Fisking the defenses of Rav Bina

There have been a number of defenses and justifications of R. Bina's approach since yesterday's article (and my comments on it) appeared. This post will address two of them - the spirited defense of an alumnus, and Rav Bina's official response.

Rav Bina's Response:
Dear Alumni, Parents and Friends of Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh,    
Throughout my nearly 40 years of teaching, I have spent every morning before davening asking Hashem to help guide me to make the right decisions for the benefit of my students.
This may be wholly accurate, but it is also entirely irrelevant. The key question is not whether he asked God for guidance, but whether that petition was granted. 
You can imagine my pain when I became aware of the recent hurtful and unbalanced article about me and the yeshiva.
I'm sure it was painful and hurtful. Possibly even unbalanced (as a corrective, something I'm sure he can understand). I note that he did not say the article is inaccurate.
As you know, I treat all my students like they are my own children and work to provide them with a warm and caring environment with the ultimate goal of creating generations of Jews who care and respect Torah, the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. 
I have not seen anybody suggest that he does not mean well. On the contrary, he apparently cares very, very deeply about his students. This, once again, is entirely irrelevant to the issue at hand. Good intentions, as we all know, are no guarantee of proper actions. Even abusive parents love their kids. To put a blunter point on it, Motti Elon could have written this paragraph with all sincerity, too.
At yeshiva, we try to enhance our students' relationship with Hashem and their families by giving them tools they will be able to use to evolve into leaders in their communities.
This is PR talk. Empowerment. Leadership. Blah, blah, blah. 
Well, at least I hope it is; I hope he doesn't think he's running an elite institution (like his father did).
This is what the yeshiva has done and this is what the yeshiva, with Hashem's help, will continue to do.
No doubt, but at what cost?
To my 3,000-and-growing alumni and families - Thank you for your continued support. It means a lot to me personally and to the entire Netiv Aryeh staff and family.    
This is his defense - you found what 5-10 people to talk out of 3,000 alumni? That's a 99.7% success rate. The reality is that the trail of wreckage is much broader than 0.3% of alumni. I think the NYJW article correctly states that there 's a "significant minority" that have a very different narrative of what goes on there.
With much love,
Aharon Bina 
On to the more spirited and substantive defense, posted by Doni Joszef:
It was only a matter of time...
Several months ago, a family friend let me in on a secret: An exposé was in the works, and its target was none other than Rav Bina.
Which Rav Bina?
Yes, THE “Rav Bina.”
Not helpful...
The Rav Bina we’ve all heard crazy stories about.
Oh, that Rav Bina.
The Rav Bina people love to hate.
More like, "the Rav Bina people love to tell crazy stories about" because, admit it, they're pretty crazy. The one about the guy davening mincha at the kotel in shorts? Classic. No malicious intent.
The Rav Bina that made me miserable, and made me think twice about myself, and made me wait for his sporadic 45 second naps at 4:00AM as I sat in his living room, silent and obedient. The Rav Bina that stood under my Chupah, shedding tears as he officiated my wedding. Yes, that Rav Bina.
OK, he has a very iconoclastic educational methodology that is really and truly based on love. And it works with some people. We get that. The NYJW article says that.
The Jewish Week has taken the myth out of Rav Bina’s legendary reputation.It’s public. It’s official. It was only a matter of time.
Because when parents, teachers, and students make decisions about who to entrust with their well-being for a year or two, it should be based on myth and legend, not fact and public record.
Of course, the “I Hate Rav Bina Blog” (gotta love the cleverness of that name) began spilling some of these secrets a few years ago.Feeling a sense of personal responsibility, I chimed in and posted my two cents. I wanted to defend Rav Bina. Or, at the very least, balance the skewed image being portrayed.
Not sure what you're getting at here.
The nature of the blog was more personal, provocative, and attacking. So was my response. The nature of the Jewish Week’s article was more balanced and principled – so is this response.
OK, here we go. A balanced and principled response. Excellent. Recognition that there's a difference between a haters' blog and a reputable publication. Even better.
Of course, I’d love to get heated and passionate and opinionated as I subject Rav Bina’s opponents to the tortures of my demeaning textual sarcasm. But I’d be acting on impulse. Hock is fun. But it’s not very mature.
You have already distanced yourself from R. Bina, since he uses demeaning (verbal) sarcasm as a way to build character. His defenders have tried to justify it, but none have denied it. But you think it's immature, and I agree.
I also would not call Rav Bina's detractors and critics "opponents."The latter term implies that it's something personal, which it is not.
Instead, I’d like to address the underlying issue: Where do we draw the line between healthy tough love and verbal abuse? Was Rav Bina’s approach, perhaps, a misguided one?
That and more: is the line between tough love and verbal (and emotional) abuse fixed, or does it depend on the student and his circumstances? And was there sufficient "truth in advertising" that enabled prospective students and their families to avoid being blindsided by his unconventional educational methods?
I am torn.
My own therapeutic approach is diametrically opposed to Rav Bina’s general style. I am a soft love type of guy – professionally and personally. 
But this is not about personal predispositions and "style." It's not chocolate vs. vanilla.
As such, my tendency is to empathize with the victims and feel pained by the stories I’ve heard and the experiences that I myself had to endure when things were less-than-sunny in mine and Rav Bina’s interesting relationship.
The implication here is that you have overcome your natural empathy because Rav Bina got results, in your case. But are those who did not emerge unscathed from the crucible of Rav Bina's affections somehow at fault and not deserving of empathy? Or are you suggesting that they are acceptable collateral damage?
But I trusted him. 
I did then. I do now. 
And this has made all the difference.
You skipped some steps here. You trusted him then, so you made it through the harrowing process? You trust him now, so you are willing to accept that this entire trail of wreckage is for the best? Or a fabrication? And how did he earn that trust? Before things got less-than-sunny or after? I will concede that Rav Bina's unconventional methods work with some students. The question is how we - as a community - ensure that the students who would thrive under his system get the opportunity to, and those who would be harmed by it know to stay the heck away. Gary Rosenblatt has helped clear that up. You, so far, have not.
