Monday, May 14, 2007

Jewish Education Works!

People often complain about what's wrong with Jewish education. Why doesn't it work? Here's a true story about Jewish education that worked.

Outside Ben Gurion airport arrivals, I'm on a long line waiting for the Nesher shared taxi to Jerusalem. The dispatcher, walking up and down the line, spots me.

"Are you going to Jerusalem" - "Yes"
"Are you traveling alone? - "Yes"
"OK, come with me."

Delighted about avoiding a long wait, I am ushered to the front Nesher! God is good to me today. As the driver takes my luggage, I notice a young woman leaving the taxi. She identifies her luggage in the back of the taxi, which is promptly removed.

As I enter the van I survey the scene and quickly figure out what had happened. The back row was occupied by three hareidi young men, with one seat left. The woman was unwelcome to sit next to them, and had to find place on a different taxi.

Moral dilemma: do I take the seat and enjoy my good fortune, or do I refuse to reap the fruits of an injustice done to another? I sat, and the taxi took off.

Conveying my good fortune to my wife I explain that I was the beneficiary of a magnificent hillul Hashem, and that I was feeling somewhat awkward (even as we sped homeward).

The young hareidi men apparently understood English, and when I hung up the phone (yes, I plead guilty to speaking on a cell phone in public) they challenged my description of the event as a hillul Hashem.

What was to me self-evident apparently needed some explanation, which for the next twenty minutes to half-hour I gladly proferred. It was very simple: If, as a result of my actions/interactions, another human being thinks more highly of the God of the Jews, then that is a kiddush Hashem. But if as a result of my actions/interactions they think less highly of the God of the Jews, then that is a hillul Hashem. Uncomfortable as they were by my formulation, especially since it suggested that their actions were anything less than laudatory, they provided a simple response - "but that's what we were taught! You're not permitted to sit next to a woman."

Now that's what I call effective Jewish education!

I offered an alternative lesson. I told an apocryphal story of R. Hayyim of Brisk who was visiting another European Rosh Yeshiva in his home. Suddenly, they heard the Polish maid singing. Fearing the prohibition of hearing a woman sing (kol isha), the Rosh Yeshiva got up to silence her. R. Hayyim intervened. "NO!", he said. "She works hard; singing eases her burden. Besides, she is allowed to sing. It is we who are forbidden to listen. We should leave the house." And they did.

My traveling partners understood. Red faced, they admitted that they had no need to compromise on the values they had learned without impinging on her place in that taxi. They could have found themselves another taxi that would have been more religiously suited to them.

And who says that Jewish education doesn't work?

1 comment:

  1. Chazak u'Varuch for speaking up. Most of us would have just sat there silent and allowed this type of behavior to continue unchecked.