Got Orthonomics in your Email Box?

Friday, August 01, 2008


I am so horrified by the editorial I just read that I believe I will be punch a wall if I don't put a Kick Boxing Video in before Shabbat starts. Larry Gordon, editor of the 5 Towns Jewish Times writes some of his thoughts about the self-destructive behavior far too many Orthodox youth are engaging in. He begins by referring to a terrible car accident that took place last Shabbat when an adolescent boy between 16 and 20, who was staying in a Catskills Bungalow got, got into a car drunk as drunk can be and crashed into his fence. Thankfully, Hashem did not put anyone in the path of this boy.

The report saddened me when I saw it earlier this week, but that is not what has send me over the edge. Read the following [emphasis mine]:

I was in a supermarket in Liberty, New York, last Friday afternoon about three hours before Shabbos. Two young yeshiva boys walked up to me in the store to ask if I could “help them out” with some beer. At first I genuinely thought they needed a few extra dollars so that they could purchase the beer. But then it quickly occurred to me that they were underage and the store would not sell them alcoholic beverages. I asked them their ages, and they said they were 16 and 17 years old. They told me what camp they were in and that they had hitched a ride to the store. I was inclined to buy the beer for them. After all, Shabbos was coming and they weren’t exactly babies. I don’t drink beer or much alcohol, but I can respect the next guy’s desire to get a little buzzed, especially over Shabbos. They asked again and I hemmed,hawed, and hesitated. I asked my wife if we should help them out and buy the beer. She said: “Absolutely not,” and added that we too have a 16-year-old in camp in the mountains for the summer. “I don’t want to think that anyone is buying him beer in any supermarkets,” she said. The line was drawn.

[Did he actually write this? Did he actually write this? Perhaps my eyes deceive me? I'm besides myself. He admits to having a 16 year old son in the mountains and claims to have hemmed, hawed, and hesitated. Unbelievable.]

Earlier Larry Gordon writes: "The episode contains within it a lot of things that need to be dealt with by parents, responsible adults in general, and our overall value and educational system charged with the growth and development of our young people. . . ."

Here is the problem(!) it seems that the responsible adults have left the ward and the insane, by virtue of teenage hood, are running the ward. Fortunately Mrs. Gordon can use the word NO! because if not, it is entirely possible that Mr. Gordon might have helped them out scumming to the pressure. (Side note: if the problem with buying alcohol was just financial, not age related, NO! would have also been a completely appropriate answer.).

Every parenting class I have been too and every book I have read dealing with the subject matter of parenting (most recently Rav Yaakov Weinberg Talks About Chinuch) likes to say "It Takes A Village to Raise a Child." Problem is. . . where the heck is this mythical village today?!?! When I read that he got the name of the camp the boys had hitched a ride from, I thoroughly expected a report of how he transported the boys back to camp, made sure to speak to the camp directors, and then followed up by calling their parents to let them know what is happening in their boys life while they are "gaining independence" which we all keep getting told is one of the reasons sleep away camp is not a luxury, but a necessity.

When I was younger, I remember accompanying my father to the grocery store where some middle school or high school boys asked my father to buy them a pack of cigarettes. He looked them straight in the eye and said "no." Simple as that. No hesitation at all. Then he let the manager inside the store know what was going on outside the store so he would be aware of the situation. If I recall correctly, the manager made the boys disperse on threat of calling the police.
And furthermore, the parents of the boy who drove drunk on Shabbos was released on bail. Just like low pay is not appropriate for a Bnot Yisrael or Bnai Torah, we all know stay "jail is no place for Jewish boy. "

If I was that drunk teenager in a car. . . .. I can assure you my parents would have allowed no one to bail me out.

And on that note: Shabbat Shalom, Good Shabbos. I need to burn some steam before candle lighting. My apologies for not sticking to less controversy during this time as planned.

Related: See ProfK.

Updated motzei Shabbat: My post at YWN (if it gets published). Please join me in leaving a message for Mr. Gordon at

I posted on my own blog (Orthonomics) about this HORRIFYING article. How a man could publically admit to "hemming, hawing, and hestitating" when it comes to a request to buy alcohol from underage teenagers who has ever met is just downright horrifying. I ask all of you who are likewise horrified to join me by leaving your own comments at Let it be known that
other parents expect their fellow parents to exercise clarity and judgement when it comes to these issues, rather than "respect the next guy’s desire to get a little buzzed, especially over Shabbos" (perhaps the teenager who crashed his car last Shabbos also wanted to get buzzed).

