Tuesday, September 06, 2005

On Yeshivos and Personal Lives

"Any parent planning on making a Bar Mitzvah Simcha must speak to me first before any plans are made."

"Any boy caught going to a movie theathre will be expelled from the Yeshiva."

These are just some of the tidbits that came along with the rules and regulations for my sons' Yeshiva. I suppose I shouldn't complain... I haven't been forced to sign a contract that states that I don't have a TV or that my wife and I keep separate beds or that we only use Chassideshe schita meats.

I find it amazing how much of our personal lives we cede when we send our kids to Yeshiva. I'm not talking about things like dress codes. I'm talking about clauses that regulate how *parents* behave in their homes, such as requiring that parents not even own a television or go to the movies (regardless of whether or not the kids are involved). Of course, one can simply lie to the yeshiva, but that really sidesteps the issue - that a yeshiva feels that they can make this sort of demand on parents in the first place.

Of course, I realize that a yeshiva is a private institution and, as a private institution, from a legal standpoint, can make any rule it wishes. If they wanted to, they could mandate that my wife and I go around in bumblebee costumes all the time and, if we want our kids to attend, we have to comply or leave the yeshiva.

I'm curious as to why we allow our kids' yeshivos to assume this kind of authority over our lives. My guess would be that it is due to the lack of competition among yeshivos. While it is true that there are umpteen yeshivos in Brooklyn, the reality is that, for any individual household, there are probably only two or three that they would really consider sending their kids to. The rest are just about as foreign (and possibly even more so) than a public school would be. For example, I would never send my kids to a Satmar yeshiva, nor would I send them to a co-ed school like Yeshiva of Flatbush. My gut feeling is that most families also have their "type" where they will send their kids and would not consider any other except in the most unusual of circumstances.

I'm wondering if this can also help explain the tuition situation. The fact is that schools know that there are only so many other places where you'll send your kid, and so they don't see a real need to "compete" against each other for kids.

I've long been curious about the requirement in my kids' school to see the Menahel before Bar Mitzvah plans are drawn up. What are they going to require? Are *they* going to decide whether or not my son lains his Bar Mitzvah parsha? (As an aside, I've been teaching Bar Mitzvah bachurim to lain for fifteen years. I have a *very* good idea which kids are capable of laining a parsha and which are better suited spending their time learning a Mesechta or Seder of Mishnayos for their Bar Mitzvah.) I think that this is a decision that should be made by the parents, the Bar Mitzvah boy and his teachers. In fact, I can't think of one decision that should be made by the yeshiva. So, what do they need to meet with parents for? Has anyone been through this before?

The Wolf



if only they tried to even remember our kids names,nevermind teach them anything

Anonymous said...

The reason many yeshivos try to regulate things like this (movies, TV, etc) is because there are a great many parents who go out of their way to limit their children's exposure to 'foreign' elements and children who come from backrounds where these elements are not limited have more chance of affecting the other children. For example, we have always been very careful not to use 'four-letter-words' around our children (around anyone, for that matter). We had always been careful not to allow our children to be exposed to any media (movie, CD, DVD, newspaper, etc) in which 4-letter words would or could show up. Things were great until our first child entered (a very orthodox mainstream black hat-type) yeshiva. After just a few weeks, we heard these bad words coming from our child. One of his new friends in yeshiva did not have the same at-home restrictions that we imposed on our child and he picked up this bad language, and now passed it along to our son.

Similarly, both our sons and daughter started hearing about sex waaay before we were ready to tell them. And, they did not get wholesome (or accurate) descriptions. This, too, because some children got hold of stuff in their houses that we were always careful not to let into our own, and then either told or showed (when our children were over to their house) the material.

So, there is a pretty valid reason to at least try to maximize the chances that the families in the yeshiva are similar in this type of hashkafa.

BrooklynWolf said...


I understand your point of view. Really. My wife and I try to maintain a wholesome environment for our kids too. We monitor what they watch on TV; we watch our language in front of them (although, truth be told, I *never* use obscenities anyway) and we always try to make sure that what our children do or see is appropriate to their age level.

