Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

I recently got a lift to a simcha with a friend in the neighborhood. On the drive we played catch up on what we were all doing. The husband had retired from the public school system and last I knew he was teaching in the yeshiva system, more particularly in the chasidishe yeshiva system in Boro Park. Apparently that is no longer the case.

He lasted all of two months in that system. I asked if the school was really that bad. He answered that the school he was teaching in was actually supposed to be the top school in that system--admission is by passing an entrance exam, and they are very selective. So what was the problem?

Among other things he was supposed to be teaching history and geography to his high school students. And then the principal told him it was forbidden to bring in a map of any kind. Yes, you read that correctly--maps were forbidden as teaching tools. The principal also instructed him that he was to draw no maps on the board either.

Now I'll grant you that there could be some real discussion about a choice of reading matter for an English class. And perhaps there would need to be some discussion about how to present--or even whether to present--certain scientific theories. But maps?!

It's a few weeks now and I still can't fathom what halachic/hashkafic dictates a map could possibly contravene. It cannot be that chasidim are forbidden to know that there are other countries in the world besides the US--the vast majority of these students are certainly grandchildren or great grandchildren of immigrants who came here from elsewhere, and many still have relatives residing outside of the US.

So go ahead, make my day and give me any reason for why maps are ossur.


nmf #7 said...

I honestly have NO CLUE. I mean, maps are important- it shows that there are more states than just NY. I honestly have no ideas as to why no maps. Maybe so that they won't become too 'worldly' (pun intended) by knowing where things actually happen in the world?

Anonymous said...

Because maps will show that there are more than seventy nations.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the same reasons why in the middle ages the church considered it heresy to teach that the earth revolved around the sun and that the earth was not the center of the universe. If you learn about geography and see it depicted visually, there is a bit of a disconnect with the idea that EY and the compartively teeny Jewish people are the center of the universe and that everything is all about us.

Rae said...

Maybe because in order to make sense out of what the map says you would need to be able to read the English words, something else they don't encourage. Wonder if the principal would have had the same objection if the place names were written out in yiddish.

Anonymous said...

Maybe because maps might spark a dream of exploration and adventure.

Anonymous said...

Even maps can have political/ideological implications. Does anyone remember the scene from the original The King and I with Yul Brenner where the King is horrified that Anna is using an accurate map showing Siam as a tiny speck to teach her students instead of the map that was previously used in palace classes that showed Siam as a huge country as compared to its neighbors?

mother in israel said...

I think the first anon has it right-either that there aren't 70 nations, or that mefarshim made some geographical errors.

leahle said...

If it was only the chasidim that held with the 70 nations would be one thing, but it's not only chasidim. Can we expect soon that all boys yeshivas, followed then by all girls yeshivas, will ban maps from the schools?

LoZ said...

maps lead to globes, and then the kids will surely see that the world is round.

when i was a sophmore i "taught" in a satmar elementary school. i remember being struck by the fact that the kids had zero understanding of political/geographic concepts, such as understanding the difference between a city, state and country.

but then again, what should i have expected from a school that hired a college sophomore with no experience or any ed classes as a teacher.

tesyaa said...

Maps are unnecessary now that all the boys have their own GPS's.

LoZ said...


"Maybe because in order to make sense out of what the map says you would need to be able to read the English words, something else they don't encourage."

even in satmar (you don't get much farther to the right), the kids learn the (very) basics of reading english. and in any case, there are yiddish maps.


"there is a bit of a disconnect with the idea that EY and the compartively teeny Jewish people are the center of the universe and that everything is all about us."

there need be no disconnect, but to postulate it as such would of course require an understanding of relativity.

LoZ said...


"Maps are unnecessary now that all the boys have their own GPS's."

hah. i had a post that i never put up listing all the car-related things my kids will never learn to do. near the top was use a road map.

recently my family chipped in to buy us a GPS for our anniversary. i've long refused to buy one and i was quite insulted that they all thought i needed a GPS :)

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

Ari/LoZ is right. It is a humra (stringency) instituted because of maps are allowed, then they might also use or see a globe. A globe would show that the world is not flat. Then they would have to burn everyone at the stake. 'Nuff said.

