"Eylu v'Eylu": A Case for Jewish Education

by: Steve Bailey

Eylu v’Eylu“: A Case for Jewish Education
Young Israel, Los Angeles Debate, 1993

By: Steve Bailey, Ph.D.
Director, Shalhevet High School

Reprinted here with permission.

About 50 years ago, Rav Shimon Schwab, z”l, who was the Rav of the Frankfort Kehila in Washington Heights, published a pamphlet called “Eylu v’Eylu“, which presented two opposing viewpoints regarding a fundamental issue in Jewish education. One approach — which he called the “Torah only” position — argued to exclude secular learning from the curriculum of the yeshiva since such studies would reduce the total time for Torah learning which, they held, should occupy ideally all of one’s available time. The opposing position — Rav Schwab’s own view from his Hirschian tradition — argued for Torah im Derech Eretz which posited that a student of Torah needs to be well aware of the world in which he or she lives. This means that a yeshiva curriculum should include serious study of science, literature, art and culture — all of which serve to sensitize, enhance and deepen one’s knowledge and appreciation of Torah and allow one’s Jewish life to be lived fully and with meaning.

Why I mention this classic debate is that, although it deals with a different educational issue, it is instructive as a model for our current issue — the educational policy of learning in mixed classes vs. segregated schools. In the past debate of the “Torah only” position vs.Torah im Derech Eretz , the goal of both schools of thought was to achieve two goals. Both approaches sought to provide a policy which would result in the development of an educated, committed and religiously inspired Jew. Is this goal best accomplished through study of Torah exclusively or by combining Torah study with the study of secular knowledge? As a second goal, both schools sought to avoid that which would threaten or diminish one’s dedication to Torah and mitzvot. Would exposure to secular knowledge, which was non-Jewish and often un-Jewish, enhance or diminish one’s Torah learning? “Torah only” said it would diminish it. Rav Schwab’s conclusion, in the Hirschian tradition, was that educating boys and girls to become a “Mensch-Yisrael“—a complete Jew—was accomplished best throughTorah im Derech Eretz. Moreover, the accusation that secular learning was to be classified as “bitul Torah” (i.e., a waste of time that otherwise could be used for Torah learning) was unfounded. But at the end of his monograph, as the full title implied, “Eylu v’Eylu Divrei Elokim Chaim,” both positions were viewed as valid educational approaches—because there was no clear-cut halachic decision on an educational policy—although he, of course, favoured Torah im Derech Eretz.

In today’s talk, I am approaching our issue of segregated education vs. co-education the same way. Both policies—segregated classrooms and integrated classrooms—share the same goals. The shared positive goal is to produce a high school graduate, boy or girl, who is knowledgeable in Torah learning and inspired to commit to a meaningful, observant lifestyle. Is this better accomplished through segregated education or co-education? The shared second goal is to develop a young adult who rejects those contemporary cultural values which are incompatible to Torah values, in particular related to boy-girl relationships. Is this best accomplished by segregating boys and girls during the school day and teaching that boy-girl friendships at this stage are dangerous to one’s spiritual well-being or is normal adolescent friendships not to be avoided or castigated, but rather addressed within a school environment which represents Jewish values? Both positions are valid approaches to these goals—but we feel that for Torah education, especially in the Diaspora, boys and girls learning together in the same classroom is a better way to produce knowledgeable, committed Jews with a healthy, Jewishly ethical attitude towards relationships with the opposite gender.

TLet me state my case by approaching it from my areas of relative expertise: secular education, Jewish education and two decades of psychological practice. I am not discussing the issue through a halachic analysis, which is not my area of eligibility. Those interested in the ongoing debate might be interested in a pamphlet (1981), in Hebrew, by Rav Amnon Shapira, called, Chevrah M’urevet, written for B’nai Akiva.

Be that as it may, in this talk, I’d like to address three areas: education, social-emotional development and moral-spiritual development.

