Opinion: Are We Ignoring Our Kids’ Hashkafa Questions?


search-judaismBy Rabbi Yitzchok Fingerer {Search Judaism}

I was apprised of the fact that a renowned rav and posek in Flatbush dedicated his Shabbos morning drasha to the plight of a young lady who was recently dismissed from her Brooklyn Bais Yaakov. It seems she vexed the administration because she asked her teacher incisive questions about the nature of Gan Eden. Thankfully, due to the intervention of this prominent rav, she was reinstated to her school.

Thousands of frum individuals grow up with gnawing questions about the fundamentals of Yiddishkeit. Their questions may be trite and simplistic (i.e., Why do we keep Shabbos?) or profound and weighty (i.e., How do I know there is a God? or Hashem knows everything, including every move I make; yet I have free will. How can the two co-exist?).

It’s not the particular question that is germane – every sincere and thoughtful question is relevant and important. Rather, it’s the way the question is received and handled. Sadly, most often the questions are either rebuffed or repudiated by parents and teachers. Some adolescents are even slapped or labeled with the pejorative “apikores.” The outcome is that in some cases the seeker despondently resolves to trudge through life with lingering and unresolved doubts in ikrei emunah, and in other cases, tragically, they throw in the towel, religiously.

The Hebrew word for question, she’ailah, is etymologically derived from the word sha’al – to borrow or request. According to Rashbam, Tosafos, Chizkuni, Klei Yakar, and other commentaries, sha’al, in this context, does not mean to borrow but denotes requesting something that is one’s rightful possession – one’s natural entitlement.

It is against Torah hashkafah to take offense or to reject a sincere question. Just as water sustains the physical world and is free and accessible to everyone (this predates New York City’s water meters!), so too should knowledge be available freely. This is precisely why, according to the halachic ideal, one should not charge tuition to dispense Torah knowledge (see Yoreh Deah, 246:5).

The late Sy Syms said in relation to his discount clothing chain, “An educated consumer is our best customer.” His slogan is a fitting credo for Judaism. When we avoid answering questions and penalize a child for asking, it compromises the integrity and absolute authenticity of our mesorah. It projects insecurity and appears to the child as if we have something to hide. How incongruous! Judaism has all the answers. We live in an age where Torah knowledge is awing the greatest scientists and most resolute atheists.

If only parents and educators would be more candid and unveil the vast contemporary knowledge found in Torah, it would preempt many such questions.

Science is now on the offensive, catching up to Torah. For example, how many of our students know that at the 1990 meeting of the American Astronomical Society, the meeting’s chairman, Dr. Geoffrey Burbidge, astrophysicist at the University of California at San Diego Center for Astrophysics and Space Science (and former director of the Kitt Peak National Observatory), commented: “It seems clear that the audience is in favor of the book of Genesis – at least the first verse or so, which seems to have been confirmed.”

Do we speak to our children and students about modern-day miracles that show God’s intervention in the world?

For example: Eretz Yisrael lay desolate and barren for almost two thousand years. Mark Twain traveled there in 1867. He reported: “There is such desolation; one cannot even imagine that life’s beauty and productivity once existed here . [The Land of Israel] dwells in sackcloth and ashes. The spell of a curse hovers over her, which has blighted her fields and imprisoned her mighty potential with shackles. [The Land of Israel] is wasteland, devoid of delight.”

The world’s greatest civilizations fruitlessly attempted to restore life to the land. In fulfillment of the Torah’s prophecies, miraculously, as soon as the Jews returned, starting in the late 19th century, the land became fertile and reinvigorated.

Another example: After the Persian Gulf War, two eminent scientific journals (Nature and MIT’s Nature and Arms Defense Studies) were puzzled about the apparent Divine protection that Eretz Yisrael had been afforded from Scud missiles. Both journals devoted full-length research articles to attempt to logically explicate the hows and whys behind the purported miracles.

Many rishonim (among them Rambam, Rabbeinu Bechaya ibn Pakudah, Rabbeinu Bechaya ben Asher, Rav Saadya Gaon) hold that the mitzvah of emunah is not predicated on blind faith but on rational and objective knowledge. According to Chovos HaLevovos, knowing and inquiring about Hashem, getting first-hand knowledge of Him, is a fulfillment of the Torah’s charge “Veyadato hayom ki Hashem hu Elokim” – “and you should ‘know’ today that He is God .”

