Orthodox Rabbi Advocates Free Love

I caught the Shabbos morning sermon by Shalhevet’s new moral leader Rabbi Elchanan Weinbach.

He noted that the Talmud says the second temple was destroyed because of needless hatred (sinat chinam) among Jews.

Rabbi Weinbach gave the familiar but impractical suggestion that the third temple will be built because of ahavat chinam among Jews.

He says "ahavat chinam" translates as "free love."

"But don’t go home and say that Shalhevet’s new head of school advocates free love. So I’m going to translate it as ‘unconditional love.’"

All this unconditional love talk is a complete waste of time. Not only is it impossible, it is not even moral. It means you give as much love to the wicked as to the good.

Rabbin Weinbach talked about his relatives who are the embodiment of Modern Orthodoxy in New York. Their three kids became charedim.


The mom says, "My kids are the same. Their uniforms have changed."

Shabbos afternoon. Dr. Bruce Powell (head of the New Jewish Community High School in West Hills) and Jason Ablin (head of Milken High School) spoke about Jewish education.

There are apparently 10,000 students in Jewish day schools in Los Angeles with a total budget of $140 million (with about $40 million going to scholarships).

Powell was head of secular studies at YULA for 13 years. Then he was the head of Milken for nine years.

He says the Orthodox are naeseh v’nishman (we will do and we will understand) and that the non-Orthodox demand to understand before they do.

He says the kids at his new school are far stronger with their ethics (the commandments between man and man) than his kids at YULA. That while YULA students may take on a commitment to not speak lashon hara for two hours a week, his West Valley kids take on that commitment 24/7.

Well, maybe that is because YULA is a stronger community and people have more of an incentive to talk about each other while Powell’s current school is a community school and the community is not as strong and hence there’s less incentive to talk about each other.

In the discussion, the Orthodox are called Orthodox and the non-Orthodox are often called "open" or "pluralist." So if someone doesn’t keep Shabbos, he’s called "open" and/or "pluralist."

Some kid at Powell’s West Hills school wants to compete in track meets on Shabbos. The kid says he went to Germany to the stadium that hosted the 1936 Olympics and he ran a couple of laps with the kavvanah (intention) that he wanted to run for the Jews. And that he ran around a few concentration camps with the same kavvanah.

This kid and his father (a USC professor) went before a West Hills beit din (composed of a Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbi) and made his case for being allowed to compete on Shabbat and the Beit Din unanimously allowed it.

Jason Ablin talked about his school’s basketball team from a few years ago. They were expected to be terrible and they turned out to be great. They got to the playoffs. They won their first two games. Their third game was scheduled for Friday night. The host school wouldn’t move the game from Shabbos.

The head of religious education at Milken, Rabbi Gorden Bernat-Kunin (who booted me from this singles group makor about a dozen years ago for being disruptive) told the kids he would offer them a methadology (or some such touchy feely non-Orthodox talk filled with sentiments of individual autonomy) for deciding the issue but they should decide it themselves.

At an Orthodox school, this wouldn’t be an issue. There’s no way Orthodox Judaism allows a Jew to compete athletically on Shabbat.

So the kids got together and decided they would not play on Shabbat.

Milken officials then got on speaker phone with the host school and told them the kids’ decision.

The host school initially decided that Milken would forfeit but later arrangements were made for the game to be played 90-minutes after Shabbat.

Milken lost by 25 points.

No mention was made Shabbos afternoon of the 2002 pornographic movie made by three Milken students (apparently starring a ninth grade girl and her two male friends, I assume it was not made on Shabbat yet nobody ever mentions this in its defense nor promotes it in Milken’s filmmaking program).

From the November 6, 2003 Jewish Journal:

When this incident broke, the school set aside classes and special sessions where kids could work through their emotions about the complex issues of sexuality, dignity and lashon harah (gossip and slander).

