It is The Three Weeks and I am loath to write anything that borders on sin’as chinam, baseless hatred, which contributed to the fall of our Second Beis HaMikdash. However, last week Rabbi Barry Kornblau wrote an op-ed piece in response to my article titled “How Crazy Are We?” His piece was titled “#NeverTrumpers Not At All Crazy.” Truthfully, the publisher did show me Rabbi Kornblau’s article in advance, with the intention of wanting to know if I wished to comment. I told him that I did not, and they should just print his without comment from me. However, since Rabbi Kornblau exercised his right to criticize me in a public forum, I feel I must respond in kind to at least some of his finer points, especially since some major chinuch matters are at stake. We were casual friends via the RCA and as Queens rabbinic colleagues before. I hope that this friendship can be maintained, despite our obviously different outlooks.
Rabbi Kornblau’s article breathtakingly misconstrued my words and misrepresented my message. I figured that he did a wonderful job in corroborating the gist of my article by his ramblings. Secondly, every paragraph was so profoundly not to the point that I did not know where to begin a response. The title of his article itself lets you know that. My article had nothing to do with trashing NeverTrumpers. It had everything to do with hakaras ha’tov, expressing gratitude, to a man who has been friendlier to Israel and the Jewish people than any previous president. Rabbi Kornblau himself opened by acknowledging that. I never called opponents of Trump crazy, although Rabbi Kornblau’s line of reasoning could well bring that into question.
What prompts me to respond at this time is one particularly offensive line in Rabbi Kornblau’s article. “To halt the further creation of (presumably “crazy”) Orthodox Jews, Rabbi Schonfeld calls for an overhaul of Torah educational institutions so they become “normal” and produce students who are emotionally attached to Torah, the Jewish People, and The land of Israel.” He then goes on to accuse me of conflating love for G-dly values with advocacy for a particular party.
We must see that our kids develop a loving and emotional
bond to Torah, Yiddishkeit, and Israel
How am I supposed to respond to that? I never said anything remotely resembling that. Yes, I did decry the fact that seemingly Orthodox kids in yarmulkes are saying Kaddish for the dead Hamas terrorists and joining the fray in placing “social justice” matters ahead of their own people’s interests. Did I say, or even imply that today’s Orthodox kids are not normal?? Did I mention religion and politics at all?? Sorry, my good friend, but that is the cheapest of shots.
Which brings me to the purpose of this article. Yes, I have said on more than one occasion that there needs to be an overhaul in the chinuch system in the Modern Orthodox world. And, at this point, I am singling out the Modern Orthodox world. The chareidi system has its own issues that need attention, but right now I am focusing on the world that I minister to as a rabbi. I will repeat. We must see that our kids develop a loving and emotional bond to Torah, Yiddishkeit, and Israel. This is an area where the Modern world can learn from the chareidi world. As removed as they are from formal Zionism, you will never see any support in that world for anything that is harmful to Israel (not talking about the despised Neturei Karta, of course). Why? Because their bond to Israel and the Jewish people is emotional if not formal. So here are my proposals:
I know this is a big one. For their religious studies, boys and girls need to be segregated at the youngest age possible following Kindergarten. A boy must have a rebbe he can look up to as his mentor in life. Yes, even, or maybe especially, in first grade. By the same token, a girl must develop a relationship with her morah as only a girl can do. This is so important in creating that loving emotional bond to our religion. We can debate the importance of segregation in secular studies as well.
Jewish History. This must become part of the curriculum in all levels of yeshivah schooling. Our kids have no knowledge or appreciation for our glorious history. Why should they? It’s never been taught! History is such an important tool in getting kids to love who we are and how we got here.
Israeli History. It is becoming increasingly “in” to fault Israel for everything that goes wrong in the Middle East. Our kids will hear a thousandfold more times in college, the media, and in the street that Israel is an occupying force denying the Palestinians their basic human rights, than they will hear the truth. They need to be drilled with the entire development of the modern-day Israel, warts and all (and there are warts) beginning with the Chovevei Tzion movement, Herzl’s Zionist Dream, and the miraculous birth and development of the State. All the wars for Israel’s survival and its suffering from unparalleled terrorism must be laid out in full detail. Its sacrifice for peace (to a fault) must be made known to them.
Meet G’dolei Yisrael. Which Jewish kid never heard of Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk, Sandy Koufax, or Jerry Seinfeld? Great Jews, indeed, in their own way. But how many ever heard about the Chasam Sofer? How many know a thing about the Chazon Ish or the Ben Ish Chai? We had giants throughout the generations. We gave the world Rashi, the Rambam, the Ramban, the Baalei Tosafos. What do our kids know about these giants? What do they know about Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Ovadia Yosef, Rav Kook, the Chofetz Chaim, or Rav Moshe Feinstein?
How about Rav Yisroel Belsky zt”l, a “made in America” gadol? Learn about Rav Hershel Schachter. Learn about Sarah Schenirer, Rebbetzin Kanievsky. These were all inspiring giants of our time. There are wonderful books on these personalities that kids of all ages can relate to and learn from. It is so vital that they connect to these people to facilitate that emotional bond to Yiddishkeit. These books should become required reading in all yeshivos.
The established Orthodox lay and rabbinic leadership must begin to take stands on the issues of the day that represent a threat to Torah. It is not good enough to condemn a shooting in a high school or even to tacitly not approve clergy coming from questionable institutions. There is a battle today against the forces that have declared war on Torah values. Our organizations must lead the battle as they did in the 1950s and ’60s and not be complacent with politically correct pronouncements. The Orthodox young men and women must see clarity coming from their leadership.
There is a reason why too many Orthodox young adults are either complacent about our religion and Israel, dropping out, or finding some meaning in chasidism. They are not finding it in the standard version of Orthodoxy today.
MOGA! Make Orthodoxy Great Again! Rabbi Kornblau, I hope you are with me on this. Not too crazy, I hope.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.