Tuesday, October 28, 2008

More about the Tefillin Scandle

First of all, a big shout-out to all the visitors who got here from Life in Israel or DovBear, welcome to the club, feel free to stop by or leave a comment any time.

Before the Chagim I wrote about the high school student in Modi'in who was not allowed to bring his tefillin to school.

I said that I would follow up on the story, so here are further details as posted by a parent on the Modi'in list (as posted at the time):
1. The city spokeswoman said that a student IS allowed to bring his tefillin to school and use it privately (in a quiet corner of the library or empty classroom). However, a student is not allowed to *recruit* others. If other students want to join together, in a small group, they ARE allowed to do so. The emphasis is on not allowing an individual student to *recruit* others. The spokeswoman told me to also speak with the Education Minhal for further information.

2. I spoke with Tziona, secretary to the head of the Education Minhal. She was not aware of the article, or what had happened at the school. She said that she will check into the matter and provide us with an answer by Sunday.
Disregarding the rights and wrongs of the case, I think that the story points to a bigger problem within the Israeli Educational system. I think that the problem was best expressed by another secular parent on the Modi'in list who supported the school's move to ban Tefillin:
I can see where this "concern" comes from... parents who send their kids to secular schools do so as they do not want any extra religious curriculum or activities for their kids. Even though we respect the religious and what goes on in the religious schools we do no want religious activities to become part of a ritual in the secular school. Another example of this is when parents of kids in a secular school object to class run activities or birthday parties being held on a Friday night or a Saturday - unacceptable if the school is secular. Again this is not out of disrespect but rather a choice some of us made by not sending our kids to a religious school.
I think that there is a fundamental problem with her argument: There are no "Secular" schools in Israel; there are "State" (Mamlachti) schools. These schools cater to students from a wide variety of backgrounds who for one reason or another don't want to send their kids to "religious-state" (Mamlachti-Dati) schools (or private schools).

I think that the problem is that most Israelis don't fit neatly into one of 2 categories: "Dati" or "Chiloni"; a large majority of Israelis find themselves somewhere in the middle often categorized as "Traditional".

Almost all Israelis respect and observe at least some of the Jewish traditions for example have a Mezuah on their door, eat Matzah on Pessach, Make a Brit for their sons etc. Many many Israelis (particularly Sfardim) light Shabbat candles, keep some level of Kashrut, daven on a regular or semi-regular basis, keep Taharat Mishpacha, or accept many other mitzvot, even though they may not define themselves as "Religious/Dati".

Unfortunately when it comes to education, at least in Modi'in they have only two options at High School level: The Bnei Akiva Yeshiva, or State-High School. Neither of these options meet the requirements of these families.

This has two undesired effects:
  • Some kids go to a state high school where they are ridiculed or made to feel uncomfortable for any Jewish practices that they observe. This attitude is unfortunately not only from the students, but as we can see is also from the senior administration.
  • Other kids go to a Yeshiva, yet aren't comfortable with the structure of the yeshiva schedule. The yeshiva in Modi'in is doing the best to accommodate these students by providing different learning programs (long day, short day, shorter day), but the result is that the atmosphere on the yeshiva is more like a high school than a yeshiva, including many kids who don't regularly wear kippot or tzitzit.
What Modi'in needs is a religious high school that is not a yeshiva, possibly even co-ed. Or a school that follows the Tali model . This would help fill the gap for those people who appreciate Jewish tradition, but don't want to be confined to a Yeshiva environment. And most importantly, would help break down the artificial division between "Dati" and "Chiloni".

BTW - I am aware that Yachad is developing a high school program that would partially meet this need, and look forward to seeing that model grow and influence the city and the entire country.

PS - Two further points:
  • When my son heard about the Tefilin story he laughed as he said the exact opposite thing happened in his school. Yehoshua told me that one of the "traditional" kids in his class was being picked up by his older brother from Ironi Bet High School, when the Av Bayit (custodian) saw a kid show up with no Kipa and sporting an earring, he invited the kid into his office where he helped the young man put on Tefillin, possibly for the first time since his Bar Mitzva.

  • This story was similar to a case in Ramat Gan where the school forbade the students from Davening Mincha on school grounds. I believe in that case the official resolution was to allow the kids to leave school during a break to daven at a nearby Beit Knesst, however as there was no escort able to take them, they were in practice not allowed to go. From what I heard, the case almost went to court before the judge recommended to the principal that she should back down, as the judge was worried that he would be forced to make a precedent that the "secular" schools would not be happy with.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Truly Tragic Story

There's a lot going on right now on both the National (Think Chevron, Elections) and Global level (Think more elections), however I wanted to focus on a local Modi'in story that was published this week in the Yediot Modi'in newspaper which is publish by Yediot Achronot and distributed to all houses in Modi'in.

A summary of the story was published on YNet although the original story in print is much longer.

The story is the tragic tale of how a family in Modi'in lost their 16 year old son. How did they loose him, well it seems that he started attending classes at a local Beit Knesset (Migdal David) which was near there home. As a result of these classes he started becoming more observant, started keeping kosher and Shabbat. At first the family went along with it, but when he started wearing a kippa and Tzitizt they knew that things were getting out of hand. He even spent his entire summer learning in a Yeshiva when he could have been out doing "normal" things with his friends (hate to think what "normal" things 16 year olds get up to in Modi'in).

