Our School Books Should Be As Kosher As Our Milk

From the Anash.org inbox: Imagine a Lubavitcher school decided to start serving cholov akum. Parents would definitely do everything in their power to ensure an immediate change. What about sifrei akum—non-Jewish books?

By Mrs. Chaya Gurevitch

Imagine a Lubavitcher school decided to start serving cholov akum. Maybe because it’s cheaper, easier to attain, or a new requirement from the Board of Health. Whatever the reason, parents would definitely not agree, and would do everything in their power to ensure an immediate change.

As Lubavitcher chassidim, we know the severity of cholov akum, and would never bring it into our homes, our schools, or anywhere near our children’s mouths. This is a non-negotiable topic; cholov akum is simply off the table for us.

What about sifrei akum—non-Jewish books?

Having grown up in Crown Heights, I can say that at least 90% of Lubavitcher girls in the Rebbe’s shechuna are being given goyishe novels at school, and they are obligated to read them, whether they want to or not. Otherwise, these girls are told, they will not pass high school.

True, these books which the schools have chosen don’t include topics of avodah zara, giluy arayos, or shfichas damim in them (I hope!), but they are nonetheless still goyishe books written by goyim, who naturally put their ideas, beliefs, and imagination into the books which they’ve authored.

Reading these books tampers with the gears of a Yiddishe kup. It implants goyishe hanachos and views, deeply confusing our children. It implants seeds of unholiness into the mind of a ten-year-old child, which can take root and impact his or her Yiddishkeit—at the moment or 20 years down the line.

Reading these books directly affects our children’s Yiras Shamayim. It affects how careful they will be with tznius, avodas hatefilah, personal kashrus (now and in their future homes), basic emunah—everything.

A person who smokes might look completely healthy on the outside, but if one were to take an MRI of his lungs, he would see the negative effects.

If we could see an MRI of our children’s neshamos, I think that school curriculums would look very different.

The Alter Rebbe clearly writes in Tanya that secular studies defile the heart and mind. (The Alter Rebbe is talking about all secular studies (and there is much to say about that!), but that is not the focus of this article.)

When Lubavitcher schools were established eighty years ago, some might have argued that reading non-Jewish books was necessary. While that may have been true, we need to look at what the circumstances were at the time. 

During those years in America, most Jewish parents were sending their kids to public school, and in order to convince them to switch to a Yiddishe one, the school had to have a high standard of secular subjects, including the best English literature. 

Today, however, most of our schools are not seeking to attract children who would otherwise go to public school. Additionally, there is a wide range of printed English books that can be used for our children to read and gain skills. They may not be as good as the goyishe books, but certainly, we value the level of our children’s Yiras Shamayim over their having the most sophisticated level of English writing skills…

I recently spoke to a mother who, for whatever reason, enrolled her daughter in an online public school part-time. She told her daughter’s goyishe teacher that she is religious, and explained that she does not want her daughter to read the novel that the teacher had assigned. The teacher was extremely understanding and respectful. She told the mother to choose any book she wants her daughter to read, and she would give her generic worksheets and assignments that can be completed with any novel. This is a goyishe teacher in a goyishe school.

Can’t our Yiddishe schools respect our Yiddishkeit at least as much?

Changing the curriculum and getting it approved takes effort for sure. I don’t want to minimize that. 

But as Lubavitchers, we do what’s right—not what’s easy. We only need to start, and Hashem will open up all the channels necessary to accomplish our goal. The Rebbe has assured us of this many, many times.

I recently heard about a young teacher in one of our mosdos who decided that she would read a Jewish novel with her students instead of the goyishe novel which is usually read in that grade. Kol hakavod to her, and what lucky students she has!

Where there is a will, there is a way!

It is my great hope that parents, teachers and community members will join together and declare, “Enough is enough!”. And that bez”H,  by the coming school year, our daughters will be reading only Jewish novels and literature in our schools!

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  1. A very well written piece! You make excellent points. Schools should definitely introduce policy’s regarding which books are included in the curriculum.

    One comment though, I don’t see how “They may not be as good as the goyishe books”. The primary purpose of incorporating novels into the schools curriculum is to teach skills such as critical thinking, analysis, empathy, and communication. They are also used as a base for book reports, writing timelines writeing summaries ect.
    There is no educational advantage to using goyishe books (unless you want to educate a child to think in a more goyishe way).
    I once discussed this with a colleague who teaches English in a crown heights school, and I was told that the reason why they choose goyishe novels is because they can find worksheets online and they don’t have to prepare worksheets themselves!
    Not the best reason why to put these goyishe outlooks and ideas into our kids heads…

  2. The comparison of vetted, clean secular literature to Cholov akum is rather exaggerated and inaccurate, if not sensationalist. Without getting into the specifics, it is clear that imposing new restrictions is generally unadvisable, and a blanket prohibition will certainly be harmful. There is plenty of nuance to be had when determining what is appropriate for every individual, and like with everything else, a personal Rov or Mashpia should be consulted.

    1. The analogy is actually very, very apt. You are looking for “nuanced” takes which justify goyishe literature, just like an unfortunately large segment looks for and finds nuanced takes on cholov akum!

      USDA vetted, clean milk surely doesn’t contain non-kosher milk, they argue – just like vetted, clean books surely don’t contain poisonous, if subtle, ideas and perspectives.

      They are both mitamtem the heart and the mind, and Chassidei Chabad have long and forcefully rejected both. This is not a “new restriction,” as you put it.

