Imagine that you and your spouse are deeply devoted to a lifestyle of only eating ‘health food’ and eschewing all forms of nosh. In fact, you feel so strongly about this that you both decide to raise your children with the healthful eating habits that you adopted.

When your first child was born, you began thinking about the best way to transmit this value to him. You realized that the first few years of his life will not present much difficulty. After all, you will be almost completely in control of his environment and the foods he is exposed to. You fully understand, however, that things will get far more challenging once he is enrolled in school, as he will progressively be in the presence of more and more of the junk food you want him to avoid.

At that early point in your new role as parents, there are basically two approaches you can embrace in order to pass on your healthful eating habits to the next generation. I like to think of these diverse mindsets in terms of If and When.

The If philosophy embraces the premise that If you can create the proper set of circumstances, you have a decent shot of protecting your children in perpetuity from negative junk food influences. The When mindset, on the other hand, assumes that despite your best If efforts, it is inevitable that your child will encounter any and all types of food throughout his life. Therefore, you channel your energy in preparing him for the When – the time when you will no longer be able to shield him from the elements.

If I may use another analogy; If is like creating a spaceship (an enclosed area where one can survive in an environment not conducive to human habitat), while When is more like a spacesuit (the type of protection that is portable and accompanies the person it protects.)

Should you decide to go the If route, you would simply eliminate your son’s exposure to junk food. That means no play-dates for your son in the homes of families that don’t share your eating habits, and no birthday parties where nosh is served. You might canvass the parent body of your son’s school for fathers and mothers who share your values and eventually start a ‘break-away’ school where all students will eat health food. If you are really into the If mindset, you might even decide to move to a neighborhood where all families are similar minded, travel on buses with health conscious people, and shop in stores that only carry foods you find acceptable.

Conversely, adopting the When outlook requires you to keep the long-term picture in mind from the very start and then work your way backwards. That means setting a far reaching goal of having your baby son eat well throughout his life – even When he matures into adulthood and starts his own family. To achieve that goal, you realize that you will really need to ‘sell’ the concept of healthy living to your son, not just limit his exposure to junk food. So you patiently teach him all about the human body, and devote a great deal of time explaining the rationale behind healthful living.

You would also do everything possible to encourage him to ask you any questions that come to his mind – even or especially those that challenge the philosophy you espouse. After all, you fully realize that he will, in all likelihood, be asking these questions as soon as the When stage of his life begins. With that in mind, you would much rather respond to them early on, lest they fester and erode his faith in your tradition later in life, when you have far less input into his life.

You would also do everything possible to make healthful living as attractive as possible to him, by preparing the tastiest meals from the foods you eat at home. And while you most certainly will quote research-based studies, that people who eat carefully have an enhanced quality of life and less illness, you will never make wild exaggerations and say things like, “All people who eat junk food die at a young age,” or “People who eat well never have any problems at all.” Why? Because you understand that this misinformation may carry the day in the If phase, but will never survive the When stage – and once your kids realize that you were less than truthful with them, they will turn cynical and perhaps reject even your accurate teachings.

As we do our very best to raise our children with healthy Torah values all the while surrounded by spiritual junk food, I suggest that we collectively and individually ask ourselves how much energy and passion we are devoting to If activities and how much to the When ones?

From my vantage point, a hybrid of the two approaches seems to be most logical and effective way to be mechanech our sons and daughters in these challenging times. For while only concentrating on When and allowing our children to be exposed to negative influences would be terribly irresponsible and harmful, relying on If only, is at least equally as dangerous.

Stepping back a bit; my generation was raised with very little If and a great deal of When, while increasingly over the past thirty years, we have, for all the right reasons and with the best of intentions, preoccupied ourselves with lots and lots of If. I think all the while, however, we let our guard down and looked the wrong way, as we’ve been neglecting the enduring When chinuch values that we got from our parents.

Could that possibly be a contributing factor to the growing list of problems we are having with our kids – many of which seemed to have been less of an issue to the children of our parents?

© 2008 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

This Post Has 33 Comments

  1. The challenge is that IF is far easier to do than WHEN. The IF approach puts everyone on automatic pilot (“Just say no”); the WHEN approach requires a more nuanced, thoughtful investment.
    Here’s a parenting question based upon the WHEN perspective: What are some guidelines for introducing children/teens to the metzius of the internet at a time when we still stand in a position to guide their perspective and understanding of its proper use? If I postpone their exposure indefinitely for the purpose of controlling their influences, I risk losing opportunities for guidance and I leave them without a compass when they stumble upon its realities. On the other hand, the internet is really not a territory I am excited for them to explore.

    If we are committed to the WHEN mahalach, let’s generate some discussion as to appropriate opportunities/standards of maturity/ideas to present/ideas to avoid when we inroduce our children to this reality.

