Don’t Confuse Me With the Facts

There is a well-known witticism, “I made up my mind. Please don’t confuse me with the facts.”

This saying has been around since before this author was born, because human nature has been the same since even long before that. The phrase continues to be applicable today as well, as the follies of human nature seem to be with us to stay. As such, though the ridiculousness of sticking stubbornly to a preconceived and biased opinion in the face of openly contradictory facts has already been pointed out – through this witticism and others – people will still stick their heads in the sand rather than own up to the factual ludicrousness of their claims.

Rav Chaim Epstein zt”l would point to the hype and faith-like acceptance with which the latest secular educational ideas and methodologies are embraced and espoused by so many in our community as a prime example of the above. If an investor lost his entire investment – along with the monies of thousands of others – in every one of his past investments, would anyone care what he thinks about how best to invest in the future? If a doctor’s success rate is near-zero in a field where others have done far better, would anyone visit such a quack, let alone consider following his advice?

Surely not.

Yet, when it comes to educational methodologies and notions, then in our headlong rush to show that we are “sophisticated,” “enlightened” and “up-to-date,” we gladly spout and blindly embrace the latest studies and ideas whose actual, facts-on-the-ground success rate is not only zero, but far below that.

Any half-wit understands that education in America has been on a downhill skid for the last half a century. Americans perform far lower than their peers in comparable countries in basic reading, mathematics, history, science, etc. College kids spend their time partying, protesting imagined grievances, and embracing dangerous behaviors and empty causes. Their professors spend their time spouting inane rhetoric and wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on nonsensical studies. More and more doctors, nurses, engineers, technicians, and other professionals in America are foreign-born nationals simply because there are not enough educated Americans.

The American school system, the educational system, the family unit, the value system, the decency indicators – all are failing abysmally. From a purely investment point of view, not a single one of us would invest a red cent in anyone who has had anything to do with the educational ideas, tweaks or changes put into the American system in the last half a century. While on paper or in a lecture hall the ideas may have sounded amazing – replacing discipline with more “lovey-dovey” methods, doing away with competitiveness, doing away with marks, et al – and the pros and cons can be debated perhaps ad infinitum, the facts – those cold, cruel facts – are that, for whatever reason, the system put in place by these people has failed. Not simply failed, but failed dizzyingly and spectacularly, taking an entire generation down with it.
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Why would anyone still embrace or parrot, with near-religious fervor, these studies, notions and ideas?

The only reason would be if we’ve made up our minds and do not wish to be bothered with those inconvenient facts.

(Before the usual knee-jerk reactions come pouring in, let me stress that I am not suggesting that there are no new ideas that may have worked and therefore may or should – Torah-permitting – be tried in our communities as well. The point is that regarding those ideas that have failed miserably in the real world, and whose proponents, for all their hypothesizing, cannot point to a single real-life success, embracing them purely for the sake of feeling sophisticated or progressive is a case of having made up one’s mind despite the facts.)

This all came to mind recently upon reading a piece in London’s Feb. 18 Telegraph that was called to my attention. The piece was penned by an English female “maharat.” For those who may not be aware, “maharat” is the term conferred by the Open Orthodox movement to women upon their ordination. According to various sources, the movement does not award women the title rabbi or rabba “in order to appease the American Orthodox establishment.”

While we cannot speak for the establishment, personally, we believe in openness and honesty. If they mean to ordain somebody a rabbi, by all means, let them do so. The term rabbi – without knowing what its holder believes – has ceased to have any meaning for decades already. There are Reform women rabbis, Reconstructionist women rabbis, and this woman can be a rabbi right alongside them.

As an interesting aside, Yeshivat Maharat’s website proudly informs us that this woman was the first “woman to address a British Orthodox congregation at Kol Nidre,” after which, assumedly, the congregation ceased to be Orthodox. When asked what he thought about Orthodox Jews who steal, Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l famously responded that there is no such thing. One who steals is not an Orthodox Jew. By the same token, we can assume that a congregation with nothing more important to do on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar than spitting in the face of thousands of years of Jewish tradition and having a woman address them is hardly an Orthodox one.

Then again, perhaps they simply confused Kol Nidrei with Kol Isha…
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In any case, this woman sent the Telegraph an article about why Orthodox boys must be exposed to women – anything else is unhealthy. She is extremely disturbed by the “separation of [genders] in all communal spaces, and gender-segregated education from primary school onwards…” Moreover, she notes, horrified, “removal of women is not restricted to educational institutions, but has of late become standard practice in Ultra-Orthodox periodicals, brochures, and any form of communal media…”

This “creates a skewed and very unhealthy perception of reality,” she avers. “Women make up just over half of the general population. What lies in store for young men whose narrow world is almost entirely devoid of women? What attitudes and prejudices will they bring to bear when confronted with women in the real world, who represent a significant element of society?”

What, indeed?

Rabbi Dovid Gottleib, renowned lecturer and senior faculty member at Yeshiva Ohr Somayach in Yerushalayim – a man who received his Ph.D. in mathematical logic at Brandeis University and went on to become Professor of Philosophy at Johns Hopkins University – writes in his booklet, Living Up to the Truth, that from a purely sociological and quality of life standpoint, a Jew should become observant. “Given the concerns that people typically have,” he writes, “marriage and the family… freedom from addictions… crime, violent crime in particular… literacy, etc., the Torah way of life has a very good track record.”

