Monday, August 16, 2010

Is Chessed A "Girls'" Mitzvah?

The Torah contains 613 mitzvos.
Some are only for men to perform.
Some are more geared towards the women,
I am finding more and more though, that in the desire for limmud Torah, certain mitzvohs that are not gender specific, are being relegated to the "bittul zman" pile. Why? I'm not sure.

Bais Yaakov schools around the country send their female students out to hospitals and nursing homes to visit the elderly and infirm. Yet many men languish in these facilities and in their homes, craving a young man's face - wishing a yeshiva boy would come and learn with them or merely talk to them. But the boys never come. It's "bittul zman".

Chessed in general, has become in the Yeshiva system, something to be thought of as a waste of time at worst or a "girls' mitzvah" at best. The Yeshivish crowd on the whole is far too busy learning to take time out and actually perform some of the mitzvohs that they learn about.

Is the Torah not meant to be a blueprint by which we go out and LIVE our lives? Why don't the Yeshivos stress chessed for boys as much as for girls?


Julie said...

Amen, sister!

efrex said...

Because, through their learning of gemara, bochurim automatically become imbued with the ruach hatorah that engenders gemilas chesed and tzidkus.

Surely, any sick person who would otherwise be cheered up by a visit from a yeshiva bochur will be much more satisfied knowing that his potential visitor is shteiging away, learning a shverer shaila of a R' Akiva Eiger, which is, after all, the source of all brocho v' refuah in the world.

I have been threatening for decades to put my sons in dresses and send them to Bais Yaakov if the yeshiva system doesn't shape up; looks like I might have to follow through...

Staying Afloat said...

Because to do chesed, one must have free time.

I actually have had several middle school and high school boys help with E. But mostly in the summer, though some come on Shabbos afternoon.

What's crazy is that most of these boys have wanted to do something like this, but nobody had ever offered them the opportunity and they had no idea how to start.

I have a boy who hangs with E. now who lives around the corner from me. I've known his mother for many years, but we got hooked up when our community had a special needs shabbaton.I was talking to his mom when he came over to her, pointed at the counselors and the kids, and said , "I'm gonna do that one day." When he left, I told his mom, "He's welcome to help out by me any time." And he showed up the next Shabbos.

And his mother is so happy, because her son's not so into the academics, and he loves doing this type of chesed.

Someone's got to let these boys know what they can do and let everyone else know that these boys can help so much.

G6 said...

Staying Afloat -

You've inadvertently brought up another pet peeve of mine.

Yes, chessed (and going to work, by the way) is OK for the boys who are "not so into academics", but the boys who CAN learn... THEY are another story.

efrex said...

Yes, chessed (and going to work, by the way) is OK for the boys who are "not so into academics", but the boys who CAN learn... THEY are another story.

Again, this is a systemic issue: the frum world no longer encourages its best and brightest to be outstanding frum laypeople. The titles of "Chaver" or "moreinu" were once as coveted (if not more so) than the title of "Rav;" no more.

Look at the pictures of role models displayed on yeshiva walls: exclusively talmidei chachamim and roshei yeshiva. Lay leaders, even those with semicha (e.g. Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, R' Eliezer Silver, R' Moshe Sherer), have no place. Those without semicha, al achat kama vakama, are completely ignored.

This is not exclusive to the "right-wing" yeshiva world, unfortunately: the "Modern Orthodox" world rarely pays proper homage to its lay giants (Rabbis Revel, Belkin, Lander, Klaven, to name a few).

Sandee said...

Wow, you do not mince words on this blog! All of this is so true.

But this specific problem may be a little better in the modern orthodox high schools. My son just graduated from YULA in LA, and I was impressed that they gave out as many awards for chesed as for learning and academics, and it seemed there were a lot of programs in place that boys could get involved on many levels.

[As for some other problems with the modern orthodox, don't get me started....]

Yekkishe Bekishe said...

If one is brought up that he is better than others & therefore he doesn't have to help others, he'll grow up to be selfish. I've seen many of my peers - who had parents who were Concentration Camp survivors - who were brought up this way, because their parents wanted them to have everything that they couldn't have. Looking at their children (the grandchildren of the survivors), fuhgedaboutit! It's Elul, so I won't elaborate.

Yehudah said...

An old story unfortunately.

By the way, in Breuers (in the side room) there's an interesting book called "The Mussar Movement." You should read the introduction. The author criticizes people who spend all day learning theoretical cases in the gemara, which have no relevance to their lives while completely ignoring the study of how to perfect one's character, which he says is the point of the whole Torah.

And the author is charedi, not some MO professor.

Leora said...

My son's school (TABC in Teaneck) does require them to do chesed hours.

The requirement has spurred my son to volunteer for a few community projects he otherwise wouldn't have done.

Staying Afloat said...

My kids' school requires it as well. It's where I got my middle school helpers from. They bring in a Friendship Circle program every year and the middle schoolers help out.

Most of the kids end up doing work for the school or their shuls, which is nice if they can get into the habit. Not a bad thing to feel responsible to the institutions from which you benefit.

G6, you're right- it shouldn't only be for those who aren't into learning. I believe that those boys NEED the yeshiva world to validate what they do well, not as a fall-back.

