodosh assur min hatorah" (which, by the way, is one of the most misconstrued lines ever) in supporting their old approaches. And these people are the same ones that laugh at a concept like "self-esteem" or "ADD" as a recent invention.

I think people have changed. After all, the world around us has changed so much, how can we not be affected? To me, it starts from the fact that, for the past 50 years, Orthodox Jewry has had its most materistically successful era in centuries. B"H, we live in relative peace, we can have almost any job we want, and we live in a country with civil liberties and religious freedom.

I'm not going to get bogged down into detail now, but growing up in a drastically different environment, people will turn out differently. Duh, people are affected by their surroundings. Perhaps because we're more spoiled and used to getting our way, acts of force are ineffective. Maybe in Europe, where everything was a struggle, perhaps people were more tolerant of getting whipped.

I was at a graduation recently, and the principal of the yeshiva said "the world around us has changed, we now have airplanes, internet, etc. but we as people haven't changed; we still need to eat, we still need sleep, etc." On a basic level, perhaps the rabbi is right. But on a psychological/mental level, I don't see how such a statement makes any sense.

There's a lot more to discuss here. One topic that comes to mind is approaching mussar seforim of the past. If the mussar seforim of 200 years ago were addressing very different people, what can we glean from them? Must we take their words with a large grain of salt, assuming that the psychology of the people of their era was a big factor in their mussar? Or do we say that these eternal words of Torah are applicable to every generation?

Okay, this post is too long already. I'll give you my take (and that of a rebbi of mine) next time around.


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