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 We are all aware that we will never again be as smart, perceptive, clever and knowledgeable as we were when we were 16 years old. There is no question that from that point of life onwards the trajectory is always downhill. Nevertheless, there is a great deal to be said for age and experience and for the tempering of our views and opinions by the realities of life.

One of the omnipresent facets of human existence is the continuing eternal disconnect between generations. The young always revolt against the mores and beliefs of parents and grandparents and search for their own path in life. Often, this search leads to disaster both for that generation and for human society generally. One needs only look to the story of humankind in the 20th century to realize how the rejection of past norms and historical truths can lead to the destruction of societies and the murder of millions of innocent people.
The nature of human beings is to ignore advice from people whom they believe to be irrelevant to current situations and challenges. This is true in all sectors of human society and certainly in the Jewish world as well. Any resemblance between the actuality of religious Jewish society today, whether it be in the United States or Israel and what Jewish society was in Eastern Europe or in the United States in the first half of the 20th century, is probably certainly only coincidental. It is not based on reality or on lessons that should have been learned but are no longer communicated or held to be of merit.
The current maladies that affect our religious society center around the dysfunction of family relationships. This leads to what is euphemistically known as the crisis existing in finding proper spouses, getting married and building families and generations. There are many reasons for this societal dysfunction that is so widespread in our time. But part of the cause, if not the main reason for its existence, is the fact that parents and grandparents have little to say regarding the lives of their children or in other cases have too much to say. In the yeshiva world, money plays a greatly disproportionate role in the process of finding a mate and building a home. The person involved is much less important than whether one will receive financial support, an apartment or other material benefits as a reward for marrying one's daughter. The fact that this is no way to base a lifelong relationship and a firm foundation for family life seems to be immaterial.
One should not be surprised at the rising rate of divorce and family dysfunction, of children at risk and other issues which plague our society. These are natural results of ignoring the lessons of the past regarding marriage and human relationships and instead, pursuing a life of self-importance, indulgence, dependence and overbearing arrogance and hubris. No one wants to hear about the good old days when one married out of love and attachment to someone else and when no one was guaranteed to be supported by anyone else but agreed to make his own way in the world.
Much of the religious world has built up a completely unrealistic picture of Jewish life in previous times. It tends to view the past not only with rose-colored glasses but with fantasies and fables that do not and never did reflect the reality of that world and that time. It refuses to recognize that the Jewish world, of Eastern Europe especially, became secular in the 19th and 20th centuries. The causes for this were many, but one of them was certainly poverty. It is difficult to convince future generations that their lot in life must be that they will always be disadvantaged, poor and dependent. I find it to be almost cruel for teachers and the heads of educational institutions to encourage and almost condemn their students to lives of poverty, unending debt and demeaning dependence on the community and other individuals.
Everything in the Talmud and in Jewish tradition and all of life in past Jewish generations speaks against this and yet this is held to be the most noble of ideas and the one that needs be followed no matter what misery it causes. The younger generation should speak to their grandparents and great grandparents and ask them what life was like in their time and what lessons they learned. They would then gain a perspective that would help them survive in their generation and build a stronger, healthier and more productive Jewish society.
Shabbat shalom
Berel Wein

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