Rav Bina’s greatest strength is also what brought this entire saga into fruition. He says it like it is. He’s politically incorrect if he needs to be. He laughs at conventional norms that most of us just accept because we’d rather just go with the flow. Rav Bina is upfront and authentic – perhaps, some may argue, to a fault.
There's a fallacy at play here. We tend to think that if someone says something wildly unpopular and unconventional, they must be right. Otherwise, why would they go out on a limb and say it? But in reality, just because people say unpopular, unconventional, and politically incorrect things, it does not mean that they're right. In a frum context, I'd call this the "ish emes" fallacy, and it's generally said about anyone who fulminates and bashes and rants. I have no problem with unconventional, believe me. I have a problem with misjudgment at another's expense.
The good news: people get exactly what they sign up for. 
Except when they don't. 
The bad news: people don’t always think before they act. 
You are blaming the victim. Though there may be some contributory negligence, people generally DO think before spending upwards of $20,000. Take a look at YNA's website - is there any intimation of what a student can expect? Anything about "tough love"? You say caveat emptor. I say, be honest about your approach, or else Gary Rosenblatt will keep you honest.
Some people need a softer, more sugarcoated type of place. There is no shortage of options.
You're right. There are. And now, armed with a better understanding of Netiv Aryeh's non-sugarcoated approach, many students who would otherwise end up there can find the right options.
No one is particularly at fault here.
When a kid gets to YNA and is completely blindsided by Rav Bina's tactics, nobody is at fault? A kid from out-of-town, a recent ba'al teshuva, someone just following his friends - somebody recruited that kid and didn't tell him what to expect. You're right that parents should be more diligent, but sheesh, man, if this is such a big part of the yeshiva, can't you be up front about it?
Rav Bina is blessed with an uncanny intuition. He has a gift. He grasps you in his realness. But he’s also human. He’s not always on the ball. Nobody is.
So out of 110 shana aleph kids every year, how many does he not grasp? Let's get some raw numbers. Is he right 99 times out of 100, or is he the proverbial broken clock that's right twice a day? How much collateral damage is acceptable? Maybe if he'd be more up-front about what he's trying to do, he wouldn't have to rely on his own flawed judgment when accepting students.
Many would have benefited greatly had they thought twice about which yeshiva to attend. If you aren’t ready to be challenged, if you don’t respond well to pressure, if you’d rather be fine-tuned than re-wired – go to another yeshiva. You’d be doing yourself and Rav Bina a tremendous favor.
It would help if the yeshiva told prospective students that they can expect re-wiring, not fine-tuning. Stop blaming the victim.
Tough love is not abuse. 
Except when it is.
It looks like abuse because it pains its recipient.
Tell that to the judge.
But egos are only broken through submission, and, sometimes, tough love is the only way to break past the countless defenses that our egos cleverly devise. Many of us could use a bit of ego adjustment. We need to be right-sized, even if it hurts.
I don't think your psychoanalytic model of the ego is particularly sound, let alone whether it needs to be broken and forced into submission through tough love. But even accepting all that, the process you describe is a last resort, not a popular program for teenagers. You're advocating chemotherapy for someone who just needs an aspirin. It's frankly horrifying.
I needed it, and I got it. Today I can appreciate what I then resented. I got exactly what I paid for. And I’m eternally grateful.
I'm glad that electroshock therapy worked for you, but I'd still sue the shrink who administers it to all his patients for malpractice.
Abuse is an act of aggression.Tough love is an act of affection.
Why on earth would you assume that they're mutually exclusive?
The wild & crazy Rav Bina tales can often paint the portrait of a ruthless aggressor.
No. They paint the portrait of a wild & crazy man.
You sometimes get the feeling that Netiv Aryeh looks a lot like Zimbardo’s infamous prison experiment, where inmates are tormented by the bullying of their guards. 
You especially get that feeling when former "inmates" testify that Rav Bina forges group identity by labeling them as outsiders.
Nothing could be further from reality
Beg to differ.
and anyone that has ever met Rav Bina – even those who testify against him – knows that he has a gentle heart and a sensitive soul. He is a softy, despite his legendary reputation.
Awww, c'mere ya big lug.
Seriously, how is this relevant, even if true?
Rav Bina is The Soul’s best friend, and The Ego’s worst enemy.
See my comment above about your psychoanalytic model. The Ego and the Soul are not mortal enemies. 
Sometimes we need some shaking in order to awaken. He shook me hard. And I thank him for that.
Again, what about success rate, collateral damage, proportionality, and truth in advertising?
Netiv Aryeh is my home away from home. It is for many of us. And it always will be.
A lollypop can look a lot like love, and a drill can look a lot like abuse. But when you have a mouth full of cavities, there’s no choice but to drill. A loving mother forces her child to endure the pain; she knows it’s in her child’s best interest. Many yeshivas choose the safer route, showering their students with candy and sugar. Rav Bina chooses the less popular route. He drills.
But sometimes there's no cavity. And Rav Bina, as uncanny as you think his judgment of character is, sometimes forces the child to endure pain unnecessarily. Which is abusive.
I know it's part of YNA's culture to think that it's a yeshiva for "real men" whereas other yeshivas are for wimps. I get that. And I think it's part of the problem - what red-blooded 18 year old wants to go to a yeshiva for sissies? So you dupe a kid into thinking it's the right place for him. Well done.
Perhaps the victims were not ready for a cleaning.
Or maybe they didn't need one.
Perhaps they still needed lollypops.
Or just liked them occasionally.
It’s a shame they signed up for the dentist.
Maybe they just didn't think they would be visiting the dentist from Little Shop of Horrors.
Moral of the story: Don’t blame the dentist for trying to do what he does best. Ego can be a tough cavity to drill. But in the end, you walk out cleansed.
 The dentist who runs straight to the drill without a check-up, even if he's a great driller, is guilty of malpractice.


