We are training our children not to think. We are training them to accept and not question. We are allowing our children to coast through life and ignore the responsibilities of adulthood, and we are allowing teachers to assume the responsibilities that parents should seize and not loosen until our children can productively engage the world. At least that is what seems to be happening in the world that is called Orthodox. It is also what many complain the loudest of. But, somehow it seems to be working.
Want to get married? Hire a shadchan, a matchmaker. Date the person that the shadchan finds for you one or two times and let the shadchan tell the person if you want to continue going out or not. No direct responsibility to your date needed because that may be just a bit too stressful. Someone will handle the stress for you. You will be instructed on just how to date, what to say and how many hours you should spend together. When you get married you will let your parents and in-laws decide where you should live, how much money you need to live on, and make sure they work out a plan to give that money to you.
You will wear the clothing that indicates that you are a member of the group and your children will be allowed to have the toys deemed appropriate for them. No unkosher animal toys allowed. For some children, even bicycles are forbidden – they allow too much freedom.
By the way, no smart phones allowed and absolutely no Internet. Television? It’s poison so you can’t have that either. Under a few limited circumstances you can have some technological devices. Filters are a neccesity for your technological devices but only if you absolutely need the devices for work and receive permission to have them. The most highly recommended filters to protect you from the negative effects of these devices are the ones which may be programmed to transmit to another person all the sites you visit and all the details of your time online. Sound onerous? It isn’t to a good many people.
Professor James Kugel has written that Orthodox Jews are people who like to be told what to do. For some people, the idea of practice is more attractive than understanding and belief. Yet, all people have belief systems that they follow. It might actually be the way the human mind is constructed that even those who claim that they are agnostic follow the beliefs of their own approach to life. We can’t seem to help it, we are all believers – in something. And to a large degree, we are at liberty to pursue our beliefs.
Beliefs seem to work to enhance and advance some groups more than others. Recent demographic surveys show that the most religious groups are expanding in number. The Ultra-Orthodox, however the researchers define that group, can brag that their ranks have grown more rapidly than others and that they have lost fewer of their members to intermarriage than Conservative and Reform Jews. The latest surveys do not yet report the drop out rate, that is the number of adherents who leave a particular religious group or category, but even if the numbers are high among the Ultra-Orthodox category they more than compensate for it with the large number of children their families have and by the numbers who are attracted to them – the so called “baalei teshuva” or “chozerim lateshuvah.”
Let’s just hope that when we chose a belief path to follow it is one that allows us to learn from and engage with the world, a system whose leaders have a healthy respect for individuality and true sensitivity to quality of life issues, and who do not lead simply for the glory of being powerful controllers.