I. Education

The relatively small amount of research literature on segregated vs co-education has been complex and equivocal. Sort of a secular eylu v’eylu , where both have advantages and disadvantages as educational policy. In one large review study entitled, “Effects of attending single-sex and co-educational high schools on achievement, attitudes, behaviors and sex differences”, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology (1989), the abstract summarizes in the following words:

“Changes in a wide variety of outcomes during this critical sophomore-to-senior period were nearly unaffected by school type. Interpretations of this study contradict those of earlier studies that were also based on large nationally representative data bases, but the differences were apparently explicable in terms of methodological problems identified in the earlier studies”.

What one finds is that most of the disadvantages attributed to co-education stem from biased teaching methods used by uninformed or insensitive teachers, who fall into the trap of stereotyping students by gender. For example, such teachers call on boys more than girls in math and science and more on girls than boys in art and English. But, newer studies show that through teacher education and sensitization, these biases are easily neutralized. To be sure, there still are equivocal research findings and one can find some articles to support advantages of both types of education. Nevertheless, treating boys and girls as intellectually equal, with each gender contributing its intuitive slant to classroom discussions makes for a full, rich and varied classroom experience. A Jewish educator cannot help but experience a deep sense of satisfaction watching boys and girls debate a Talmudic case of law, together, where the boys argue for strict justice and the girls for understanding and compassion between the litigants. Typically, each group eventually comes to appreciate the other’s perspective.

II. Social-Emotional

What about the social and emotional development of the high school student? The question is: Which educational approach — segregation or co-education — is likely to produce a healthier attitude to adolescent sexuality and a healthy basis to adult sexuality, within Jewish values? Developmental psychologists as a group, regardless of particular theoretical orientation – argue for the necessity of confronting inevitable adolescent issues of self-esteem, self-image, relationships with parents and with peers, rather than avoiding, postponing, suppressing or denying these issues. Psychological growth cannot happen without psychological tension resulting from conflict and dilemma. Growth towards emotional maturity results from learning healthy ways of resolving inevitable dilemmas of adolescence. We believe — along with educators from Maimonides in Boston, Flatbush in New York and Ida Crown Academy in Chicago, to name a few — that in co-educational classrooms boys and girls learn to respect each other, to appreciate each other as people — rather than objects of the opposite sex — and to communicate better as fellow students. This daily natural exposure produces young men and women who are comfortable around each other as friends, study comfortably as classmates and relate comfortably as fellow Jews at youth group events, sports and social activities. In our non-segregated society, where boys and girls mix together naturally in all activities outside of school, it is unrealistic to believe that strictly segregating boys and girls during school hours will result in the best, most mature, resolution of adolescent emotional-social challenges.

III. Moral/Spiritual Dimension

This is the dimension most focused on in Jewish education. All of us agree that we live in a society in which sexual mores are most often antagonistic to Jewish values. All high school adolescents are inevitably exposed to these mores — and the values they represent — mostly through TV, video and film media, but also through the radio, newspaper, magazines and paperbacks. And through cruising the malls, attending rock concerts and sports events. The question to all Jewish educators is this: How are we going to compete with this exposure? How can we impact the daily cultural experience of the adolescent, with Jewish values, in a meaningful, persuasive way?

One strategy is to attempt to protect teenagers from exposure to the world around them by insulation, at least, and isolation, at best. In this approach, one attempts to prohibit the child from watching TV, listening to the radio or going to the movies, to malls or parks or concerts where one is exposed to teenagers acting inappropriately. Through insulation, one hopes that one’s son or daughter will somehow pass through the seven or eight years of adolescence without thoughts or doubts about themselves and their bodies, which may reflect negatively on their spiritual image. The fact is — in our contemporary internet/e-mail/cell-phone society — protecting our children by insulating or isolating just doesn’t work — like it or not. Our only hope is to convey to our adolescents, at home and in school, a sense of trust in us and our values so they can deal with their conflicts, doubts and natural processes with us in an open, receptive way.

