Wednesday, November 25, 2015

(Yet Another) Open Letter to the RCA

To Whom It May Concern,

I honestly understand why members of the Rabbinical Council of America were compelled to make another public statement on the matter of female clergy. Although I may not have done the same, I definitely get it. However, I feel compelled to write to you about one bothersome aspect of the most recent resolution.

I personally lack the knowledge, erudition, or authority to discuss the validity of semicha for females. However, I have been a Jewish educator for a number of years and your resolution directly addresses the world of chinuch. As the resolution states:

Therefore, the Rabbinical Council of America... Resolves to educate and inform our community that RCA members with positions in Orthodox institutions may not...allow a title implying rabbinic ordination to be used by a teacher of Limudei Kodesh in an Orthodox institution

This passage does not directly bar women with semicha from teaching in Orthodox institutions, but has that effect; would a woman with ordination apply for a job that requires delegitimizing something she worked so hard for?

As an experienced Jewish educator, please permit me to voice an opinion about female rabbis teaching in Orthodox institutions.

A career in Jewish Education is not considered the most prestigious or realistic path for today’s Orthodox professionals, both male and female. As a result, many talented individuals avoid the world of chinuch, leaving a vacuum often filled by those less fitting for the job. These circumstances alone should encourage Orthodox institutions to expand their pool of potential hires. This alone should discourage excluding candidates due to title or training. However, I’d like to add another consideration.

Encountering the myriad ways my students relate to religion has fostered within me a greater appreciation for religious flexibility. Our Torah is a Torat Chayim, resonating differently within each individual Jew. To paraphrase the Gemara in Masechet Berachot, our students are as disparate in psyche as in looks. Without a sense of adaptability, this discrepancy could result in the loss of a Torah lifestyle for many. As such, there exist greater concerns for chinuch than the defending the parameters of Orthodoxy (itself a non-halachic construct) and reinforcing the policies of a specific rabbinic organization.

But where to draw the line? The ultimate decision should belong to school leaders. Every institution has a unique set of stakeholders, and what is best for one group may not be best for another. Schools should always be concerned with potential candidates communicating certain core values to students. However, it should be left to each institution to ensure its hashkafot aren’t being compromised. If a particular Orthodox institution feels compelled to be maximally cautious with their values, let them be clear about what those values are with all potential candidates. Let each school determine its own comfort with hiring a Maharat, Yoetzet, or female with another title. This is the place for significant influence from local Rabbonim, locally, not in setting educational policies for Jews across the country. (Just to reiterate, my qualm here is with the educational policy, not with the RCA discouraging female ordination.)

Barring RCA members from hiring females with ordination will not immediately hurt the world of Jewish Education. But I do think it presents a message that is a bit out of touch. Our schools are fine with keeping to Orthodox tradition and most students are aware of what is “Orthodox” and what is not. Our students need dedicated teachers who love what they do above all. Closing the door to those who do not fit the classic definition of Orthodox sends the wrong message. While there must be a distinction between what is ideal and what is practical - what is l’chatchila and what is b’dieved - chinuch is not the place for that distinction. I would think that m’chanchim and practicing Rabbonim, confronted by the living nature of the Torah on a constant basis, would appreciate this idea. I wonder what percentage of those voting in favor of the resolution were professionals with semicha, as opposed to teachers and rabbis.

If I had any influence, I would urge the RCA to be transparent about the demographics of who voted in favor of the current resolution. Not every member of the RCA has should have their opinions revered equally. For the sake of honesty, you owe it to the Orthodox community (yes, I do believe you owe it) to be clear here. Second, I would urge the RCA to reconsider the clause in the resolution that sends a message to the Orthodox community about priorities in chinuch. I respect the work that each of you do on behalf of Klal Yisrael, and please take this letter as a respectful disagreement.


Yair Daar
Limmudei Kodesh Department, SAR High School

Originally published in the Jewish Link of New Jersey

Monday, March 9, 2015


A teacher friend of mine once joked that when school leaders type “collaboration” into their phones, it must autocorrect to “competition.” If you are connected to Yeshiva education in any way, you should get this joke (and it may hit too close to home to laugh). Unfortunately, cooperation between schools, and often within schools, is not something we are experts at.

Inter-institutional rivalries are most acutely felt during open house season. The amount of time, money, and other resources that go into planning the school open house is unbelievable. I would imagine that most leaders would love to scale back a bit on the pageantry. Just the ability to redirect some of these assets to other areas could be really helpful. And wouldn’t it be refreshing for schools to recruit based on their actual merits?