  2. Regarding the use of internet, I have found that saying absolutely no all the time is not a healthy approach. I decided to install a filter so my children can have some limited access to the internet without seeing its seemier side. My girls like to do online browsing and shopping, and my younger children can have access to certain websites. What I love about the filter is that it actually works too much. When I want to access certain news sites, it doesn’t even allow me to view them. I would have to go through the hassle of adjusting my filter level, something I don’t care to do. It’s just as well, because I feel if my intermediate filter syas that something is not for me, than it is not for me. As for my children, one daughter balked that she could not view a Disney episode of some sort, but I reminded her of all the games she has access to and we agreed that she is B”H not being deprived.
    My kids understand that this filter is for the entire family and for our own benefit and so far, B”H they are accepting. Hatzlacha to you.

  3. I used to learn with Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky z”l. He once said that Monroe and New Square are very good for their inhabitants if they could stay there forever.
    However, if they had to leave, for example, to work in Manhattan, then tov mareh ainayim maihalech nofesh. The temptations of the new world will overwhelm this person.

  4. As RSRH puts it in his peirush on Chumash, someone who is sheltered from bad weather his whole life will inevitably catch cold the moment he exposed to it. (see what he says on vayeshev b’eretz hanegev, vayogor b’gror)

  5. For hundreds of residents of tightly insulated charedi/chassidish comunities, chances of confronting the big bad world are actually quite minimal and so for them the IF approach works quite well. of course, there is a small fallout, but for the most part the community members display exceeding refinement, aidelkeit, and temimus.
    Try talking to them about the “failures” who cannot find a comfortable fit within this narrow, rigid mold and witness a reaction that betrays deep rooted fear about sacrificing the community’s refined standards on behalf of what they view as a small minority.

    while my personal netiyah is toward the WHEN approach, i can certainly understand the psychological fears and defenses which are elicited in these sort of discussions. There is a beautiful, refined lifestyle–a priceless legacy fom past generations–which is felt to be at stake. Rather than risk this morasha with contaminants from the outside world, it feels safer to remain permanently within the daled amos of Monroe or New Square or Meah shearim.

  6. Each approach has its benefits and shortcomings. It is wise to be informed of all the negatives so that measures can be taken to prevent them. As Rabbi Horowitz stated, one will need to use both the IF and the WHEN anyway. It is best to do this with the maximum knowledge.
    One of the downsides of the IF, expressed by Anonymous #1, is that it is basically “Just Say No”. This has a very weak effect, as its strength is dependent on an internal motivation to say no. Ultimately, we strive to raise our children that they should desire what is good and detest what is not. I want my children to want to learn during every accessible moment, say chidushei Torah, have great midos, etc. However, the degree to which we can insulate our children from developing other motives is limited. I have always believed that the most successful approach is to provide stronger motivations for the children to make the right choices. Yes, help attract them to Torah and its ways. Not to concentrate on scaring them straight or to teach them to live a life that they would consider deprivation.

    When the “Just Say No to Drugs” campaign was launched many years ago, some scientists waited a while and researched its success. They found that this slogan had little impact on teenagers. When they asked them why they chose drugs, they simply noted, “What else is there to do?”

    We specify in Birchos HaTorah every morning, “Veha’arev noh es divrei Soroscho befinu” – make sweet the words of Torah, and we conclude with the request that HKB”H should help us with the permanence of Torah with our children and grandchildren. We cannot just hand this task over to HKB”H – it is incumbent on us to work diligently at making Torah the most important venture in life. When we want our kids to just say no, they need to have a reason why.

  7. Dr. Twerski writes that kids will respond to just say no with “what else is there to do.” To paraphrase, just say no is effective only if there are abundant options to say yes to

  8. The pathological reality we have created with our own two hands is that there does exist an extremely powerful motivator to ‘just say no,’ and this motivation ensures that we all, for the most part, keep in the straightest of lines.
    The dynamics of the shidduch system as it stands motivates even pre-adolescent girls to ‘just say no’ to dessert, our adolescent boys to reject traditional summer camps in favor of more demanding full-time learning camps (at age 14!), some of our Bais Yaaov high-school graduates to attend seminary in Eretz Yisroel when in fact they may neither genuinely wish to nor can afford the exhorbitant price tag, our young men to turn down educational opporunities when the are clearly ill-suited for long-term kollel learning, etc, etc, etc. Thanks to this powerful motivator, our societies-from Satmar Williamsburg to Flatbush, NY may look right (no dessert does help…)but feel internally unhealthy, may refain from all activities that pas nisht but feel quite empty inside, and may do all the right things–for all the wrong reasons.

    “IF” we follow all the rules and play everything right, then we are protected and insulated from the specter of a sub-par shidduch, or worse, no shidduch at all.(Can this possibly be construed as bitachon that Hashem runs the world and is mezaveg zivugim?)

    So,yes, Dr. Twersi, though you certainly don’t need my haskama, you are 100% right about the incredible power of motivation.

