Friday, February 29, 2008

The WSJ on Flipping Out

(Hat tip: Fred) A very interesting contribution from Ben Harris to the Wall Street Journal:

Exact figures are hard to come by, but YU estimates that some 2,000 Modern Orthodox high-school graduates depart for single-sex Israeli yeshivas each year. ...

"They're basically given the message that they are doing what they were created to do, which is to study Torah, that they are princes and princesses of Judaism, that that is all that they have to do," says Samuel Heilman, a sociologist of American Jewry and the author of "Sliding to the Right." He fingers the Israel year as a chief reason for Modern Orthodoxy's supposed shift toward traditionalism. ...

For many Orthodox educators, particularly at Yeshiva University, which recruits heavily from the programs in Israel, these findings are cause for celebration, not concern. With its motto of "Torah Umadda," literally "Torah and secular knowledge," YU has long been the standard-bearer of the ideal of marrying Orthodox practice to secular education. "I believe our tradition is such that we should be confident that we can contribute to the world based on our values," said YU President Richard Joel, five of whose children have studied in Israeli yeshivas. "We're not supposed to view the modern world as the enemy."

What remains unclear is the extent to which the educators in Israel, a country without a tradition of liberal-arts education, share Mr. Joel's commitment to the Modern Orthodox ethos. I have earned two academic degrees from top universities since I left the yeshiva in Israel, all while continuing to observe many of the rituals urged upon me a decade ago by my rabbis there, though I take certain liberties with the law that they would almost certainly frown upon.

Still, I consider that year to have been one of the most enriching of my life. The headmaster, I'm sure, wouldn't agree. Some weeks before my departure, he called me to his office to tell me that I had wasted my time. "Maybe," he said, "if you had learned a little more Torah."


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