Reach, Teach, and Inspire

December 22, 2022

Don’t Love Your Students—Care About Them

A Conversation with Rabbi Moshe Young

Photos by Jacob Elbogen

Mordechai Resnick

When it comes to UK chinuch in general and chinuch habanos in particular, one of the first contemporary names that come to mind is Rabbi Moshe Young. Rabbi Young’s career spans decades in the UK as well as in the US and continues to this day. He has served in the roles of rebbi, principal, founder, lecturer, mentor, role model, and teacher for many boys and many thousands of girls. He graciously invited me to his home to share some of his insight and experiences.

Rabbi Young began his career in chinuch by teaching boys for seven years in the London Hasmonean Grammar School. Later, he was principal of the Bais Yaakov high school in Manchester for 20 years. He moved to the US in 1996 and lived in New York for five years, after which he moved to Lakewood.

Today, he continues his legacy of girls’ chinuch in Bais Yaakov Seminar L’Moros in Brooklyn and the Lakewood Seminary. He has authored four popular books, including Apples from the Tree, Whose Love Is Greater, and Partners in Growth, all on chinuch; and Behind the Curtain, on general Torah hashkafah. He also writes a biweekly column for the Jewish Tribune, a British paper. In addition, couples come to Rabbi Young for eitzos and shalom bayis, and he is happy to help.

Educating every child

Rabbi Young relates that in the high school in Manchester, students were always split up by ability. Although this isn’t done in American schools, it is something he feels very strongly about. The common rationale for mixed-ability classes is that placing students in a “class B” stigmatizes them and labels them as the weaker students, but Rabbi Young dismisses this concern and points to the significant benefits of a differentiated system.

“I have had students thanking me for placing them in the C class and even crediting me for all their future success,” he says.

Not all students can learn at the same pace. If weaker students are taught at a slower pace and in a more gradual manner, they can walk away with a feeling of accomplishment rather than feeling lost and frustrated. When there are only parallel classes, teaching is often too slow for some and too advanced for others. The brighter students aren’t able to reach their full potential, while the weakest students struggle to keep up and often fall through the cracks.

Some mosdos are worried about the extra costs of hiring more rebbe’im and teachers in order to split classes up. Rabbi Young finds this unacceptable. If a school is not teaching the weaker students, their parents may be compelled to spend thousands of dollars for tutors on top of their yeshivah tuition. The school is thus shirking its basic responsibility of educating every child.

Although many American parents object to their child being placed in a B or C class, Rabbi Young believes that if the mosdos would get together and implement this system, the parent bodies would accept it as the best for their children.

Rabbi Young believes that having a student skip ahead a grade is very not ideal; he asserts that only four girls were moved up in the 20 years that he led the high school. In order to skip a student, academic excellence is not enough; the student needs the maturity necessary to mingle with older children. When asked how that decision is made, he underscores the need for a mechanech to know all of his or her students very well.

“I was in charge of both kodesh and chol, so I knew the full picture of every student.”

Similar deliberations went into the decision of whether to hold a girl back another year in a grade, and this was also done very rarely. “I needed the parents’ agreement that leaving back was necessary due to lack of academic advancement, but there were several other considerations as well. How close to the cut-off date was the girl’s birthday? How well would she succeed if she repeated the grade? Would she face further frustration, or, on the opposite extreme, would she know too much and become stuck up or bossy toward her younger peers?”

Another topic in chinuch that Rabbi Young feels strongly about is the importance of versatility in rebbe’im. A rebbi should be able to move from grade to grade and from an A class to a B or C class. This not only broadens their horizons, it helps prevent burnout. Rebbe’im who teach the same perek of Gemara or mishnayos—on the same level year after year will quickly burn out from the repetition.

Higher education for girls

For a period of three years, Rabbi Young taught classes in the Gateshead seminary. He also founded and led Yad L’Chinuch, an organization that provided advice to parents and educators in areas of chinuch.