Teenagers are not known for their judgement. That is why adults need to help guide them and take responsibility. I find it amazing that Mr. Gordon felt pressure from teenagers, teenagers he never met in his life? Has the word NO left the mouth of adults? Earlier in the article he calls upon the issues of self-destructive behavior to be addressed by "responsible adults" and yet demonstrates to the reader that he lacks much of the vision, clarity, and ability that a "responsible adult" should have. Fortunately, his wife had no issues with using the little two letter word so many parents have forgotton how to articulate.

Mr. Gordon should have been able to say no with no hesitation. A tzadik would have offered these boys who hitched to the store a ride back to camp, making sure to get their names. Then he would be able to speak with the directors and call their parents. If a boy/girl asks my husband or me to buy alcohol for him, we would do everything in our power to speak to his/her parents, as well as inform the schools (something we incidently have done before). And we hope other parents would have that consideration for us if chas v'shalom our children are ever trying to get someone else to buy alcohol for them.


Gila said...

Sounds like your parents grew up with my parents!

Anonymous said...

And mine too!

triLcat said...

AUGH!!!! do people not realize that these laws are meant to protect kids from their own stupidity?!

ProfK said...

Call it sexist if you want, but I'm seeing a real male/female divide here. The law is clear: you can't buy alcohol if you are underage, and adults of age cannot buy and knowingly give alcohol to underage people. And the man in this story excuses the possible purchase because it is Shabbos these boys are going to be drinking on? Clearly a gap in my education--someone please point out the halacha that says that males are supposed to drink on Shabbos? I am not talking about making kiddush--I'm sure that an adult makes kiddush in camp for the campers to be yotzai on.

Kudos to the mother who said a clear "No!" but why did it come to that?

Mike S. said...

I have enough trouble respecting an adult's desire to get buzzed on Purim, much less a teenager on Shabbos. What was he thinking?

And why were 16 and 17 year olds in camp instead of working? Or were these counselors?

SuperRaizy said...

I read this story in the paper over Shabbat and my reaction was also incredulous. And to top it off, the writer himself has a 16 year old boy! Truly a case of the blind leading the bllind.

Baila said...

My friend was on Ben Yehuda last week and encountered a young girl, about 16, drunk-as-a-skunk. The girl was alone and my friend was afraid to leave her like that. She asked her for her cell phone but the girl was apparently coherent enough to realize that giving it to my friend may put her in trouble. But then the girl made a tactical error and said, "hey there's my madrich [counselour}". My friend immediately went over to the guy and left them together. She expressed some guilt, saying she felt like she ratted the kid out. I told her to stop being ridiculous. We are no longer teenagers, we are responsible people who do the right thing. If it had been her daughter, wouldn't she want someone to make sure a young girl isn't wandering the streets alone, drunk? Whatever consequences the girl has to pay (and I hope there were some), it will hopefully be a life lesson for her.

And I am shocked at Mr. Gordon's response....I hope HE is learning a lesson from the responses he is getting.

ora said...

I don't think adults should be helping teens to break the law.

But, OTOH, I think it's ridiculous that a 17-year-old has no access to beer. And, no surprise, American teens are almost always the ones stumbling around foreign countries drunk out of their skulls. Sure, Israeli and European teens drink, but not to the point of vomiting in public, tripping over their own feet, blacking out, etc. I think the American attitude towards alcohol has a lot to do with it. If you don't let your kid touch money or deal with it in any way, your kid is likely to be an irresponsible spender when he gets old enough to have access to money. And if you don't let your teen have a beer or two, he's likely to be the one stumbling down Ben Yehuda with his pants falling off in another two years.

Of course Gordon did the right thing by not helping the teens. He should have said No immediately, because it's not his role to help them break the law and go against their parents' wishes. However, to say he should have contacted their parents and the camp is going too far, IMO. These aren't little kids. In pretty much any other country, they would be considered well past old enough to have an alcoholic beverage or two. Maybe their parents insist on treating them as too young and irresponsible to drink, but there's no reason Mr. Gordon needs to be responsible for reinforcing that parenting decision.

ProfK said...

