Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum: Kids Need To Have Fun

Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum wrote an article which appeared in The Yeshiva World today. In it, he decries how it has become standard operating procedure to ban anything that is remotely fun. Concerts, trips, sports and other youth activities which are, in varying degrees, banned in our communities, should be allowed and encouraged in a kosher environment. He correctly points out that kids need an outlet for their energies (aside from learning) and that if one removes all such outlets, kids will find other outlets... and they will be far worse. If you don't allow kids to participate in sports or cultural activities and the like, then they will be gathering in pool halls in the Catskills. Or, as he succinctly puts it:

When sports and concerts are forbidden, and all forms of kosher entertainment are off limits, we are asking for trouble. If our kids can’t find a place to vent their energy within a kosher environment, then they will find it elsewhere.


In his article, he gives examples of times that he organized youth activities and met with resistance. In one case, he tried to have the boys in his Pirchei organization put on a play based on the book Family Aguilar. When people tried to have the play banned, the matter ended up being escalated to R. Moshe Feinstein. Instead of issuing a ban, R. Moshe gave it his blessing.

In another example, he arranged for a two-day trip to Washington at low cost for boys. The trip was going to be taken on the two days that the yeshivos gave off for Channukah. One Rosh Yeshiva wrote R. Teitelbaum a nasty letter accusing him of encouraging bittul Torah. Fortunately, R. Teitelbaum was able to fend him off.

It's very interesting that the difference between R. Teitelbaum's point of view and the point of view of others in our community is brought to my attention right now. Walter just began high school this week and it looks like he's going to have a great time there. He's encouraged about the learning programs, the secular education and the extracurricular activities. Indeed, when we went looking for a school, we purposely went looking for a place that had all three of these elements -- we wanted a school that had a great learning program that would keep him challenged and interested; we wanted a school with a quality secular studies department that would show him the possibilities that exist in our world, and a school that had supervised extracurricular activities for him to be able to channel his creative energies. I purposely didn't want to send him to a high school such as that I went to: where the learning was boring and uninteresting, where the secular studies were a joke, and the word "extracurricular" didn't exist because the school day went from 7:30 in the morning to 9:30 at night every day without variation; where the word "trip" didn't exist and the word "activity" might as well have been in Mongolian. In my old school, if it didn't involve learning, it shouldn't be done (although I suppose they did allow for some recreation -- boys were allowed to play basketball during recess). In looking for the type of school for Walter that recognizes that kids are kids and need kosher extracurricular activities, I find that I have explicitly rejected the opinions of the "banners" and embraced the opinion of R. Teitelbaum.

I can only be thankful that there are rabbis out there, like Rabbi Teitelbaum, who have not forgotten what it is to be a kid and to need an outlet for youthful energies.

The Wolf


PsychoToddler said...

I really enjoyed the article until he started bashing Jewish Rock. It's a little incongruous to his argument.

There are many of us for whom the standard Polka music that was Jewish music just doesn't say anything.

The whole point of Jewish Rock is that is provides a kosher way for those of us who enjoy good music (rock or whatever your taste) to listen to Jewish lyrics instead of sex and drugs.

I'm surprised he didn't follow through.

Otherwise, killer article.

Anonymous said...

So I guess Matisyahu and Schlock Rock are on his no-no list

Anonymous said...

Here here!!
And, IMHO, Shlock Rock is fantastic for the very reason PT has mentioned. I would never have listened to Cobain's(sp?) "Cocaine", but I love the "Amen" version. I happen to enjoy listening to non-Jewish music (Billy Joel, Five for Fighting), and I usually avoid most forms of Jewish music (acapella and Shlock rock being the exceptions to the rule).
I'm glad that Rabbi Teitlebaum recognizes the need for "kids to be kids", but I do wish that he would be a little more open minded in regards to Jewish rock.

Anonymous said...


In my yeshiva in E"Y one of the favorite lines of my mashgiach was, "There is no lashon kodesh word for "fun", ever think about that?"

My response, "No, not really."

BrooklynWolf said...

That has to be one of the silliest things I ever heard! There's no word for "cholent" either, yet he eats it!

Of course, you could have countered that there is a word for "to play."

The Wolf

Miriam said...

but wait, there are many many words for joy, simcha, chedva, ditza, etc etc etc....doesn't that count? These are varying ways that fun reflects in a person, no?