"They didn’t go overboard and didn’t give sermons or anything like that," the 12th-grader said. "They just brought it up in Jewish studies class, which seemed like the place to talk about ethics and things."

Teachers let the kids’ emerging emotions and thoughts guide the discussion, but they also tried to help them stay rooted in core Jewish values, according to Rabbi Gordon Bernat-Kunin, rabbinic director of the high school. Administrators are hoping that both the immediate reactions and the long-term curricular changes will help the students better grasp the difficult issues of sexuality and self-esteem.

Sex education and discussions of intimacy and relationships are part of a progressive program throughout high school, in health classes co-taught by rabbis, in Jewish studies classes and through informal programming.

Using both traditional and liberal source material, discussions about platonic and intimate relationships focus on human dignity and ideas about kedushah, making things holy by keeping them elevated and exclusive; the notion of tzniut, of privacy and internality; and the need to stay away from situations that can lead to deception, Bernat-Kunin said.

Shalhevet also loves to have kids make their own rules. They get lots of fancy talk about methodologies and autonomy and the Kohlberg nonsense of moral development (the highest is when you do something because you think it is right, a notion completely antithetical to Torah, but hey, it is secularly hip).

Both Powell and Ablin have backgrounds in English.

Dr. Powell says his West Hills school doesn’t "tolerate" its Orthodox students but "embraces" them. Milken also has Orthodox students. They take the "text intensive" track. It’s not called the Orthodox track.

There is a turn-out of over 100 persons for this Shabbos afternoon discussion and the interest level runs high.

Dr. Powell, who is not Orthodox, says that to be middle-class in Los Angeles you earn between $150,000 – $300,000 annually.

Jason, who is Orthodox, says that he tells any Orthodox parent considering sending their children to Milken Community High School: "I guarantee you that we will screw up at some point."

Milken is primarily for the non-Orthodox and there’s such a vast divide between the two camps that those at either end of the observance spectrum at Milken can’t rely on never feeling challenged.

Los Angeles has two community high schools (West Valley and Milken) while no other American city, including New York, has more than one.

It’s said that 75,000 Jewish kids go to public school in Los Angeles and the Jewish community needs to do a better job reaching out to them to bring them into parochial Jewish education.

From the Milken web site:

Jason Ablin, a product of the Lower East Side in New York City, received his AB degree from Vassar College with a double major in Political Science and English, and his Masters degree in English from NYU. He also spent two years at the prestigious Shappell’s Yeshiva in Jerusalem studying Jewish Law and Philosophy. Before coming to MCHS, he chaired the English Department at Yeshiva University High School of Los Angeles for six years. This will be Mr. Ablin’s 14th year working in Jewish education.

As the Director of Curriculum and Integration, Mr. Ablin guides the academic development and standards for the school, 7-12 th grades. He works with department chairs on curriculum articulation and creative possibilities in Integration between General and Jewish Studies. He is also responsible for the Hiring of faculty and staff as well as the New Teacher Induction Program.

At shalosh sheudos (third meal), Rabbi Weinbach says Shalhevet needs to do a better job of selling itself. He says the high school is going to dramatically upgrade its commitment to learning Jewish text.

Rabbi Weinbach says he’s never met so many articulate students as he did at Shalhevet.

He didn’t mention the widespread accusation that Shalhevet girls are sluts. I should’ve asked him if this was true and if so, what he planned to do about it.

I hear:

I thought he said the right things, but nothing controversial or all that interesting at Seuda Shlishi.  I wish him well, I think he has his work cut out for him.

I think the current model is unsustainable, and that is becoming clearer in this downturn. Counting on billions from superfunders as a fix is like you or me counting on the lottery to solve our personal financial issues. I think most day schools are deferring every expense they possibly can, raising tuition, and learning to manage more and more debt.  At the end of the day, except for those who have an objection to the content of publicly funded schools, most Jewish families are going to opt for a model where private Jewish education supplements public secular education.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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