Rambam (Yesodei HaTorah 8:1) stresses that despite all the miracles they witnessed in Mitzrayim, the Children of Israel did not believe in Hashem wholeheartedly until they had first-hand knowledge and personally experienced the revelation at Sinai.

Our children and students deserve answers. If we don’t provide them with answers or they feel too uncomfortable and intimidated to ask questions, they will, chas v’shalom, go elsewhere with their questions. The street and the Internet are replete with individuals and material looking to snare the innocent away from Judaism. We don’t necessarily have to know all the answers. We do have to know that there are addresses to turn to for answers, such as qualified rabbis, hashkafah books, and lectures.

The value of shakla vetarya, the dynamicof the exchange of questions and answers, is paramount in Judaism. Every Jewish toddler is educated with the four questions of Pesach. Upon death every Jew is asked four crucial, fateful questions. The only way to ensure that these last questions are answered appropriately is to espouse an open-communication “questions welcome” environment throughout a person’s life.

Rabbi Fingerer, a popular lecturer and educator, is the author of “Search Judaism: Judaism’s Answers to a Changing World” (Targum, 2009) available at SearchJudaism.com. He is director of the Think and Care Tank (thinkandcare.org), an organization dedicated to spreading Jewish values and innovative Jewish programming.

{The Jewish Press/Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. When I went to bais yaakov out a town, we used to try to get the teacher off the subject we were learning by asking hasksfa questions. Anytime a haskfa question was asked, not matter what all was stopped and dedicated to answering that question( in hind sight I think this was a policy of the school). being an out of town school, our class was quite a mixture. girls whose fathers were rabbis, girls whose parents weren’t religious, girls from lubabitch,girls from modern-orthodox backround,girls with tv’s(no Internet then) and went to movies. Out of an entire chullent pot like this, there was noone who went off the derech. All, are shomray-shabbos, and almost everyone is charayde. I really think it has to do with the haskifot that the teachers were dedicated to teaching us.

  2. Anonymous (2), maybe checking out the sites in his bio at the end will give a full enough picture for you? Do you have specific questions? I’m sure the author takes adults’ questions seriously too 😉

  3. #2: Rabbi Fingerer has worked in kiruv for many years as part of Aish HaTorah.

    It really is a big problem. When I was in yeshiva, I asked plenty of questions and got very few answers. Before I got married, my wife asked at a Torah Tape library if they had anything on covering your hair. What response did she get? “Why do you need to know why you cover your hair? It’s Daas Yehudis, so you do it without asking!”

    This is completely wrong! The answers are there. If someone doesn’t know the answer, say so! I had a lot of respect for one Rebbe who told me, “I don’t know the answer, but I will try to find out what it is.” A week or so later, he came to me with an answer.

  4. This is an excellent article! In my own chinuch (which was at the most prominent yeshivos) and continued past Kollel, I often felt that something was missing–that we weren’t being taught the yesodos behind life. When I eventually left Kollel I felt that I wasn’t adequately equipped to deal with the real world– all the challenges. Hashkafah is more important, L’Maasseh, than any limud because it gives you a relationship with Hashem. Otherwise you can know every Gemarah and be a robot.

    I actually read Search Judaism (it has amazing Haskamos. It is the type of book that the biggest masmid and talmid chochom can gain from, as well as someone new to Yiddishkeit. That is a big accomplishment by R’ Fingerer.

    If you go to searchjudaism.com you will see that he cites in the excerpt many seforim that Gedolim wrote throughout history in order to give chizuk and answers in yesodei emunah.

  5. #1, I think you’re on to something. I’ve heard people say that certain teachers or rebbes don’t entertain such questions, but it always seems to emanate from the NY area. Every Rebbe that I’ve ever had answered every single question. But, then, I wasn’t educated in NY.

  6. The main problem is most teachers and Rabbeim don’t know the answers. Unfortunately in this day and age the only ones who know hashkafa work for Aish, Ohr Sameyach and Gateways. Why don’t Rabbeim and teachers know these things? Why shouldn’t every Rebbe and teacher be a Boki in Rav Desslers seforim?

