Friday, December 30, 2011
The Events in Beit Shemesh: A Hareidi Resident Speaks - Op-Eds - Israel National News
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Recording of tonight's shiur: :The Nachash and Beit Shemesh"
Monday, December 26, 2011
CrownHeights.info » Picture of the Day: 'Tis the Season for Mivtzoim
Monday, December 19, 2011
Revised Link: The Nachash and Chanukah, Erev Chanukah 5772
Conference Call Shiur Tonight: The Nachash and Chanukah
The Nachash and Chanukah,
Tonight (Monday), 11:00-11:30 pm EST
To join my conference call:
Dial: (209) 647-1600
When prompted, please enter:
Access Code: 435678#
Joining the Conference - At the scheduled date and time of the conference call, dial the conference line and enter the access code followed by the pound sign when prompted.
Thank you for using FreeConferenceCallHD.com!
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Web Shiur this Sunday on the Nachash
The Nachash in Gan Eden, Reality or Allegory?
Description: Interactive Web Shiur visiting the issues surrounding the Nachash before and after the sin and its penalty. Date & Time: Sunday, December 18th, 2011 at 11:00 pm EST Please register for the above meeting by visiting this link: http://YosefGavriel.enterthemeeting.com/m/FJ94EDPL
Once you have registered, we will send you the information you need to join the webinar.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
A Wonderful Post: A Jew in the Rain: Frogs and Spoons and Orthodox Jews
Frogs and Spoons and Orthodox Jews
But, I sometimes suspect that there is no one addressing the general public to make the point that "Orthodox" Judaism is
1. not necessarily urban, but organic, green, skookum, alive, warm, familial, and comfy
2. not small-minded, but deep and profound
3. not Establishment, but personal
...in sum, poetic.
4. unlike any other "organized religion" you've ever heard of.
It is a bit contradictory to create a blog to make this point, because the medium itself is inherently impersonal - I do not believe that blogs have the power to change their readers in the same way as books, let alone conversation with real people. If you have a choice, and if you do not find it too daunting, stop reading here and go to http://www.shabbat.com/ and sign up to meet real people.
Otherwise, keep reading, because you probably will not find any other Orthodox women spouting the details of their everyday lives to millions of strangers.
I have asked several people to contribute to the blog - so there will be many different voices behind the word "I".
The decision to try writing a blog came when I read a newspaper article interviewing an Orthodox rav. He said something about how we should all do what G-d wants us to.
An observant Jew reading this paper will see what the rav said, and understand that although the thought was not expressed poetically, there are mountains and rivers under that idea, and births and deaths, and frogs and spoons, and nostalgia and parties, and if you just add water to those words and stir, they will burst into flame like potassium.
The average person reading this particular paper sees sees the word "G-d" and turns the page. Next.
Too bad. Someone has to demonstrate that Torah is poetic.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Tuesday, November 08, 2011
YUTorah Online - Hesped for Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel (Rabbi Hershel Schachter)
Jewish Education Failures | YU Beacon
Jewish Education Failures
Posted on 07 November 2011. Tags: education, Jewish education
I am currently a freshman in Yeshiva College, and I plan to go into the field of Jewish Education. I am very set on this career choice, and no manner of attempted persuasion by well-meaning relatives who want me to go into a field more lucrative will veer me off my chosen course. Seeing my steadfastness, people will occasionally ask me why I have chosen this career path. I answer, usually, that my experiences in high school showed that the current situation is so unsustainable, so incredibly dire, that I feel I have no other choice. The failures that I saw were so highly problematic, and went so alarmingly unaddressed, I saw no choice but to go into Jewish education.
