Monday, March 17, 2008

The Parent vs. the Rosh Yeshiva

I had an interesting conversation with a parent of a high-schooler this afternoon. For the sake of presenting the case, we’ll call the parent Sarah and the child Yitzchak.

According to Sarah, Yitzchak’s Rosh Yeshiva is directly telling Yitzchak where to go in Israel next year, undermining Sarah’s attempts to help guide Yitzchak. Sarah would be more comfortable if the Rosh Yeshiva would include, in his counsel, the idea of parental input.

My thoughts:
1) Most educators have personal agenda - and all committed educators have personal agenda.
2) There is no reason to compel educators to hand carte blanche to a parental agenda.
3) Parents have an obligation to check out an educator’s agenda in advance.

First: I think it’s important to recognize that committed educators (as opposed to the hopefully-few educators who just couldn’t find other jobs) have an agenda. That’s why they go into education; they believe in their right and their obligation to promote certain ideals to our children. If they didn’t believe in doing that, they wouldn’t put up with our hooligan offspring in the first place.

I had a 7th grade rebbe at HALB in the 80's who used to tell us to ask our parents to send us to Telz in Cleveland for high school, so that they would end up compromising by sending us to Chafetz Chaim. (The push didn’t work on me; I went to MTA.) I had rebbeim in later years who promoted learning full time, and I had rebbeim who promoted kiruv, and I had rebbeim who promoted Torah Im Derech Eretz. They all promoted the ideals they had entered chinuch in order to promote.

Second: It is possible that a yeshiva’s agenda might actually include promoting strong parent-child relationships, and particularly surrounding Torah study - but parents should recognize that this is not necessarily the case.

Educators often feel that they have a better sense of what children need, because they are more objective than parents and because they are often better-educated than parents.

Further, educators may view themselves as just one piece in the puzzle of influences. They may say, “Why should we promote the parents’ agenda? That’s the job of the parents!”

Third: I believe that an educator has the right to maintain an agenda - but I also believe that parents are obligated to inquire about the agenda before enrolling their children, and to receive an honest answer.

If the agenda is to support parental decisions, wonderful. If the agenda is to direct matters based upon the rebbe’s perception of the child’s needs, also wonderful. The parent should decide on the goal for his child’s education, evaluate the yeshiva’s agenda, and then make a decision.

The problem, of course, begins when the agenda is hidden, when yeshiva administrators wish to attract students from homes built on other ideals, and they do it by concealing the agenda behind flowery talk and thin assurances that they will never push the children away from their parents’ ideals.

Some justify this ideological bait-and-switch by titling it ‘kiruv,’ but so far as I am aware, אין אומרים לאדם חטא בשביל שתזכה חבירך, we don’t say to sin in order to benefit another person, and lying counts as sinning. Lying in order to bring someone else closer to Torah is inappropriate, from a halachic perspective.

I don’t know how Sarah will handle Yitzchak’s future, but I can say one thing: I hope that Sarah will use whatever influence she can exert to ensure that the agenda of the destination yeshiva in Israel includes a strong parent-child connection.


  1. Interesting case.

    Hopefully, Sarah (and Yitzchak's rebbes) have already taught Yitzchak the necessity and usefulness of critical thought, so that he can understand the agendas behind all of the recommendations he's receiving from all sides, and take that into consideration when evaluating these yeshivas.

  2. btw - I wish I could take some of the classes at your synagogue! They look great!

  3. Tzipporah-
    One problem: In the general human sphere, regardless of the educational milieu, the teacher of critical thinking is often given a pass on criticism. This is not because of religious ideology; it's a fact of life. The one who sets you 'free' is often considered beyond reproach - even if he doesn't demand it.

    Re: Classes - Thanks! Let me know when you're in this neck of the woods...

  4. I had a 7th grade rebbe at HALB in the 80's who used to tell us to ask our parents to send us to Telz in Cleveland for high school

    Oy, trying to force you to spend your formative years in the land of the burning river. He must really have disliked you guys. ;)

    Ultimately the parent is responsible for trying to determine what the "mission/agenda" is of the schools they select for their children.

    I can only speak for myself, but I would be irate if I discovered that an educator did not consider our wishes in regard to the education of our children.

  5. Mr. Rebbetzin:
    very true. very true.

    Unlikely I'll be in Pennsylvania, or even East Coast, anytime in the next year, but we'll definitely stop by if we do get out that way.