  9. I don’t believe they do that for shidduchim purposes. They don’t need to. They are most likely to choose a masmidim program because the “good boys” go there and the more “worldly” boys go to regular camp. Parents who want their boys to have good chaveirim and define that as the more serious, learning boys, will make this choice.

    In the Mirrer yeshiva in Brooklyn, the high school boys have a choice of two academic tracks, one that is accelerated so that by 12th grade there is only limudei kodesh, and the regular track. My relative chose the accelerated track for her son simply for the reason that the “good boys” (i.e. serious, smart, learners) are in it and she wants her son to be friends with them. Zero to do with shidduchim. Everything to do with friends and the environment she wants for him.

  10. When did “good boys” become defined as “serious smart learners?” I have a real problem with this definition. I think it fosters elitism, snobbism, smugness, and also destroys many really “good boys” who are not equipped by Hashem to be serious, smart learners. I also don’t believe that being a serious, smart learner necessarily has anything to do with middos, guarantees a kind, caring friend or husband, lies at the foundation of a good marriage, or says anything about the quality of one’s relationship to Hakadosh Boruch Hu. I am willing to bet that the population of serious, smart learners are not under-represented in the “frum” community of abusive husbands, of destructive parents, and of unpleasant neighbors, friends, and husbands.
    Just to clarify–this should not be construed chalilah as an indictment of serious, smart learners. Certainly, there is a tremendous zchus that can come along with being a “learner” and this is a zchus for which every Jewish mother and (potential) wife davens. But this in itself neither a ben-Torah nor a “good boy” make. At all.

    I definitely hear your qualification to my comment that the decisions about camp are not only about shidduchim, but rather about chinuch and environmental choices that parents select and your point is well taken. But, at the same time, i think we all have to take a step back and really think about what defines a good sevivah, a good child–and a good person. And I do maintain that a good deal of what generates our communal approaches to chinuch are inextricably linked to the shidduch process.

  11. Hi,
    ‘ I have always believed that the most successful approach is to provide stronger motivations for the children to make the right choices.’ – R. Twerski

    The problem is we are trying to ‘ do’ to our kids by using extrinsic motivation instead of helping themselves to become self motivated , intrinsicly motivated to do the right things

    The problem with ‘ say No to drugs was the inability for kids to say No to people. You say no to people when your values ,self esteem and motivation are not contingent on the recognition of others.

    Kids can do the right things because they are internally motivated and not intrinsically motivated. They can feel compelled from the inside rather than being self determined in their choices.

    ‘But Deci and Ryan are not finished complicating our lives. Having shown that there are different kinds of motivation – extrinsic and intrinsic (which are not equally desirable), they go on to suggest that there are also different kinds of internalization (ditto). This is a possibility that few of us have considered; even an educator who can distinguish intrinsic from extrinsic will insist that children should be helped to internalize good values or behaviors, period. But what exactly is the nature of that internalization? On the one hand, a rule or standard can be swallowed whole, or “introjected,” so that it controls children from the inside: “Behaviors are performed because one ‘should’ do them, or because not doing so might engender anxiety, guilt, or loss of esteem.” On the other hand, internalization can take place more authentically, so the behavior is experienced as “volitional or self-determined.” It’s been fully integrated into one’s value structure and feels chosen.

    Thus, a student may study either because she knows she’s supposed to (and will feel lousy about herself if she doesn’t), or because she understands the benefits of doing so and wants to follow through even if it’s not always pleasurable.[20] This basic distinction has proved relevant to academics, sports, romantic love, generosity, political involvement, and religion – with research in each case demonstrating that the latter kind of internalization leads to better outcomes than the former.[21] With education in particular, it’s possible for teachers to promote the more positive version by minimizing “externally imposed evaluations, goals, rewards, and pressures” as well as proactively supporting students’ sense of autonomy.”[22]

    The moral of this story is that just because motivation is internal doesn’t mean it’s ideal. If kids feel controlled, even from within, they’re likely to be conflicted, unhappy, and perhaps less likely to succeed (at least by meaningful criteria) at whatever they’re doing. Dutiful students may be suffering from what the psychoanalyst Karen Horney famously called the “tyranny of the should” — to the point that they no longer know what they really want, or who they really are. So it is for teenagers who have mortgaged their present lives to the future: noses to the grindstone, perseverant to a fault, stressed to the max. High school is just preparation for college, and college consists of collecting credentials for whatever comes next. Nothing has any value, or provides any gratification, in itself. These students may be skilled test-takers and grade grubbers and gratification delayers, but they remind us just how mixed the blessing of self-discipline can be. ‘ – from an essay by Alfie Kohn – Why self discipline is overrated

  12. There was a story in the Yated a few months ago (R’ Avrohom Birnbaum or one of those columnists)about a menahel who was complaining to a camp director that there were no “good boys” among the counselors. The director said, I’m not the one who’s cut the summer zman and steered my “good boys” to masmidim camps instead of counseling.
    And think of how many fine fiftyish menahalim and roshei yeshiva spent years working in camp. And I’m sure they didn’t all come from Torah V’Daas.