ilan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ilan said...

Very well said.
As I see it, you made a few excellent points about what's wrong with things:

1) Rav Bina's intentions are irrelevant, though the results may be.

2) That there's a sort of bait-and-switch, where (some) students expect a less "tough love" environment.

3) That regardless of the students' expectations, it is irresponsible and inappropriate for Rav Bina to use his "unique" approach with some students, who will process it as abuse, even if others take it as tough love.

But in all of this, you didn't really touch on the question of the ends justifying the means. I mean, let's say the tactic of public humiliation and name-calling "worked" 100% of the time. Every time Rav Bina called a student out publicly for something he'd done, it caused said student to reform his ways. Would that make it ok?
Even then, isn't there room to say that using such tactics is wrong, regardless of their effectiveness?
Put another way, is the characterization of a pedagogical technique as "abusive" (and therefore wrong) subjective, depending on the student in question?

Anonymous said...

Thats some pretty one sided commentary dont you think?

ADDeRabbi said...

On an individual level, the ends may justify the means. Giving chemo to a cancer patient is perfectly acceptable, but giving it to a healthy person is a crime.
You have to look at the entire picture though - short- and long-term risks, chances of success, effects of failure, etc.

ADDeRabbi said...

Kamray - yes. It is my commentary, and I am only one side.

hubscubs said...

i can appreciate your idea that parents and students should be forewarned in a formal way. in an informal way, 99% of students are aware of this in advance by means of word-of-mouth, which you make no mention of. but you are correct that maybe it should be a little more blatant for those who aren't in the loop.

but the bigger error you are guilty of is assuming that rav bina applies the same tactics for all students, whether or not they need it and whether or not they can handle it.

though i've never undertaken a scientific study, since you wante NUMBERS, i'll give you my experience over the years. i'd say about 10% of students get "called out" for one reason or another (e.g. drinking, repeatedly missing minyan, etc) in a way that can be misconstrued as hurtful.

yes, there are those that rav bina has misevaluated. they really can't handle it. despite his judge of character, he too has made mistakes.

i don't know how an "outsider" such as yourself is willing to make such gross and erroneous slander that he did it to everyone, regardless of whether they needed it, without knowing the facts?

i usually appreciate your insights, elli. but i'm afraid that your journalistic integrity just stepped over the line too.

