Chinuch Crisis: A Call for Action and Introspection

A Message from Harav Elya Brudny

As the Jewish community continues to grapple with the ramifications of the new New York State guidelines for religious and independent schools, Harav Elya Brudny, Rosh Yeshivah at Yeshivas Mir in Brooklyn, graciously agreed to share with Hamodia’s readership a Torah perspective on this crisis.

As is true regarding every aspect of our lives, we must turn to the Torah for guidance in how to deal with the gezeirah on chinuch that we are now facing in New York State.
In Parashas Vayishlach, we learned from Yaakov Avinu how to survive in galus. After learning that Esav is still filled with hatred against him and is coming toward him with 400 men, Yaakov Avinu readies himself in three ways: He sends tribute to appease Esav; he turns to the Ribbono shel Olam with a heartfelt tefillah; and he prepares for war.
“Rescue me, please from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esav,” Yaakov pleaded to Hashem. (Bereishis 32:12)
There are two faces to Edom, the nations that Esav founded. One is that of an “achi” —it acts like a brother to us and seemingly extends its hand in friendship. In such cases, Jews can easily forget that we are galus, and mingle with the nations and learn their ways.
Up until now, here in the United States, we have tasted the Edom of achi. Despite our best efforts to insulate ourselves from outside influence, the absence of any sort of mechitzos — barriers — between us and the secular society had devastating repercussions. Whatever success we did have in trying to create a shield of protection was shattered by technological innovations.
Sadly, even those whose devices are kept relatively kosher have been heavily affected by the secular culture. It isn’t that people are following the news; it’s that they are living the news. This means that they are “living” what is now transpiring in Washington, and are being influenced by the most disturbing level of meanness, the name-calling, the atmosphere in which “who can lie better” has become a science.
All this has broken down our own fabric, and it is all an integral part of galus.
Very rarely do we hear a reminder that we are in galus. The terrible attack in Pittsburgh was a reminder, R”l, but since that was committed by a single deranged anti-Semite, we didn’t relate to it as such.
What has now happened in New York State regarding the guidelines for secular education in the yeshivos is a powerful reminder that we are in galus.
Who would have imagined that in the state that has the largest Jewish population in the Diaspora, there would be a governmental edict that seeks to meddle in our ability to learn and teach Torah as we see fit? Yet, almost out of nowhere, after a few bad apples in our community complained to the authorities, something we never would have thought could happen here has become a reality.
If we didn’t recognize and internalize the reality of galus when it was it only achi, now Esav has taken off his mask of brotherhood and friendship.
These recently released new guidelines from the state are a terribly hostile and condescending move. The guidelines treat us far worse than second-rate. They are blind to our successes in every field, as well as to the fact that our current chinuch system produces wholesome individuals who walk the halls of government, graduates who are successful people in every field of endeavor.
They had no reason to do this to us other than hostility. Whether one chooses to describe it as disrespect for Am HaTorah, meridah baHakadosh Baruch Hu, or sinas HaTorah, it is an act of hostility. The fact that Jews are involved is no different from galus Yavan when the misyavnim carried the torch for the Yevanim.
While there is a leadership at the helm of the effort to respond to this crisis in the form of the various organizations who have taken up this cause — whether it is Agudah, Torah Umesorah, PEARLS, or one of the other organizations — the individual has to remember that the organizations are only as powerful as the people they are representing. If there won’t be a sense in the halls of power that these organizations actually represent a very aroused community, the effort will be greatly weakened.
It is vital that the grassroots be visible and obviously committed to this battle, for the messengers are only as powerful as those who send them.
There has to be an effort on numerous levels: We have to do everything possible to educate the olam about the sakanah of the mere notion of the government interfering in the way that we educate our children: It is poison. The concept that they will, Rachmana litzlan, dictate to us how much Torah to teach our students — this is something that we cannot tolerate.
At the same time, we have to remember that we are Jews in galus and we have to live according to the rules of galus. Within the context of being good citizens, there is much for us to do.
The first things of course are teshuvah and tefillah.
We don’t know for certain what message we are being sent and what is being demanded of us from Shamayim. But if there is a gezeirah against Torah, perhaps we have to strengthen our own commitment to Torah. If there is a gezeirah against the chinuch that is being given to our children in the yeshivos, perhaps we have to make a cheshbon hanefesh of what we are doing to enhance our children’s limud haTorah.
Our commitment to our children’s limud haTorah doesn’t mean leaving everything to the yeshivos.
Perhaps we are being sent a message that we are leaving too much to the yeshivos and not doing enough ourselves in regard to the chinuch of our children.
Are we being there enough for our youth in such spiritually daunting times?
Perhaps we are being sent a message that we are too integrated into the secular culture — and we are being reminded that we are in galus. If we want to be integrated with them it will be on their terms, not our terms — that is the dynamic of galus.
We must also apply the concept of the doron that Yaakov Avinu sent to appease Esav: We have to act with darkei shalom, and conduct ourselves as behooves Yidden in galus. Simply making rash statements and denying the reality that we are in exile is not the way. But within a recognition of the dynamics of galus, there is much that we can do.
There are various practical steps that members of the tzibbur may be called upon to join that are in the realm of hishtadlus. It may be a grassroots petition campaign, or perhaps at some point we will have to take much more dramatic steps. Much will depend on what will develop in the weeks, months and even years ahead.
It is crucial that we do not underestimate the danger of this edict that we are facing. There is a tendency by some to try to minimize the gravity of the situation and assume that nothing will happen and things will get resolved by themselves.
Unfortunately, in the past, whenever such dangerous winds were blowing against Klal Yisrael, the optimists were always proven wrong.
At the same time, we must bear in mind that Hashem imachem — when we are fighting for limud haTorah, Hashem is with us, and therefore we are on the winning side — but that is only if we are going to fight this battle.