  13. Part of the problem here is that making these mature choices requires strong, healthy self-esteem–something that parents lack as sorely as their children.In truth, parents are not always particularly interested in encouraging the process of honest, independent thought in their children; rather, they would like for their children to formulate decisions which conform to the system’s expectations (just as their own decisions do) and thereby reflect well upon them (or so they think).
    It is rare to witness adults who genuinely live by the courage of their convictions and so it should come as no surprise that our children lack the intrinsic motivation to identify what they feel is right–and follow through.

  14. I think my relative’s choice was well-thought out and correct. Because what are high school boys who are not interested in learning, interested in? Whatever that is, that’s not what I want for my son!
    As for middos – we have no reason to assume that the boys who are college or business bound are any finer and kinder than those who are headed for the beis medrash. Therefore, if I don’t want my kid to become a Rabbi Horowitz statistic, I will opt to direct my son towards where the serious learners are.

  15. 1.”I think my relative’s choice was well-thought out and correct.” Don’t know your relatives and even if i did, it would not be my place to analyze the wisdom of their personal decision. Of coure it is right to consider friends and influences when making chinuch decisions!May they be matzliach in whatever decisions they make for their children.
    2. “Because what are high school boys who are not interested in learning, interested in? Whatever that is, that’s not what I want for my son!” If your teenage boy is exclusively interested in learning to the exclusion of all else, then you indeed have a special zchus. But know that this is absolutely NOT the case for MOST of our boys. And if your son expresses interest in something unobjectionable outside the world of gemorah, i do so hope you will not making him feel bad about it or overlook an opportunity to teach him that everything in Hashem’s beautiful world can be sanctified leshem shomayim.

    3.”As for middos – we have no reason to assume that the boys who are college or business bound are any finer and kinder than those who are headed for the beis medrash.” Agreed. But nor is it logical to automatically assume the reverse.Genuine middos tovos are not easy to come by or to develop within ourelves.No matter where we are.

    4.”Therefore, if I don’t want my kid to become a Rabbi Horowitz statistic, I will opt to direct my son towards where the serious learners are.” I would love to hear from Rabbi Horowitz, Rabbi Twerski, and those in the field about this one. I don’t know if generally the at-risk statistics are lower in more “serious learner” yeshivos, but i do know that if we place a child in a place where the expectations and pressures exceed their abilities or don’t resonate with their interests–REGARDLESS OF WHAT INTERESTS YOU WOULD LIKE HIM TO HAVE–you are absolutely taking a weighty risk.

  16. While I cannot address a specific individual’s decision, I can speak to the general issues. The accelerated or academic tracks are wonderful options “for those that are appropriate for them”. Not every student can manage this with success. I have no problem demanding of those with the potential for success. However, to place a student with “average” potential in a program that is high pressure and requires skills that do not exist sets up this student for failure. There is little that can do as much damage to a young ego as being set up to fail.
    There is a point that there is sociological difference between the “learning boys” and the “worldly boys”. However, when students get placed in the advanced programs because of parents’ aspirations that are founded on image and reputation, not a matching of individual potential with a program, this expectation is diminished (if it was valid altogether).

    It is critical that we recognize the wisdom of Shlomo Hamelech, “Chanoch le’naar al pi darko” – train a child according to his way. Not every bochur can become a rosh yeshiva, and creating such aspirations in someone who cannot achieve that is incompetent. Our gedolim did not proclaim such an obligation, and Torah does not contain such a mandate.

    I do not know whether there is a difference in middos between any two labeled groups. The excelling in middos may not be dependent on any artificial ways we have of dividing or grouping kids. However, it is definitely dependent on making this a mission in chinuch (parents and yeshivas being equally responsible).

    What high school boys who are not interested in learning want – I don’t know either. I have met those who have other academic interests, others who want to work, and still others who gravitate to the pressures and influence of the street. The first two groups do not repel me, and sometimes these interests deserve encouragement. Again, I would not generalize, and wish that each individual could be judged on the merits of his own situation. But the systematic dismissal of a non-learning boy as being a misfit with poor middos, and as having non-kosher interests is simply unfounded. And no one can challenge me with being under-experienced or lacking knowledge about at-risk youth.

  17. “The excelling in middos…is definitely dependent on making this a mission in chinuch (parents and yeshivas being equally responsible).”
    Very often the problem which arises is that while the mechanchim and parents profess to value excellence in middos, generally this appears to be lip-service. Children who are showered with the greatest level of attention–winning prizes, recognition at graduation, and being repeatedly selected for privileges and important roles at school/yeshiva and at home are usually prized for their academic success.

    i’m sure everyone can provide their own relevant examples, but what comes to my mind is a situation that presented itself a number of years back when my daughter was in 8th grade. The star students gained easy entry into the high-schools of their choice. One very aidel, mature girl who was regarded by her classmates as the epitome of derech eretz and middos and, it bears mentioning, came from the finest, most Torahdig of homes, found herself–in June!– with absolutely no local high school to attend. The girls in the class themselves understood exactly what was going on–that within our system intellectual ability takes priority over what the girl is genuinely about. No lecture or shiur about middos will ever counterbalance the reality of what they learned from this experience.

