Tolerance in the Religious Zionist Community

On Ynet, Yael Mishali writes about first meeting the parents at her son’s seventh-grade class at the yeshiva high school Nechalim. One mother asked that the yeshiva officially oppose mixed dancing at bar mitzvah celebrations, so that the boys can avoid temptation. The mother asserted that mixed dancing is not in the “spirit of the yeshiva.”

Mishali dislikes the mother’s superior tone, and goes on to describe ways that parents send the message that families less stringent in Jewish law are inferior and should not be associated with. This could be because the mother doesn’t cover her hair, the kids watch Power Rangers, or even that the family waits “only” three hours between meat and dairy. She has watched as parents set up “torani” ganim (kindergartens) and schools, requiring strict levels of kashrut certification and more religious studies (she mentions requiring learning parshat shavua (weekly Torah portion) with Rashi’s commentary — in gan).
Mishali writes that she chose this yeshiva because it did not require a stringent dress code for parents. So she suggests that the mother in question teach her child to avoid temptation instead of expecting others to accommodate him, because he’ll be meeting these challenges in the real world. Temptations of all types abound even in the most stringent yeshiva environment.
It’s distressing to see our community focus on subtle differences and use them to exclude others. In one elementary school interview, a neighbor’s suitability was questioned because the husband studied in Yeshivat Har Etzion (considered the left of the political/religious spectrum). Do we need different (elementary!) schools for children of parents who want their children to attend Har Etzion, and those who aspire toward Merkaz Harav?
Thanks to Jameel and Rafi, who each sent me the link.


  1. I totally identify with the mother who complained. It’s halacha. She’s not trying to impose anything ridiculous.
    I would not want my children to go to bar mitzvah/bat mitzvah parties of their peers with mixed dancing either. It sends the message that it is okay.
    At the same time I want to be tolerant and I want everyone to be able to get a good education regardless of how his/her parents dress.

  2. mother in israel says

    Batya and Yael, the question is whether the yeshiva, which has a relatively tolerant admissions policy, should be asking the parents not to have mixed dancing at their simchas. Maybe they should talk to the boys about not participating in such dancing?

  3. This makes me sad. 🙁 I’m dreading having to deal with this issue, but we’re coming up to our first round of kita aleph next year.
    The choice for us here in Ranaana is Noam (chardal) or the local Mamads, which definitely have a mixed population.
    I will fully admit, in the spirit of Elul, that I’m not immune to these feelings. In principle, I want my daughter to go to school with a range of children. In reality, it worries me a bit, although more from the social attitude standpoint then a religious standpoint. I see a lot cliquey girls who go to the local school and come to the park in the afternoon and all i can think is “I don’t want these girls to be Avital’s friends”.

  4. You’re looking for trouble here. There’s no comparisan between a yeshiva, MMD, being asked to keep basic Torah Laws, such as “negiya” and the other case which is superficial political stuff–which shouldn’t happen. At least here in a yishuv, the elementary school is for all the kids.

  5. Hmm, I didn’t realize this was starting a debate and we had to choose sides.
    In which case, MII, I’m with you. Yael and Batya: it might be halacha, but I don’t see it as the school’s job to regulate families’ observance of halacha after school hours. What happens on school grounds and during school hours should adhere to normative practice of halacha. After school- not the school’s business.
    If parents don’t want to send their children to bar/bat mitzvahs with mixed dancing- that’s absolutely their prerogative. It’s just not the school’s.

  6. mother in israel says

    Rafi, she was a little strident. But I sympathize with her. As I sympathize with Abbi’s dilemma, and yours Yael.

  7. I was saddened by the tone of the article…
    Yet at the end of the day, the parent who was annoyed by mixed dancing should know better; a speech at a PTA meeting will only generate this sort of response and accomplish nothing.

  8. The school should take a stand.
    When we were on shlichut, another religious shaliach recommended a school for our oldest without mentioning that very few of the families were religious. Our eldest had only two other religious kids in her class. All of the others made traif birthday parties, and in London over 30 years ago, traif was very traif. Life would have been much better if we had sent her to a school which requested only kosher parties.

