Segulah for Parnassah

It is now (in Israel, according to the Jewish calendar) Tuesday of the week that we read Beshalach. By now, many of you have gotten your reminder to recite "Parshat Ha-man" today/tomorrow.
Each year, I like to take the opportunity to remind readers that there is a much more ancient, pedigreed, and effective segula for earning a living. Read about it here.


For the Sake of Clarification: I'm not a Rav Bina Hater

I thought that my last post was balanced in that it acknowledged that Rav Bina's methods work for most of the students who attend there. My criticism is that the yeshiva does not do enoughto minimize collateral damage.

I've posted about Rav Bina before - once I praised him for his ads sticking up for Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh (while a bunch of other blogs were piling on, I might add - see the comments there), and once I reviewed a biography of his father-in-law, Rav Boruch Milikowsky. Looking back on the latter post, there are some similarities between Rav Bina and his father-in-law.


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.


Notes on the Jewish Week Article about Rav Bina

The New York Jewish Week has a feature article this week about Rabbi Aharon Bina, the Rosh Yeshiva of Netiv Aryeh. It describes his "tough love" approach and how it inspires much love and much loathing, and very little in between. If you couldn't surmise who is behind the article, it was co-written by Gary Rosenblatt.

The article is very solid, but there are two elements that I think could have enhanced it immeasurably:
1) Rav Bina's approach is explicitly modeled on that of his father's, Rav Aryeh Bina. The elder Bina was a legendary educator and founder of the prestigious Netiv Meir yeshiva high school, whose alumni is a virtual Who's Who among prominent Religious Zionists (incidentally, the list skews left by Religious Zionist standards, and Junior has come to the defense of some of his father's students). Rav Aharon Bina, however, is not his father, and does not run an elite institution like his father did. In order to really understand who Rav Aharon Bina is and what he is trying to accomplish, one must start with his father, and with the relationship between father and son.
2) This issue gets back to the problem of the "charismatic educator" (let's define charisma as the condition in which the educator's personality overshadows the material being taught) that I've written about several times, most recently when the Motti Elon scandal first broke.Rav Bina fits Paul Shaviv's description of a "Pied Piper" rabbi (cited in that post on R. Elon). Let's see:
A charismatic teacher will deeply affect and influence some students, but will almost always leave a trail of emotional wreckage in is/her wake.
The emotional dependency and entanglement between teacher and student leads to boundaries being crossed.
The teacher becomes party to knowledge about students and their families that reinforces the teacher’s view that they are the only teachers who ‘really’ are reaching the students. The teacher, however, is neither a trained counselor nor a social worker. That knowledge becomes power.
A really charismatic teacher can end up running a ‘school within a school’. 
Check (until he started his own school).
The teacher will often employ techniques (and texts) which take students to the extremes of emotion or logic, and will then triumphantly show them how they are holding they key to resolution (‘At this moment, you have agreed that life has no meaning -- but here is the answer’).
As soon as they are disillusioned or dropped, they are written out of the teacher’s story. Often such students, very hurt, leave the school.
Check (once had a kid at my Shabbat table tell me he was no longer religious because of R. Bina. There are other such stories, and some appear in the NYJW article. I suspect many of these kids would drop observance anyway, but it's telling that Rav Bina becomes the object of their loathing).

Mild characteristics of cult leaders may be observed. 

I don't think Paul Shaviv is a prophet, and I don't think he was writing about any particular educator. He's been around the block a few times, and he has learned to identify global issues. The NYJW article misses something when it makes the issue about Rav Bina specifically, since the problem is present in virtually every school, even if he might be an extreme example of it.


Two Articles: One on Modiin and one on Baltimore

A few weeks ago, on the last day of Chanukkah, JID ran an article of mine on ancient and modern Modiin. I relate to Modiin as the Columbia, Maryland of Israel, but then move off of that to discuss a different dimension of my town. The article is here.

Today I posted on a Ravens fan blog, arguing (against conventional wisdom) that Joe Flacco actually played really well against the Texans. It's here.

I hope to post an update on my series about Eastern European rabbis in America this week.