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Isn't it pretty?

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Tolerance = Stagnation?

I was in Lakewood this past Shabbos, which is always an interesting experience. Lakewood is not the kind of place in which I could ever see myself living, but visiting makes for interesting conversation at the very least. I was talking to my friend about where she and her husband would like to settle down and raise their family, since she had previously indicated to me that it would not be Lakewood. She grew up in Baltimore, and I asked her if she would consider living there. Her response to me was that it was not the place that she wants to raise her children. I asked her why and she told me she feels that Baltimore is too tolerant and that, in her opinion, over-tolerance fosters a lack of growth. I asked her for an example of what she meant. She used the example of tznius. She said that growing up attending Bais Yaakov, she felt that the teachers there neglected to correct students who failed to dress in a tznius manner. To my friend, a Jewish school should not hesitate to reprimand a student who did not feel an obligation to the value of tznius. In her opinion, this reprimand would lead to inspiration on the student's part to want to grow and embrace the values that the school is officially based on. I am not sure that I agree that this is the right approach, but I am not sure that I completely disagree with her concept either. I think that reprimanding a student in high school about their sleeve length will often turn them off altogether, for two reasons. First, during the high school years I think a lot of people are trying to establish their identity, and for Orthodox Jewish teenagers, this is often done in the form of dressing a bit differently, and I think a lot of kids need to go through that stage without being reprimanded, because a reprimand will often cause them to rebel further. But I also I think that Torah values are much less about covering elbows and knees than treating others with respect, and I think that reprimanding a student for the sleeve length will impress upon those students the opposite message. I think a tolerance in the manner of dress, but a extreme intolerance in how the students treat the people around them will give students a much greater impetus for growth. I like the fact that I see the Bais Yaakov system sending their students out to do chesed for families within the community. I think it is much more important to emphasize that we should care about the well-being of one another, and take care of others who can't take care of themselves, rather than forcing girls to button their shirts to their chin. I am not suggesting that tznius should be thrown out the window, and the students at Bais Yaakov should be wearing shorts and T-shirts to class. But I don't agree with the argument that longer skirts equals more growth. Does tolerance cause stagnation and lack of growth? Yes, but I think the tolerance that causes stagnation is much more about accepting judgment of others based on outward qualities. If high school students need to be reprimanded, I think it is much more for excluding their classmates and not trying to do chesed for others than for wearing a skirt that doesn't quite cover their knees. I think a focus on inward growth rather than outward would go a long way to bring a community together.


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