  7. The easiest way to send a kid off the derech is to call him/her names when asking deep questions about yiddishkiet. You can’t call a kid and apikorus for having questions. There are kids who think deeply and don’t spent every second thinking about candy, recess, and games. They deserve answers. If a Rebbe/teacher doesn’t know an answer say in a kind tone I’m sorry I don’t know Ill get back to you. That’s a kiddush Hashem and the kid will be impressed by your honesty. If you scream at the kid you can guarantee you will send him off or at least turn him cold towards yiddishkiet and he will lead a very pareve life and it will be the Rebbe/teachers fault.

    Parents, demand from the schools that Hashkafa be taught in our classroom. Hashkafa doesn’t mean just hocking about internet which is important but a small percentage of our problem and rather an effect of not enough general Hashkafa and Mussar. Every highschool kid must know the answers to all the famous G-d questions. A blatt Gemorah doesn’t prepare one for life in the 21st century as is evidenced by yeshivish bachurim going off the derech. We need to be strong in our Emunah and the only way to get there is by teaching it in class. Welcome questions. Kids can’t be afraid to ask. They should know that there are answers.

  8. This topic is very apropos considering this weeks Parsha is the Assers H’Dibbros. How many of students truly understand the meaning of “Anochi Hashem…meretz Mitzrayim”? The Rambam says “tzorech l’Dah”. Do you know that many children unfortunately can’t list off the Aseres H’Dibbros? Ask a typical student and he’ll probably recall 2, maybe 3, out of the 10. Why? While every part of Torah is important, our children MUST receive a balanced diet- including Hashkafah- as part of their Chinuch. We can certainly improve our Yeshivos and Beis Yackovs. Parents should request that the Yeshiva/Beis Yackov has qualified mechanchim who on a DAILY basis learn Hashkafah and Mussar. While teaching Hashkafah will answers the burning questions; Mussar will cement the relationship (i.e. with Hashem). We need to produce erhlich’eh yidden/yireh shmayim. This won’t happen on its own. Hopefully, things will only become better. Rabbi Fingerer’s new sefer, Search Judaism is a great resource.

  9. This may be one of the most important articles to date. The truth is that if kids felt there was a non-judgmental environment then they wouldn’t go experimenting for quick fixes. They would relish and thrive much more in an “open question” environment. Most kids are innocent and have temimuskeit they just need to be respected and listened to. We shoudn’t treat Baalei Teshuvah better than we do our own kids. This article should be be distributed to all menahalim/roshei yeshiva.

  10. I think that this article brings some very important issues to light. The question is hlow best to deal with them. Personally I think the best way is what I call a “3 pronged approach.

    Prong 1: Yeshivos and Bais Yakovs hire teachers who have yediyos in hashkafa. Make it part of the curriculum. There should be a daily Hashkafa/Musar seder/session a day in all schools. These seforim should be hand picked for content and age suitability. I think a great idea would be to discuss or cover one deep question or concept a week or more than a week when necessary. Over the. course of a year our children will gain many yediyos.

    Prong 2: Parents should find the time to “beef up” their own yediyos in Hashkafa. Sadly I have often heard fathers say things to kids in shul which clearly stems from their own lack of Hashkafic depth. Parents, we need to know the answers to our kids questions for our own sake as well!

    Prong 3: Buying books for your kids that help build the proper Hashkafos. Their are many books out there that are Kosher for kids to read that will build Emunah. Included in this prong is the idea of not letting your kid read non Jewish books as these books fill your childrens minds with Kefirah and Christian concepts. Don’t let them read goyish magazines Readers Digest included. All goyish publications have Kefirah and non Tzeniyus pictures. Be very vigilant with your childrens eyes (and ears) and you will be zoche to good yiddishe kinderlach.

    Amen Kein Yehi Ratzon.

  11. If I can recommend the highly acclaimed book “Beyond A Reasonable Doubt: Convincing Evidence to the Truths of Judaism by Rabbi Shmuel Waldman- Published by Feldheim publishers. The book has many haskomos and has sold in the tens of thousands. The book was specifically made to address ALL of the above issues, and in the 312 pages it covers almost all of the basic Hashkofa questions that the average teenager would have. The editor did a great job in making the book very reader friendly in spite of the number of pages that it has. Numerous Mechanchim have given very high recommendations for this book and for good reason.