The story I like to tell that I feel pinpoints the problem begins in my Junior year of high school, when I noticed something interesting. Many conversations in my Judaic classes– shiur, Jewish History, Tanach– would inevitably veer off onto tangents of philosophical issues. People would want to know about whether the Biblical account of Bereishit was meant to be taken literally, the status of evolution, the validity of kabbalah, morality of certain mitzvos, divine authorship of the Torah, etc. These conversations would go on in class occasionally, and happen outside of class more often, in a setting where kids did not feel as if they were being judged on their religious observance if they asked a tough question. I also saw that there was no official forum for these kinds of conversations. There was nothing resembling a Hashkafa class, no official study of Jewish philosophical writings. Maybe the Rambam’s philosophy gets mentioned in Jewish History Class, maybe one of the rebbeim talks about a philosophical point on a tangent in class, but as far as an official forum for getting answers to questions on Judaism and gaining and understanding as to what it means to be Jewish, there was really nothing.
So, I, an idealistic sort, who had been brought up with an understanding that the answers to such questions are out there if you look for them, decided to try starting a Jewish Philosophy Club. My goal was to bring philosophical discussion into the school, provide a forum for kids to understand what Judaism and mitzvos actually mean, rather than what I should be doing now, which was something I saw they never got. The club never really got off the ground, as I could never get enough people to come to meetings, and we could never decide on what we honestly wanted to do. The natural reaction to this failure would be what many people told me, which was, “See, no one cares about philosophy.” And I sort of refused to believe that while pretty much accepting that conclusion, until one day, someone comes over to me, and asks me, excitedly, “You hear about the debate?”
“Debate? What debate?”
Turns out, after a number of tangents taken in shiurim and Jewish history classes, some of the kids had come to the conclusion that two of the rebbeim employed by the school had radically different philosophies. One of the kids (and I say this not to insult him to but to emphasize my point), not a serious student by any means, came up with the idea to have a debate between the two on issues of Divine Providence, not a lightweight philosophical subject by any means. The debate was a resounding success, and was well attended by all sectors of the school’s population. I joyfully realized that the failure of my club was not due to kids not being interested in philosophy, but in my own failure to present it. I went over to this kid, expressed my admiration for what he had done, and resolved to work with him to plan more debates in the future.
A while later, I met again with this kid, and we started to plan another debate. I went over to one of the rebbeim in the school, and ask him if he’d like to participate in a debate. He shook his head, no.
“I’m not allowed to,” he told me.
“What do you mean, not allowed to?” I asked incredulously. Why would they intentionally stifle an educational program?
“The administration feels it is unproductive to give students the impression there is divergence of opinion as to what the school holds.”
“What?” I responded. “They got that impression on their own, by listening in class! And who cares if they think there’s a ‘divergence of opinions’ about what the school holds? They didn’t have any idea about what the school held until now! Why would you intentionally frustrate a kid’s attempt to learn more?”
Soon afterwards, signs started to go up around the school, advertising a new club called the “Torah U’Madda Society.”Besides for the title, which was written in English, the description of the club was written entirely in Hebrew. I assumed the club had nothing to do with me, until I was told by one of my rebbeim that the administration had taken my idea for a Jewish Philosophy Club and modified it a bit. I was also told that I was allowed to come. “Why wouldn’t I be allowed to come?” I asked innocently. “Well,” he responded “It’s only open to members of the top shiurim, but because the club was basically your idea, we voted to allow you in.” Needless to say, this was not what I had intended the Jewish Philosophy Club to be. I intended it to be a forum for everyone to think about philosophical questions, not just the elite. The first meeting rolled around, and all of us attendees sat there, eating the free Chinese food given to us, as a program was outlined. We would have opprotunities to hear special guest speakers, and go on special trips to places like the Metropolitan Museum Of Art. We were to be given free books signed by their authors, and we could bring any topic up for discussion with “the society.” At last, I had enough. I raised my hand, and spoke up.
“This all sounds great, but by limiting the program to the top shiurim, you’re basically just preaching to the choir. Most of these kids know this stuff pretty well. If they don’t know this stuff well at all, then, as far as I can tell, it has not presented an obstacle to their religious observance. Meanwhile, we have kids in the lower shiurim with legitimate hashkafic issues, and their problems aren’t being addressed at all. These programs for the top classes are great, but maybe a guest speaker or two for the whole school would be a good idea?”