This approach relates to one of the educational innovations at SHALHEVET. In our school, students are presented with a situational dilemma which requires them to choose what is the “right thing” to do. Being an orthodox school, the halacha represents the right thing to do when there is a conflict of values, but our method concentrates on the process of reaching the decision — not exclusively the decision itself. So that in a dilemma of life vs. property, the halacha will decide in favour of life. But rather than leave the issue and go on to something else, we are interested in teaching students how to critically analyse conflicting issues, how to debate from different perspectives, to articulate a position and acknowledge a poor judgement in favour of a more mature one. Confronting dilemmas allows students to eventually internalize mature moral reasoning so that when a new situation occurs — typically in real life outside of school — our students will be better equipped to deal with the dilemma when the halacha is not known or is non-decisive.

Moral dilemmas involving boy-girl relationships abound in adolescents — even in orthodox Jewish high schools, believe it or not. I don’t mean only dilemmas involving sexual issues, but those involving important friendships: there are issues of respect, honour, loyalty, trust and sensitivity as well as betrayal, hurtfulness, selfishness, anger and guilt. By confronting these issues in an open discussion, much like our moral dilemma discussions, without pre-judgments, adolescents can learn to develop a Jewishly moral standard during high school years. By being closed and judgmental to issues of relationships, parents and schools invite the possibility of distorted feelings and immature socialization which lasts well beyond adolescent years.

I’d like to share with you an excerpt from the booklet I mentioned before, Chevrah M’urevet, which records an interview with Rav Benny Berma, who was a B’nai Akiva sh’liach in Boston and a teacher of limudei kodesh in Maimonides school. Maimonides School in Boston, you are aware, was founded and operated by Rav Yosef Dov Soloveichik, z”l and his wife, z”l, for over thirty years and remains in ‘the family.’ The Soloveichik children were educated at Maimonides in co-ed classes for all subjects, Judaic and secular and the school remains co-educational to this day. Let me quote a few lines from the interview:

Question:

You yourself have been educated in Israel in segregated schools (“Netiv Meir” and the Hesder Yeshiva “Har Etzion“), and have taught in such schools. As such, how would you assess your experience teaching boys and girls together at Maimonides?

Answer:

There are two questions involved:
a) Does the fact that boys and girls learn together inside the classroom interfere with an atmosphere of serious learning and with learning in depth?
b) What does coeducation contribute to the personality – morally and otherwise – of the student? Also, how does coeducation affect the overall atmosphere of the Yeshiva?
I’ll answer these two questions through my personal experience:
As to the first question – definitely not! [Boys and girls learning together neither interferes with serious learning nor sacrifices the depth of learning]
As to the second question – coeducation causes the reduction of tension – sexual and social – and brings about a healthier and richer social life – both in and outside the Yeshiva.
In view of the alarming liberal attitude towards sex through out the United States, the educational approach of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveichik is outstanding. Only someone of the magnitude of Rav Soloveichik, who understood that we cannot escape from the reality of the world in which we live, but rather, have to confront it – could have established such a unique Yeshiva, with an innovative educational approach.
I can say, after serious consideration, and through my personal experience teaching in Maimonides – that the system is an absolute success. This educational system contributes greatly to the building of a moral and religious personality of each and every student, through the healthy and high moral level in the relationships between the boys and the girls.

To further develop this key issue of insulation vs confrontation, I’d like to quote an excerpt from an address given by the Rav, z”l, at a Mizrachi Convention. He spoke of “kedushat m’chitzot” and “kedushat kibbush,” the former expression, meaning literally “the sanctity of walls” refers to the sanctity of the Temple grounds by virtue of the Mikdash; and the second term, meaning the “sanctity of conquest” refers to the sanctity inherent in the land of Israel through the conquest of the land by the B’nai Yisrael. He used this halachic discussion in the first mishna of Kelim to express the following homiletic ideas:

The halacha recognizes two sanctifiers: conquest and walls…The wall sanctifies because a person separates himself from the world…The Temple sanctity is expressed in the sanctity of the personal domain. The sanctity of the land is effected by conquest. In order to conquer, it is impossible to enclose oneself within the four cubits of walls, within the personal domain. One has to go out in the street, meet the adversary and overcome him, subdue the enemy who is attacking or intends to attack. In conquest…the firm determination to…sanctify the secular is expressed, while with the sanctity of walls no contact with the secular is sought. One flees from it and remains alone with oneself…Today’s sanctifier is to be found in conquering life, not in removing oneself from it.

