I have a friend who's a teacher in the public system. It's no secret that schools today don't get much done compared to only a couple of decades ago. When asked why, he sighs. "The parents," he says, "want us to teach them everything, how to behave, manners and morals. They don't want to take any responsibility for that at all. 'We're paying taxes so you do all the work' is essentially what they tell us."
It's frightening to think that this attitude is common. When I was just a little Lord Ironheart my parents were very involved with my education. They were in constant contact with the teacher to see how they could help my education along and made sure that they were a constant influence in my life. They knew that the school was there to impart knowledge but that it was their job to make me a mensch.
Somehow it seems to me that this has happened to a very large extent in the Yeshivah World community. With the raising of roshei Yeshiva and Gedolim to a near-deified state, similar to what some Chasidic clans have done with their rebbes, the idea of a father influencing his children seems to be on the wane. Consider this latest article from Rav Yonasan Rosenblum which seems to take for granted that a growing boy's biggest influence should be his teacher, with nary a word about the influence the father and mother should have:
Unfortunately, many yeshiva students today have never experienced a close relationship with an adam gadol (great man), and have no image constantly before them that elevates them and provide strength in moments of weakness. Many do not even know what they are missing. In their immaturity, they have come to view consulting with someone wiser and more experienced, as a sign of weakness and lack of independence. When asked for the name of a rav to whom they are close, they cannot name one.
I am not disparaging the importance of role models in the life of a growing child, especially in an academic setting. Certainly I found them very important during my training and to this day there are a few I still call for advice on difficult cases and whose words of wisdom influenced my career in lasting ways. A good teacher can inspire a student to heights of achievement the student himself never thought possible.
However, when we talk about a Torah lifestyle, we are not just talking about a fund of knowledge or the acquisition of critical thinking skills. We are talking about a set of values that permeate every aspect of one's life. We call our law halacha because it guides us wherever we go in the world. Who should be the biggest influence in a person's life in this regard, a teacher at school or a parent at home?
The perception that there are no figures to serve as advisors today is well wide of the mark. But it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Those who have never submitted to another's judgment or sought the opinion of someone more experienced when confronted with challenges or important life decisions will never be able to positively influence others.
I have a number of friends who developed close relationships with Rabbi Matttisiyahu Solomon when the latter was a young mashgiach in Gateshead Yeshiva. Three of them run major institutions today, and their advice is sought daily. Even the baalebos in the group is the type of person with whom one would be well-advised to discuss any difficult decision. Each of them still consults with Rav Mattisiyahu when they find themselves in tough life situations.
While I would never seek to say something negative about Rav Mattisiyahu Solomon, my question would be: when these bochurim were younger, who were they more likely to go to for life advice, their father or their rebbe? And if it was the latter, why?
My father never liked the Mishnah in Bava Metziah, the one that ruled that if you could only save your father or your rebbe from a dangerous predicament, that you were to give preference to your rebbe. Leaving aside the obvious conflict-of-interent inherent in such a ruling (preference being given to the guys who decide on who to prefer) he was always frustated with the idea that there would be someone more important and influential in a person's life than his parents. He had learned this from his parents, aleihem hashalom, who had been the dominant influence in his childhood in terms of hashkafah and basic moral values. A rebbe might be there to teach you but woe to the father who abdicated his responsibility to guide the child to adulthood to one.
Perhaps this is one reason so many in the Chareidi community find themselves behaving in ways that no good parent would tolerate. Consider this excerpt from Benzion Chinn's fine blog:
For me, respect for the law and property are basic parts of my being. To hear someone talk about stealing from the government as something at least theoretically justifiable struck me as morally offensive. Whatever differences and disagreements I may have with my father this is one thing that he deserves credit for. I know this person's parents; they are decent people. Where did he get such a concept in his head? I believe that this is important and not just a theoretical issue of maybe opposing something versus being completely disgusted by it. What will happen when this person is faced with the temptation, when the money is on the table and he has to decide whether to take it or walk away? I would never wish to be put in the path of temptation and do not know ultimately if I would succeed. I am enough of a legalist to concoct all sorts of excuses if pushed to it. I believe, though, that I would pass. There is no way that this person would pass. If, when the issue is theoretical, you are already playing games of maybe than you will take the money when it becomes real. If I were to wave a cheeseburger at this person he would turn in horror. What if I stuck non-kosher money into his face and rustled the bills?
I fully expect to see this person, from a respectable Haredi family and educated in elite Haredi institutions, on the wrong end of some scandal within the next few decades, either beating up a woman for what she is wearing or "cutting some corners" in order to fund the Jewish institution of his choice. At the very least he will be one of the people turning a blind eye and winking and nodding at the whole affair. I was raised to not particularly concern myself with whether other people were dressed appropriately, but with an absolute horror at the prospect of taking money that did not belong to me. That is part of my meta-legal theology, philosophy and moral values. What sort of moral values did the Haredi institutions that produced this person raise him with?
People cannot farm out their responsibility as parents to others who don't have as much connection or knowledge of the child as they do, or should. I wonder how much of the "flipping out" phenomenon is based on this attitude that allows outsiders to influence one's child more than one has done oneself?
Is it an attitude that "the rebbe" is better at teaching the child because he's a talmid chacham? Is it the idea that learning is so important that the father would rather do that than raise in son? Is it now at the point that a second generation, having never experienced guidance from their fathers because they were foisted on the rebbes, is now simply doing the same thing?
It is the responsibility of parents to raise their children, not their rebbeim. Perhaps this is a value we should start to more strongly assert.