    These priorities are carried into adulthood.In conversations about shidduchim, I frequently hear references to the concept of “top boy” or “top girl,” and while i may have been naive years ago by now i understand that usually this expression strongly reflects academic ability and performance, at least on some level.

    A commitment to the mission of chinuch in middos requires that we as adults genuinely value that which we claim to. It means, for example, that when we open our child’s report card, we naturally gravitate immediately to the section that assesses the child’s conduct, derech eretz, and even the middos that support successful learning (hasmadoh). The actual grades in content areas should be secondary for BOTH the stronger and the weaker student.Prestigious awards at graduation and the granting of privileges such as GO positions should focus more upon middos than on grades.

    Then, when we talk about the primacy of middos and mentchlichkeit, our children may actually believe us. As the expression goes, children will do as we do, not as we say.

  18. By “accelerated” I understood it to mean in time, not so much in difficulty. In other words, they take the 9th grade math regent in 8th grade and so on, so they finish the math requirements in 9th and 10th grades, leaving a few other subjects for 11th and none for 12th. It seems to be more about spreading out the material or concentrating it and getting it over with sooner. It’s the same material covered.
    As for boys in high school who are not interested in learning, I did not say anything about an exclusive interest in learning with zero interest in anything else. (And how this got into personal advice for me, I don’t know, since I said nothing about my personal situation). The point is, these are the years when a bachur has no responsibilities other than his school work and when he can focus the maximum attention to his learning. If learning does not appeal to him in an environment in which learning is done for many hours a day, he has a major problem.

    As an adult, out of yeshiva, he can focus his time and energy on chesed and other beneficial, Yiddishe outlets, but in yeshiva, the focus is on learning.

    A high school boy whose attention is elsewhere, is a bachur whose yiras shomayim is likely to be compromised. You may think this is unfair to those who are not academically inclined, but fairness is not the issue here. I am merely explaining why the more serious learning track is a better seviva.

    The same is true for masmidim programs in camp vs. regular camp. There might be fine, sweet, aidel boys in a regular program, but the seviva is compromised when things other than Torah and Torah-related activities are a big portion of the day. If we believe that Torah is synonymous with life, if we accept all those pesukim that extol Torah as the best, sweetest, richest, most exalted pursuit, then the point is understood.

    As for those who are not academically inclined, hopefully, their parents will place them in an appropriate yeshiva in which the Rebbeim instill a love for learning that appeals to them.

    If we believe that every Jew has his chelek in Torah, we won’t write off those whose interests are seemingly elsewhere.

  19. Anonymous

    Have you ever been a teacher?
    When we accelerate and condense material or present it before children are cognitively prepared to process it, we, by definition, make things difficult. Our children are not robots designed to knock off one regent after the next in a race to the finish line before twelfth grade. Do we want them to learn, or do we want to feel yotzai gevein that we covered the official curriculum–and managed to do so in record time?

    Boruch Hashem,many of our children excel in their studies and breeze through their regents courses. Many, many others truly struggle–even with courses that are taught at grade level. We cannot afford to ignore these students and deny this reality when we design curricula.

    I am wondering, more generally: why do we want to finish everything before twelfth grade? What exactly is the rush?

  20. Just a thought

    I’m sure that I’m not the only one who wonders if the increased incidence of kids-at-risk is related to the demise of Zeirei and Pirchei groups.
    In the “good old days” there were constructive, Torahdik outlets for teen-age boys who may not have been at the top of their class academically, but had other talent and skills. They joined Zeirei and learned Safrus, how to blow Shofar (and then volunteered to blow for the homebound), wood-working (and built shtenders and put up Succas for others), had special Motzei Shabbos basketball games or game-nights followed by Melava Malkas,special Shiurim just for them, and most importantly, some of them became Pirchei leaders, and spent Shabbos afternoons as role models (saying over a D’var Torah on the Sedrah, telling stories, and playing games with the younger boys).

    This was a tremendous “self-esteem” booster — especially for those teenagers with the fragile egos, who maybe weren’t doing quite as well in Gemara as some of the other boys. They were valued and appreciated for the Chessed and Bein Adom Le’chaveiroh that they did.

    Nowadays, Zeirei groups have become extinct with the haskoma of the Yeshivos who look at Zeirei and Pirchei as “Bitul Z’man.” And the general prevailing attitude is that boys who have these “outside interests and talents” are (forgive me for saying this) bums.

