To Our Dear Jewish Brothers in New York, London, and Around the World,
History repeats itself. As we celebrate Chanukah, our holy ancestors’ miraculous Torah victory over the forces of ancient Greek secularists, a similar modern-day challenge to our way of life emerges. The New York State Board of Education has recently announced its intention to mandate changes in the curricula of Yeshivas that will force the teaching of undesirable subjects and drastically reduce the time allotted for Torah education. Alarmingly, my dear son-in-law, the Vizhnitzer Rebbe, Shlit”a, from London, has informed me that the Jewish community in London, as well as other Jewish communities, face similar challenges to their Torah educational systems.
We must ask, what is the cause of this sudden attack against our holy Torah educational institutions that have operated successfully for decades without such hostile governmental interference?
The simple answer is, Jealousy! The latent source of all antisemitism is the jealousy harbored in the hearts of heathen nations against the Jewish people for having received the Holy Torah. Indeed, our wise Sages taught that Mt. Horeb, where the Torah was given, is also called Mt. Sinai, alluding to “Sinah,” the Hebrew word for “hatred.” Mt. Sinai is the very place from where the hatred of the nations of the world comes forth against the Jewish people.
In his famous Epistle to the Jewish Community in Yemen, the Rambam wrote, “even if the gentiles are unaware of the reason they hate us, as they do not consciously recognize the value of Torah, their souls feel it. This triggers a jealousy that leads to hatred and drives them to try to prevent Jews from engaging in the devotion of Torah Study.” Hence, the ancient Greek Kingdom, which was particularly motivated by jealousy, tried hard to eradicate Torah study.
The Maharal, in his Sefer Ner Mitzvah, explains that the prophet Daniel received a vision of the Greek kingdom portrayed as a leopard because the nature of a leopard is to kill even when it is not hungry. It does so merely because it cannot suffer the thought that any other creature may have something that the leopard itself does not. Likewise, though the Greeks gained nothing from suppressing Torah, they sought to uproot Torah from the Jewish people, simply to deprive us of our Divine and holy source of wisdom.
They attempted to do this by undermining Torah continuity at its very foundation, Jewish children’s education! Our Sages taught that Torah would have been lost if not for the heroic, innovative efforts of Yehoshua ben Gamla, who stationed teachers in every town to teach children Torah. Torah studied at a young age lasts a lifetime.
When the wicked Hellenic Empire arose against the Jews, they outlawed the teaching of Torah and forced the Jews to only teach secular studies. The Greeks claimed they enacted this decree for the benefit of the children, to ensure they would be able to make a living when they grew up, much like we hear from their contemporary incarnations.
In response to this decree, Jewish teachers and children hid in caves to study Torah, and if they saw a Hellenist coming, they started to play dreidel, a Greek game. When the Hellenists saw them playing instead of studying, they left them alone. Perhaps they specifically played with a dreidel, a game of pure chance with no skill at all, to prove that the Hellenists main goal was solely to deprive the Jews of Torah, not to impart to them any useful secular knowledge, as the dreidel activity was totally frivolous! And we commemorate this by maintaining the custom of playing dreidel during Chanukah to remember that the Greek-Hellenists could not care less about our material welfare. Their only, jealousy-motivated, concern was our spiritual destruction!
We must recognize that as it was in those days, so too it is today. Contemporary secular authorities seek to mix into the private business of our Torah institutions because they are jealous of our Torah, which teaches true wisdom and good character. This jealousy has grown and come into sharper focus with the development and proliferation of modern communication technologies that have infiltrated secular societies and their public school systems. It is no secret that these so-called progressive innovations have wreaked havoc upon the minds and behaviors of children exposed to them.
Over the past decade, public school systems have seen a marked decline in the character and educational level of their students due to their constant interaction with social media which introduces them to all manner of perversion, sin and malevolent conduct. Their minds are filled with confusing and corrosive ideologies that destroy their ability to concentrate and severely hamper their ability to learn.
I can testify, through my decades of meeting with thousands of children, that the difference between Yeshiva students and public-school students has become more pronounced over time. Today, Yeshivah students are far more successful, both spiritually and materially than their public-school peers.
I submit that this is the main reason secular authorities seek to take our holy yeshivah students away from Torah study and force them to learn heretical and lewd subjects. Their subconscious jealousy impels them to create an overwhelmingly secular environment that will drag us down to their level and corrupt our precious Jewish children.
Clearly, the attacks against our holy schools, far from signaling their deficiencies, are, in fact, a testament to their success and superior standing versus those steeped in the profane. They are the surest sign we are doing the right things in our traditional, time-tested and proven modes of education.
The modern-day Hellenists we confront are as jealous of us as were their ideological forbears of antiquity. And like the Chashmonaim of old, we must join together to fight this attack and ensure our ability to continue in our devoted study of Torah and Mitzvos, each Jewish community in accordance with its holy traditions and guidance of its Rabbis.
Let us fully embrace the lessons and examples of our holy ancestor’s, recognizing that their struggle and sacrifice on behalf of the true service of Hashem ultimately led to their Divinely ordained victory and the miracle of Chanukah. We too must stand steadfast in our commitment to Torah education and stand up against the forces that try to weaken, or worse, destroy it.
In this merit, we, like the Chashmonaim, will merit the aid of the Almighty in freeing ourselves from the threats against us as we spread the light of Torah to our children and holy Jewish generations to come.
Rav Moshe Taub
son of Rav Menachem Shlomo Taub ZT”L of Kalov