Monday, June 3, 2013

Partners in Intolerance, Part 1

The original email to Partners in Torah from Sholom R.
(Click to enlarge.)
 Several weeks ago, Partners In Torah's "Mentor Talk" email focused on an email sent in by an orthodox chavrusa [study partner] complaining that despite working with his partner for several years, his partner has made little progress and has not made any move to pull his children from public school and enroll them at least in a local non-orthodox Jewish day school. During the weeks that followed, Rabbi Meisels posted some of the advice that other "partners" sent in about this issue. Many were very adamantly opposed to public school, believing it to be a cesspool of immorality. Many expressed the same opinion regarding Conservative and Reform schools.
     What is especially upsetting in the original
email from "Sholom R." is that he believes that he has the right to insert himself into the decision-making process regarding how his study partner and significant other have chosen to educate their children. His non-orthodox study partner's decisions on how to educate his children "frustrates" him and he writes in, asking for advice on how to "get him to reconsider his decision." Ironically, the only word that comes to mind here regarding this email is "chutzpah."
Dov's response, part one. (Click to enlarge.)
     An emailed response from "Dov" on this issue prompted several responses to his take on this situation. "Dov" feels that no Jewish child should attend a public school. He elaborates in the second email to Rabbi Meisels, showing his clear lack of tolerance to anyone and any values that are not what he would consider to be Torah values. To him "the values being inculcated in the public schools are amoral to the point of immorality." In response to children in public schools learning about LGBT families, Dov claims that "militantly atheistic values utterly inimical to those of the Torah" are being promoted. He further claims that "public libraries have become mine fields to be negotiated cautiously," not considering that many non-orthodox families support libraries, public education, and liberal social values such as equality--the same equality that open-minded Jews supported back in the 1950s when fighting alongside civil rights activists for an end to segregation.
Dov's response, part two. (Click to enlarge.)
P.A.'s response. (Click to enlarge.)
    Taking this further was a response from P.A. who claims that "while it's true that public schools are bastions of filth ... it's naive to imagine that the problem does not exist in many Conservative, Reform, and pluralistic schools." P.A. then mentions that there is a "deviant lifestyle club" in a non-public, pluralistic school in his/her hometown. While I have my doubts that any school actually has a club that is called "the deviant lifestyle club," I find it very interesting that this writer is afraid to even mention the accepted name of this club. Is P.A. perhaps afraid that by saying "LGBT," he/she might catch a bit of gay? Perhaps P.A. is concerned that something will rub off on him/her. This blatant homophobia will be carefully hidden when learning with P.A.'s partner in Torah in order to keep the relationship growing. The people writing these responses to Rabbi Meisels of Partners in Torah are the same people who are getting on the phone with you, your college-aged child, your partner, and your friend, and exposing them to an orthodox approach to Judaism.
E.M.'s response. (Click to enlarge.)
     When you read E.M.'s response, it's easy to see the disdain that this orthodox partner in Torah has for the Conservative and Reform movements. From the condescending tone of the email to the insults hurled at Conservative and Reform practice, it's not hard to tell how those doing Jewish outreach feel about non-orthodox belief and practice. If you can get past the obvious lack of respect shown for non-orthodox Judaism, take a quick look at the bottom of E.M.'s email. E.M. states that even though "those who receive a Conservative education may be a few steps ahead if they pursue Torah-true living, they are often more difficult to bring closer to a Torah-true lifestyle, for they feel they know Judaism well and need not look into it any further." That statement right there is an admission that these "Partners in Torah" are there specifically to bring people to orthodox Judaism, which is what they consider a "Torah-true lifestyle."
"Public schools are a cesspool of immorality."
(Click to enlarge.)
     Another response given, in which the writer claims to be a public school teacher, mentions that public schools are "a cesspool of immorality and educate the children to believe that there are no absolute values, it's okay to "do your own thing," and all forms of self-expression are okay." He/she further states that, as a preschool teacher, "we are already expected to depict alternate lifestyles to the children and pretend they're legitimate alternatives." The writer continues to state that public school is "not the place for a Jewish neshama [soul.]" Having spent many years as a public school teacher, I find this to be both offensive and inaccurate. First of all, families come in all forms. Teaching children that some kids come from single parent households, some from homes with a mother and a father, some from homes with two fathers, some from a home with extended family, and some from homes with two mothers, should really be a non-issue. Secondly, some of these kids may even be Jewish. And it's even possible that the mom of the second grader to whom you're teaching the Hebrew alphabet is going to get off the phone with you and have a cup of tea with her wife before they go to sleep--together. This is reality. Nobody is pushing the writer of this email to have a same-sex relationship. The writer also shows his/her ignorance by assuming that people choose who they are attracted to. His/her very concern that Jews don't belong in schools where this is taught implies that perhaps they will be negatively influenced. Does the writer think that by teaching that what used to be considered a non-traditional family is finally acceptable, that kids will suddenly decide that they must marry someone of the same gender? Is this simply mass homophobia disguised as a justified concern for other Jews?
Response from a ba'al teshuva.
(Click to enlarge.)
     Finally, an email was sent to Rabbi Meisels from a ba'al teshuva (one who became religious later in life) who, I'm pleased to say, actually gave a response not based on intolerance, homophobia, and fear. The writer stayed on-topic and addressed the issue. This married couple asked several people for their responses and gave a summary of their answers, feeling that sending kids to Jewish (but non-orthodox) schools was good in that it laid a framework if they ever did become religious and that it also helped to prevent intermarriage.
     At this point in time, Rabbi Meisels has yet to give his own response to the question, and when that is sent in the weekly email, I will post it.
     It sickens me that Partners in Torah, might actually put mentors in place who omit information and are dishonest about their intentions and true beliefs. The word "partner" implies some sense of unity, sharing, and honesty. The orthodox side of this partnership has no problem sharing amongst each other their blatant intolerance for anything not orthodox. At what point in this Torah education partnership will they honestly share their true feelings for the beliefs and practices of those Jews who are not orthodox? And if they won't, what kind of partnership is this?
(image from
(You can read Part 2 here.)