To be fair, let’s give competition its due. Kinat soferim (jealousy among scholars) can be a powerful force for good that drives people and institutions to be better. However, we must remember the context: Kinat soferim tarbeh chochma - jealousy among scholars increases wisdom. Competition is meant to maximize learning, not promotional videos or free keychains.

To be fair again, for parents to place their children (and money) in the hands of a school, that institution should do its best to present as professional and thoughtful. Parents deserve to feel confident with their choice, and a proper presentation is key to provide that sense. Most people are also wise enough to know that an impressive video is not a reason to choose a school, and the open houses aren’t the only part of the decision. The open house competition isn’t necessarily influencing where most children end up, but it might for those on the fence.

Either way, it might benefit everyone if schools agreed to reduce the fanfare, agree on a standard open house format, and/or agree to a maximum dollar amount to spend. Truthfully, I might suggest an even more radical idea. Let our community create an objective third-party entity to evaluate the character of various schools and then help parents match their children to the school with the appropriate profile. This plan could really push schools to be better, as student matching would be based on the essence of the school.

Active collaboration is the other piece of the puzzle. As opposed the infinite secular studies market, the market for Jewish educational products is tiny. Little financial opportunity exists for those who could produce cutting edge Torah learning, and we therefore lag behind the rest of the world in regards to innovation (there are other reasons as well, but this is a biggie). One major way to overcome this hurdle is to collaborate. If schools pool resources, compromise, and work together, a viable market might be created for some major curricular and methodological advancement. Another option is for staff from different schools working together to create a set of advanced instructional tools that many schools can use.

We must remember that we are all on the same team. We all want to transmit a Torah lifestyle to the next generation. We want this for all members of our community, irrespective of where each family sends their kids to school. If we truly care for one another in this way, cooperation should be an integral part of the fabric of our school system. Every stakeholder, from parent to faculty to board member should be asking “what is my school doing to build working relationships with other schools?” Collaboration (with healthy competition) could be the key to moving Jewish education forward.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Costume Crisis

As Purim approaches, a sense of desperation is beginning to set in among Jewish role models everywhere. “Last year it was so easy. My wife’s sheitel, a skirt, a pair of fake tefillin, and the cheap laughs just rolled in,” says one educator who chose to remain nameless. “But this year, who am I going to mock?”

Last year, SAR High School permitted two girls to wear tefillin, setting off a firestorm of controversy and inspiring a number of “SAR girl in tefillin” Purim costumes. The incognito ensembles allowed educators to impart lessons in an active manner, serving as material manifestations of insults towards heretics. In the words of one such role-model, “I’m usually only able to verbally ridicule those I disagree with, but now I can mamish teach by example.”

The negative consequences go further. Some are now forced to spend time normally dedicated to learning Torah thinking about a costume. Others have even given up on wearing a costume at all. “If I can’t set an example with what I wear, I’ll have to get doubly drunk this year,” says Rabbi Chaim (Jeremy) Schwartz.* “That way I can really express my love of Hashem for all to see.”

Although the situation seems dire, options seem to exist. Why not dress up like Barry Freundel? “Rabbi Barry Freundel should not be mocked,” Rabbi Schwartz argues. “He is just a good man who fell victim to his yetzer hara. You can’t equate what he did to girls wearing tefillin. Only one of them is true heresy.” Wise words from a man of morals.

Costumes aren’t the only problem; Purim shpiels are in danger as well. Last year’s scripts mocking girls wearing tefillin are no longer relevant. And the situation is dicey. “Without an easy target that everyone can make fun of, students are now going to make fun of others in our school,” says student-activities director Rabbi Noam Farbstein. “We can’t leave our students open to public ridicule.” Sound hypocritical? Not so, says Rabbi F. “We don’t really know the names of the girls who wear tefillin, so it’s not really that bad. It’s almost like they aren’t actual people in our students’ eyes. The boys won’t feel like they are saying real Lashon Hara."

But all hope is not lost. As I write these words, Shalhevet High School of Los Angeles is furiously investigating all leads into potentially scandalous decisions made at SAR in the past few months. According to editor Samantha Silver, “we’ve heard rumors of potential mechitza-removing and Triangle-K eating, but nothing we can confirm at this time.” Such news would be music to the ears of many. “I’m really hoping for something to come up soon,” said a local Rebbetzin. “My children really need to learn the importance of properly placed scorn and contempt. Isn’t that what Purim is all about?”