  9. Lion in Zion says

    i’ve been seeing a lot of blog posts and news articles over the past few years that allude to rightward and more insular trend in dati leumi circles, analogous to what is happening in america (or maybe i’m just paranoid). the yeshivah i attended in israel was going to close last year and its sister branch was also threatened with being closed down, attributed in the press to the rightward-turning DL community.
    to me it would make israel much less of an appealing place to live.
    i think one of my first comments on your blog was about a fight in your community whether or not to admit non-dati kids in a local school.

  10. Lion in Zion says

    “it worries me a bit, although more from the social attitude standpoint then a religious standpoint”
    as far as the religious standpoint, you went to ramaz with non-religious kids and grew up in a community that did not have such a large frum community, yet the end product seems to have turned out fine.
    i recently spoke with an old friend whose son is a few years ahead of mine in the same school. i mentioned that i might have preferred to send him to a different school, and the friend started going off about how it’s not good because there a lot of non-religious kids in the other school. meanwhile we both grew up together in as basically the only religious kids in our neighborhood and both attended schools that admitted non-religious kids. i won’t speak for myself, but he seems to have turned out fine despite his “handicaps”

  11. Perhaps its my reflection from being outside of the large jewish communities growing up, but I’m far more comfortable with my kids being the most ‘frum’ kids in a school with lots of non-frum kids than the opposite. Hence my children attend the local ma’mad which is probably 1/3 ‘shomer shabbat families”, 1/2 “sephardi masorti families”, and the rest a mix of ‘why did they choice the dati school?’ families who are there because they want their kids to get some religion, they like the school’s reputatio, they want more structure, its closest to their house or whatever other logic applies.
    Sure, they are sometimes put into awkward situations but i’ve been pleasantly suprised to see with just how much grace they have handled things – be it explaining to the completely non-religious neighbor kids that we don’t watch TV or use the computer on shabbat, to the more awkward realization my 9yr has had that some of his classmates are not frum and do things we don’t do (like eat ice cream in the local non-kosher McD). But I’m far more comfortable teaching him about differences and how to handle them now, when he’s in my home and has my support, than him facing them for the first time when he is far older and perhaps without the same network easily available.
    Sadly, however, this remark/question might be true. Not just due to intolerance
    “Do we need different (elementary!) schools for children of parents who want their children to attend Har Etzion, and those who aspire toward Merkaz Harav?”
    But mostly due to such different priorities – I don’t want to see my children’s school getting rid of english teaching, music, art and sports just to add more torah study hours! (Of course I’m the same mom who didn’t think there was an issue that the trom chova gam for 3 & 4yr olds didn’t have a melamed daily teaching chumash with rashi but made due with weekly 1 hour visits from a rav ha-gan – what can I say, my standards are low 🙂

  12. mother in israel says

    Going back to Batya–I agree with you that when your child goes to a religious school you should not make a non-kosher birthday party, nor hold it on Shabbat if guests are expected to drive. But where do you draw the line?
    Shoshana, yes, parents have different priorities for limudei kodesh but surely they can compromise on a few hours here and there so that everyone can study together. As I wrote in the most recent post, differences in educational outlook are not the main reason for the proliferation of schools–exclusion is.

  13. mother in israel says

    And Shoshana, I’m glad to see you bucking the trend.

  14. Israel and America aren’t the same.
    The aim of the Israeli system is “l’gabesh chevra,” a tough thing to translate into English. It’s a form of “conformity.” (Which could also be totally non-religious.)
    There are schools here which have the “aim” of providing a variety of students and no unified religious standards, but they’re the exception.
    Most schools have “standards,” and it’s important that the parents and the staff agree. If you’re not comfortable with the religious/social demands/standards of the school, then it’s the wrong school, unless the child insists on a different life-style than the parents.

  15. Batya- i don’t think what you’re saying applies to mamadim in large cities, at least not what I’ve seen and at least not at an elementary level. There is a range in these schools which is probably what makes many right leaning d’l uncomfortable.
    Yes, I agree 100% re: growing up diverse and wanting more right wing for your kids. If you think Ramaz was modern, it’s like the Mir compared to my “Orthodox” day school in CT. (It was Ortho in name but most kids weren’t so halachically inclined.
    I think it was a great upbringing. It helped me solidify my religious identity much more quickly than what i saw in my peers at Morasha, where i spent quite few dreaded summers.
    I dealt with quite a few non-kosher birthday parties (where I toted my own pizza bagels) and reform bat mitzvah parties on shabbat that i slept over at, complete with music/airline food for the kosher kids at the lunch. I was expose to a great deal at a young age and I was far from traumatized.