  12. I don’t know Rabbi Fingerer, but from the gist of his article I can see he is a “Bar Uriyan”. No doubt the astrophysicists were referring to the Big Bang Theory and how it fits in with Bereshis (ala Gerald Schroder, Andy Goldfinger, Aryeh Kaplan, Noson Slifkin etc.). We live in a day and age where, if we are going to keep and attract a large number of Jews to Yiddishkeit, we must employ the Mehalech of the Rambam and Rav Hirsch (and many others who subscribed to the rational school). However, I also agree with the commentator who questioned whether it is proper to expose those who have not asked these questions to the proper and best answers. In the Hakdama to the Moreh, the Rambam refers to the need for prerequisite knowledge before one achieves the level to delve deeper into “Maaseh Bereshis” (according to the Rambam, natural science). Each teacher must evaluate the question and the entire class, and sometimes reply to the question that he will speak privately with the student after class.

    Unfortunately, there is a growing contingency of fundamentalists who will call anybody with an interpretation of Torah that coincides with scientific theory, an Apikorus. I respect virtually all Jews who observe the Torah and profess Hashkafos that have a foundation in Mesora, whether that Mesora was advocated by the Ari Z”L or the Rambam. I cannot countenance the explanation, “The Gedolim who professed rational Judaism were allowed to say and believe as they did back then, but today we must follow a fundamentalist path. What was Mutar and acceptable to the Rambam and other Gedolim throughout the ages today amounts to Apikorsus.” I say to that: Kol Hakovod to communities and individuals who chose to insulate themselves from the truly dangerous De’os spread in the world, and wish to take the path of Emuna Peshuta. But for a large segment of Klal Yisroel, perhaps even the majority, the proposition that this concept is the “only way” is dangerous nonsense!

  13. Go listen to Rabbi Freifeld’s recorded lectures. Many times he reminds that “Judaism encourages questions!!” Chazal were not afraid to themselves ask questions even if they did not have the answers. The gemara is replete with such examples demonstrating the genuineness of honest questions. Rabbi Freifeld’s lectures are refreshing in that they expound the basic ideas & fundamentals of Yiddishkeit with such passion.

  14. This is something that bothers me so much. I’ve always been a person with questions. I was always embarrassed to ask, especially because i was learning in yeshivishu yeshivos. Are we NOT supposed to think? Once, after reading a really interesting and seemingly bizarre Gemorah,I asked my chavrusah “How does the Gemarah know this?” You should of seen his face, it was as if there was something wrong with me, how can i ask such a question! His answer was “Because the Gemorah says so”. How ridiculous! At least have the decency to say something like “I don’t know but i trust the Gemarah” or whatever. It seems among many ( and i’m sorry but i think it’s most) of us, that we STOP ourselves from thinking past a certain point.! The Gemarah says so…, wow i am so smart because i don’t like to question. I am not talking about questioning with the intent of making fun or trying to find out that it’s all fake! Chos V’shalom , But an innocent simple question! “How does the Gemarah know” . We never ask such questions in yeshiva! we are comfortable with our lifestyle and don’t want to challenge it. explain to me , how this attitude has anything to do with God?! I was so upset, after i went to a (so called) great Rabbi, Mekubal and told him that i was having issues with Emunah and was lacking a lot in my service to God. Not putting on tefillin etc… So his answer – treating me like a child – “you really believe” “you really do inside” . “But i don’t” – “NO , you really do” , “here’s a brachah Goodbye!” . It’s a scary thought that i so innocently go to ask a grand Rabbi for help with my belief issues – I don’t know how, what when , but maybe you can help me somehow, maybe you have answers, maybe you can see into my soul .. i don’t know.. but don’t treat me like a baby! Anyway, i find it hard to accept that God wants from us (after he gave us an intellectual brain) to be stupid , NOT to think and NOT to ask! Thank you for your essay, the question is who will do something about it , who will take charge and create yidden who are REAL , who serve hashem because they really believe in him and not because they are just comfortable with the way they were brought up. May God help us, and with will power we can change the world!

