Spiritual Child Abuse

Next week Israeli schools will welcome children back from the record heat of this past summer vacation. Unfortunately, they will be confronted by a newly concocted cauldron sponsored by Israel’s overly ambitious Minister of Health.

In the name of “Judaism” secular Israeli children will attend obligatory instruction in “Judaism”. The instructors will not be highly trained educators with experience in multi-cultural communication, but rather 18 year olds who chose Civilian Service over Military Service and have little direct personal contact with secular Israelis. A prescription for failure? Far worse.

Let me first say that I have always seen myself on the “side” of Torah, in observance as well as in education. Nothing would be dearer to my heart than a program that could allow or even encourage all Israeli youngsters to choose to enhance their contact with the Torah, especially with the encouragement of their parents. What I would love to see is a program that enacts the Torah by teaching in an atmosphere of respect and mutuality. As early as the Septuagint, “Tsedek tsedek tirdof” of this week’s Torah portion was interpreted to mean – Make your pursuit of justice proceed in a just way – coherence of means and ends.

What will heat up the schools this year is quite the opposite. A self-congratulatory news item about the “National Service” girls (mostly) who completed “training” for their entry into secular schools was greeted on Facebook with anger and protest. Parents have come together to attempt to reject the program’s implementation, as have some courageous educators. What I wish to consider here is whether this program in the name of “Judaism”  as an ends does not contradict Jewish Law in its choice of means.

Honoring parents is in the Decalogue. Has anyone ever suggested that honor is not due to parents who are “secular?” Of course, an adult Jew must keep the Torah even if a parent forbids it, but that is a far cry from putting obligatory classes of Torah into schools against parents’ express protest. Should children be placed at the center of a conflict amongst adults? Should they be exposed to contents against their parents’ wishes? Minister Bennett’s program places many children in the position of dishonoring their parents’ wishes when they attend – or even enjoy – these classes.

Jews are commanded to love each other, including “toughlove.” If you feel a need to offer corrective advice to your fellow, you must not flinch from this duty. Otherwise a secret resentment will grow in you, undesirable for all. But if you know perfectly well that your fellow will not or cannot heed your words, you are forbidden from “just taking care of yourself” at his expense. Now there has been an increasingly public outcry against the Ministry’s program. Does not the Halakhah proscribe our “just teaching Torah” in such circumstances?

Jews are commanded to be honest in their dealings. The Ministry’s program cannot be construed by any thinking citizen as free from self-interest. It creates funds and occupation for people of its own sector. Are children to be taught not to think or question motivations that are obviously not pure?

One thing that a Jew is commanded to steer clear of is creating a situation of “Hilul HaAShem” – the (even inadvertent) creating of animosity towards God and His Torah. Bennett’s program is in clear violation here; no one can avoid seeing the animosity towards the Torah that this ill-conceived plan has wrought.

And what exactly are we expecting of the young people trained to implement the program. In what ways are they equipped to handle these contradictions. I believe that the Ministry is enlisting them in what the Halakha calls “Mitzvah she-be-Yidei Avera” – doing a Mitzvah by transgressing the Law. Are recent high school graduates the proper manpower for a deep mutual meeting between cultures? How will they deal with the fact  that children will reject them in loyalty to their parents? How will they cope with the creeping Hillul HaShem that their classes will create? Perhaps no independent thinking adult would take on the task?

This is what I refer to as Spiritual Child Abuse. Abuse takes place when children are coerced into behaviors that are not good for them but for the adults who force them The abusing adult may use physical force, sexual force, emotional force  – or spiritual force. In this lamentable case both the young instructors and their students are subject to a spiritual coercion from which they cannot benefit. Only the erstwhile Minister and his Party benefit.

As a Jew who identifies with Torah and Mitzvot, I am saddened and angered by a self-proclaimed “Torah” ends which deviates so far from a Torah means. In the name of the Torah I enter here a last minute plea that this program be sacked before it does more damage. And I invite people like me to join this protest.

About the Author
Alan Flashman was born in Foxborough, MA, and gained his BA from Columbia, MD from NYU, Pediatrics, Adult and Child Psychiatry specialties at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, The Bronx, NY. He has practiced in Beer Sheba since 1983, and taught mental health at Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University and Ben Gurion University. Alan has edited readers on Therapeutic Communication with Children (2002) and Adolescents (2005) in Hebrew, translated Buber's I and Thou anew into Hebrew, and authored Losing It, an autobiography, and From Protection to Passover. He recently published two summary works of his clinical experience (both 2022) Family Therapies for the 21st Century and Mental Health in Pediatrics.