  16. I admit you are probably right that exclusivity is as much or more the issue than a few extra limudei kodesh hours. They don’t want their kids mixing with the local ‘riff-raff’ – I was rather offended when my son was offered a play date last year in gan from a local chardal family that said ‘E is the only boy that Yair can play with other than Moshe’. Wow, I got a teudat kashrut – my kid is good enough to play with the garin torani kids!!!! (Of course the mothers mostly ignore me anyway because of my little bit of hair showing, my excessive education and career, my husband’s education, the fact that I am happy to let my kids play with children who lack kippot… and so on and so on).
    But at least in our experiences with the local garin torani, its not just that exclusivity. Its also an actual very strong desire to limit limudei kol from the chardal, merkaz haravnicks. Sadly, I’m not joking about the request to eliminate all those ‘non-kodesh’ extras…. they’d want that even if the day was extended longer for limudei kodesh anyway because their goal is to make sure their children are not educated in a way to open the door to university later in life.

  17. Shoshana- i had a bit of contact with this type of community when i live in j-m. I sent my daughter to a waldorf type torani gan. I thought it was cool, there were a lot of nice people, very mixed. Then they started talking about separating the girls and boys in gan chova, and that the boys would have a rebbi, and that started to really turn me off. I’m sure the less religious families there must have been really thrown, because the gan definitely presented itself as inclusive, at least at the outset.
    Discussions about an intended school questioned whether it was necessary to learn science. I knew this would not be a school for our family.

  18. Thanks for the invite, MII.
    My general attitude is that it’s important for schools to have identities, but that the school oversteps its boundaries when it tries to impose upon and usurp the role of the parent. Of course, that’s not the way things work in this country. Schools accept or reject kids based on where the other kids in the family go to school, where the parents daven, whether there’s a tv in the home, or even based on graphology (pseudo-scientific handwriting analysis). it’s a disturbing trend. i hope it doesn’t tear society apart.

  19. So disturbed by the article, many of the comments, and what I see happening around me every day.
    How can we teach our kids to be respectful of people who are different, if we are not respectful ourselves?
    Yes, we must set limits, but the religious community is increasingly insulated and isolated, lest our child be exposed to someone, or something, that will sway him/her “off the path.”
    Maybe I’m just naive, but I wonder what is even meant by mixed dancing?
    I don’t think someone who sends their kids to yeshiva high school is having a party with disco dancing, a la the 1970’s.
    So, what’s the issue, someone’s simcha dancing includes ALL their aunts, uncles, and cousins?
    Why not look at this as an opportunity to teach your kid about your values, and how they might differ from other people’s? Why not capitalize on differences, to teach what is acceptable in your family?
    Being polite, doesn’t mean you condone what another person does.
    Attending a simcha, doesn’t mean you condone the way that simcha is done.
    Kids are smart.
    About a year ago, we all (kids included) attended the wedding of my very secular cousins. You can just imagine this “merkaz” (Gush Dan-merkaz, not the yeshiva) wedding, in the summer… My kids know that that is not how we celebrate.
    I feel my children got a valuable lesson about respect and love. We don’t reject people, just because they make different choices (even if their choices are “wrong.”)

  20. I’m with you MiI. Shoshanah has worded very well how I feel about the issue. I do not feel that it is right to equate instilling fear and rejection with instilling values.
    If the parents are coherent about their own values and teach the kids that “different people have different values but here is what we believe is right” there is no reason why kids won’t understand.
    Teaching about “klal Israel” but rejecting the very people you are supposed to see as your own people is at least as perplexing, if not more.

  21. Regular Anonymous says

    I live in a nice DL community. When I mentioned that my DD would be attending the local MMD instead of the torani where most neighborhood kids go, eyebrows were raised and shock was apparent. Ok, not everybody reacted that way, but it’s definitely an attitude of we don’t want our kids associating with anybody less religious than us.
    What interests me is how does this attitude connect to and deal with the dirty little secret that many families here kids OTD – from both the frummier and the more leniet families. Perhaps they plan to keep their children indoors so they won’t see the immodestly dressed teen-age girls or the boys with earrings and funny haircuts and no kipa. Perhaps X won’t be able to play with Y despite Y’s sterling character and mitzvah observance (same for his parents) because Y’s 17 year old brother tossed his kipa.
    It’s just too depressing. These attitudes will certainly not bring anybody closer to Hashem and shmirat mitzvot.