Of course, parents cannot be everywhere and cannot monitor their kids 24/7. It is true that children will become exposed to things through friends in school, camp and other such places. But it is the parent's job, ultimately, to do this - not the Yeshiva's job. If your child is picking up things in yeshiva that you don't approve of, then you have a few options - either counteract the effect as best you can or change schools. It shouldn't be the yeshiva's job to tell me how to raise my children - it's their job to educate them. If you aren't happy sending your children to a school where they utter obscenities, then by all means change to another school with a more genteel student body. But don't ask the yeshiva to assume your responsibility by insulating your children from outside influences. It's not their job.

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...


At my sons' school, they actually know the kids names.

The Wolf

Gil Student said...

It could be that they wish to have a talk to the parents about making sure to invite all the kids in the class and other social issues like that.

BrooklynWolf said...

I'm afraid not, Gil, because they actually (correctly) address that elsewhere in the admittence booklet. In addition, it would be much easier to hand out notices to all the 7th and 8th graders regarding such rules rather than having the parents come in for a discussion.

The Wolf

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Maybe they want to talk about having a nice tzniusdik laid-back bar mitzva that doesn't cost too much.

Anonymous said...

How come you're sending your children to a school that (apparently) conflicts with your hashkafot so explicitly?
-alan scott

Anonymous said...

Regarding the bar mitzvah issue, I can think of valid reasons why they'd want to discuss it with parents (which other commenters raised), but it doesn't give them a right to demand it. The problem though is that they do feel they have a right to make any demands they want. Even in those areas which are absolutely the responsibility of the parents. Where do they get this chutzpah from? IMHO, it stems from the fact that they believe that despite the fact that parents are parents, if they (the school, the rabbeim, the hanhala, etc.) are more "torahdik" then the parents, then they have a right to pursue what they view as the more proper path, even if it is contrary to the parents wishes. Of course, most rabbeim will only act on such a belief sparingly, knowing full well that if they do this too much there'll be a serious backlash. But the fundamental basis for their acting this way (as in your examples) is the above perspective. They see themselves as serving the childs interests better than the parents. Parents may be parents but they don't always know what's best for the child (especially when it comes to their ruchniyus).

Even more disturbing than that is the parents who buy into that crap and absolve themselves of their parental responsibilities and effectively hand over their kids to the school to do with as they please.

Ben Avuyah said...

I think hedyot hits the nail on the head here. This is about control.

Several people in my graduating class, despite passing grades, were told they weren't ready for their diplomas yet. spend a few years in beis medrish then we will see...I was applying for graduate schools while they meandered through their lives still under the thumb of the menahel.

My best freind got his diploma with a question mark scribled on the back of it...

Be careful wolf,
You should know that the yeshivas tactic is going to be to isolate their student to only one point of veiw. I can't believe that is what you are a proponent of...your such a rational guy. Far be it from me to tell you what to do, but if you have raised your children with open minds, a yeshiva that is very constrictive may be difficult for them to accept.

Just a thought, I don't mean to offend, of course you know better than I the particulars of your family, but it is something to consider...

Insulation from curse words is great, Insulation from reality is a different story.

Anonymous said...

This may continue when your kids are "in the parshah" (ugh). Hilly Gross wrote an article several years ago saying that the rabbeim try to control this, too. I haven't had any personal experience with this.

MC Aryeh said...

Many parents actually seem to want yeshivas to be the sole religious authority - whether because of lack of time, lack of confidence or because they feel they are paying so much in tuition, they expect a hands on role from the school administration. I think if more parents didn't abdicate their responsibilities in providing their child with a religious path, yeshivot would not feel so emboldened to make demands.

queeniesmom said...

it's a version of control and indoctrination. 7th & 8th graders are very impressionable and easily swayed. so if your favorite teacher says something , you take notice. imagine the power if it is your rebbe or the menahal. in order to keep this type of control you need to control everthing. Nothing can be left to chance; hence meeting with the parents. once again the school reinforces or more accurately enforces their ideas of what is the proper derech. if you deviate from this derech you are not a good torah jew. this is the sad part because not all students are the same.

your right it is the golden rule, he who has the gold makes the rules in reverse. we need their services because of hascafah, so they can make whatever rules they want. realistically how many choices are there if you are looking for a certain hashkafah? the schools know this and do what they want. a number of the ones in my area have so-so secular ed but parents put up with it because that is the haskafah they seek.

what i have figured out is how did we evolve to the state of black hat ayattollahs, and such friction between various segments of the yeshiva world. i suppose that is a topic for another time.

good luck w/ the barmitzvah. mazal tov!

p_almonius said...