I was nearly laughed out of the whole meeting. “That’s a waste of our resources,” one rabbi said, “You think the lower shiurim have any interest in philosophy? We should spend our time teaching people who will listen to us.”
“They do have an interest in philosophy!” I protested. “What about that debate? Why did you put an end to the debates? They wanted to know more about Jewish Philosophy, and you ended it.”
“Please!” Was the dismissive response. “Those debates were not about wanting to know any more knowledge, they just wanted to see two rabbis fight. That’s why we stopped them.”
I was dumbfounded. First of all, the fact that they did have philosophical discussions both in and out of class clearly showed they were interested. Second of all, even if they were not at all, and the debates were the rabbinic equivalent of a wrestling match, it still was more than they would learn otherwise, and who really cared if their motives were impure? After all, it’s not like there were no Gemara tests, and all learning done in my high school was purely lishmah. Why do you need an intellectual purity test to learn some hashkafa? Third of all, by telling me they were only interested in teaching Jewish Philosophy to those who they knew would listen, they were implicitly telling me they did not care if three quarters of the school had no religious meaning to their lives whatsoever. That they were content if three quarters of the school had their philosophical questions unanswered.
Why this is, I’ve never truly understood. I mean, I understood it from a business angle. It made more sense to throw all your resources at a kid so that he goes to Harvard, and becomes a renown rabbi and lecturer from the stuff he learnt in Torah U’Madda Society, because now you can write in a brochure, “A product of our school went to Harvard and is renown Rabbi and lecturer.” It didn’t make business sense to sit with a kid, spend your energies explaining philosophical points to him, why this makes sense, why this is actually moral, so now he can feel that Judaism makes sense to him and he becomes a frum, god-fearing, insurance salesman. You can’t brag about insurance salesman in a brochure. My problem was I could not fathom that people entrusted with transmitting Jewish tradition had flat out given up on explaining it to most of the school. How this could possibly be, how rabbis could look at themselves in the mirror knowing they had not done all they can to help all of the students placed under their watch understand what God wants of them, was, and is beyond me. But that was the reality that I saw in my four years of high school. And it was a rude awakening.
However, my problems run deeper than that. It is bad enough that we are content with abandoning most of our population to their own philosophic devices. But, at least those kids who were invited to the Torah U’Madda Society will be great leaders, right? Wrong. First of all, by limiting ourselves to teaching those who will readily accept whatever we tell them is true, we risk alienating people who were smart enough to ignore us. Some of those kids sitting in the back, not caring about Gemara, do so not because they are stupid, but precisely because they are intelligent enough to not settle for a superficial education. By not even trying to reach those kids, we risk losing out on intelligent, original and creative contributions to Jewish thought, not to mention the fact that many educators have no idea how to react to students asking questions they never bothered to think about. I really believe that some of the greatest names in Jewish thought never would have come to our attention if put in our current educational system.
However, let’s, for a moment, fool ourselves into believing that every kid we fail to educate will amount to nothing anyway. Is there a still a problem? Absolutely. Because if you educate those kids who do well on your spit-back tests and do whatever they tell you, those kids in the top shiur, in an environment where it is believed they are of a higher priority, and deserve a better education than those less capable than themselves, they will come to believe it. If the school believes that the ultimate end goal of the school is the education of the most gifted, they will believe in their own education at the expense of others. If their school is not concerned about the kids in the lower shiurim, neither will they. While kids down the hall have no idea what a gemara is, they learn a Rav Chaim, unperturbed, because their school has long given up on those kids down the hall. The fact that there are Jewish people who do not know as much as they should, who have questions about Judaism that could be answered if anyone bothered to take the time, who forsake religion over questions that have good answers, does not bother them at all, because it never bothered their schools. As a result, we are in danger of having raised a generation of Jewish leaders that does not care about the Jewish people as much as they care about their own learning, leaders who lock themselves in their ivory towers so they can they can ignore the sounds of the people long enough to focus on their sugya. Maybe you think I’m exaggerating, but when I made that complaint at The Torah U’Madda Society Meeting, none of the students backed me up. None saw themselves as having any duty to educate their brethren. All of them insisted that what was important was that they learn, and guest speakers shouldn’t be wasted on the unwashed masses. That’s what they told me, anyway. I suspect they were more concerned about having to share the free Chinese food.
