Parshat Kedoshim: When is yeshiva education a form of sacrificing children?

Parashat Kedoshim is a major concentration of the Torah’s ethical precepts delivered in terse, tight sentences.

Among these, the prohibition regarding Molech-worship sticks out like a sore thumb for three reasons: 1. It doesn’t belong here. After all, we already KNOW that idol worship is a capital offense; 2. The reference to Molech is long, running several sentences, unlike its neighbors in this parasha; 3. Unlike general idolatry, we are told that those who merely observe someone serving Molech and do not report him/her to the authorities are committing a major transgression, one that will be punished by G-d Himself.

I would like to suggest that there are two aspects to Molech. One is idol worship. The other is child abuse. And this is what distinguishes it from other forms of idolatry which are ‘victimless’ crimes. If one were to sacrifice a child to a god other than Molech, or even to G-d Himself, surely that aspect of the ritual would be condemned no less than if it were done in the service of Molech. Hence the special attention given to Molech, and the added law that to abstain from turning in a Molech worshipper is a crime against G-d.

The issue of Molech is relevant in all eras, especially now when in the dati-haredi world virtually all boys are forced into a single type of schooling regardless of whether such an education is appropriate for the child. And in the overwhelming majority of cases it is totally inappropriate. Indeed it is counterproductive, even torture.

Haredi (and in their own way even more modern Orthodox) parents willingly and willfully sacrifice their children’s welfare and happiness in order to do what they believe G-d wants. In Proverbs we are instructed to: “Educate the child according to his way … ” (Proverbs 22:6). And yet we ignore this clear directive and condemn tens of thousands of children to lives of frustration and underachievement in order to appease a G-d who abhors such an approach to child rearing.

How many Beethoven and Picassos, how many Barishnykovs and Heifetzs, how many airline pilots and athletes, scientists and journalists, actors and astronauts, physicians and acrobats have become lifelong depressives, colossal failures, self-flagellating unfortunates because they were never given an opportunity to discover their real strengths and a chance to achieve a suitable dream?

Even the average kids – the non geniuses who are forced to struggle and compete in a curriculum designed for a particular kind of genius – how can they find peace and satisfaction knowing they will never amount to anything on the track to which they have been consigned, while not being given any opportunity to engage in more satisfying and remunerative vocations?

Yes, Molech is alive and well, thriving in the Jewish world as parents blindly sacrifice their boys (and girls) to a G-d they do not understand and who does not desire their human sacrifices.

It’s time for some fresh thinking.