Hope your kids are out of school before they get the idea of putting a rule that forbids parents to blog.

Frummer????? said...

In a world where Yeshivas are becoming ever frummer, expect this problem to become worse and worse.

Watch all the institutions compete with each other, as to who can think up the most draconian rules.


BrooklynWolf you must pay full tution

Anonymous said...

but if you have raised your children with open minds, a yeshiva that is very constrictive may be difficult for them to accept.

What yeshiva out there is NOT constrictive? So I guess your option is to either stop teaching your kids to have an open mind or send them to a public school, right?

Anonymous said...

BTW...they really aren't too clear on our oldest's name anyway. I'll remind you that about 4 years ago they began to refer to him by a common nickname for his given name. That would be fine and well if we used that nickname, or if he liked it. However, you know that I absolutely hate when they call him that (or print it on all his school labels!!), and he really doesn't like it either. I wonder how they would feel if we would stop paying tuition for the nicknamed one. But, funny thing is, they do get his name right on bills...

PsychoToddler said...

Wolf, you may need to broaden your potential pool of institutions. Find one that you agree with a little more. It'll spare you from dealing with major conflict down the road.

Where I am, we have only one boys HS, and I'm sending two boys there now. It has moved a little farther to the right in terms of isolationism in the year since our first boy started and our second boy is starting.

They had previously outlawed internet, secular music, many books and magazines. This year they limited the hours when boys can go to the public library (presumably because of internet access), eliminated palm pilots (much to the chagrin of my older son, who had invested in a nice one), and have added ipods to the list of prohibited items (headphone listening is never allowed anyway).

In addition, they censor magazines and newspapers that the boys get. Boys cannot spend shabboses in houses where there are teenage girls (like mine until recently), TV or internet access. Of course, they can't tell me my son can't come home, but his roommate can't come with him.

I understand where all this comes from. Personally, I'm not too upset that my son can't spend hours upon hours surfing the net instead of doing his homework or going to beis medresh. I'm a little annoyed that I can't communicate with him via email or cell phone, but I deal with it. Some of the other stuff (cutting ads out of the newpapers or magazines) seems a little over the top but whatever.

For boys at least, there are many ways for them to get in trouble, and the Yeshivas are trying to limit those avenues whereever possible. Porn is everywhere on the net, and even if you don't go looking for it, it shows up in your mailbox. The old days of going down to the drug store and sneaking something out in a paper bag are gone for good.

However, they have to understand that at some point, these boys have to learn about self-discipline and how to be descriminating in the real world, and they won't learn it this way. I wonder if once they leave this opressive system they won't have a clue of what is appropriate and what isn't.

And at the point where they start telling ME how to live my life, they've crossed a line.

With the Bar Mitzvah thing: maybe they want input on what kind of hat your kid will wear or some other shtick?

M-n said...

"They had previously outlawed internet, secular music, many books and magazines. This year they limited the hours when boys can go to the public library (presumably because of internet access), eliminated palm pilots (much to the chagrin of my older son, who had invested in a nice one), and have added ipods to the list of prohibited items (headphone listening is never allowed anyway).

In addition, they censor magazines and newspapers that the boys get.

Ahhh, such fertile ground for growing recoverees. They'll reap what they've sown.

Anonymous said...

Was that supposed to be helpful or just plain mean-spirited.

M-n said...


Anonymous said...

When I send my kid off to school in a couple of years, I plan to do just what I used to do when I was in yeshiva: pretend I'm a goody-goody and then do whatever the heck I feel like.

BrooklynWolf said...