Ora, I object to your equating being able to handle money and "knowing" how to drink--one is a necessity and the other is not. And these children--and that's what they were--are not in another country; they are in the US and what they were attempting to do was against the law. And had Mr. Gordon helped them he, too, would have been breaking the law. You think the law is unreasonable? Work on your representatives to change it. But as long as it is the law here we are required to uphold it.

Ora, would you have been as sanguine if it had been your younger children in camp whose counselors these two boys were? Who would have been watching the bunks while these two "got a buzz one"? And yes, the camp should know that its employees are out there attempting to 1)circumvent the law and 2)drinking on work premises. And maybe those camps need to know that some of us care.

Anonymous said...

Ora said: I think it's ridiculous that a 17-year-old has no access to beer

Maybe, but last I checked, dina d'malkhutkha dina - the simple fact that there is no place in the USA where it is legal for a 17-year-old to have beer is reason enough that they should not have one. Whether the law should be changed is a separate discussion, and reasonable people can disagree about that, but the law is the law. These kids need to learn (and be told!) to comply with laws they don't like.

Anonymous said...

That is just terrible. He should be run out of a job, he is so irresponsible, i would have to see how his kids have turned out.

A Living Nadneyda said...

I'm with profk. What would he have to say to any other "mature" adult who would have willingness to abet his own teenage boys in a crime?!?

gila and ilanadavidta: Your parents raised you with boundaries (as did mine). What a blessing!

Let's hope they're still in effect for the current generation of parents ( Gordon aside).


Chaim B. said...

Kudos for your excellent critique. Undoubtedly, the response will stress the fact that ultimately the boys did not get their beer, but the 'hava amina' that came before that conclusion is frightening.
BTW, what brings you to read 5T newspapers?

JS said...

I think Ora raises an interesting point concerning our attitude towards alcohol and drinking in general. I can't speak for other countries, but it is true that American teens (both frum and not) seem to want one thing and one thing only: alcohol. And when they gain access to it, they don't just have 1 beer, or 1 shot. They have a LOT. I know and have seen way too many people get completely and totally trashed to the point of blacking out and not remembering several hours of time that elapsed. I know people who had to get their stomaches pumped.

And it's not just teens either, this attitude seems to extend to at least early adulthood if not later. Before there were controls on alcohol at kiddush there were many people having a few too many and stumbling home making complete idiots of themselves. I know married men who drank too much and started hitting on other men's wives, often in front of their own spouse and the woman's husband.

Something is seriously wrong with our entire approach to alcohol and drinking.

The problem starts in thinking we are special and perfect (see ProfK's excellent post on this, And it certainly doesn't help when people run around screaming it's a mitzvah to get drunk on purim, to drink on simchat torah, to have a schnapps in shul, to have a l'chaim at a simcha, etc etc.

I said as much in the comments to ProfK's post, but a "goy" has a few drinks before 10AM and he's a drunk, a "yid" has a few l'chaims at a bris and he's wishing a mazal tov, sharing in a simcha, etc.

Chaim B. said...

And in a follow up, apparently this issue has made Newsweek -

ProfK said...

The link to the Newsweek story is below:

Important in the article is the mention of a special group that exists for Jewish alcohol and other substance addicts.

Lion of Zion said...


last month i gave a ride home to the founder of JACS. interesting guy.


i think underage drinking is a difficult topic to tackle because it is based on an age restriction.

it is easier to explain/understand that something is either right or wrong. it's not so easy to explain/understand why it's wrong until you're 21 and then it magically becomes ok. i think this is part of the reason that teenagers don't care and adults look the other way.

as a side issue, anyone who sends their kid to israel for the year without understanding there is a chance he/she will be going through a drinking phase is fooling themselves. why high schools would encourage graduates to attend yeshivot that are known as hard party schools is also questionable.

ProfK said...


Interesting posting and article on the age issue and alcohol here

We should keep in mind that once in the not too distant past you couldn't vote before you were 21 either--it was the age of attaining your majority. When that changed a lot of states wanted to bring the drinking age in line with the voting age but the Federal government put financial pressure on the states to leave the drinking age at 21.

Juggling Frogs said...

Go SephardiLady, Go!

Kol Hakavod to you for the letter you sent to YWN. I hope they publish it with a link to this post (unlikely, I know) so your whole post and all the comments - and the links to ProfK's posts, too - are fully entered into the public debate on this.