  1. And so it is. From the time we were kids, even the more liberal of the Orthodox spectrum were brainwashed into believing that the public school system was a cesspool--completely devoid of morals.

    One rabbi had a wife who taught in the Bronx. Whenever we misbehaved, he would say that our behavior was expected at his wife's school, where students have to submit to a metal detector test upon entry because of school shootings! And so it went.

    But on the other side, we had others who actually went to public school. They would never squander an opportunity to talk about how better behaved they were back when they went to public school. One rabbi told us that in his day, if you ever spoke out of turn in a public school, you were suspended!

    But then what happens when you decide you want to switch to public school?

    My youngest sister took the plunge. During her junior year, she decided she was tired of yeshiva day school. So she decided to switch to our local public school. Now the principal was the type who would always say "if you don't like {davening, having a dual curriculum, wearing a yarmulke,having a dress code, keeping kosher, etc} you are welcome to spend a day in public school and see how you like it." We used to get the same lecture when I was in high school (different principal but same mentality).

    But then, after all this, when my sister finally decided to switch to public school, the principal gave her a "I think you're making a big mistake..." lecture. It is such a wonderful opportunity to go to yeshiva, and she's throwing it away. At this point, she was so jaded that she just shrugged it off. To this day, she calls him on his hypocrisy.

    Suddenly, in public school, she began thriving. She was always an okay student. But in public school, she started getting straight A's. In yeshiva, she had a handful of teachers that she liked; ones that knew how to work with her. In public school, she did so well that she even made it into Honor's Calculus. She had half a mind to go back to the yeshiva and rub it in their faces.

    Not all public schools are as good as the one my sister went to. It's a mixed bag. But at least there, she had the freedom to be Jewish (or not). She definitely did not face any overt anti-Semitism. Part of me wishes I had the guts to take the plunge the way she did: I did not get out of the yeshiva world till I was 22. And since then I have not turned back.

    1. I'm really glad that both you and your sister got out. I was raised to believe that your education should make you, if not marketable, at least able to function in the world. When so many come out of yeshivas with poor reading, writing, and math skills, and very little knowledge of history or the sciences, I have to wonder how they are expected to function in society. While I understand that the idea is that these subjects are not important, and surely you don't need to know Russian literature in order to be a good plumber, most aren't even equipped with the ability to make a living.

    2. Funny thing is that this particular school is very competitive. Plenty of people get into good colleges. In my grade we had 4 go to Princeton and a handful to UPenn and Columbia.

      Nonetheless, my sister and I were (pardon the pun) fish out of water. It was more the if you aren't that cookie cutter model student they don't have much use for you.

      Her biggest qualm was that most of the rabbis were ill equipped to handle her struggles with faith. There was one young rabbi everyone loved. We all know the type: young, funny, with it, the cool guy. But she never liked him as much. When she would ask her questions, he would be like "whoa, why such heavy questions at your young age?" Her favorite rabbi was ironically the frummest rabbi in the school. This rabbi was one of those illuy types; used to having he shtark crowd kissing his ass. But they don't challenge him. My sister would ask him these heavy questions. And he would actually try to answer them! And he was honest too. He would say that she might not like his answers because he's so frum; but at least he took her questions seriously and tried answering them. And that meant a lot.

  2. Good for you fish, for getting out. There is nothing wrong with a public school education. Opportunities exist at ALL public schools, even at the worst public schools in the poorest cities in America. My impression of yeshivas is they teach kids to be Jewish. Education in subjects that may help them contribute to the world, to become independent critical thinkers, to go to college or get a decent job is an afterthought, if a thought at all. I want my children to be leaders, to move & shake things, to have exciting careers and to be anything but homophobic Jewish clones.

  3. > I find it very interesting that this writer is afraid to even mention the accepted name of this club. Is P.A. perhaps afraid that by saying "LGBT," he/she might catch a bit of gay?