    I wonder what would happen if we parents of Mesivta age boys, would go to their respective Menahalim, and request that they go to the Novominsker Rebbe, shlit”a and ask him to revive Zeirei Agudas Yisroel, and encourage boys to “give back to the Klall” by becoming Pirchei leaders (and summer camp counselors)instead of discouraging them from having any Klall involvement, because it might take them away from their learning. Historically, the people of our generation who are today’s Askonim, were the Pirchei and Zeirei boys when they were growing up.

    It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out, a correlation between the lack of Kosher programs to build self-esteem in our community for teenagers, and the rise of kids-at-risk.

  21. Anonymous

    “I am merely explaining why the more serious learning track is a better seviva.”
    What defines a good seviva?

    In my book, a good seviva is one that helps elicit the best within a person and fosters personal growth toward the long-term goal of achieving one’s optimal level of human development. Needless to say, ruchniyus is a major focus in these considerations.

    Because Hashem in His infinite wisdom created each human differently, the optimal environmental factors will vary from person to person. The ‘right’ seviva for one child will be absolutely catastrophic for the next. A child who is yet immature and playful, prone to restlessness, or simply not inclined to intense intellectual activity will WITHER within a demanding learning program. He will feel inadequate, resentful, and develop poor self-esteem.In such a case, the learning seviva will become a breeding ground for all sorts of behavioral problems. Ultimately, he will come to despise learning and carry negative associations throughout life. The mismatch between the child and the program defines this seviva of learning as completely detrimental to his ruchnius.

    Note that this VERY SAME CHILD, but a year-or less-later can suddenly grow mature and sufficiently motivated to handle and even thrive within the very same program. Within a short time, what was once a sub-optimal seviva becomes a catalyst for learning, growth, and inspiration.

    What i am trying to convey is that it is useless to talk about a “good seviva” in a vacuum; the definition has to relate to a particular child with a particular set of strengths, deficits, and inclinations, in a particular moment in time. And i would anticipate, although i could easily be mistaken, that anyone experienced with children would attest that teen-aged boys who are not cut out for an accelerated, intense learning track are closer to the norm than they are to representing a problematic fringe element.

    It’s very nice to cover x amount of blatt with seriousness and intensity. But not for the child who rather be pitching balls. In these formative years, the goal should be to develop a geshmak for learning within a warm environment. If we build positive associations and motivating learning experiences, then we are far more likely to create a lifelong learner who, as an adult, will WANT to learn and do so with a bren rather than with a burden of obligation. He may, be’ezras Hashem, become an accomplished talmid chochom. Even if he spent a good deal of his summer in the pool at age 14.

  22. Anonymous

    Rov Pam,zt’l, encouraged young bochurim to assume the leadership roles you desribe. He also felt that it was positive for boys to serve as counselors at summer camp for a variety of reasons, including the necessary role this served in the klal as well as the personal character growth that comes with the responsibility of a job. What a novel idea.

  23. I was always a bright student, gifted with academic success in everything that I touched. having a 158+ IQ generaly does that to you. I would voraciously read just about anything you handed me, however, I still could not sit and read all day.

    cause I was lonely. Even at the age of 5 and 6 I was lonely and thinking of wanting to be married. They talk about being so lonely that “his mind is not free”, and I truely understood. (nor was this, in retrospect because I wanted to do anything truly bad. I was rather tipid yeitzer hara wise, I spent time in a public highschool and did not get involved with any girls there at all and had no plans for anything innapropriate– they were neither jewish nor frum, and therefore not an option.)

    Yes it would be true to say that there were problems at home, but even a genius masmid doesn’t necesserily care to spend 14 hours a day learning the same gemorah. (or an entire day.) just because they enjoy, treasure and value torah does not mean that they don’t have other kosher interests that can help round out their knowledge and or personality.

  24. “The point is, these are the years when a bachur has no responsibilities other than his school work and when he can focus the maximum attention to his learning. If learning does not appeal to him in an environment in which learning is done for many hours a day, he has a major problem.”
    The teenage years are actually very difficult years,more so 4 some than others. There are lots of feelings, tensions, and anxieties to sort thru on the way 2 adulthood and it can really b quite hard to focus in the stress-free way u describe.Maybe even harder than an 4 an adult who may carry many responsibilities but has hopefully acquired the personal resources to cope.

    When u say “he has a major problem,” what do u mean? I would say WE have a major problem because if there are yechidim drowning within our system and falling bet the cracks w increasing frequency, it is not the children who are inadequate. it is the system we have built that requires adjustment.

  25. F you are wondering WHEN to start saying “VeSein Tal UMatar” in the Shmoneh Esrei in Chutz LaAretz, the time is tonight (December 4) at Maariv.
    For an explanation, please see Sefer “Taamei HaMinhagim UMekorei HaDinim.”

  26. Since 1) other school systems in other countries are more advanced, scholastically, than the US and 2)9th graders don’t have a great edge over 8th grades in their cognition,

    I don’t think that teaching the NY school system’s 9th grade math in 8th grade makes things any more difficult. I could be wrong, but I assume that 8th graders who have it hard, would have it hard in 9th too and those who do okay in 9th would do okay in 8th.