Alan -

It's not so much that the school's hashkafa differs from mine. It's that it seems to be part of a growing trend among yeshivos to try to assert authority in an area where they don't have business asserting that authority. It's not just my kids' yeshiva - it's many others. Mine, at least, isn't as bad as others that I've heard about.

Ben Avuyah -

Thanks for the warning. Truthfully, however, (as I mentioned above) there aren't too many places that I'd want to send my kid to begin with anyway. While this yeshiva is somewhat RW, it's considered "liberal" by many, many others. It's secular studies department, while far from perfect, is also better than that of many other yeshivos.

While they do have their preferences (they'd prefer it if kids didn't watch TV, etc.), at least they bow to reality and don't demand that parents get rid of their TVs, internet connections, etc.

Jeff -

That's exactly the approach I *wouldn't* take. I want my son to grow up honest and moral. Lying to break the rules is immoral. Period. If you voluntarily subject yourself to a set of rules, you are morally bound to uphold those rules.

That's why I don't take my sons to movies - not because I don't believe in them, but because the Yeshiva has a rule that their students cannot go to the movie theatre. Period. Sure I could take them to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and tell them to keep quiet about it in school - but what message am I really sending to my kids then? The message is that it's alright and OK to break the rules when you can get away with it. Sorry, but that's not the message that I want to send to them. So, they obey the yeshiva's rules, even if they personally disagree with them - that's the price of attendance.


I've actually considered that. But, truth to tell, there's not too much in an all-boys yeshiva (and yes, that's a must for us) that will be much "better" than we currently have.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

My plan if the time comes is to cross out all clauses in the contract that we don't agree or will not comply with.

By doing such, we will send a message about who is to raise our children (that is us, the school is there to assist us, not take over) and we will not be teaching dishonesty to our children.

I wonder if any school dares accept our children!?!?!?!

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>Many parents actually seem to want yeshivas to be the sole religious authority - whether because of lack of time, lack of confidence or because they feel they are paying so much in tuition, they expect a hands on role from the school administration.

That's true. In that sense it's a deal with the devil. The fact is that the Orthodox Jewish community has passed the buck from itself to the yeshiva as the primary institution in Jewish life. It manifests itself from adults having to have their bar mitzvah plans vetted by elementary school principals to adults volunterring to defer to academy heads.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>When I send my kid off to school in a couple of years, I plan to do just what I used to do when I was in yeshiva: pretend I'm a goody-goody and then do whatever the heck I feel like.

Jeff, that's all well and good. But doesn't it suck to have to live a double life? Its one thing to be forced to do it when you're 14, another when you're 35. Besides, sending your kids mixed messages won't turn out great.

Air Time said...

Wolf -

I know I am popping in kind of late here, but I thought I would add my two cents.

There are many reasons why we chose the school we did, but one of the reasons is we don't believe a school has any right to enforce rules on our kids when they are off school grounds.

If we feel something is appropriate for our children, we are not going to allow a school administrator to tell us it is not acceptable.

And we were not willing to do what many of friends do, which is sign the handbook and then live life as they please.

Rebeljew said...

One of me favorite rants, Wolf.

I favor signing and doing as you please within limits. The reason is obvious. If they disrespect me so much that they feel the need to control me or distrust what I do in my own home, I have just as much respect for the rule of their law. The yeshiva cannot survive without students and tuition. Who has the gold, and who makes the rules? On the other hand, if a PTO meeting with a democratically run procedure, where ALL the parents were involved, VOTED such restrictions, I would feel bound by signing. The disagreeable part is that the administrator is some kind of Rabinic authority on proper conduct in MY home, whereas I should have no say, in his perfect world.

Rebeljew said...


I do not have TV or go to movies personally.

Rebeljew said...

Most yeshivas just use this as a springboard to deal with complaints. A rich family complains that his kids come home chanting stuff from movies because they get it from Chayim, who goes to movies. The hanhala can do nothing about it. Hence the rationale for the restrictions. That is why it should be handled democratically. If it truly is the parents demands, and not some hanhala power trip or some bug up the *** of one rich guy, then allow a vote.