*All names have been changed for the sake of privacy

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Forum or Against 'Em?

As a Jewish educator, I am constantly aware of the various ways in which individuals relate to our religion. The individualistic approach is often most stark with high school students in the process of identity formation. Interacting with teenagers as they navigate the assimilation of religion into their personae can be at once fascinating, frustrating, disheartening, and inspiring. Above all, these experiences have solidified my appreciation of the need for various forms of Jewish expression.

For this reason, I am a bit wary of Yeshiva University’s choice of Neo-Chassidus for its latest Orthodox Forum. As a colleague of mine pointed out, phenomenology (the study of how people experience things) is a large part of Rav Soloveitchik’s thought, and is therefore a very appropriate lens for Yeshiva University to use. If the goal of this forum is understanding the experience of Neo-Chassidus and using this understanding to gain a more nuanced view of religion, kol hakavod. Unfortunately, current trends lead me to be concerned that this may not be the case.

To be clear, I do not intend to project dubious intentions on those who chose the topic, nor is this directed at any of the writers. My concern is simply about the current social climate that made this topic a relevant choice.

In recent years, social media has broken down boundaries across the world, and in doing so has allowed public conversations to include millions of voices at once. No longer are any ideas immune from criticism or mockery. On the other hand, the global conversation has facilitated a tremendous amount of idea-sharing, allowing individuals to develop nuanced viewpoints on subjects they never would have access to in the past.

Global Jewish conversations have followed the same pattern. It has become in vogue for Jewish pundits, writers and experts (those deserving of the title and self-appointed ones) to place a large amount of energy into deconstructing the behaviors and customs of those who do differently. Besides creating animosity, this phenomenon has another result. Those able to positively impact their own communities through influential writing, public initiatives, and proactive leadership are not. Instead, they spend time criticizing others in the “defense of the truth.”

Bringing this back to Neo-Chassidus, the criticizers were in top form after the Jewish Action article chronicling Neo-Chassidus was published. One blogger felt the need to defend the faith by asking “Why not Neo-Hisnagdus?” as if there is a competition for the heart of the Orthodox world. An article in this paper two weeks ago discussed those who “worry out loud” about Neo-Chassidus as if it has destructive potential, and many people give Neo-Chassidus nothing more than a “at least it keeps some people frum” nod.

The practice of placing every idea and behavior under the microscope of authenticity has to stop. There is nothing wrong with respectful debate, even if emotions run a little high. This is all normal. But it should give one pause when Yeshiva University feels it so important to dedicate its one annual forum to deconstruct a phenomenon that brings joy, spirit, and depth of understanding to Judaism. Neo-Chassidus is not a threat, and it is not the “other.” It is simply one expression of a Torah meant to reach many. If we can’t appreciate the validity of various approaches, that is a problem.

Although we begin asking ourselves “how does this fit into my identity?” as teenagers, the process doesn’t end there. Thoughtful individuals are constantly assimilating certain ideas and behaviors while rejecting others. However, it is important for us to realize that what one rejects can become the identity of another. One approach is not necessarily right and the other wrong; the two are simply different. Live and let live; such a simple idea, yet so routinely ignored. Maybe we should hold a forum to discuss it.

Originally Published in Jewish Link of NJ and of Westchester Bronx & Connecticut (,

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Torah Sheba'al Peh and Jewish Values