Perhaps this is all just an exercise in youthful idealism, but this is what is what has driven me to my career choice. I feel that for the sake of our future as a Jewish people, a nation in which every single person, not just the best and brightest, are important, schools must do a better job of caring about the welfare and spirituality of every single student. Without that, not only will we never be surprised as to what someone can accomplish, our leaders will be flawed as well. And yes, I recognize, it is not easy to preach outside the choir, but no one ever said education was an easy job, and anyone who is in education for an easy career should quit and find an actual easy career. We stand nothing to lose by pouring all our energies into trying.
Sunday, November 06, 2011
MTA Shiur on Sukkah 30b, Yei'ush and Mitzvah Ha'ba'ah B'Aveirah
Friday, November 04, 2011
Fundamentally Freund: Teaching ki... JPost - Opinion - Columnists
Thursday, November 03, 2011
Monday, October 24, 2011
More "Subversive Education!"
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October 16, 2011
By ALAN SCHWARZ
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Sarah Benson last encountered college mathematics 20 years ago in an undergraduate algebra class. Her sole experience teaching math came in the second grade, when the first graders needed help with their minuses.
And yet Ms. Benson, with a Ph.D. in art history and a master’s degree in comparative literature, stood at the chalkboard drawing parallelograms, constructing angles and otherwise dismembering Euclid’s Proposition 32 the way a biology professor might treat a water frog. Her students cared little about her inexperience. As for her employers, they did not mind, either: they had asked her to teach formal geometry expressly because it was a subject about which she knew very little.
It was just another day here at St. John’s College, whose distinctiveness goes far beyond its curriculum of great works: Aeschylus and Aristotle, Bacon and Bach. As much of academia fractures into ever more specific disciplines, this tiny college still expects — in fact, requires — its professors to teach almost every subject, leveraging ignorance as much as expertise.
“There’s a little bit of impostor syndrome,” said Ms. Benson, who will teach Lavoisier’s “Elements of Chemistry” next semester. “But here, it’s O.K. that I don’t know something. I can figure it out, and my job is to help the students do the same thing. It’s very collaborative.”
Or as St. John’s president, Chris Nelson (class of 1970), put it with a smile only slightly sadistic: “Every member of the faculty who comes here gets thrown in the deep end. I think the faculty members, if they were cubbyholed into a specialization, they’d think that they know more than they do. That usually is an impediment to learning. Learning is born of ignorance.”
Students who attend St. John’s — it has a sister campus in Santa Fe, N.M., with the same curriculum and philosophies — know that their college experience will be like no other. There are no majors; every student takes the same 16 yearlong courses, which generally feature about 15 students discussing Sophocles or Homer, and the professor acting more as catalyst than connoisseur.
What they may not know is that their professor — or tutor in the St. John’s vernacular — might have no background in the subject. This is often the case for the courses that freshmen take. For example, Hannah Hintze, who has degrees in philosophy and woodwind performance, and whose dissertation concerned Plato’s “Republic,” is currently leading classes on observational biology and Greek.
“Some might not find that acceptable, but we explore things together,” said Ryan Fleming, a freshman in Ms. Benson’s Euclid class. “We don’t have someone saying, ‘I have all the answers.’ They’re open-minded and go along with us to see what answers there can be.”
Like all new tutors, Ms. Benson, 42, went through a one-week orientation in August to reacquaint herself with Euclid, and to learn the St. John’s way of teaching. She attends weekly conferences with more seasoned tutors.
Her plywood-floor classroom in McDowell Hall is as almost as dim and sparse as the ones Francis Scott Key (valedictorian of the class of 1796) studied in before the college’s original building burned down in 1909. Eight underpowered ceiling lights barely illuminated three walls of chalkboards. While even kindergarten classrooms now feature interactive white boards and Wi-Fi connected iPads, not one laptop or cellphone was visible; the only evidence of contemporary life was the occasional plastic foam coffee cup.