  15. I don’t remember which Sefer (I think Emunah Ubitachun from the Chazon Ish?) I saw it in but it said that every Jew must have both Emunah Sichlis (logical proofs and such) and Emunah Peshutah. There’s no such thing as one without the other. The true Mehalach is to first work on the Emunah Sichlis. Once one has a deep understanding of Hashem then one must adopt an Emunah Peshutah and focus on that the rest of his life. Its really difficult to come to a proper Emunah Peshutah without the Emunah Sichlis.

  16. Just like the schools have in-service days and teach methods, why cant it be mandatory to have gone through a class that addresses these issues.

    If you walk into a shoe store, the salesman can go on for hours and hours about how good a shoe is. They’re there on a mission, selling shoes. (L’Havdil) Our teachers and Rebbeim are “selling” a “Product,” they should be able to answer questions.

  17. #3,and #9 Are we going to skeep parts of Chumash Bereishis because; one brother killed another (Kayin and Hevel), or one brother tired to kill another (Esav and Yaakov), or becasue today we don’t marry sisters, etc, etc? The Torah is a Som H’Chayim. Education never hurt anyone- especially the teaching of Torah and Yesodie Emunah by an esteemed rav, or talmid chachum. If anything, your child will be MORE knowledgeable and BETTER prepared for his/her future and walk with confidence instead of, r’l, serious doubts and unresolved issues. The article by Rabbi Fingerer is an important contribution to the world of chinuch and hashkafah and deserves appropriate consideration.
    #3, Would you rather have a well-informed, conversant, and on the ball child (who one day just might be answering your own questions) or, would you prefer a clueless, ignorant, oblivious child who one day will c’v have issues, and be ashamed to admit them, or ask for help? We should never be afraid to teach the Truth. Any experienced parent knows how to present a Hashkafik question to a 5 year old as a fascinating piece of information or as an interesting story, rather than as a question people have. Rebbeim don’t need to phrase a Hashkafah question as a question, but they NEED to address it! Fear is debilitating; Hashkafas H’Chaim and Torah learning is invigorating. If you’re a rebbe and don’t know how to teach Haskafah to your class please educate yourself. Rabbi Fingerer’s book is very refeshing. I agree with comments #15, #17 and #22. I think they make some very good points.
    Most Yeshivos are overloaded with their own problems (fiscal, PTA, insufficient staffing, etc). Perhaps some of us can band together and help them by starting a grassroots initiative. B’H we can make a difference in klal Yisroel.

  18. There’s a very popular website where frum teens from all over the world ask Hashkafa questions and get expert answers by a team of very knowledgeable chareidi Rabbonim. In my daughter’s Bais Yaakov it’s the only “recommended” internet site the teacher’s encourage the students to visit. It’s called (no surprise) frumteens.com.

    If you go there you’ll see how desperate our children are for answers and how wonderfully they are willing to accept them if they make sense and are explained clearly. Kudos to Rabbi Fingerer for reminding us of this burning issue.

  19. Yesterday I received this email from Partners in Torah [Mentor Talk: Volume 7, Issue 11]. This is sent to all Partners in Torah mentors:

    “Where Do Mentors Go For Answers?

    Longtime readers of this column know that I rarely review books here; this is for a variety of reasons. Occasionally, however, a book is published that I feel can be of such great use to many of our mentors that I make an exception. This issue will be about one such book.

    Written by Rabbi Yitzchak Fingerer, an accomplished mekarev, the book “Search Judaism – Judaism’s Answers to a Changing World,” is a book that many of our mentors, and some of our students can benefit from reading.

    In the book, Rabbi Fingerer sets out to address many of the questions that a newcomer to observant Judaism may have. His method is fairly comprehensive, as opposed to that of some other works where a more superficial approach is taken. His answers feature quotes from a very wide range of sources, both secular and Jewish, and his style is to discuss an issue, rather than attack it. Whether or not the reader agrees with the conclusions, he will feel that the subject was respectfully considered, rather than merely dismissed with a rote answer. It is evident from his writing that Rabbi Fingerer has personally contemplated the issues deeply, and he constructs his arguments in a methodical manner, allowing the reader to follow the sometimes difficult subject matter more easily.

    Among the issues he discusses are:

    The nature of the soul and the concept of free will
    Scientific evidence for G-d
    Morality and ethics
    The Revelation at Sinai
    The origin of the Oral Law
    Man’s purpose on earth
    The end of days

    Our mentors frequently contact me for assistance about all of these issues, and I have often wished for a book that dealt with them in a responsible and easily-digestible format. Thankfully, Rabbi Fingerer’s book accomplishes this.