Rabbi Young was very close with the Manchester rosh yeshivah Rav Yehudah Zev Segal, who supported his idea of opening a girls’ seminary in Manchester while he was still the principal of the Bais Yaakov. A chassidishe seminary already existed, but there was a need for a seminary that catered to the growing litvishe crowd. In 1988, Rabbi Young, together with a group of askanim, founded BSS (Beis Sarah Schenirer) Seminary in Manchester. He appointed Rabbi Yehuda Marmorstein as its principal, a position Rabbi Marmorstein holds to this day.

Rabbi Young gives over very deep ideas in his shiurim, culled from the Michtav M’Eliyahu, Maharal, the writings of Rav Tzadok HaCohen, and Rav Yitzchak Hutner’s sefarim. He often delves into well-known medrashim or concepts in Chumash and Nach and interprets them on a much higher level. He believes that students must be well stimulated, and they must advance from the simple and childish understanding of the midrashim that they were taught in playgroup.

“For example, take the midrash about Yaakov Avinu’s experience with the stones around his head. A child is taught that each of the stones complained that the tzaddik’s head should rest on it, so Hashem made them all into one stone. The lesson? We must share with each other. Unfortunately, even seminary girls can still carry this childish perception of the midrash, but the midrash carries a much deeper meaning, as explained by the Maharal.” Rabbi Young goes on to explain this midrash, based on Yaakov’s shleimus in the middah of emes.

Another example is the idea of kefitzas haderech. “When we have no traffic on the highway and get to New York in under an hour, we commonly call that kefitzas haderech,” says Rabbi Young. But the kefitzas haderech that Yaakov experienced was very different. For most people, the body is in charge and carries around the neshamah like a passenger in a taxi. Since the body is governed by the physical constraints of the natural world, it takes some time to get from one place to the other. However, when a person is complete, their neshamah drives their body. The neshamah is l’malah min hazman, above time constraints, and can reach a destination in an instant.

When asked why teaching girls on a higher level is so important, Rabbi Young quotes a letter written by the Chafetz Chaim about the Sarah Schenirer movement: “Today [when girls are more educated and can read and write in the general language], it certainly is a great mitzvah to teach girls…in order that they should internalize the truth of our holy beliefs. Failing this, they will turn away completely from the way of Hashem…chas v’shalom.” Rabbi Young adds that it is important to keep students stimulated and to give them a grounding in basic Yahadus concepts such as schar v’onesh, yedias Hashem, suffering in this world, and love and fear of Hashem.

This is true for both boys and girls. “Imagine you’re a Jewish teenager, and you’re seated on a plane next to a secular teen. It turns out that your neighbor is also Jewish, although not frum, and is a highly intelligent and inquisitive college student. A conversation quickly gets started, and the young lad or girl has lots of questions, most of which you answer easily. Then your neighbor asks, ‘Where was G-d in Auschwitz?’ If you were never taught Yahadus in school, how will you be able to reply to their pointed question? Chazal say, ‘Know what to respond to a non-believer.’”

Another important benefit of delving deeper into core ideas is that you show the girls that there is so much depth to the Torah, which adds to the girls’ appreciation of the chashivus of Torah.

Teachers often use stories as a way to inspire students, but Rabbi Young believes that those must come together with well-built lessons that also educate rather than relying solely on the inspiration of a nice story. “I prefer perspiration to inspiration,” he says. “The emotional response alone is often short-lived and has no lasting effect. Stories can be sprinkled in to add to the effect of the lesson, but the main objective must be helping students understand the core ideas and why they are true.”

The educator-student bond

Rabbi Young points to the bond between rebbi and talmid or teacher and student as an essential component of chinuch. “In order for a student to truly succeed, both sides must share trust and love. This relationship can face common challenges that inhibit progress, and they often boil down to a characteristic that makes it harder for the two to connect with one another, such as a child’s shyness or a teacher’s impatience.”