The discussion centered not on examples and exercises, but on the disciplined narrative of Euclid’s assertions, the aesthetic economy of mathematical argument. When talk turned to Proposition 34 of Book One, which states that a parallelogram’s diagonal divides it into equal areas, not one digit was used or even mentioned. Instead, the students debated whether Propositions 4 and 26 were necessary for Euclid’s proof.
When a student punctuated a blackboard analysis with, “The self-evident truth that these triangles will be equal,” the subliminal reference to the Declaration of Independence hinted at the eventual braiding of the disciplines by both students and tutors here. So, too, did a subsequent discussion of how “halves of equals are equals themselves,” evoking the United States Supreme Court’s logic in endorsing segregation 2,200 years after Euclid died.
Earlier in the day, in a junior-level class taught by a longtime tutor about a portion of Newton’s seminal physics text “Principia,” science and philosophy became as intertwined as a candy cane’s swirls. Students discussed Newton’s shrinking parabolic areas as if they were voting districts, and the limits of curves as social ideals.
One student remarked, “In Euclid before, he talked a lot about what is equal and what isn’t. It seems here that equality is more of a continuum — we can get as close as we want, but never actually get there.” A harmony of Tocqueville was being laid over Newton’s melody.
The tutor, Michael Dink, graduated from St. John’s in 1975 and earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. in philosophy from the Catholic University of America. Like most professors here, he long ago traded the traditional three-course academic career — writing journal articles, attending conferences and teaching a specific subject — for the intellectual buffet at St. John’s. His first year included teaching Ptolemy’s “Almagest,” a treatise on planetary movements, and atomic theory. He since has taught 15 of the school’s 16 courses, the exception being sophomore music.
“You have to not try to control things,” Mr. Dink said, “and not think that what’s learned has to come from you.”
This ancient teaching method could be making a comeback well beyond St. John’s two campuses. Some education reformers assert that teachers as early as elementary school should lecture less at the blackboard while students silently take notes — the sage-on-the-stage model, as some call it — and foster more discussion and collaboration among smaller groups. It is a strategy that is particularly popular among schools that use technology to allow students to learn at their own pace.
Still, not even the most rabid reformer has suggested that biology be taught by social theorists, or Marx by mathematicians. That philosophy will continue to belong to a school whose president has joyfully declared, “We don’t have departmental politics — we don’t have departments!”
Anthony T. Grafton, a professor of history at Princeton and president of the American Historical Association, said he appreciated the approach.
“There’s no question that people are becoming more specialized — it’s natural for scholars to cover a narrow field in great depth rather than many at the same time,” he said. “I admire how St. John’s does it. It sounds both fun and scary.”
More in Education (31 of 45 articles)
Room for Debate: Single-Sex Schools: Separate but Equal?
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Sunday, October 23, 2011
SIR Program for this coming Shabbos, Parashas Noach HOJMI, Calgary, Alberta
Friday, October 07, 2011
Visiting the Mishpacha - Where What When Archives
בחדרי חרדים | פורום: עצור כאן חושבים - מי ה'בעלים' של הישיבה?
שמענו לעיתים קרובות על מחלוקת הלכתית בין החזון אי"ש לבין הרב.
לדעת החזו"א התלמידים הם בעלי הישיבה, ולכן יש צורך עקרוני בעירוב חצרות לשבת,
ולדעת הרב הוא בעל הבית ולכן יש לישיבה דין רשות היחיד ללא שום צורך לערב.
לענ"ד, גם הרב לא סבר שהוא בעלים לעשות בכספי התורמים כרצונו.
אלא שמאחר שבידו בלבד הסמכות המלאה לשימוש בכספים ובנכסים לצרכים שעבורם נתרמו, הריהו כבעלים על הנכס לענייני הלכה שונים כדוגמת עירוב חצרות.