Eventually, every student of the Talmud will (or at least should) ask himself, and others, the simple question, “Why?” Why learn Gemara? What is the value in analyzing legal conversations that often contain rejected opinions and halachot that don’t apply to us today? Why can’t we just be told what to do? Many of those who have sought answers to this question have heard some or all of the following:
Gemara helps us appreciate where our practices come from. There is no substitute for the sharpening of the mind that comes with learning Gemara. Gemara is the ultimate in Talmud Torah because it requires complete dedication of one’s time and intellect. It purifies the mind and the soul because of the effort required to learn it…because that’s what we do.
And the list goes on.
One angle that I appreciate the more I learn and teach (and that is less commonly referenced) is that the Torah She’ba’al Peh is a conduit for teaching Jewish values. Our sages’ halachic thoughts and rulings were not born in a legal vacuum, devoid of religious meaning. The Torah She’ba’al Peh is, by its very essence, driven by the will to actualize Jewish values.
We don’t normally think about the Torah She’ba’al Peh in this manner. To many, the Torah She’ba’al Peh is a process in which Jewish sources are analyzed, compared, contrasted, and questioned to determine proper halachic practice. The outcome is really the important goal, and how we get there almost seems unimportant in the grand scheme. Even the halachot are commonly viewed from a practical standpoint; that they represent a way of uniting Jews through ritual, and that is all. However, if we view the process and halachot as a way of transmitting Jewish values, study of the Torah She’ba’al Peh becomes a much more meaningful venture.
I’d like to provide one example of how this came up in my 9th-grade Torah She’ba’al Peh class.
At the end of the second chapter of Masechet Bava Kama, a number of halachic scenarios and rulings are provided by Rabbah. In one of these situations, Rabbah provides a puzzling ruling. Rabbah said: If someone throws an object (belonging to someone else) from the top of a roof while there were mattresses and cushions underneath (for it to land on), even if said mattresses or cushions were removed by another person (while the object was in the air), or even if [the one who had thrown it] removed [the mattresses and cushions] himself, there is exemption from payment…
Here, Rabbah rules that the one who damages is completely exempt from payment because neither of his or her actions can be defined as a “destructive act.” The act of throwing the object from the roof doesn’t meet the criteria because when the object was released, it was projected to land safely. The act of removing the cushions is not an “act of damage” because it does not involve exerting any force (direct or indirect) on the object itself.
At first, this ruling seems absurd. How can we exempt someone from damage if this person is completely responsible? However, if we take a values approach, we can make sense of Rabbah’s halacha.
Perhaps Rabbah is teaching us that there is a Jewish value of avoiding looking for a people to blame when disaster strikes. A society in which blame defines responsibility can become a society where there always must be “someone else” at fault. If so, we can almost always point to one person or event and say “there is the cause!” when, in fact, there may not be a true cause, or maybe the fault lies in us. Halacha may require a stricter definition for responsibility due to this value, even at the expense of giving the one responsible a way out in certain situations.
Taking such an approach to this Gemara helped many of my students (but not all) come to grips with Rabbah’s difficult ruling. This approach also facilitated a nice discussion about the importance of viewing halacha as “Jewish values put into practice.” It was interesting to see certain students react when faced with the possibility that halachic observance cannot be divorced from living with Jewish values.
Not every unit of thought or halacha mentioned in the Gemara is driven by an easily detectable value or set of values. However, we owe it to ourselves, our students, and our children to be on the lookout for meaning in our religious learning and rituals. This is a key component of the Torah She’ba’al Peh and a crucial idea to pass on to the next generation.
Originally posted on the SAR High School Faculty Blog:

Friday, May 16, 2014

Public Service Announcement

Please take a look at the following press release from the Jewish Education Innovative Challenge. It is nice to see an example of significant financial support to promote innovation in Jewish education. V'chein yirbu.

What Happens at Camp Doesn't Stay at Camp

Our last discussion began with a survey, so this one will begin with a trivia question: Who are the role models that have the most intense exposure to children at one time? If you said parents or teachers, you are close, but wrong. The correct answer to this question is sleep-away camp counselors. Think about it: Parents send their kids to school for most of the day, and teachers interact with individual students for a maximum of three hours or so. But counselors spend every waking hour with their campers (minus a break period or two), and every sleeping one as well. As astounding as this fact may be, do we ever stop to consider it? Perhaps if we did, we might view things a little differently.

I got to thinking about this topic after coming across my old color war hat. The hat is covered with signatures from friends and staff members alike. Most who signed simply felt their signatures alone were enough for posterity. However, there were also a few more lengthy messages, some of which are not appropriate for this article. At least one of these less-than-tactful proclamations was from a counselor (not necessarily mine). Not exactly what should be expected of a role model.

Signature hat aside, it has been a while since I have attended sleep-away camp, so I am not in position to generalize about staff members in camps nowadays. However, I can confidently say that when I went to camp, a large percentage of the staff members could be described as setting examples that weren’t exactly ideal. This doesn’t mean that they were bad counselors overall, but I can still identify certain staff members by the “great things” each of them taught me.

To be fair, a large percentage of my counselors were very good role models. I can think of a few who had a very positive impact on my life in many ways. Some of these counselors have gone on to successful careers serving the Jewish community, a testament to their excellent characters. Either way, whether good or bad, the impact is compounded when you think about how much time is spent with the bunk. A good role model is having a positive influence on your child 24/7 and the inverse is true as well.

