Isaac Kaplan

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Freedom vs. Discipline in Yeshivos, Pt. 2

There's a ton more to say on this issue, and, as I alluded to in part 1, the freedom vs. discipline debate ultimately hinges on the unique groups and personalities in question. But there are a few things I'd like to focus on, that I believe have relevance for all groups:

- I think the approach to rules has to based on a cost-benefit perspective: what's the cost: how much will it adversely affect the bochrim? How restrictive will it be? And on the flipside, what is the level of spiritual danger if there is no such rule? How much will the learning be affected? And another very important factor: will the rule be very commonly broken anyway?

The way I see it, there are two commonly-used rationales for rules, both of which I think are faulty approaches: 1) to avoid any kid doing or seeing anything inappropriate. So because some newspapers, there can be no non-Jewish papers in the dorm. It doesn't matter whether it's the Wall Street Journal or the U.S. News or the New York Post - it's all no good! And because one kid went off the derech because of goyish books - ban 'em! And then 2) what are the other places doing? Which rules would be good for the school's reputation? Dress codes are a good example of rules coming from the latter rationale.

The latter approach's flaws are obvious. The first approach has a tendency of being too overreaching. A lot of those rules are based on unusual incidents or wishy-washy concepts like "the kedusha of the yeshiva" and stuff like that. And very often, these rules end up going further than they need to go.

Also, many people think that simply having more rules makes one a better Jew. There was a comment thread on UOJ's blog about a certain yeshiva, and one commenter defended yeshiva x by saying, we're the best because we have more rules than any other place out there! What stupidity. Does that make for better learners? Or for more mentally stable guys? Does one get more olom haboh for going to a place with more restrictive rules? Not in this religion, to my knowledge.

People seem to lose focus when discussing or setting rules. I think the point of rules is to keep some order in a yeshiva and to ensure that things that are clearly objectionable aren't brought into a dorm (so for example, I'm all for a rule banning porn). At the same time, though, there have to be outlets for all sorts of people; basketball and bull sessions are not always enough. And this is where the cost-benefit analysis comes in. So let's say a guy's into literature. Nothing wrong with that, especially if he has a chush for that line of thought. So if he sticks to classics and stays away from the steamy romance junk, I don't think there's anything wrong with that. An across-the-board ban of novels, in my opinion, is too overreaching.

- Another important factor is that if yeshivos are going to take away people's pleasures, they have to provide alternatives. And that means making learning enjoyable and meaningful.

The yeshiva I went to, as restrictive as it was, was nonethless a very successful place. I believe that it was because the rabbeim taught with joy and enthusiasm. Torah was something you can enjoy, and not just something you had to do in order not to burn in hell because of bittul Torah. If the rabbeim are charismatic and passionate about Torah, then it's a much "easier sell" to the guys. The most successful rabbeim come off as being happy and content, not burnt-out and miserable. So if they're of the hand-wringing "I'll-shout-till-I'm-blue in-the-face" variety, then I don't see a place with rabbis like that turning out decent guys. Maybe they're learning, but chances are they're miserable.

Another aspect to the whole discussion is high school vs. beis medrash. That's for a different time. I've rambled enough for now.

- By the way, I'll be busy for the next month or so. Things will be a bit quieter here.


Blogger Michelle said...

Excellent points. No comments, because i agree.

11:11 PM  

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