He acknowledges, of course, that he is speaking “relatively, because no one is claiming that [the record] is perfect, but vis-a-vis the general society, if you would observe the phenomena the way a sociologist would observe it, plot a curve, and do a statistical analysis of the information, you would see that the incidence [of negatives in the Torah community] is much smaller” than in general society.

The official American divorce rate is at between 40 to 50 percent. Even those who argue that this number is wrong place it closer to 25 or 30 percent. The rate in our community – though each one is a tragedy and the numbers are rising the more we embrace and imitate secular lifestyles and expectations – is virtually non-existent when compared to the secular statistics. The same goes for whatever problems we have. While problems surely exist and must be dealt with, and while others love finding them, putting them on the front page and holding them up for all to see, the numbers are stunningly small compared to secular society.

Yes, there is a drop-out problem – a terrible drop-out problem – for example, and each person is a world unto themselves whom we must assist in any way we can. Before we attack “the system” for its failures, though, stop just one second and ask yourself: What is the non-drop-out rate? Do you know any system that produces numbers even near that?

While this woman rabbi from England might not like the facts, they remain that Torah Jews have separated their genders long before we’ve come to Western shores. Rather than “undermin[ing] any chance at empathy, which is so important in general and particularly in marital relationships,” as she opines is sure to happen, the facts are that – vis-à-vis any society that mixes its genders – we’ve enjoyed far more wonderful, loving and stable families and marriages.

This I’ve-made-up-my-mind-don’t-confuse-me-with-the-facts syndrome extends even beyond Jews and Judaism. The American, non-Jewish, public school classroom used to be gender-separate. The schools produced far better educated students during those years, and the practice was only changed due to political correctness. Indeed, The New York Times notes that “Single-gender education, common in the United States until the 19th century, when it fell into deep disfavor except in private or parochial schools, is on the rise again in public schools as educators seek ways to improve academic performance.”

The American Psychological Association quotes an expert who notes that “What we’re doing right now – pretending that gender doesn’t matter – is not working. We are losing ground.”

Again, these are the facts. In education, in marriage, in moral living, even secular society has done far better when they did as they knew was right, not as they wanted to pretend should be right. Our community did, and has done, even better than that. Why, one might wonder, are women truly not marginalized in a segregated society? This can be studied, and studies actually show how women are respected far more in such society, rather than denigrated as – the sad facts prove – they are in mixed, secular society.

One might wish to study Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch’s piece on The Jewish Woman (Collected Writings, Vol. VIII). In it, he disproves the age-old fallacious notion (a notion obviously still held onto dearly by some) that Torah Judaism relegates women to second-class status. He begins with the very creation of woman, created because man would be incomplete without her. He goes on to expound on Sarah, Rivka, Rochel and Leah; on Yocheved and Miriam; on the tzidkaniyos in whose merit we were redeemed from Egyptian bondage, the women who remained pure and unsullied even amidst the worst depravities of Egypt, whose mirrors were used for the holy kiyor in the Mishkan itself; on the wives who refused to hand over their jewelry to their husbands for the Eigel; on Chana, Devorah, Rus, Na’ami and the words of Aishes Chayil, the woman of valor described in Mishlei.

In the Telegraph piece, the female rabbi bemoans the “erasure of women from [our] society” and the lack of “female role models” for our boys. She declares that “it leaves impressionable young men with a deeply unhealthy perception of women.” One wonders what religion she is speaking of, for she – a self-proclaimed feminist – seems to have completely and curiously missed thousands of years of Jewish female role models with whom the average Orthodox boy and girl is acquainted since pre-school.

We, who believe in the wisdom of Torah – given by G-d – understand how living according to its precepts leads to the healthiest of lifestyles. After all, the same G-d Who gave us the Torah created the world and its many life forms. Only those who place a higher premium on progressive lifestyles than on Torah wisdom frown on the inconvenient facts that fail to jibe with the politically correct fantasy world they imagine.

Typically, the piece in the Telegraph fascinatingly states that the absence of women’s pictures has “of late become standard practice in Ultra-Orthodox periodicals, etc.” Archives of Orthodox Jewish periodicals and newspapers going back hundreds of years are readily available for any educated person who wishes to peruse them. Whether halachically mandated or not, the practice of “Ultra-Orthodox” papers not including women’s photos is nearly universal and goes as far back as the archives go. As such, to label this as some sort of new practice and wonder what terribly tragic results will ensue indicates an ignorance of the subject matter upon which one pretends to opine.

Incidentally, there has been some noise of late in the Readers Write section of this paper with regard to this same subject as well. Some, it seems, have trouble falling asleep after reading a paper with not one picture of a woman in it. In one notable letter, the writer even complained of being forced to conform to the chumros of others. Personally, I would love to find out who is forcing this poor fellow to buy the paper. If we could track him down, we could open a paper of our own and have this guy force everyone to buy it. There could be some money in that. Unfortunately, I have yet to find anyone who forces others to buy any sort of paper.

Additionally, while we might question the nature of one who has little to focus on but half an arm that may possibly belong to a woman which appeared – inadvertently, mind you – in a photo on page 172 of the paper, we equally question the nature of one so disturbed by a picture of a woman that wasn’t printed. Is it a chumrah? Perhaps it’s a kulah to publish such photos. Either way, frum papers have published for many, many years without such photos and one doubts the absence has left a void in anyone’s life.

What is clear is that only one with an agenda to push – such as a congregation needing a woman to address them before Kol Nidrei – can ignore facts and fabricate issues so deftly. What is clear as well is that we can state unequivocally that of the many issues facing Klal Yisroel, this is not one of them!