אבל פשוט שאין שום היתר להשתמש בכספי התורמים ובנכסים שנצברו מהתרומות אלא למטרות שעבורם נתרמו, וכדין משנת שקלים שהביאו רמבמז"ל ומיכי תוקן על ידי - דר_הלפרין - 31/01/2006 13:16:05
Thursday, October 06, 2011
My MTA shiur of 7 Tishrei: Gezel Karka
Wednesday, October 05, 2011
My shiur in MTA of 6 Tishrei, part 2: Learning Torah "Subversively"
My shiur of 6 Tishrei at MTA, part 1: Mitzvah ha'ba'ah b'aveirah
Tuesday, October 04, 2011
I like to think this is how I give shiur (and how shiur should be given)
Consider this excerpt from the second chapter:
especially among the educated, is a laden with preconceptions that it is
practically impossible b introduce an idea that does not fit into traditional
Consider as a primary case in point the notion that a classroom lesson is
largely made up of two components: content and method. The content may
be trivial or important, but if is always thought to be the 'substance' of the
lesson; it is what the student are there to 'get'; it is what they are supposed to
learn; it is what is 'covered'. Content, as any syllabus proves, exists
independent of and prior to the student, and is indifferent to the media by
which it is 'transmitted'. Method, on the other hand, is merely the manner in
which the content is presented. The method may be imaginative or dull, but
it is never more than a means of conveying the content. It has no content of
its own. While it may induce excitement or boredom, it carries no message -
at least none that would be asked about on the College Boards, which is to
say, worthy of comment.
To our knowledge, all schools of education and teacher training
institutions in the United States are organized around the idea that content
and method are separate in the manner we have described. Perhaps the most
important message thus communicated to teachers in training is that this
separation is real useful and urgent, and that it ought to be maintained in the
schools. A secondary message is that, while the 'content' and 'method' are
separate, they are not equal. Everyone knows that the 'real' courses are the
content courses, the kind of which James Bryant Conant is so fond: The
Heritage of Greece and Rome, Calculus, Elizabethan Drama, The Civil War.
The 'fake' courses are the methods courses, those conspiracies of emptiness
which are universally ridiculed because their finest ambition is to instruct in
how to write lesson plans, when to use an overhead projector, and why it is
desirable to keep the room at a comfortable temperature (The educationists
have got what they deserve on this one Since they have saddled themselves
with a trivial definition of 'method', what they have been able to do in their
courses has wavered from embarrassing to shocking. The professors of the
liberal arts have, so far, escaped the censure and ridicule they deserve for not
having noticed that a 'discipline' or a 'subject' is a way of knowing something
- in other words a method - and that, therefore, their courses are methods
'The medium is the message' implies that the invention of a dichotomy
between content and method is both naive and dangerous. It implies that the
critical content of any learning experience is the method or process through
which the learning occurs. Almost any sensible parent knows this, as does
any effective top sergeant. It is not what you say to people that counts; it is
what you have them do. If most teachers have not yet grasped this idea, it is
not for lack of evidence. It may, however, be due to their failure to look in
the direction where the evidence can be seen. In order to understand what
kinds of behaviors classrooms promote, one must become accustomed to
observing what, in fact, students actually do in them. What students do in the
classroom is what they learn (as Dewey would say), and what they learn to
do is the classroom's message (as McLuhan would say). Now, what is it that
students do in the classroom? Well, mostly, they sit and listen to the teacher.
Mostly, they are required to believe in authorities, or at last pretend to such
belief when they take tests. Mostly, they are required to remember. They are
almost never required to make observations, formulate definitions, or
perform any intellectual operations that go beyond repeating what someone
else says is true. They are rarely encouraged to ask substantive questions,
although they are permitted to ask about administrative and technical details
(How long should the paper be? Does spelling count? When is the
assignment due?) It is practically unheard of for students to play any role in
determining what problems are worth studying or what procedures of
inquiry ought to be used. Examine the types of questions teachers ask in
classrooms, and you will find that most of than are what might technically
be called 'convergent questions', but which might more simply be called
'Guess what I'm thinking' questions Here are a few that will sound familiar:
What is a noun?