(The mind boggles that there need be any "debate" on this, though.)

Anonymous said...

Loz, I don't think you are right. The drinking laws were age 18 in NY dating back to the repeal of prohibition. They were only changed explicitly because of the teen dwi phenomenon. This was several years (c1986) after the voting age was reduced to 18 (1976). I never agreed with this single size fits all approach to individual's rights - since many city kids didn't own a car why did they have to bear the brunt of irresponsible parenting - but the law had nothing whatsoever to do with reducing alcoholism or civil behavior. Those are modern feel good justifications which push us further into the nanny state that we live in today - and take more responsibility away from the parents - and cause bigger problems to boot.

Back to the situation at hand and the original blog. Kids are curious and want to experiment. And that includes alcohol which is probably one of the few forbidden activities that doesn't quite have the stigma of drugs or relationships. Is it foolish - yes. Is it poor judgement - yes. And if you do something dangerous - in my opinion it is criminal. But our kids are brought up in a world bombarded with tremendous secular indulgences with very few kosher outlets (traif Schmelzer concert!!). And Purim - well that's the Jewish equivalent (Havdal) of New Years Eve - amateur's night. So teens want to do something fun- so they drink. What did you do when you were a kid? When I was a kid I had FREEDOM. I could ride the subways, go to a ball game, go to a library, go fishing (today all Treif). What can they do now? Go to the Beit Medrash? That's not for everyone.

And yes - I have teenagers. And yes they drink - at my shabbat table- but they don't get drunk. And I do not permit grape juice (I believe the grape juice phenomenon is obesity training for children). And to the individual who misapplied dina d'malkhutkha dina above, when you are finished learning the correct application of that halakah, please look up what the Rambam has to say about the correct bracha on grape juice (shehakol).

But its not "horrifying". Keep your shirt on. Your overeaction is. Sorry but for obvious reasons I will stay anonymous.

Lion of Zion said...


"I don't think you are right"

i'm not sure exactly what it is i wrote that you are disagreeing with.

"What can they do now? Go to the Beit Medrash? That's not for everyone."

uh, the solution is not to grant an imprimatur to teenage drinking but rather to go back and explore if all those recreational activities really need to be assur. or at least if they are really worse than drinking (which seems to be the situation you are willing to defer to.) anyway, this does not explain drinking in those communities that don't assur recreational activities.

"And yes - I have teenagers. And yes they drink - at my shabbat table- but they don't get drunk."

so you think those guys in the story wanted the six pack for havdalah?

"I believe the grape juice phenomenon is obesity training for children"

even if this is true, again you seem to be willing to permit the worse of two evils (as with the recreational activities above).

ProfK said...

Interesting to note that there were only 6 comments left on the
5T site about the article, and all but one are recognizable as readers of our blogs rather than members of the Five Towns.

Elitzur said...

Anonymous - the Rambam never talks about grape juice - there was no such thing back then... The Rambam says the bracha on *yayin m'vushal* is she'hakol which is probably what you're using for kiddush...

Lion of Zion said...

sorry for going off topic with this orthonomics alert, but the price of kosher pizza in brooklyn has come down:

ora said...

For those who responded to my post--

If you reread what I wrote, you'll see that I said Mr. Gordon was absolutely correct in refusing to buy the young men alcohol, because, as you all said, it's against the law. The question isn't whether or not he should have agreed to break the law--he shouldn't--but whether or not he should have contacted the teenagers' parents and camp personnel. I think it's fine that he didn't.

ProfK, it IS important that teens "know how to drink." No in the sense of knowing how to make a black Russian or the proper way to take a shot of tequila, but they should know how to drink responsibly and in moderation. As a general rule, American teens have no idea how to drink responsibly and in moderation, whereas among teens who have access to alcohol at a much younger age, drunkeness is rare.

js, you seem to be saying that drinking among Jewish youth is connected to a Jewish feeling of superiority? That doesn't sound right to me. Jewish teens drink, but not any more than other teens in America (and in my experience, many drink less). This is an American thing, not a Jewish thing.

ora said...

anonymous, non-Jewish teens in public school are almost without exception permitted to go fishing, watch sports, take the subway, go to dances, watch movies, eat fast food, etc, etc. Surprise! they still drink. Drinking isn't only about boredom.