    Do we want them to learn, or do we want to feel yotzai gevein that we covered the official curriculum–and managed to do so in record time?
    For many parents and children in the Mirrer yeshiva, the answer is definitely to be yotzei covering the material and getting it over with. That is how limudei chol is treated. The parents want their children to be literate to some extent, but even those who want their kids to go on to college also want that degree to be yotzi, in order to have the paper that entitles them to certain jobs. They do not yearn for their children to study secular subjects “lishma”, for the sake of secular knowledge alone.

    I am wondering, more generally: why do we want to finish everything before twelfth grade? What exactly is the rush?
    Interestingly, my relative told me that the menahel himself said he doesn’t quite see the point since he hasn’t noticed any great gedolim emerging from the accelerated track. But the point seems to be as follows – Torah is what is important to us. Secular subjects have to be studied to make one’s way in this world and to satisfy government requirements. We want to develop a love for Torah study. We have no interest in developing a love for secular studies. If we can make our kids knowledgeable and satisfy govt. requirements more quickly, great. Then they can devote themselves fully to Torah study in 12th grade without the distraction of anything else.

  27. What defines a good seviva?
    A room full of sefarim is a good seviva …

    A good seviva is one that surrounds a person with kedusha.

    In my book, a good seviva is one that helps elicit the best within a person and fosters personal growth toward the long-term goal of achieving one’s optimal level of human development.
    That sounds like something out of a course on human development, except the word would be “environment” instead of “seviva.”

    Needless to say, ruchniyus is a major focus in these considerations.
    I think it’s the only focus, not merely a major focus.

    The ‘right’ seviva for one child will be absolutely catastrophic for the next.
    According to my definition, a good seviva is good for one and all, regardless as to who they are because I’ve defined it as an environment of kedusha.

    As I wrote above (#18), “As for those who are not academically inclined, hopefully, their parents will place them in an appropriate yeshiva in which the Rebbeim instill a love for learning that appeals to them.”

  28. Anonymous

    1.”A good seviva is one that surrounds a person with kedusha.” Not good enough. A good seviva has to create kedusha WITHIN the person and inspire his ruchniusdig growth . A room full of seforim may or may not accomplish that. If if it were that simple, Rabbi Horowitz would not be fielding so many calls from parents of children who flounder–despite spending their days in wonderful yeshivos (including the Mirrer!) brimming with seforim and echoing with kol Torah.

    2.”In my book, a good seviva is one that helps elicit the best within a person and fosters personal growth toward the long-term goal of achieving one’s optimal level of human development. That sounds like something out of a course on human development, except the word would be “environment” instead of “seviva.”

    In my book, human development is tantamount to spiritual growth. What can be more heilig than human development to its most refined level of functioning and behavior at which we can say ‘vatichasrehu me-at me-Elokim?’? Isn’t the Torah the ultimate guide to facilitating human development?

    3.””Needless to say, ruchniyus is a major focus in these considerations.”I think it’s the only focus, not merely a major focus.” Right on-you’re a million percent correct. Where i clearly differ in perspective from you is in my belief that normal, kosher interests and hobbies and activities that foster healthy self-esteem are an important means to achieving ruchnius growth.

    A prominent menahel in a very prestigious charedi yeshiva told me, “I could not possibly run the mesivta without the gym.” He was not promoting the development of NBA players; he was merely acknowledging the role of normal teen-age activities in building bnei Torah who are psychologically balanced and therefore motivated and confident in their pursuit of goals in learning and frumkeit.

    3.”As I wrote above (#18), “As for those who are not academically inclined, hopefully, their parents will place them in an appropriate yeshiva in which the Rebbeim instill a love for learning that appeals to them.” ” Yes, hopefully they will. What bothers me about this statement, however, is the implication that these boys who are not “academically inclined”–not well suited for the long hours and rigid expectations within the accelerated programs in our mainstream yeshivos (such as the Mirrer, for example)–are nebach cases who will just ‘hopefully’ somehow find their way within an alternative, off-beat, slower-paced yeshiva for sub-par boys. In reality, these boys are just normal, average boys! The boy who is genuinely academically inclined and cut out for late hours at the beis-medrash focusing on intricate sugios in gemorah is the exception, not the norm.

  29. Hi,
    “One cannot know Hashem if he does not know his inner-self, his soul and his body. For what could one who does not know the essence of his inner-self want with wisdom?” – Ibn Ezra Shemot 31:18

  30. “Since 1) other school systems in other countries are more advanced, scholastically, than the US and 2)9th graders don’t have a great edge over 8th grades in their cognition,
    I don’t think that teaching the NY school system’s 9th grade math in 8th grade makes things any more difficult. I could be wrong, but I assume that 8th graders who have it hard, would have it hard in 9th too and those who do okay in 9th would do okay in 8th. ”

    Your thinking betrays that you have no exerience at all in the classroom. In general, your comments sound picture-perfect and idealistic (a good seviva is a room full of seforim) but don’t relate to the practical chinuch issues of today. LO BASHAMAYIM HI.You are totally unrealistic.