Sorry, but this is a clear indication of how some sects/cults/other anthropological descriptions are really leaving Judaism behind. Our sages were know as sophisticated people who were admired for their intellects and insight. What would these people do if they knew that the moon has craters, and one of them is named for the holy Maharal, who befriended the scientists of his day?


JS said...

I can think of a lot of issues with maps:
1) The maps leads to globes leads to round world issue mentioned above.

2) Maps give a sense of perspective in the sense that you are here, this is there. Without a map the focus is on yourself and your community. Everything else is "out there."

3) Maps could lead to the theory of plate tectonics and a world much older than 5771 years.

4) Just another way to de-emphasize secular education - you remove the tools necessary to better understand it.

5) If it's high school, there's likely to be coursework on the Greeks and Romans and how the world (and Israel) was conquered by them. Perhaps showing Israel and the Jews conquered and the land divided is problematic.

But, let's be honest here. This is kind of like trying to make sense of the ramblings of a mad man. Sometimes you just have to shrug your shoulders and keep walking.

Anonymous said...

Because maps are contained in an atlas and Atlas was a Greek mythological figure.

Anonymous said...

Because the letters of map also spell amp and amplifiers are used at concerts and concerts lead to mixed concerts which lead to mixed seating, and so on and so on.

Shani said...

"1) The maps leads to globes leads to round world issue mentioned above."

Wait- when the first commenter mentioned this, I honestly thought it was a joke. But now I'm wondering- are there Jews that believe - and teach - that the world is flat? Say it ain't so!

qsman said...

Maybe because Israel is shown as a nation on the map, and the school is anti-Israel?

BrooklynWolf said...

Perhaps they were deliberately setting him up for failure? Teaching geography without maps is akin to teaching math without numbers.

My thinking might be that they didn't really want to teach the kids anything, but they're forced to have the classes by the state. But if they make it impossible to learn by denying the teacher the use of essential tools, then they get to say they held classes and not really teach anything.

Or am I being too cynical?

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark said...

When Torah (and Chazal) use "70 nations", it means "many", not 70 exactly.

Anonymous said...

visual representation. The same reason why a kid was nearly suspended from the school I went to for making a model solar system (out of rubber and papier mache balls) for the science fair.

It's considered a "Pessel"

Do they have photographs of their Rebbe?

BrooklynWolf said...


Were that the case, I would think that they would have told him "no pictures" rather than "no maps."

Maps are a rather specific thing to be asked not to draw.

As to your case, the model of the solar system may have been in contravention of the heliocentric model espoused by the Rambam. That's what may have gotten your classmate in trouble -- not the fact that he visually represented something.

The Wolf

Unknown said...

LoZ, I have four brothers that learned at Satmar, they cannot read sa single word of english.

To address the question: As someone who group up in the sick, perverse, community of Borough Park, I can tell you just how these "schools" work. It is forbidden to introduce any material that encourages thought. The goals of these schools are to generate blind followers of idol worship (a.k.a. chassidus). They do not value any halachic authority (be it God, or the Torah). But to truly understand their retardation one must realize that a map is a drawing, drawings are horrible and immoral things, unless they are about Chassidish Rabbis (deifying humans is a righteous to minds of these animals). Apparently the morons fear that the students will find a drawing of the earth more appealing than drawings of their human Gods.

frumskeptic said...

No map may be becuase other than the biblical borders of the biblican state of Israel nothing else matters!

Zach Kessin said...

This is a "good" school? really? I have to paraphrase Potter Stewart here, though he was not talking about education I think the quote fits.

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and this is not it.

I have to say if my boss were to try to put stupid rules on me that prevented me from doing my job I would be out the door in a flash. And in fact I turned down a job as director of programming a few years back when it appeared that that would exactly be the case.

At this point I can draw no other conclusion then many of the so called "Gadolim" are trying to create a generation of idiots and mass poverty.