Educators often say that they “love” a certain student. Rabbi Young quotes Rabbi Mordechai Miller of Gateshead, who would say that “love” is the wrong word. “You love your top student like you love ice cream. It is ahavah hateluyah b’davar, a love that is dependent on selfish considerations. You like the student because they are well-behaved and easy to teach, but the moment they start making trouble, you don’t like them anymore.”

Instead, the right word is “care.” You should care for your students, regardless of their achievements, not unlike physicians who care about the health of their patients. “Don’t just show an interest in them,” says Rabbi Young. “Be interested and concerned about them.” If you meet them on the street, ask them where they’re going or how they are doing. Stop them in the school hallways. Take an interest in their well-being and academic progress.

A word to mechanchim

When asked for advice for mechanchim, Rabbi Young responds that a rebbi or morah should have a sense of humor. They should be firm with their rules, but limit the number of rules they have, if possible. They should carry respect, but with a smile.

Also, prizes should be kept to a minimum, and positive reinforcement should be used instead to encourage students and motivate them to succeed.

“A study was performed about a century ago in which teachers were told to divide their class into three groups. A third would be constantly rewarded regardless of achievement, a third would be constantly rebuked, and a third would be completely ignored. The progress of these students was tracked. All three groups quickly stopped progressing.”

The first group soon learned that their achievements did not affect their rewards, and they lost the motivation to continue. Similarly, the second group learned that their successes were not recognized, and their progress soon flattened as well. But the quickest to tank were the members of the third group, who felt invisible.

Rabbi Young explains that the best way to motivate a student is by praising their success. Students should be challenged to their limits, but not beyond their limits. “I have a refrain I like to use: ‘Intermittent failure is the key to success.’ Children are most motivated by the feeling of accomplishment that comes from overcoming challenges. A great example is when a child learns how to ride a bike. They first fall a few times, but then they proudly show their parents how they can ride without falling.”

Another important rule Rabbi Young shares is not to try to be a friend or equal with your students. “In the ’60s, the ideology of permissive society began to spread in the UK,” he says. “Teachers were taught that they were ‘facilitators’ rather than authoritative figures. They were to make suggestions to students rather than make demands.” For example, if a child in playgroup was emptying all the sand out of a sandbox, they were not to be told, “Don’t throw out the sand.” Instead, teachers were instructed to say, “If you throw out all the sand, you won’t have any sand to play with.” This attitude turns the child into the ba’al habayis and undermines the teacher’s ability to educate properly.

A Chanukah message

The conversation moves to the upcoming Yom Tov of Chanukah. Rabbi Young shares, “We think Greek culture has been eradicated for centuries, but the truth is that Hellenism is far from dead in our times.”

An example can be found in the field of psychology. When it comes to most areas of science and technological advances, people are aware of the intersection between Torah and science and are careful to apply Halachah to each innovation. Our kitchens are governed by the halachos of Shabbos and kashrus. Business, finance, and professions are dictated by Choshen Mishpat. The meat and farming industries are shaped by the Shulchan Aruch. However, there is one area of expertise in which the intersection with Halachah isn’t obvious, and that is psychology. Although the Torah has much to say about the workings of the human mind and behavior, it is not as explicit in halachic sources, and people are unaware of the implications of these Torah ideas.

Because of this lack of awareness, even the frummest of psychologists often borrow ideas from non-Jewish sources without realizing that they run contrary to Torah ideas and values. These sources do not recognize bechirah, scorn authority, and preach permissibility, and they often infiltrate the systems we have built to support the struggling child. We must recognize these foreign ideas for what they truly are and work to root them out from our midst. Only the Torah is emes.

Rabbi Young hands me a copy of Behind the Curtain and firmly brushes aside my objections while he walks me to the door. The care he still carries for his thousands of past students is evident in his voice and his smile, a heartwarming image which remains with me all the way to my car. His ideas are insightful and empowering, and his belief in the ability of every child to succeed is refreshing and invigorating.