  31. To demonstrate a concrete example of the point being brought out on this thread:
    I have two sons in the ages of 7-10, both of whom are, B”H, above average in terms of intelligence. However, one of them, let’s call him Reuvein, has a natural tendency towards hasmada, while the other, let’s call him Shimon, is a more restless type.

    Reuvein has done very well with Rebbeim who push the boys to concentrate intensely and achieve. Not only did Reuvein learn a lot, he was happy and enjoyed it. It’s helped him to develop a love for learning.

    With Shimon, we started to observe that, although he was managing to keep up as a result of his intelligence, he was clearly unhappy with the pressure and high expectations and was not getting a love for learning. This year, we decided to put him in the “lower class”, where the Rebbe does not cover as much and the boys are not from the homes where I would feel most comfortable, but we felt that the focus on geshmak as opposed to pressure would be better FOR HIM.

    B”H, the results have been gratifying, as he is doing well and developing a love for learning. I recently had a conversation with him where we talked about what things are important to him. He told me that “Things that are really important to me like Chumash and Mishnayos, I just remember them.” I don’t believe he would have reached this point had I been focused on putting him in a “good seviva”.

    The lesson is that we shouldn’t fall into the trap of defining certain things as objectively good and applying it to all boys (or girls for that matter). We need to explicitly frame the question in terms of what is best for that particular child. Only then will they truly internalize what they are being taught and develop into true bnei torah who believe in what they’re doing.

  32. Rabbi Horowitz, did your career as an askan and advice giver to the adult community ‘blossom’ after R’Elya was incapacitated?

  33. As always, right on the mark. I know too many “overly sheltered” yeshivish kids who have no tools whatever to deal with the outside world which we are a part of – so much so that when they see a non-Jew or a dark-skinned individual they comment, “look, it’s a bad guy.” 2 potential problems (not the least of which is a warped and improper “hashkafa” not in line with true Torah teachings): one is that they can make terrible chilul Ha-shem amongst the non-Jews wherein we treat them like scary, strange and threatening creatures, not like tzelem Elokim. The other is, as R’Horowitz mentioned, a serious rebellion and rejection of everything Torah when their interaction with the non-Jewish world proves the “truths” their parents taught them to be wrong (hence calling, as R’Horowitz said, even the accurate teachings into question).And, even if they end up taking Torah into the next generation, they may take it to the other extreme, focusing on the “when” while ignoring the “if.” I personally know an individual who, growing up, was told that Jews were good and non-Jews were, at best, suspect (and at worst, fill in the blanks). All of her questions, both at home and at school, were met with, “you don’t ask such questions!”, which of course created tremendous alienation and frustration on her part. As a young adult, she went to a community college for a technical degree so that she could make a living. There, she met people who blew all of the negative stereotypes about non-Jews out of the water. They were kind, sensitive, intelligent, thoughtful, caring, etc. In short, they were human (go figure!). In fact, they were a lot more pleasant to deal with and be around than a lot of the Jews she’d grown up with. And, gosh, they were a whole lot more fun to. Before long, she was dressing like…well, she was barely dressed. And living with a non-Jew. Even contemplated “marrying” him. Somehow, after much time and pain and effort and the guidance and unconditional concern and acceptance (and willingness to answer any and all questions) of an amazing rav, she returned to Torah. However, as a parent, she thought nothing of exposing her children to many influences completely inappropriate for a Torah home, and her teenaged daugher dresses in slinky dresses and high heels – not as an expression of rebellion so much as because she sees no inconsitency or any problem with it. And it doesn’t appear to bother her parents any either. Plus, in spite of each parent having at least one very positive relationship/experience with a rav, in general they do not enjoy (and their children are not taught) much reverence or respect for authority, be they teachers or rabbeim. It’s not easy to navigate the delicate balance between if and when, but it’s critical that we do so, and finding a competent, perceptive, sensitive rav who “gets it” as a constant “touchstone” and source for guidance and answerer or shaylos (about these issues when they arise) is absolutely critical. For whatever that’s worth.

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Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, Founding Dean of Monsey’s Yeshiva Darchei Noam and Director of The Center for Jewish Family Life, conducts child abuse prevention and parenting workshops internationally, and sponsors the Bnos’ One on One Big Sister Program with branches in seven states and Canada. He’s the author of two books, published the landmark children’s personal safety picture book Let’s Stay Safe!, which has been adapted into Yiddish and Hebrew, and the Bright Beginnings Chumash and Gemara Workbooks which helps children acquire Judaic Studies skills in a fun-filled manner. Rabbi Horowitz received the prestigious 2008 Covenant Award in recognition of his contribution to Jewish education.