      “Uch un vei” to minimize these matters. The ever-increasing mental, emotional, and even physical injuries and unfortunately fatalities experienced by the world around us as a result of their “wise” decisions and choices (Chochmah BaGoyim Taamin!) show us very clearly what lies ahead for those who follow in their footsteps.

      Those who do so themselves – domom b’rosham. Those who endorse, encourage, or far-entfer these incremental steps – yidaihem domim molei’u, no matter how well-intentioned. Those who stand idly by are omdim al dam rei’eihem.

      Thank you to the author for speaking up – hopefully not only here but directly to the mosed or mosdos in question. Meihem yiru v’chein yaasu rabbim.

    2. The author may actually be spot on accurate, and not exaggerated in the slightest.
      As the author quoted from Tanya, Goyishe ideas are metamtem es hamoach, just like forbidden foods.
      In that vein, the comparison of Goyishe literature to Chalav Akum may just be to ignite the Lubavitch passion, while in truth, they may be more correctly comparable to pig…
      Did you speak to a Rov or Mashpia before writing off the author’s comparison?…

    3. Speaking to a Rov or Mashpia about nuance in which books to read is great when talking about an individual’s reading choices in his free time. This would help him grow at his pace while not crossing red lines.

      However, this article is not talking about individual choices, or blanket prohibitions (“no student is allowed to read secular books…”)

      This article is talking about school curriculum and what the schools are instilling in our children.

      We expect our Mosdos to encourage high standards and they do in many areas, but unfortunately many Lubavitch schools *require* all their students to read certain ‘clean’ secular novels as part of their English curriculum. Many of these students would not read a secular novel otherwise, and to think that they’re being introduced to our children by our own frum Lubavitch schools is disheartening.

      Not to mention the hypocrisy they see in our schools when in the afternoons they are required to do the exact thing that in the mornings they learned why not to do.

      There are incredible Chabad books that I WISH we could’ve been discussing in English class (or even any frum novel) instead of the pigs in Animal Farm and the violence in Lord of the Flies..

  3. Thank you for posting. Long overdue and totally right!
    You wrote that you don’t think the books contain the 3 aveiros… I assume you haven’t read any of them, at least recently. You would take back that statement if you have…
    Our bubbies had mesiras nefesh in Russia not to go to public school to learn things that would pposon the mind… and look what we’re doing to our own girls

  4. As a girl, I insisted on reading Jewish novels only, reading Jewish assigned ones from the principal (who was moved by my tears on the issue). At the end of sixth grade, my English level grade from the government tests came back rated as a college level vocabulary etc. it was so ironic because I insisted on reading only Jewish books even at school while everyone else read the non Jewish novels etc.

  5. Well thank G-d my kids bring home good valuable books from the Levi Yitzchok Library. Encourage your kids to go as well. It’s a great Library.

  6. after growing up reading only frum authers i recently read a few non-frum novels, and by the first one that i read i already noticed a big difference from Frum books – the language, in non-Frum books the characters were using not only dirty language and bad words but also the style of talking was very grub and this came to my attention right when i read my first non-Frum book and even though the story was very Jewish – the plot involved a Jewish police officer coming closer to Judaism through a orthodox rabbi – when i read it my first thoughts were that it was a very non-aidel/goyishe style
    it simply desensitizes you to being and talking non-aidel/goyishe

  7. Long overdue. Our daughter goes to a Lubavitch school out of town, known for its supposed chassidishkeit. We found some highly inappropriate ideas in the school curriculum, and when we approached the principals, we were told to bud out…

  8. Thank you for addressing such an important topic. Hoping schools are willing to step up to the plate and higher the standard. Boruch hashem there are so many Jewish novels available now compared to years ago. There is no reason to have kids read goyishe books these days.

  9. I remember in high school refusing to read a book I found vulgar ( Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde) not only was the school pushing me to read it but they brought it the head shliach of the area to discuss how it connects to chassidus! I ended up leaving high school without a diploma and angry at the schools lack of and disrespect for yiddishe standards.

  10. Just look at all the comments here we are all on the same page-,everyone is just too afraid to speak up- so thanks for being the Nachson and putting this up here.

    Lubavitch, we are on the front lines in welcoming Moshiach- let’s not keep quiet anymore with this!

    The Rebbe is waiting to see our children’s daily schedule in school- I am not proud to show it to him.
    I’m officially sending my children to a lubavitch school, which perhaps teaches all the right things in the morning…
    However when it comes to tachlis, unfortunately money comes first, so there goes all the afternoon subjects :// – Contaminating the minds and heart of our Geuladike kinderlach- Just like the yevonim…

    Principals, parents lets make a change!!

  11. I see from the comments that people agree with the author, just like me! I also grew up with novels and didn’t think much of it, but after learning chassidus on my own after high school and gaining a sensitivity towards only reading Jewish I agree with this author.

    Now what are we doing moving forward? I know beis Rivka a few years ago had a teacher with this expect idea and wanted to make curriculum surrounding it. Does anyone remember who it was? It was an event and one teacher got money for her idea and she was one of the ideas. I voted for her! As her idea seemed like the one that was so desperately needed.

    Should we send an email to schools? Should they be signed by parents? Jewish schools should mean Jewish literature.

  12. What are some good examples of Jewish Books that can be used with a girls high school curriculum that can be used instead of the non-Jewish ones that are currently in use?

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