So what does this all mean practically? (I will pass on the abuse-related issues here - it is for those with more expertise to discuss.) First of all, it means parents should talk to their children about when to (and when not to) learn from someone’s behavior, and about what the proper reactions are if they feel a role-model is not acting properly. Also, parents might want to learn about their children’s counselors, both before and during the summer. If someone is with your kid all day every day, you have a right to know who he or she is.

Aside from what parents can do, camps should be proactive as well, and hire the best staff members they can. However, as someone who has been interviewing potential (day camp) counselors for five years now, I can honestly say that camps don’t always get enough ideal candidates to fill all the counselor spots. Most of the counselors I have supervised over the years have been great, but not all. Sometimes a bad counselor comes as surprise, and sometimes not. The “not” situations usually come about when we have no choice because we need bodies in camp. So what is a camp to do? I have one suggestion.

I think that working as a camp counselor is an excellent opportunity for someone who is looking to get some basic experience working in Chinuch. A counselor is required to motivate children in a positive manner, model proper middot, and find the proper balance between being an authority figure and a “friend.” All of these skills are essential to being a good teacher. Counselors can also conduct learning groups for their campers instead of (or in conjunction with) a full Chinuch staff. Put all of this together, and camps can provide a forum to train young educators, all while employing these older and more mature young men and women as staff members. In this way, everyone can benefit - parents, camps, future teachers, and our children.

Whether this suggestion is practical or not is a side point. The most important thing is that our summer camps function to provide positive Jewish experiences for our children. So ask yourself: what do you want written on your child’s color war hat?

(Originally Published in the Jewish Link of Bergen County

Friday, April 11, 2014

There's Learning and Then There's Learning

Time for a quick survey. How many of you have ever had a teacher that was basically the human embodiment of a textbook? You know the type, standing (or sitting) at the front of the room and just listing off facts for you to write down and memorize for the test. The best type of this teacher at least puts notes on the board or projects a powerpoint onto a screen (or the wall if you are less lucky). The worst type of this teacher actually reads the textbook aloud and you are expected to follow along. Does this sound familiar? Okay, You can all put your hands down.

Now a follow-up question: what is the worst part of teaching this way? If you said the biggest issue is that it makes learning boring, you are wrong. Boring is definitely not good, but truthfully, a teacher can teach in this manner and be very exciting. A history teacher might present the subject as an epic tale, captivating the audience from beginning to end. But even the most engaging “textbook teacher” is holding something back from his or her students.

Before directly discussing this manner of teaching, let’s ponder what learning truly means. According to educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom, there is an entire hierarchy of skills and accomplishments that  constitute learning. Known as (the updated) Bloom’s Taxonomy, it begins with the lowest level of “knowledge” and peaks with “creating.” The philosophy behind Bloom’s Taxonomy is not complicated. It simply argues that true learning involves understanding every idea or set of facts with a depth that enables the learner to utilizing knowledge to “apply,” “analyze,” “evaluate,” and “create” (the top four tiers of the Taxonomy).  

Thinking about the ultimate goals of learning has impact here as well. What do we want our children to able to do with what they learn? Get on Jeopardy? Impress people at shul dinners with interesting facts? Maybe. But this is not the vision of success for most parents. We want our children to understand life in a profound way, appreciate G-d’s universe, succeed at their jobs, and make their mark on the world. These goals require the skills and creativity that transcend simple knowledge of facts.

(To be fair, knowledge is the essential element for all learning, and teaching information is therefore essential. Knowledge itself is also empowering and ennobling. Not all information can be gleaned by simply reading books, and many concepts available in books need experts to explain and clarify them. A teacher who does none of this is hurting his or her students as well. Additionally, for many students, the lower levels in Bloom’s Taxonomy might be exactly what they need at this point in their learning.)

Getting back to our “textbook teachers,” the biggest disservice they do their classes is to restrict their ability to partake in higher-level learning. Their students can become conditioned to think learning is rote, static, and yes, boring. These children then miss opportunities to acquire and sharpen the skills needed to make meaning out of knowledge. But don’t jump to blame the teacher. It has taken time for new models of learning to take hold, and many teachers are simply following in the footsteps of their own teachers or mentors.

So, if want to know why your daughter has to memorize Civil War battles for a test, you aren’t crazy. And if it bothers you that your son’s Chumash notes consist solely of questions and answers of commentators, you have a point. Knowing history is great, as is memorizing comments from Rashi and Ramban, but this information should be seen as a means and not an end. Plenty of avenues exist to bring more profound learning experiences to the classroom (maybe we can discuss a few in future articles). With openness  a new definition of learning, our children can benefit from opportunities that many of us never had.

