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 taking 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.


8 comments:

The Bray of Fundie said...

allegories and mesholim are a two edged sword.

On the one hand we look to the physical world for models on how to serve HaShem in the Rukhniyosdika realm. משל למהד"ד? למלך בשר ודם וכו'

OTOH we sometimes take the tac that the world of rukhniyos is the polar opposite of the physical realm לא כמדת בשר ודם מדת הקב"ה וכו'
Apparenetly though he came thisclose neither the Slonimer zy"a nor any other Gadol has come to the conclusion that innoculation is achieved through exposure to the disease itself.

Maybe if we could isolate the antibodies? After all IIRC vaccines are NOT biochemically identical to the virus itself.

Still while I am part of the Kharedi camp the rush toward hermatic insularity and rejoicing within our own dald ahmos sometimes reminds me of this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Masque_of_the_Red_Death

The Bray of Fundie said...

Besides for moving Haredim all the way into the eighteenth century,

your animus is showing. hide it.

The Bray of Fundie said...

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

Your insecurity and lack of communal self-esteem is showing. Hide it.

You seem to be suggesting that MOs represent the small-safe doses of "disease" that would innoculate Kharedim against full blown life-threatening contagion. Is this your opinion of MO???

As I read your post I thought the radical thing thatthe Slonimer was about to suggest would've been on the order of:

let your youngsters listen to the Beatles...it'll save them from hip hop.

let your youngsters read Steinbeck...it'll save them from Roth.

let your youngsters go to a ball game ...it'll save them from nightspots

let your youngsters learn Rav Kook...it'll save them Schopenaur and Kierkegard

Izgad said...

“we sometimes take the tac that the world of rukhniyos is the polar opposite of the physical realm”
This is a good example of how a concept in Judaism gets distorted. Isaiah says that God’s ways are not our ways in that God can forgive in ways that human beings cannot. This has nothing to do with glorifying irrationalism.
As to my attacks on Haredim, first off I keep it fairly low key. This is particularly the case if you compare me to other bloggers such as DovBear and XGH. Second, I have a particular reason to write on the topic of Haredim. I grew up within that orbit and, considering my family, am still in many respects tied to it. So there is a particular need for me to respond to questions of why I do not walk that path, why I am not in Brisk or Lakewood. This is not a matter of psychological discomfiture; it is a fair question and I try to answer it as straight forwardly as I can. So I take the occasional wise crack. I don’t see that as mean spirited.

And I love your last lines. You captured my feelings much better than I did.

The Bray of Fundie said...

thank you very much indeed.

PS I never attended either Brisk or BMG as well.

The Bray of Fundie said...

...with glorifying irrationalism.

I am doing no such thing. I'm merely stating that one can't always draw direct parallelels from fighting physical diseases to fighting spiritual diseases/ maintaining spiritual health.

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

> 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.

Actually medically speaking that isn't actually true. The other problem with the moshol is that viruses that are covered by vaccinations are morally neutral organisms while much of the spiritual danger to our children can be classified in terms of good and bad.
I liked the opening paragraphs you quoted but I've always felt that the best way to inoculate kids against concerning values is to fill them with pride for what they are. This is a successful strategy for getting kids to avoid drugs, for example. If they're happy and secure, they don't need the escape.
For example, one doesn't avoid TV because it's bad (some of it is quite good, actually) but because one has no need for it to feel spiritually fulfilled.

Izgad said...

Garnel
To take the classic example of smallpox, Edward Jenner exposed a child to cowpox, a non-deadly version of smallpox, before exposing him to actual smallpox. The idea here is to expose people to some version of the real thing in the hope of making them immune to it.

I am not a doctor so if there is something that I am missing please tell me.