ADDeRabbi said...

Shlomo - I responded to Mr. Joszef's "defense" which characterizes Rav Bina's approach much the same way that Gary Rosenblatt does, and even argues that students who aren't tough enough to take it should go elsewhere. You're telling an entirely different story - that R. Bina only takes a "tough love" approach with a select few.
All the evidence at this point is anecdotal. Insiders obviously have an interest in minimizing the negative anecdotes, and victims have an agenda of maximizing them. The rest of us are just trying to draw a coherent picture.
And by the way, this here's a blog. It's one person's opinion.

Zev said...

Shlomo and Elli - as someone who was on the wrong side of Rav Bina I can testify that he is very much a Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde. He is extremely caring for those he likes but if your not one of those, his behavior is clearly abusive. It was never physical in my case, but his emotional abuse still infuriates me 20 years later. He should not be allowed to work in education and I imagine if he was teaching kids whose parents were in the same country he would be removed from any teaching position long ago. He very suavely found a position with little to no supervision over his "educational" methods. He could never get away with his abuse in an Israeli school under Ministry of Education supervision.

ari finkel said...

This blog really upsets me. It bothers me when everyone over-analyzes every word and cause escalation from every word and every response. I think you need to spend more time doing something more productive.

ADDeRabbi said...

"I think you need to spend more time doing something more productive."

Hey, have you been talking to my wife?

Nachum said...

What's this "kotel in shorts" story?

It is just me who notices that both father and son were followed at their respective yeshivot by people who subsequently were accused of sexual abuse?

I was bullied by peers and rebbeim as a kid. Sue me if I'm oversensitive.

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit lost here. I didn't go to hakotel, i wouldn't know rav bina if he were standing in front of me, but don't we have halachot that deal with this kind of stuff?
1. have any criminal charges been filed with either a beit din or a civil court?
2. the rambam is very clear about the severity of lashon hara about a talmud chacham.

again, i know next to nothing about the situation but if this person did something that a medical/mental health professional classifies as abuse then he should be locked up, irrespective of how many people he did it to. If not, why are people attacking someone who is clearly a successful mechanech and a talmud chacham?

There are seriously evil people out there doing bad things, do we really need to harp on someone who by most accounts is a great man and at worst seems to have hurt some people's feelings?

Nachum said...

wizardmi: It doesn't have to be criminal to be wrong. That's part of what being Jewish means.

modern chassidish said...

Hey Eli, in your KBY days, care to discuss a Rabbi who is often referred as "A Rav Bin Type"? Or is this a case of "my yeshiva right or wrong"?

ADDeRabbi said...

Modern Chasidish - funny you should mention it. I've had that conversation with other former students of said rabbi (a conversation that Rav Bina's students have apparently not been having). There are definitely elements of Shaviv's "Pied Pier" there.
But really, it's not even close. I can't even imagine him gratuitously insulting someone - ever. He barely sought out relationships with students and barely reciprocated even when students showed interest in hearing from him. He had talmdim, not chasidim.

modern chassidish said...

"I can't even imagine him gratuitously insulting someone - ever." That's not the impression I got from KBY people. But you added the word gratuitously which implies that earned insults are par for the course. I agree he is no Rav Bina but his personality or tactics may have similarities.

ilan said...

Elli - as a follow-up to your response to my earlier comment:
In your opinion, what pedagogical methods are wrong to use, regardless of their effectiveness? There must be some, surely.
Public humiliation?
Social isolation?
I'd guess that at least some forms of physical punishment would fall into this category, but what else?

Harris L. Cohen MD said...

If 10% of Netiv Aryeh students are "called out" ... if 5% of those are damaged or broken..how many Jews are lost?

A solution for the future:
Just create transparency in the Netiv Aryeh recruiting and educational efforts. Have parents and students warned up front in clearly readable materials that a "Unique Educational Methodology is Practiced Here". Your Child Might Undergo A Psychological Breaking Down To Become A "Better" Jew by an apparent Better Jew and Educator. Caveat Emptor.

Yeshiva high schools that support Netiv Aryeh recruitment efforts should help disseminate the information to all prospective students and their families.

As an aside, as a form of penance,,would the R Bina undergo a 1 hour session with his abused in which he was to remain silent and listen to their abuse. That would indicate his agreement that it is a healthful and helpful policy, Although I think he chooses to abuse the abusable (without obvious family money) and they would therefore not step forward.

Pookie Number 2 said...

I know the answer in the KBY instance, but I'm wondering whether Rav Bina expressed his "tough love" toward the charismatic and wealthy students as frequently as to the un-cool.