This article reminds me of a dvar Torah I heard once.. (not my words but..) Moshe Rabeinu became upset at the people -this is the last and final time it happened, because they were asking to enter the land and couldn't wait to fight for it. Then the Chumash goes on to show that Moshe gave over the ruling to Yehoshua. (i'm making it really short). Why? because, Moshe Rabeinu himself realized that he was upset with them out of routine -whenever they asked for things he knew it would be against Torah, Hashem, etc. Then when he realized how he was thinking, he realized it was time for a new leader for this new generation.

Sometimes I wonder if that is also the case for this generation. But I don't know.

But I do understand. My parents are from an old country and were VERY conservative about things. Not too much laughing, not too much crying, repressing emotions, etc.

Now, a grown woman with children of my own (B'H) I have a very spirited daughter that I am not used to. A part of me feels like squashing that very spiritedness in her, a part of me feels like its wrong to be so ....bright, alert, searching, etc. But I think I know better and I don't respond (unless she gets out of hand). I wonder if its the same with these rabbis vs Rabbi Teitalbaum? (sorry for the length)

Zev Stern said...

I wish R. Teitelbaum would have mentioned that adults also need to get out and get the muscles moving, the heart pumping and the blood flowing. Failure to do so will make you fat and lead to cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers. It can also make you impotent, since the arteries in the heart are not the only ones that clog with fat. Pfizer won't make a living off of fit athletic men.

Ezzie said...

Good post and good for R' Teitelbaum.

When I was in HS (PT will appreciate this), I was placed in charge of the intramural football league when I was a senior. The Rosh Yeshiva/principal cared strongly about the league, and was adamant that I try to get as many people as possible into it; he was very happy when all but 7 kids in the high school decided to join.

The same yeshiva rents out the JCC Thursday nights for the high school, and a local Jewish school's gym every Motzei Shabbos for the HS and BM guys. They also encourage playing ball during breaks. It's a lot healthier than banning.

Anonymous said...

--but wait, there are many many words for joy, simcha, chedva, ditza, etc etc etc....doesn't that count? These are varying ways that fun reflects in a person, no?
I think the point was that "fun" was being defined as a good time with/for no purpose, just as it's own goal.

--There's no word for "cholent" either, yet he eats it!
Yeah, my choice was usually "telephone".

Anonymous said...

There is definitely a counter-push in the Charedi world against the more extreme positions. Look at Mispochah magazine, R. Yaakov Horowitz and now R. Eli Teitlebaum. There is hope yet!

It is interesting to read many of the comments on YeshivaWorld from the Gdolim worshipers. It takes guts to stand up publicly against these types who will publicly lambaste your opinions in a holy war. I applaud Wolf and R. Teitlebaum for their convictions. Maybe one day I will be so brave.

BrooklynWolf said...

I applaud Wolf and R. Teitlebaum for their convictions. Maybe one day I will be so brave.

Thanks... but you know that to most people, I am anonymous. Not so brave after all. :)

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

UPDATE: It seems that took down the story.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

Well, not surprisingly, the article has officially been removed from the yeshiva world website. I guess the editors that were brave enough to first post it fell to political pressure. What a shame, but I think enough blogs picked it up for the message to hopefully resonate throught the jewish community.

bluke said...

Luckily for us you can't realy erase things from the internet. You can still see the article in Google's cache here:

PsychoToddler said...

A part of me feels like squashing that very spiritedness in her, a part of me feels like its wrong to be so

Miriam, it would be CRIMINAL to do that! That's what some of these rebbeim are trying to do! When I saw this happening to my daughter, I realized it was time for her to leave that school and move on.

We need to encourage our kids creativity, while at the same time channel it in a way that's consistent with frumkeit.

I will be the first to admit that it's easier said than done. When you walk the line it's hard to stay centered and not fall off to one side or another.

But I think if we try to squash or marginalize our best and brightest, what will be left will never be able to sustain us as a people.

Woodrow/Conservadox said...

I love the line about pool halls in the Catskills. All I can think of is the musical "The Music Man" (in which the title character tries to get people to invest in a boys' band to fight the menace of pool!)

Lyrics at

Anonymous said...

all i know is i was one of the guys at the pool hall and i had a good time

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Horowitz has posted the article completely intact:

Interesting things going on in the right wing!