Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Haredi Open Mindedness (Not Exactly)
The late Rabbi Sholom Noach Berezovsky, the Slonimer Rebbe, writes about spiritual inoculation for children in his book Nesiveh Chinuch: Essential Perspectives on Education:
Preventative inoculation is needed to prevent spiritual maladies no less than it is needed to prevent physical disease. Just as in the physiological realm much care is given to inoculate against childhood diseases that can, Heaven forbid, be fatal, so educators must, in an orderly fashion, deliver talks to their students that are intended to serve as "spiritual vaccinations" to protect the child's spirit and soul from contracting any debilitating or fatal spiritual diseases. The mentor must administer preventative medicine that focuses on spiritual maladies to which the child may unwittingly be exposed.
Although there are many areas of moral and spiritual disease that seem far removed from young students, it is nevertheless necessary to address them before they find their way into the young charges' souls and wreak terrible spiritual havoc.
The mentor should systematically deliver an elaborate series of talks on the full array of potential spiritual diseases. It is far easier to inoculate against contracting diseases than to cure a child once he has been struck by them. (pg. 110)
So far so good here. The Slonimer Rebbe departs from the usual spiritual disease model of poison. Under the poison model, all contact with the spiritual disease (movies, television, and evolution) is by definition damaging and all those who have been in contact are by definition sick. The more a person has been in contact with the spiritual disease the sicker they are. The solution to this problem is to make sure that people are not exposed to the spiritual disease; this is doubly true for children who are presumed to be particularly vulnerable. One may wish to take this model so far as to say that not only is the spiritual disease a contaminating agent, but those who have been exposed are themselves contaminating agents. As such, one should not just avoid the spiritual disease, but people who have been exposed as well. This offers the opportunity for all sorts of insanity. I consider television to be a bad influence so I will not have it in my house. Ah, but people who watch television are also a bad influence so I am going to specifically send my child to a school where all the children come from non-television families. This creates for Haredim a "hierarchy" with those with the least exposure on top. The corollary of this is that the more ignorant you are about the world and the more bombastic you are in your statements about the world the higher you are on the Haredi pecking order.
Instead of talking about spiritual diseases as poison the Slonimer Rebbe talks about the need for inoculation. Besides for moving Haredim all the way into the eighteenth century, the inoculation model offers very different assumptions as to how to protect against the threat. Instead of trying to avoid all contact with the disease or anyone exposed to it, one actually needs to be exposed at least to some extent. Failure to be exposed, in the long run, puts the person at an even greater risk. As such the Slonimer Rebbe acknowledges that a child should be exposed to "a strain of a spiritual disease in order to save him from succumbing to the disease itself. The administration of the 'poison' must be done in a very cautious and exact manner in order to be certain that it is given in the proper amount, time and manner." (pg. 111)
I would have hoped that this would mean serious and honest discussions about the nature of the world as opposed to feeding students non-stop Haredi propaganda. I would have even been impressed if the Slonimer Rebbe had suggested that his followers make a point of befriending people who are Modern Orthodox or who were not Orthodox from birth to take advantage of their worldly experiences. Instead, the Slonimer Rebbe merely takes the opportunity to allow children to be given allowance money and to go on trips. "Children must be provided with other forms of kosher relaxation and entertainment that will grant them emotional satisfaction and give them a legitimate and helpful outlet for their pent-up emotional needs." (pg. 112) In the Haredi world this is not common sense, but actually being "liberal." Recently there have been attempts by activists to ban trips and summer camps. I am, of course, still waiting for the ban on Hershey Park.