Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Big Brother is Watching You…

I first heard about Yeshiva Tiferes Yisroel’s new policy a little over a week ago from a friend who has a kid in the school. I wanted to write a post about it, but didn’t get around to it and let the idea go (as I do too often with ideas for posts). Yesterday DovBear posted about it, and I’ve become fixated on the outrageousness of it. I tried today to get supporting documentation from my friend for this post, but he said he’d have to look for the letters I want, and I figured I should write a post before this becomes old news in the blogosphere.

For those who may not have heard, Yeshiva Tiferes Yisroel (the Brooklyn branch of the Chofetz Chaim yeshiva system) sent a letter to their students’ parents about a week and a half ago explaining their new internet policy. (Scans of the letter can be seen at DovBear’s post.) As of at least last year, the yeshiva’s policy has been that students are not allowed to access the internet for any reason, or even to look at the computer screen when someone else is online. (citation pending) Their new policy demands, on pains of expulsion, that parents install filtering and tracking software. The letter is careful to point out that the yeshiva doesn’t have access to the logs of your web browsing: these are instead to be sent to a “chaver” of the parent’s choosing. The yeshiva does, however, receive a list of families that have purchased the tracking service, and demands that parents buy and maintain a monthly subscription if they wish their sons to remain in the school.

Given the yeshiva’s already-standing draconian internet ban for its students, this new policy can only be predicated on the premise that parents are hopeless at maintaining good relationships with their children and at monitoring their children’s activities. Only the yeshiva is able to ensure that their students don’t stray, by enforcing a policy that imposes parenting practices on their parent body. This is a gross overstepping of bounds.

A school's job is to educate children, not to raise them. We send our kids to school to learn their ABCs and Aleph Bais, math and chumash, literature and hashkafa. We do not abdicate our responsibilities or rights as parents when we enroll our children. What happens in our homes is none of the school's business.

That said, yeshivas have been intruding into their student’s home lives for years. The schools dictate where our kids can hang out on motzei Shabbos, forbid them to go to theatres or video stores, and forbid us to have TVs in our homes. I remember a story a few years back of a couple of girls who were expelled from a Bais Yaakov because someone reported to the school administration that they had been swimming at a Florida beach during their vacation in non-tznius (that is, typical) bathing suits.

As outrageous as all of the above restrictions are, Tiferes Yisroel’s policy forges into new territory.

This goes beyond dictating what students may do. This is the yeshiva reaching into the homes of their students and setting a system in place to monitor the family’s activities. This is reducing the parents of their students to children who need a watchful paternal eye and a firm hand to guide them. This is only a step or two removed from the yeshiva inspecting student’s homes the same way they inspect the dorms. This is nothing short of an invasion of privacy dressed up as the yeshiva virtuously saving us from ourselves.

The whole thing reeks of Big Brother, from the monitoring of the family’s internet activity to the problem the monitoring is meant to prevent: that students may see porn. And why is porn evil? Because in the yeshivish world, any semi-erotic thought is a thoughtcrime. Perhaps more ominous is the thought that blogs like this one represent exactly the sort of subversive ideas that the Thought Police guarded against in Nineteen Eighty Four.

This is just the latest of the outrageous policies that routinely come from the right wing of Orthodoxy. Normally when I read or hear about what some rov said or some yeshiva did, I may find it distasteful or ridiculous, but I don’t identify with it. It’s something THEY do: the fanatical Chareidim is Israel, the chassidim in Williamsburg or New Square, the ultra-yeshivish in Lakewood. This hits much closer to home. I know people who went to Tiferes Yisroel, I know people who have kids in Tiferes Yisroel, and had things gone a little differently fifteen years ago, I might have gone there myself for high school. The insanity is knocking at my door, and I find myself wishing I had better locks.


  1. Rabbis in Chareidi Yeshivot have an obsession with controlling people's lives. This is one of the things that made my blood boil in Yeshiva - their need to completely control everything we did (even muttar things!!!)

  2. It also is pretty saddening and upsetting to me that people will end up going along with it. What if parents refused, and/or pulled kids out of the school for the next year?

    (They would be thought of as not frum and having something to hide, that's what. And they would then be worried about their kids shidduchim, etc. Is there no limit? Is there no end to what chareidi leadership can demand of their adherents before they can say no?)

  3. Change will only come from the bottom up. From the top down, it's all a power grab, and THEY are in charge.

    People have to band together, get together as a group and say "no more". Like the unions - if the "little people" (aka the "hamon am") speak from a single voice and demand change, only then will change happen.

    Teamsters anyone?

    (PS - I discovered your blog through comments you wrote (and I agree with!) on Rationalist Judaism. Keep up the good work. And don't worry about being original. Write about your own experiences growing up Yeshivish and then waking up and seeing the world for what it is. Even if someone else experienced it and wrote about it, everyone's writing is different, and each person's experience is individual. It's not narcisistic, it's expression. Those of us who can relate appreciate your writing about it, even if it's not profound. One of the simplest reasons is that we then get a sense that we're NOT the only ones! It's a lonely place being an "apikores" in the big frum velt... Keep writing!)