The Great Debate Part 2

In Part 1 I explain how  a debate on chitzoniyus mi’oreres vs pnimiyus mi’oreres galvanized the entire class

The day of the debate arrived! Which is to say, it was a Shabbos and there was a shabbaton on; I don’t remember any of it until the debate. There were rows of folding chairs lined up opposite the debaters’ tables, but I couldn’t sit. I knew this was going to be epic.

Tova, my only friend who wasn’t on team PM, was standing in front of me. She took a great deal of physical abuse that afternoon. Every time team PM made a good point I punched her shoulder and hissed “YES!”

They made a number of very good points.

Their central point was that empty practice is anathema to God. Their conclusion was that praxis must be rooted in meaning. Their argument combed through Tanach, Talmud, and post-Talmudic literature finding stories and statements illustrating the importance of believing in what you do.

And it’s easy to find support, especially in Tanach. They started with Kayin and Hevel, moved on to Avraham and Haran, and kept going. Nevi’im provided the rhetoric, what with Yeshaya (1:12) raging “Who asked you to trample my courtyards?!” and Zecharya 7:5 querying, “Was it really for me that you fasted?”

They kept going, with each turn to speak, forging new, tight links in their argument that a person needs to know, understand, and find meaning in their service of Hashem. That doing the frumkeit du jour with the vague hope that it will one day make sense is not a legitimate approach to Judaism.

Meanwhile, the CM group kept bobbing up and down repeating the same Gemara ‘Mitoch shelo lishma bah lishma’ and their eponymous Ramchal, illustrating their points with apocryphal stories and obscure midrashim.

It was a slaughter. CM was soundly trounced. Proof: The Rebbetzin stepped in to save them.

It was time for concluding summaries, and Devorah stood up to give PM’s final words. But before she could do more than smooth out her notes, the Rebbetzin stood up.

“I’m sorry, banos,” she said, “But we are running out of time before we have to wash for shaloshudis. I’m afraid we have to stop here.”

We all gaped.

Then she launched into a full 15-minute speech about why, in spite of what you might have head this afternoon, CM was right.

Devorah stood there, staring. Then, after a few minutes, she sat there, staring. Everyone else listened politely as shkiya crept closer and passed.

Finally, we were dismissed to wash.

Everyone left. Most students were phlegmatic; possibly, they hadn’t even been listening from the start. The PM team was disgusted. They threw their notes in the trash can on their way out. Their weeks of hope and research had been as summarily trashed by the Rebbetzin in 15 minutes of standard school assembly fare.

I waited for Devorah. She was the last to leave the table. She walked over to the Rebbetzin and, blinking back tears, politely asked in third person why this had just occurred. The Rebbetzin kindly launched back into her 15-minute spiel about the importance of conforming first, and maybe understanding later.

I got bored of waiting.

I left.

Nobody wanted to talk about the debate at my table. I didn’t even get to say “I told you so.”

But the message was received loud and clear.

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The Great Debate Part 2

6 thoughts on “The Great Debate Part 2

  1. KTG says:

    This is insane! And what was the CM team doing instead of preparing? Were their arguments really that dumb? How could they get so soundly trounced if the school staff was on their side? You’d think the Rebbetzin would have tutored them all personally and individually until they knew EVERYTHING, both sides of the debate, backwards and forwards. Did the Rebbetzin really think her speech would accomplish anything?

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    1. Today my college freshman students learned the value of researching both sides before debating. One of the great lessons they took away from our rounds of debates today was that overconfidence in your own argument will weaken it. If you dismiss the other argument as silly and invalid without attempting to think about what the factors of that other argument will be, you cannot successfully argue against it. Why *would* the Rebetzin tutor them? She was sure the PM girls would come up with shtusim, and CM would easily win because the truth always wins…. Did she think her speech would accomplish anything? Probably not, but that’s a pretty typical face-saving “omg we lost control of the situation” reaction. Not a lot of thinking going on, just reacting and trying to salvage. Such a shame.

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  2. It makes me wonder what the administration was thinking. Never letting any dissent is bad enough, but to hold out the possibility of letting the dissenters make their case, and then arbitrarily deciding that they’re wrong, is much worse. If nothing else, did they not consider that resentment about this stunt would push already dissatisfied kids further from the ideal they were preaching?

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  3. KTG says:

    If she thought that all team PM could come up with was shtus, then the PM team members would’ve been convinced long ago (unless she thought that they were all bums anyway, so no amount of logic could convince them, but then why have the debate in the first place). Furthermore, if she’s the Rebbetzin, shouldn’t she already know the PM arguments, and realize that they were a real threat? If not, then why is she a Rebbetzin if she has such a limited knowledge of Judaic texts?

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  4. momsterid says:

    Surprise, surprise.

    And that, my friends, is why I hated high school. (Attended the same one as bad4)

    But I loved sem. There, we were encouraged to ask questions, had real debates, (even one where you had to take the OTHER side; those pro had to debate con…. Twas the coolest thing ever) and were able to carve out our own derech in yiddishkeit.
    As a plus, my sem head sincerely dislike the Rebbetzin.

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