Hello Chabad,

You rabbis seem to take it as a given that wisdom flows from the vast amount of writings (biblical and more recent), history, interpretations, opinions, etc., that it has accumulated. You appear to think that wisdom flows in one direction only. The supplicant asks, and the rabbi answers. A particular rabbi may not have the answer at hand. But he knows where to look, can find it and supply it. That is the way it flows.

There is a tacit assumption that there is an answer to every question. It is only necessary to find the applicable source or the appropriate expert, and the answer is there.

I think that there is a great deal of wisdom in Chabad, and want to benefit from it. But I find the basic process to be too rigid, too frozen. I think that the communication should be two-way, not one-way.You appear to think that wisdom flows in one direction only.

I think the universe is understood very poorly, that there are more questions than answers. The Chabad assumption that it has all the important answers already is a turnoff.

A modern university, where one can ask anything and try to find the answer, is the place to seek wisdom.


Thank you for sending this. I found your critique very helpful.

I’m especially concerned about your feeling shut out of the dialogue because before I came to yeshivah, at 20 years of age, that’s just how I felt. A healthy rebellion against “top-down” secular education motivated me at the ripe old age of 14 to get involved in what was called, and what I then thought was, “progressive” education. A group of us decided to drop out of the system and start our own school. We applied for government funding, and called it “Total Education High School.” (Among ourselves, that was “Total High.”)

To me—and this is what I tell my kids, over and over—learning is something that emerges out of dialogue. Books are great, but without bouncing ideas back and forth, debating, reiterating yourself, defending your position, hearing the other and coming back again with a refined argument—there just is no real learning.

That’s what we attempted to achieve at Total High. But, admittedly, it didn’t really work out because, for one thing, we didn’t know (nobody told us) how to properly contain and frame an open conversation. At every age, it can really be useful for somebody top-down to tell you what the next right thing to do is, no matter what you think. I ended up going elsewhere to get my high school diploma at age 15, and soon after was getting an education hitchhiking the world. (Eventually, yes, I did end up entrapped in a university.)The system of learning for which we had been searching had been around for thousands of years!

So, when I walked into a yeshivah study hall six years later, I was shocked and delighted to find the system of learning for which we had been searching—and it had been around for thousands of years.

In yeshivah, you learn in chavrusa. That means, with a partner. What does the partner do? Principally, he argues with you. However you understand things, he tries to see if it could be understood differently. Then the two of you try to work it out.

Sometimes, a debate erupts and sends shockwaves through the beis hamidrash (study hall), until everyone else is sucked into the discussion. A school library is quiet as death, but a beis hamidrash is afire with life.

It also struck me that yeshivah classes were not the frontal lecture with which we are all too familiar (how many times can you count the holes in the drop ceiling?). Instead of rows of desks, in yeshivah we sat around a table. The instructor began to talk, and immediately discussion ensued. Everything was up for questioning, and every question led to new dialogue, new insights, new perspectives on everything we had learned.

So, when you write this critique of our site, I start to worry. Perhaps we have failed at bringing that flavor of the yeshivah to our site.Our job is not to answer questions. Our job is to answer people.

I have trained almost all our Ask the Rabbi rabbis. I’ve given them a mantra: “Our job is not to answer questions. Our job is to answer people.” And quite often, the last thing the person needs is a pat answer. Sometimes it’s more information. Sometimes it’s an open mind with a listening ear. Sometimes it’s just someone to come back and affirm what he knew all along, but didn’t have the confidence to believe.

For every rabbi, Chabad or not, there are questions, and there are questions. There are the kinds of questions that have a straightforward halachic answer, and for most of those, yes, there is a “top-down” response that is the result of scholarly research and something close to a kabillion conversations that have taken place over thousands of years. These are almost all of the “what should I do about this?” variety. And yes, even in universities, especially in medical and engineering schools, there are plenty of direct, top-down answers, thank G‑d. Then there are the questions that require your participation, input and insight, questions about meaning, purpose and intention. These are of the “what do I think about this?” and “why is this the conclusion?” variety.

In our articles, we attempt to present multiple views, when appropriate. Of course, we’re principally an information site. People come expecting authoritative opinions and well-researched facts. But even then, we encourage reader comments, moderated in order to keep them from being dominated by the bullies and the beasts.

So, if you could point us in any particular direction where you feel we’ve failed, we would love to hear. Give some real examples, and tell us how you would like to see it done better.

BTW: Have you yourself been in yeshivah? Have you considered the possibility of giving it a try?