  22. MII:
    As you most likely know, the journalist who wrote the article is, how shall I say… a left-wing dati leumi lady. She’s coming from a more “pluralistic” outlook than, say, the mother who complained about the mixed dancing.
    My son has to attend such bar mitzvas. Has to, because the Rabbi of his class assigns which boys go to which bar mitzva on the nights where there are two. Has to, because the Rabbi won’t allow a boy to be left at his bar mitzva without friends to dance around him. Even if the celebrating family is not quite “up to snuff”. Even if there is mixed dancing, DJ music and plenty of smoking going on (this quite surprised me but life is life).
    Do you know why? It’s because the school recognizes that there is more hope for a child to advance in Torah and observance of Mitzvot if he is “mekubal” (accepted), than if he is shunned.
    Therefore, the Rabbi and the “good” (so to speak) boys hold their noses and go to these affairs. The Rabbi makes it known that this is not the type of affair that he condones, but he wants to be mesameach. My son comes home aghast at the music and the goings-on. Which means he knows what is right for him, while at the same time doing a bit of kiruv, in making his classmates feel accepted.

  23. Kol Hakavod Tamiri! Your son has a great Rav.
    I just love how so many frum people love to talk about kiruv, as long as it doesn’t get too close to them, and as long as they don’t have to get too close to the “kiruv target”. Pun completely intended.

  24. The school should be accepting of the children’s and parent’s ways of life and at the same time educate them what the halacha is.
    Generally in most cases I presume that mixed dancing would mean separate circles without a mehitza!

  25. Tamiri
    I wouldn’t equate a child’s “holding his nose” as being mekabel someone else, and being mesameach the chatan simcha, with a full heart. If that’s truly how “the good boys” feel, they shouldn’t go at all.
    As I wrote earlier in this thread, I have personally experienced joining non-frum smachot, when it was difficult, and sometimes painful to the point of tears, even as a tender 13 year old. I still would never want my daughter going to any party “holding her nose”. I would want her to go knowing full well how we celebrate our smachot, and how this might not be like our smachot, but I would still want her to go with a full heart. If she had any reservations, I wouldn’t want her to go.
    Nose holding should be reserved for skunks, smelly garbage and dirty diapers. Not bar mitzvah celebrations.

  26. B”H
    Mixed feelings here.
    The bottom line is that I dislike hypocrisy, both from the so-called right and the so-called left.
    That being said, I believe that there are times when heterogeneous groupings are appropriate, and their are times when they are not.
    Even though I probably align myself with that woman more than not, her snobbery is unnecessary.
    You can be strict w/o be schmucky, and can have more influence over others (if that’s your goal) by personal example, and with kindness, than by dictating to others what they should and shouldn’t do.
    It’s one thing to mention the name Rashi and one sentence from his first comments on Breshit. But that’s a far cry from “learning w/Rashi’s commentary.” My guess is that she was exaggerating, and probably had no idea what she’s talking about.
    Even those schools like Barqai and Zilberman’s which follow the Mishna precisely (Humash at 5, Mishna at 10, etc.) know to provide “commentary” at age appropriate levels.
    But about mixed dancing, I think the more important question is what are girls doing at a bar mitzvah party in the first place, besides a few family members and neighbors?
    I don’t think the yeshiva should ban such events. It’s none of their business. If that’s there goal, then they have to teach the boys their philosophy and remember it will get un-taught in many of the homes.
    Normally I’d say send your kids to different schools, but that can be expensive and far, and also how do you teach your kids to deal with the reality of the mentality of the diverse neighborhood?

  27. My son’s religious yeshiva enforces a “visit your classmate for shabbat” program, in which every student must spend shabbat as a classmates’.
    My son was rather shocked when the family he went to for shabbat was…”mixed” The father and brother’s were not shomer shabbat, but his classmate and mother and sisters were.
    To tell you the truth, I wasn’t thrilled my son went there for shabbat. At first, my son was very “dan lekaf zechut” that his friend’s father was talking on his cellphone on shabbat…maybe he’s a doctor or in the IDF that needs to talk on the phone for pikuach nefesh issues.
    (I carry multiple phones on shabbat, which I have used before for such reasons…)
    But it became very clear soon enough that it wasnt the case.