What were the three causes of the Civil War?
What is the principal river of Uruguay?
What is the definition of a nonrestrictive clause?
What is the real meaning of this poem?
How many sets of chromosomes do human beings have?
Why did Brutus betray Caesar?
So, what students mostly do in class is guess what the teacher wants them
to say. Constantly, they must try to supply the Right Answer. It does not
seem to matter if the subject is English or history or science; mostly,
students do the same thing. And since it is indisputably (if not publicity) recognized that the ostensible 'content' of such courses is rarely remembered
beyond the last suit (in which you are required to remember only 65 per cent
of what you were told), it is safe to say that just about the only learning that
occurs in classrooms is that which is communicated by the structure of the
classroom itself. What are these learning’s? What are these messages? Here
are a few among many, none of which you will ever find officially listed
among the aims of teachers:
Passive acceptance is a more desirable response to ideas than active
Discovering knowledge is beyond the power of students and is, in any
case, none of their business.
Recall is the highest form of intellectual achievement, and the collection of
unrelated 'facts' is the goal of education.
The voice of authority is to be trusted and valued more than independent
One's own ideas and those of one's classmates are inconsequential.
Feelings art irrelevant in education.
There is always a single, unambiguous Right Answer to a question.
English is not history and history is not science and science is not art and
art is not music, and art and music are minor subjects and English, history
and science major subjects, and a subject is something you 'take' and, when
you have taken it, you have 'had' it, and if you have 'had' it, you are immune
and need not take it again. The Vaccination Theory of education?
Sunday, September 25, 2011
The Ethicist - Flight or Fight - NYTimes.com
Flight or Fight
By ARIEL KAMINER
My husband and son took a New York-to-Milwaukee flight that was supposed to leave Friday at 11:29 a.m. The flight boarded after 4 and didn’t leave the gate until 4:40, and a half-hour later the pilot announced it would be another hour until takeoff. At that point a devout Jewish family, worried about violating the Sabbath, asked to get off. Going back to the gate cost the plane its place in line for takeoff, and the flight was eventually canceled. Was the airline right to grant that request? M. W.,NORWALK, CONN.
Situations like that can bring out the worst in people. But despite the seething resentment of a plane full of people — and despite, no doubt, his own carry-on valise full of hassles — the pilot tried to do the right thing. He went out of his way to accommodate one family’s urgent need.
He should not have done so.
Passengers bought tickets in the belief that the airline’s primary goal was to get them to their destination as close to schedule as possible. Once they are buckled in and the doors are locked, it’s not ethical to announce that the rules have changed and that a personal (as opposed to medical) emergency — no matter how compelling — might take precedence.
That would be just as true if turning back to the gate had merely cost a few minutes rather than doomed the flight entirely, since on a plane even a slight delay can ripple outward, from the people in the cabin to the people who are meeting them to the passengers waiting to board the plane for the next leg of its journey and so on. It would also be true if the personal emergency were secular in nature — if someone suddenly realized she’d made a professional mistake that might cost her millions, and she had to race back to the office to fix it.
If a religious practice does nothing to harm others, then airlines should make a reasonable effort to accommodate it. But though that family has every right to observe the Sabbath, it has no right to enlist an airplane full of captive bystanders to help them do so. By boarding a flight on a Friday afternoon, the family knowingly risked running into trouble. The risk was theirs alone to bear.
That is to some degree a culturally specific view, of course, born out of a constitutional tradition that enshrines religion as a matter of personal conscience. It might look different from another country — or from inside some of those religions. So I asked Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, author of the two-volume “Code of Jewish Ethics.” He said the situation puts two values in conflict: honoring God through his commandments and not dishonoring Judaism in the public eye, as might happen if the other passengers blamed the religion rather than the family’s risky choice for their inconvenience. As for the family in question, the rabbi —a frequent traveler — advises, “Once a flight has been delayed a lot, there are no guarantees, so be aware of that before, not after, you board a flight on a Friday afternoon.”
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