    I was pleased to find that this 296-page Targum Press product gives each and every subject a fair treatment.

    Although it is intended for both mentors and students alike, I feel that mentors in particular, stand more to gain from it. Students will probably find it interesting, but they often require a knowledgeable person with whom to work through the issues. Thus, I caution against recommending this book to a complete newcomer. I find it more suitable for those who have already taken large steps toward observance, but seek greater clarification.

    If you wish to enhance your understanding of many of the questions your student may be struggling with, I highly recommend this work by Rabbi Fingerer.”

  20. Great article. Well articulated. I thank matzav for posting it. However, we need a real eitzah. We need changes to be made. This discussion is worthless if we don’t implement some sort of curriculum to teach hashkafa, at least basic hashkafa.

  21. we don’t give our youth any idea of what they believe or why they believe. it is a nes min hashomayim that we produce quality students altogether. if we keep ignoring this, we will be having more korbanos, chas veshalom, going off the derech.

  22. To #22. You have it switched around. First one must be taught Emuna Peshuta as a child. That also includes the simple and literal translation of the Torah. Once one’s mind develops, then one should work on his Emuna based on reason. Of course one should always retain his Emuna Peshuta in the face of questions he has not yet accepted a reasonable answer to, and certainly for axiomatic suppositions for which there may never be an answer. But, according to the Rambam, as one’s mind and knowledge develops he should realize many of the simple and literal wordings of the Tanach are actually allegorical, that is, they are Mosholim meant for the wise person to interpret.

  23. Kudos to Rabbi Fingerer and Matzav.com for publishing an article that has long been needed opening up minds of many. This writer is most probably older than any of the posters who commented on this article, but when I was at a Yeshiva Ketana, I asked a question about dinosaurs, who after all were one of the creations of HaShem; only to be given the answer that the reason that they disappeared was because HaShem made an error in their creation. Needless to say that this lead to the question of infallibility, etc.
    It has taken me decades to resolve this among a number of other issues to have any understanding and appreciation of who we are as a people with a belief system. Shabbat Shalom.

  24. I went to a Yishivishe Brooklyn yeshiva ketana and if a student were to even have the audacity to ask on RASHI, “how does Rashi know this?” he would be embarrassed Bifarhesya, called an Apikoires, or a Shaygitz and risked getting “ah frask in punim arein”.

  25. Wonderful article, and very insightful. It’s gratifying that finally a representative of the yeshiva velt acknowledges two things. One, that only the first pasuk in bereishis is factual, the rest is mostly allegorical. Two, that the zionists weere the ones who developed the land of Israel in the late 1800sand early 1900s.(“In fulfillment of the Torah’s prophecies, miraculously, as soon as the Jews returned, starting in the late 19th century, the land became fertile and reinvigorated.)”

  26. Mishpacha Magazine recently had an article on the amazing Atlanta frum community. It quoted Rabbi Ilan Feldman of Atlanta saying, “The last thing a frum person wants to be doing is using power to overwhelm ignorance.” As Rabbi Fingerer beautifully articulated in his article, this is a sentiment we would all be wise to adopt.



  28. To Commenter # 35:

    I can’t believe that someone would use this important topic as a launching pad to malign and distort what was written in the article. The editors should not allow such brazen and spiteful comments.

  29. Most questions are avoided because the teachers feel unsure of their ability to answer them. But think of the seder as the model: we are ready for all four types of sons, and we encourage telling and answering.

  30. I am a victim of this problem, I remember asking questions and my teacher saying you can’t ask questions in my class anymore. What do you think that does to a 14 year old girl?? I’ll tell you it invalidates her, it makes her feel that the questions shes asking aren’t important. When really they are SO important, they are the fundamentals of the rest of her life. How do we know we are the chosen nation and all those question are SOOO important and if the teacher would have told me she doesn’t know the answer I would have not cared and go ask someone else. For those that are worried that it will open questions to others in the class, and whats so bad if the other girls know how we know we are the chosen nation etc… it’s only a problem if the girls never get the answer and its the teachers job to make sure that doesn’t happen, it’s not their job to know everything but that’s why we have rabbanim to ask our questions to.