In the same vein one can understand the mishna in Avot which reads: “Ayzehu gibbor? Hakovesh et yitzro”: Who is the one who shows strength of character? It is one who conquers the yetzer – “hakovesh et yitzro”– not “ha’boreach m’yitzro,” one who flees from the yetzer. We believe that confronting the adolescent yetzer, rather than running from it, is what builds Jewish strength of character necessary for adult maturity.

Aside from educational, philosophical and psychological arguments, perhaps the strongest support for my perspective in this paper, comes from the students themselves. A few months ago, we had two small focused group discussions, led by a psychologist, to address the experience of co-education at SHALHEVET. We needed to know what the actual experience of the boys and girls was, so that we could assess the reality against the theory.

Both classes, independently, came up with the following three general observations, with virtually no dissent:

First, they stated that after a couple of weeks of experiencing some awkwardness, due to not knowing what to expect, they quickly adjusted to the experience of just being in school. Some of the girls admitted that they took some special care to wear nice clothes and put on some lipstick during the first few weeks, but after a short time, the preoccupation with appearance dissipated with a positive by-product for all students: both girls and boys stated that the very fact that boys and girls were together in the class motivated them to dress and act more appropriately and more socially acceptably than they did when they were in segregated classes. Also, although the boys and girls did not admit to conscious competitiveness, they admitted that the mild boy-girl competition in the classroom enhanced academic motivation on both sides.

Second, the students reported that the fact that boys and girls spoke to each other between classes and during breakfast and breaks, was — in their words — “no big deal.” They said that they talked to each other as friends and classmates, not as — again in their words — “that boy” or “that girl.” Interestingly, a number of students who have older siblings in other yeshiva high schools observed that there was a lot more preoccupation with flirting at sports and social events by the students in segregated schools and that the long evening phone conversations between opposite-sex students in segregated schools often left those students with a lot less time to do homework than our students had. When asked why they thought that happened, our students opined that since, in segregated schools, boys and girls talking together had to be done discreetly, lest they get into trouble, social interaction had to be carried on where it could not be monitored by the school.

Finally, our students observed that they actually do spend most of their time in same-gender groups. Girls tend to sit together at meals and during breaks, as do boys, and boys enjoy playing ball together or talking sports. But they all said that they feel comfortable joining each others’ tables to talk or study from time to time and that they feel good about themselves because there is no sense of being labelled “bad” when they comfortably interact with opposite-gender classmates.

Clearly, the students themselves recognized that when the stigma of prohibited social interaction between genders is removed, the incentive for surreptitious and unacceptable conduct becomes minimal, leaving a healthy regard for each other, and each other’s individuality, as people and as classmates.

I’d like to close with three summary points:

First: Whether you think it is for better or for worse, the fact is we live in a Jewish community which integrates social activities at all levels. To be sure, there are communities, Chassidic and otherwise, which lead consistently segregated lives. But this is not our modern Orthodox community. We sit together at bar- and bat-mitzvahs, banquets, public lectures and wedding celebrations. We work in our professions together and socialize in shul together after t’filot and at Shabbat meals, while our kids socialize in youth groups and sports activities. In this context, to argue that it is natural for the school environment to be segregated, is unpersuasive at best. We want our children to integrate what they learn at school into their real life out of school. To set up an artificial environment of segregating boys and girls educationally and socially is encouraging compartmentalization of Jewish living from the real life outside of school, a situation which is educationally and religiously unsound.

Second: It is far better that our high school adolescents learn to relate respectfully and sensitively to the opposite gender under the guidance and auspices of a Jewish school and its Judaic faculty than to attempt to teach Jewish values by prohibiting contact and having to catch and then chastise boys and girls who surreptitiously seek contact behind the back of school authorities.

Finally: Jewish law and Jewish life has nothing to fear from confronting the world in which we live and incorporating life experience within the parameters of Torah values. This is what the Rav has called “Kedushat kibbush”: Sanctification of the secular by confrontation and conquest.

The Lookstein Center