(Originally Published in the Jewish Link of Bergen County

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Seder Night: Teaching by Example

Originally Posted on the SAR High School Faculty Blog

While learning the laws of Shabbat with one of my classes, I encountered the following challenge: As important as it is to discuss the values behind and purposes of certain mitzvot, what happens when many details of a mitzvah don’t support its purpose (or at least not in an obvious manner)?  I didn’t want my students to get the impression that halacha is disconnected from and ignorant of the purpose of each mitzvah.

For example, we learned in class that an essential part of Shabbat is shifting our focus from what we create to focusing on simply being. This accounts for the definition of melacha (literally: “work” - the word used by the Torah for the actions prohibited on Shabbat) as being creative activity, and not simply hard work. However, refraining from ripping toilet paper doesn’t exactly scream “existential awareness,” and sorting a pile of socks does not exactly come across as creative. To many students, this might mean that Hilchot Shabbat are as “out of touch,” and “outdated” as the Rabbis who initiated them. Although we might intuit that this critique is unfair and untrue, how do we properly defend the detail-oriented practice of Halacha?

I presented two solutions to my students. I would like to share one of the answers here, as it is intimately connected with the chag of Pesach.

An intriguing aspect of the Pesach Seder is the encouraging of kushyot. As opposed to presenting questions asked out of curiosity, the required reading of the night challenges the practices of the seder. When we ask why this is night different, we are actually asking “why would we act this way if it’s out of the norm and seemingly senseless?” The four questions challenge us to defend the mitzvot of the night and explain the purpose of our aberrant behavior. Is this really a prudent approach to promote among our youth?

Going back to our first example, imagine if I were to walk into class, hand out slips of paper, and tell my class the following: “Today we will begin our study of Hilchot Shabbat, but we cannot begin until you all read aloud from the paper in front of you.” Then, the class announces with perfect unity and clarity, “why do we need to learn the laws of Shabbat? They don’t make sense!” I’m not sure how long I would keep my job if I taught this way. So why is this the plan at the Seder?

The solution to this problem provides us with an critical aspect of chinuch. Namely, if we teach by example, we need not fear challenges to faith; if such is the case, we can actually encourage kushyot.  

To me, teaching by example is the number one pedagogical lesson of the Seder. The Haggadah is replete with examples. We eat marror to teach about the bitterness and we recline with wine to demonstrate freedom. Our actions represent both slavery and freedom because the transition from one to another is the story. These represent just a few instances; viewing the rituals of the night through this lens helps us appreciate the meaning behind a number of the parts of the Seder.

If we teach our students and children by showing them the beauty of a life of Torah and Mitzvot, the positive effects should be numerous. We will not only demonstrate how to act, but we engender positive feelings. A deep sense of respect and appreciation for Judaism is essential to remaining a committed Jew. Additionally, a cycle of positive outcomes is at play here; when we set the right example, it strengthens our own commitment and creates an even more powerful example. This is exactly why the knowledge of the participants is irrelevant at the Seder. The Haggadah is about strengthening our own appreciation for becoming God’s faithful people; the goal is not to simply learn what happened.

Now we can solve our original problem. How do we expect our children and students to appreciate intricate halachot with such a wide gap between each detail and the overall mitzvah? One solution is to help them develop a general sense of appreciation. Understanding the meaning behind each detail should then become irrelevant, or at least less essential. When you know that something works, you don’t need to concern yourself with asking “why.” Or, if you do feel the need to ask, not finding the answer shouldn’t derail your faith.

So, before discussing Hilchot Shabbat, I asked my student to raise their hands if they were happy to have Shabbat in their lives. Every single student in the class concurred and provided reasons other than not having school. If their appreciation for Shabbat is a given, they should have a resulting respect for all the laws that make Shabbat what it is. Moreover, whether or not someone living in a halacha-oriented community keeps all the laws of Shabbat is not essential to appreciate these laws. The conscious and unconscious impact the laws of Shabbat have on each individual and the community as a whole is immeasurable. We may not understand how it all works, but we can still trust that a certain seder exists.

At this point, the lesson is clear. For our children and students to appreciate the rituals and beliefs of a Torah lifestyle, we must first demonstrate to them the beauty of such a life. Understanding this principle can help us turn contentious discussions into edifying experiences.  A life full of faith-challenges can become a nuanced and meaningful existence. As success in this endeavor is crucial, we all - parent and teacher alike - should feel responsible to set the right example.