And it's not always about the boys who can and can't learn. Some boys could learn from daybreak to nightfall- but they don't want to. They'd like to play some ball and play with the younger kids on their block, thus helping a lot of mothers.

Of course, that would require them to be living at home.

Anonymous said...

Today, it is common for private schools - Jewish or otherwise - to have a chessed requirement. I might not have gone to a yeshiva, but we were all serious(!) students who also had to put in significant numbers of community service hours each year. And that requirement was not flexible and WAS NOT just there to make us more attractive to universities.

If the secular world can embrace this, why in heaven's name can't we? It is our texts that outline chessed as a necessity and a privilege (to do and receive) yet we seem to fail to make it a universal in our own lives. Seems to me that Hillel said something about how we were supposed to be behaving...maybe it's time that we make sure that we are imparting our values to our children, having them join us in doing chessed rather than leaving it up to schools who might or might not teach its value.

Yehudah said...

I should add that I'm against schools doing anything else but teaching. I don't mind if there's a chessed club or something like that, but for an elementary or high school to require chessed acts as part of its curriculum is, I think, wrong. That's the parents' job.

(That schools and rebbeim have increasingly taken over the traditional role of parents is of course another long, sad story.)

BLD said...

The undisputed Goldol Hador Rav Shteinman shlita is here visiting this week in the US. Please ask him your question.

Yehudah said...


Undisputed? Ha. I dispute it. I never quite understood how knowing a lot of gemara makes you a great man, let alone a gadol hador.

I never even heard of him until a few years ago. Has he written any sefarim? What effect, if any, has he had on the broader Jewish community? How many people would notice if he existed or not?

The man may know a lot of gemara and may even have achieved a certain level of tzidkus (I have no idea either way). But these two qualities do not make you the gadol hador -- sorry, the "undisputed" gadol hador.

G6 said...

Back on topic....
I agree with those who say that chessed is best taught at home.
I am only sorry that sometimes, when boys are involved, the Yeshiva system actually goes so far as to UNDERMINE these efforts.
"You're going to do WHAT?!?! Stay here. Your time is better served in the Beis Medrash."

WAdsworth3 said...

I suppose it just comes back to the general philosophy of some that boys schools are supposed to teach Torah while girls schools are supposed to teach chesed. Later in life it morphs into focusing on just two mitzvos: learning for men, and tznius for women.

Joey said...

I respectfully object to your premise.

My yeshiva had a chessed program organized throughout the system from Elementary - Beis Medrash. Every friday yeshiva guys gave up their free time to visit Jewish people at the hospital where the guys had gotten credentials as chaplains.

Even with this program my RY was always pushing people to do extra chessed. He even devoted an entire mussar vaad (a big event each week there) to pushing guys to visit the elderly and come up with their own chessed ideas.

G6 said...

Joey -
Isn't it a pity that you had to wait until you reached a POST HIGH SCHOOL Beis Medrash to find a Yeshiva that prioritizes chessed?
And in full disclosure, your Yeshiva allowed blue shirts too, so some would say "that explains it" :P

harry-er than them all said...

I resent the implication that chessed is only a woman's job and that only they do it to the exclusion of men. There are many men and yeshiva bochurim I know who do preform chessed but not necessarily in the context that your described. There are men who tire endlessly on board of directors of shuls, yeshivos, and a myriad of mosdos. There are the men who deliver packages on weekly basis for the hungry, who volunteer for hatzolo, chaveirim, and community watch-groups. There are lawyers, doctors, accountants etc, who use there expertise for the community as well. Within the context of the Bais Medrash, guys are encouraged to help out a weaker guy, many yeshivos have a system where older boys learn with younger.
Oh, and thats besides for the many people I know who do visit the sick, elderly, and infirm. I know boys who went to visit the neighborhood nursing home every night before dinner on his way home from school.

My point being that men do those male-typed chessed and women do female-typed chessed.

Your criticism is not completely unfounded that the Yeshivos may not have a "formalized" chessed program like the girls schools do, but that is because like other things, a lack of sufficient time during the day to do so prevents it. I mean the regular yeshiva schedule requires about 4-5 hours a day of lemudei kodesh, then about 3-4 hours of chol, plus eating and sleeping time, equals not very much time.

G6 said...

Harry -

I think that to some extent you misunderstood me. I never said anything about men and women.

I was confining the discussion to the education of our children and the way our boys and girls are educated. In the current Yeshiva system choices are made regarding how to divide the hours in the day (and don't kid yourself - it IS a choice) and Torah learning trumps Torah practice with regard to the boys time and time again.

kollel man said...

As someone who has gone through the yeshiva system i learnt in brisk and bmg (lakewood) i first want to point out a gemara in succah 49b the posuk mishle says vesoras chessed al leshonah is there a torah of chessed and a torah of not chessed? yes learning with someone less then your learning level is called toras chessed. So there is chessed involved with just learning but i know the sad reality is that yeshiva guys aren't going to the hospitals, i understand that you shouldn't take off seder to go but there is no reason not to go friday or shabbos afternoon or to help put on or wrap an old mans tefilin at scharis. As the kotzker rebbe once said when someone told him he learnt the whole shas and he responded what did shas learn you?

Louisa said...

Sing it, Sister