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!