  28. Abbi: ‘I wouldn’t equate a child’s “holding his nose” as being mekabel someone else, and being mesameach the chatan simcha, with a full heart. If that’s truly how “the good boys” feel, they shouldn’t go at all.’
    Well, I did mean that figuratively but it’s also literal when you consider the smoking. I have more trouble with him sitting in a room full of inconsiderate smokers than with him seeing mixed dancing.
    Mark: Yes, the Rav is quite special. In fact, just this past Thursday my son and his friends attended a bar mitzva where the family is obviously “open”. There was no mechitza. The boys called the Rabbi during the simcha who instructed them to be mesameach the chatan bar mitzva even though lekatchila he would have rathered they don’t dance under those circumstances. That Rabbi is going to have many merits in the World to Come!

  29. Tamiri – I totally agree that your son’s rav sounds like he’s earning his olam ha-bah in spades! I only hope that as my boys get older, they find rabbis like that as mentors and examples! For as we repeatedly tell them, mentchlekeit comes first.
    Jameel – While i could certainly see the situation as awkward, it really does sound like an admirable program the yeshiva is trying to do. I suppose that a lot of the reaction depends on the background of the kids – living in a very mixed community, my kids are used to seeing friends who aren’t shomrei shabbat and their families, and mixed families as well (in terms of observance) so while it might be something they’d remark to me upon later, it wouldn’t phase them to run into it. But the suprise factor, if your son wasn’t warned in advance, I’m sure was great (and would be for my kids as well if they assumed they were going to a dati family). And the fact that he was initially thinking of why what he saw would be ‘allowed’ shows that you’ve done a good job raising a mentsch who doesn’t go judging people badly based on first impressions – be proud of him.
    I’m just warmed to hear these stories of schools where the kids are coming from families that might have these differences. Goes to show that hopefully our community is still willing to offer the education to all who want it – and the chance for all these kids and their families to grow in torah and learning.

  30. mother in israel says

    There are a lot of mixed families in our mamlachti dati school (state religious). It is a difficult situation to place a young teen in a house that is not completely shomer shabbat, without any warning.
    Ben-Yehuda, many times the entire Bnei Akiva snif (branch) is invited, including the girls. But I think the mixed dancing mainly involves the adults/relatives.

  31. “It’s distressing to see our community focus on subtle differences and use them to exclude others.”
    Beautifully stated — I couldn’t agree more.
    As someone who grew up in an “out-of-town” community, attended public school, and strives to live a more halachically observant lifestyle than the one in which she was raised, I would like to point out that the tone and attitude taken with families with less knowledge/observance can play a determining factor in whether or not these families pursue or abandon the path to additional knowledge and observance.
    The teachers and leaders who inspired me to learn more, and become more involved with halachic Judaism were people who treated everyone with warmth and respect — not just those Jews whose levels of observance matched their own.
    As a parent, I truly understand the desire to shield our kids from tough decisions and situations. However, I think that particularly by the age of bar/bat mitzvah, that our kids need to understand that people come in all levels of observance and knowledge and that our own personal behavior shouldn’t be relative to another person’s level of observance, but should instead be consistent with our own. In other words,ואהבתה לרעך כמוך (v’ahavta l’raicha et k’mocha/love another as yourself).
    It is possible to respectfully decline that which doesn’t match our personal comfort zone/standards — whether it be mixed dancing, kashrut, Shabbat observance, etc. As responsible parents, shouldn’t we seek to impart the ability to respectfully decline rather than simply shielding our kids from what is “out there?” Isn’t that part of our obligation vis-a-vis helping them assume responsibility for their own behavior?

  32. A Living Nadneyda says

    Zehava – I’m nodding my head in agreement with every word.
    Also RivkA.
    I grew up attending public school in the U.S. Our Orthodox community was too small to exclude anyone — we needed everyone!
    When you are surrounded by people who are different from you, it can enrich your life that much more, and help you to define who you really are, and what you believe.
    All this segregated education in Israel will doom us, if we don’t start acting out of confidence openness to the Other, instead of reacting out of fear and distrust.
    I wish I could depend on the school system in Israel to teach my children to embrace the people around them… but I know I can’t, so it is up to us as parents to teach them. G-d help us.