    No, it’s more likely he doesn’t want to dignify it by using its proper name, and prefers to call it "the deviant lifestyle club" because he believes it is important to make explicit what it really is (in his opinion).

    > Jews don't belong in schools where this is taught infers


    > Does the writer think that by teaching that what used to be considered a non-traditional family is finally acceptable, that kids will suddenly decide that they must marry someone of the same gender?

    Not “must,” but “may.” OJ, of course, holds that one may not. (To be accurate, only a marriage between a Jewish man and a Jewish woman (or women) is halachicaly a marriage, but I don’t think it’s marriage per se that is the concern.) They don’t want impressionable children to get the idea that something that Judaism has traditionally held is unacceptable is okay.

    There is logic to this. If kids learn that homosexual relationships are forbidden, then kids who are bi won’t explore that aspect of their sexuality, and kids who are gay will try to suppress deny their orientation. If one believes that homosexual relationships are a sin that causes harm to the world, then this is a positive outcome. The corollary is that it’s opposite, teaching children that homosexuality is part of the variety of the human experience, thereby allowing those kids who are so inclined to explore that aspect of themselves without inhibition, is evil. Where we disagree with them is the premise that homosexuality is sin.

    > It sickens me that Partners in Torah, an organization that actively tries to convince non-orthodox Jews to become orthodox, even thinks that their volunteers are worthy of partnering with non-orthodox Jews.

    This sentence makes me uncomfortable. It implies that non-Orthodox Jews are superior to the volunteers. While the volunteers are being duplicitous insofar as they don’t tell their study partners upfront that they approach the world with the assumption that OJ values are universally correct and all others are wrong, that doesn’t make them worthless cretins who have no business associating with other people.

    1. Thanks for your comments. I completely agree with you regarding my last paragraph and in my rush to get this post up, I should have caught that. So thank you, and I've since corrected that (as well as my careless and accidental use of "infers.")

  4. I think I am eternally grateful I didn't live in the Northeast when raising Josh. He attended public school (because everyone in California is pro-public school despite the schools' collective slide into mediocrity)where he was bullied by kids and left behind by teachers who only wanted to work with cookie-cutter kids without visual and fine motor problems....complaints to the teachers and school were brushed off..."boys will be boys" I was told after yet another incident where three bullies blindsided him and knocked him and therapies were constantly cut due to 'budget problems'....we then transferred him to a pluralistic Jewish Day School where derech eretz, compassion and tolerance were the by-words. He thrived there.

  5. Aliyah06, by "thrive," do you mean that he's learning subjects that will help him get into college? Will he be prepared to compete in today's work force? Jewish Day Schools are only one of many choices that parents have when a child does poorly at school. The question is what goal do you want the school to facilitate? College preparatory schools, religious schools, sports schools, schools for children with special needs - what GOAL do you have for your child?

  6. Here's what the Partners in Torah mission statement says:

    "Our goal is to make Judaism accessible, relevant, and meaningful to Jews of all backgrounds in an atmosphere of camaraderie, mutual respect, and mutual learning. We aim to offer each participant the support and space to decide how, when, and to what degree they want to incorporate their knowledge into practice."

    from here:

    It will be interesting to see what the "official" response is from Partners in Torah. Will there be any reference to mutual respect or giving space and support to making this decision?

  7. I'll also add that as a public school graduate and daughter of a public school teacher, who is now sending my children to Jewish day school, I have absolutely no patience for anyone trying to sell day school by putting down public school. There was nothing wrong with my secular education - it just didn't include Jewish education, and I found that despite a supplementary Hebrew school 3x/week and some university courses, it was extremely difficult to get the basic language and Jewish knowledge base that day school kids develop.

    My kids are getting that - and will continue to develop it at a pluralistic Jewish high school with a gay-straight alliance. The GSA is new. My husband went to that school when it was more traditional. A number of the students he knew subsequently came out anyway. The only question has been whether they ended up with a failed marriage while trying to pass as straight (one did, and the wife is understandably bitter), and whether they still care to be involved in the Jewish community.

  8. JRKmommy, Are you saying that your kids go to a Jewish school with a gay straight alliance? Please define "traditional."

    1. My oldest will be attending a community Jewish high school in September. As a "community" school, it's mission is to serve all members of the Jewish community rather than to promote one particular path. The students range from completely non-observant to Orthodox. It has a gay-straight alliance.

      While it has always defined itself as a community school, it was considerably more to the right 25 years ago - to the point that my husband jumped back when I surprised him with a hug during an unannounced visit, afraid that one of the rabbis would see us having physical contact.

  9. They're right. Public schools are very deviant. After all, teachers often beat the children or sexually abuse them. Then they harass the child to not tell anyone. If the parents find out, then they harass them to not report it and not cooperate with the police. Or what about all those non religious school administrators who defraud the government to receive funding which they don't properly use? This is only found in the secular world.
    Wait, you mean this happens in yeshivot and not in public schools? You mean this happens specifically in the orthodox communities and is a large part of their social paradigm? Oh,....uh


Your respectful comments are welcome.