Anyway, the family decided that enough was enough and did what any loving rational family would do: confiscated his Tefillin, locked him in the house so that he couldn't sneak out to Beit Knesset, and took out a court order to prevent him going to the Yeshiva or being on contact with any of the Rabbis there.

However, in spite of this clear warm show of support and affection, the son sent a loving letter to his parents and ran away (in spite of being locked in the house without a key).
The mother did take the time to call the Rosh Yeshiva to lecture him that Honouring ones parents was the most important Mitzva in the Torah. The Rabbi seemed to agree that there was such a Mitzva, but for some reason didn't support her in her effort to confiscate the boy's Tefilin.

What was mind boggling to me is that the local media give the story 5 pages (as well as a full front-page picture), and are totally sympathetic to the mother without even asking her whether she thinks that she could have done anything else to show her love and support for her son, even if she didn't agree with his lifestyle choices.

Well, at least you can't argue that the local media aren't living up to their anti-religious reputation.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Can Someone help me with this Rashi?


It's hard getting back into routine after the chagim, a lot of stuff to catch up on including Daf Yomi, Nach Yomi, Parshat Shavua, Laundry and of course Work.

Quick question that I wanted to post before Shabbat, but ran out of time, but if there is anyone out there who can explain this Ikar Siftei Chachmim, PLEASE leave a comment.

In last week's Parsh (Berashit), Rashi has the following relatively simple-to-understand comment on the word ימים in Berashit 1:10:

קרא ימים - והלא ים אחד הוא אלא אינו דומה טעם דג העולה מן הים בעכו לדג העולה מן הים באספמיא

"Called SEAS" - but isn't there really only one "sea", however the taste of fish caught from the sea in Acco is different from a fish caught in the sea in Aspamia.

This Rashi seems pretty straightforward, the Pasuk uses the plural "ימים" because although there is only one ocean and all the oceans in the world a joined together, the ocean has different characteristics in different parts of the world as can be seen from the fact that fish from Acco taste different from fish from "Aspima" (I have no idea where Aspamia is).

So far so good. What I don't understand is why the Ikar Sftei Chachamim had to add the following comment -
דבאספמיא - הדגים טובים יותר
In Aspamia - The fish a tastier
What on earth did he mean by that comment? Is he trying to give shopping advice while buying fish? Why would that be printed in a standard Chumash.

Anyone got any ideas?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Chag Same'ach

With Chagim and Shabbat, I've had almost no time to blog, and probably wont until after chag, so just wanted to wish all my reders a חג שמח and very merry succot.

See you all at Z'cher L''Hakhel at the Kotel on Thursday, look out for me, I'll be the guy trying not to loose sight of four kids running in different directions.

Watchg this space, I'll be back after the chag.

PS - did anyone see where I put my Luluv holder? I'm sure that I didn't through it out after last succot...

Thursday, October 2, 2008

who's afraid of Tefillin?

Firstly, I hope all my readers had a meaningful and productive Rosh HaShana, and the new year has got off to a good start.
For those in Israel who use the Jewish date when writing cheques, please don't forget that we are now תשס"ט.

Also, for those reading today (Tzom Gedalya), I hope that you have an easy and meaningful fast. This year Tzom Gedaliya has taken on a new meaning for me as I recently started the OU's Nach Yomi project, and we recently finished Sefer Yerimayahu which gives a historical context to the assassination of Gedalya. For those looking for a simple project to take on for the new year, I would highly recommend checking out the Nach Yomi project, it takes a few minutes each day to review a chapter of Nach and within two years you will have covered all Nach.
(Additional details here: www.ouradio.org/nach/single/30890)

There were so many things that I had planned to blog about today, however there was one Modi'in-related news article that I didn't think that I could ignore - according to news report, a High School in Modi'in has banned students from putting on Tefillin on school grounds.
Here is Arutz 7's summary of the story:

(IsraelNN.com) Students at a secular school in the upscale city of Modi'in, located between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, have charged their high school principal with prohibiting them from putting on tefillin because he considers it "religious coercion." Planners of Modi'in foresaw the modern city as a bastion for secular Jews, but observant Jews nevertheless represent a significant portion of the population.

The dispute in the school broke out when students asked a classmate, who had donned tefillin before classes or during recess, to do the same. The principal allegedly told the students that they were carrying out missionary activity and that many parents do not want their children exposed to religious observance,
I love Arutz 7's description of Modii'n as "the upscale city of Modi'in, located between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem", didn't realize that this was an "upscale city", but I can't argue with the description of "between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem", sounds like a good name for a blog :)

More details of the Tefillin story were published on YNet and it's worth visiting that site just to read the comments.

Firstly I should say that I don't believe the story as printed, it makes no sense. I am sure that there are additional details that will come out in the following days, or the Principal will retract her decision and apologize. Notice that the principal didn't yet respond.

I also love the response of the unnamed official spokesperson:
"nothing is stopping those who wish to put on teffilin at the school privately and personally. The student was asked not to bring his tefillin to school ..."
So according to the spokesperson of the Modi'in Municipality, it's OK for the student to put on Tefilin in school, provided that you don't bring your Tefilin, or borrow Tefilin from a classmate.

Given that we have municpal elections in a few weeks, I would love to know who that spokesperson is before I cast my vote.

I'll keep an eye on the local Modi'in media, I'm sure in the next few days they'll have a follow-up article with additional details, Bli-Neder I'll post a follow up column as additional details come out.

Best Wishes for a G'mar Chatima Tova to my readers and all Klal Yisrael