“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” Alice asked.
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where –” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
The banner was prominently displayed in the full-color advertisement: “Instead of closing ranks – It is important that we learn to get along!” And there was a picture of smiling parents who chose to register their sweet children for “mixed education” – where both religious and irreligious children study. “Let them study together without giving up what is important to you and your identity… Get to know the others without having any fear…” These were some of the proud slogans which appeared further on in the ad.
There can be no doubt that this phenomenon is related to an element of truth that goes straight to our hearts. Who can refuse to identify with the deep desire to be linked to the nation of Yisrael at all its levels? Who would not want to tear down the walls of estrangement and enmity that exist among the different sectors of our nation? However, does this really mean that we must mix the educational systems in as young a grade as kindergarten? The answer is a resounding NO!
A Supermarket of Ideas
I wrote the following notes as one who served in the IDF with irreligious people, studied with them in the university, and lived for many years in a town which was mostly populated by irreligious people. I sincerely believe that “we are all brothers” – that we are all united by the beat of a single Jewish soul, and that unity of Yisrael is an ultimate value.
However, mixed schools do not bring us any closer to attaining this goal. Rather, they only serve to move us further away from the ideal.
Why is this so? It is because it is impossible to educate with sincerity if we are not committed to our own truth in the ultimate sense. In the post-modern world, which has been taken over by pluralistic discussions which aggressively espouse multiple truths and grant legitimization to every irrational idea, it is almost dangerous to make the following statement: We believe with all our soul that “Moshe speaks the truth, and his Torah is the truth.” The choice of the Torah is not one possible reply to a multiple-choice test where all answers are acceptable. Rather, it is the only valid choice! For us, “Torah” is not simply another subject to be studied, together with arithmetic, English, and science. Torah is the core of our lives. It is the soul which makes waves in the sea of our lives, it shapes and guides our life. To study Judaism and to teach the faith means not only to impart information to the children and to make them acquainted with traditional folklore. It means to light within them a fiery flame and to inspire them with a spirit and a soul.
And this then brings up the question, as harsh as can be: Is it possible to teach children a love for Torah, spiritual excitement and dedication to the goal of observing the mitzvot, when in the same breath they are presented with a living and breathing alternative in the form of their dear friends who live in a very different lifestyle?
Is it possible to educate towards an obligation to the halacha and an acceptance of authority, when the children see with their own eyes the option of abandoning such a life in favor of a different way, which is presented as a legitimate lifestyle that commands equal respect and admiration?
Is it enough to find teachers who can provide a personal example in their behavior and knowledge, or must we search for people who will be a model and an object to be imitated in all walks of life?
These are all critical questions which must be addressed by anybody for whom the education of his or her children is a critical issue.
Encountering the “Secular” Alternative
Our Jewish identity, unity of the nation, and our links to our traditions are important to us. The question is whether the way to achieve our goals is to mix together children between the ages of 5 and 10 who will be divided into “prayer groups” and “meeting groups” and then join together only to be separated once again, or if this is a recipe for creating children full of internal contradictions and frustrations along with ambiguous identities. How should a seven-year-old girl feel when her friend brings something very tasty to school but she cannot eat it because “we are religious”? What should an eight-year-old boy think who knows that he is not allowed to desecrate the sanctity of Shabbat, even though his companion with whom he shares a desk at school has no such problem? Is there any way to teach a specific type of identity if you present to the students the idea that all of the identity types are equivalent and legitimate? And if we feel that the element of “inclusion” is so important, why is it selective and only valid for the irreligious ones? Why do we not apply it to our chareidi brothers? And what about the Christians and the Moslems? Aren’t world peace and the Divine love for all of G-d’s creatures important values too?
It goes without saying that we must show respect for every person on earth, for each one was created in the image of G-d. And we can learn a lot from many of our nonreligious brothers, specifically their good behavior patterns and their value systems. However, a “secular” life in terms of not observing the yoke of the Torah and the mitzvot is a serious error and a moral distortion, and it brings serious harm to the path and the mission of the nation of Yisrael.
Of course we do not want to raise children who are disconnected from life or isolated from the real world. We know that the moment will come when they will encounter alternative ways of living. The question is: At what stage will this happen? Will it be after the boy or girl has a well-developed personality, with a solid basis for behavior and a stable and clear faith, or will we confuse them before they have had a chance to build up their way of life? There is no problem to accept to religious schools students whose irreligious parents have chosen to send them to the schools, as long as the school maintains an educational and faithful line that is clear. However, it is not fair or wise to send children into a confused and contradictory mix with which they do not have the background or the ability to cope. There can be no doubt that the love for Yisrael and unity of the nation are exalted values, but whoever tries to love others before he or she had been taught to love the truth and themselves will eventually lose both sides of the coin.