Monday, May 25, 2009

The Year in Israel

[I changed the picture because the previous one contained inividuals who did not display the highest standards of modesty in dress!]
As usual, and especially this time of year, I've been considering my having begun University-level studies much later than most (obviously due to my having been in institutions of Jewish learning for so long). I usually consider my situation, unfortunately, in contrast with those many years my junior who are commencing or have commenced their studies, sometimes in the very same field I am pursuing (not to mention the 150 hour rule!). I consider my situation, friends, at times in contrast to people who not only did not attend institutions of higher Judaic education for many years such as myself, but with those who haven't attended at all; with those that took their lives and careers more seriously than myself from an early age.

But then again friends, is it correct to me to envy those individuals? I've considered this and have concluded that there is no reason for me to respect these people so. For the young man who or young woman who forfeit attending yeshiva or seminary for at least a year in our current framework perhaps takes their careers seriously, but it is obvious that they do not take their religion very seriously.

"Attending these institutions is of doubtful necessity" one may say, "and are not necessarily conductive to greater piety" one may add. I have considered this matter as well, many years ago, and in my historic/tradition-oriented approach to judging the propriety or lack thereof of practices in vogue in the Jewish community, I have concluded that the Jews seem to have always, if not surpassed the level of schooling of their neighbors with religious schooling, at least reached the same level. For example for most of recent history, primary school was the height of education for most, therefore Jewish schools ended at the age of thirteen as well. When high schools started to pop up, the Jews in Europe started to have religious schooling till the same age. And the same goes for college. Yet the question became "what ratio should there be of general studies to religious studies?". This question, mind you, applies to the University just as much as it does to the grade school.

The answers were varied. To make a long story short; it has been decided by some that one is to at least engage in a significant amount (year) of all-religious studies at the college level, just as our fore bearers spent their grade school years in religious studies (although the majority of our ancestors did not have the opportunity to study in yeshivas. In those times it was reserved to only the most scholarly).

This, therefore, is a once in many generation opportunity for us; for us, the common man, to be able to enter into the Beit Midrash and study the Torah in the very same way only the greatest scholars of the past have. (I came to think of this more in 2006, during my time at "Bircas Hatorah", which is situated next door to the Ohr Hachaim synagogue, which is the very place where "the Ohr Hachaim" held his classes in Jerusalem, and where studied in their youth such memorable personalities such as "the Chida". Yet in the eighteenth century they were only a handful of Jews who were able to study and not work (the Chida himself was actually later forced by the community to collect alms for them around the world). Yet today many of us find ourselves in such privileged spots, in an experiment to see what religious life was like for those great men).
Yet many Jews pass up this opportunity, as they pass up many other opportunities open to only this generation. So yes, these individuals may be serious about their careers, but they are not serious about their religion, and their place in the destiny of their people.


inkstainedhands said...

Hm.. I never really thought about it that way. Your argument makes sense, and I agree that it would be beneficial for men to set aside a year for learning Torah on a higher level than is taught in high schools.

It seemed to me that you were talking more about men than women though. Would you apply the same logic to girls' seminaries? There are other factors to consider in a girl's situation, so I am wondering how you would approach that.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

I don't recall singling out men (as is implied in the picture!) this is just as applicable to girls (perhaps even more, considering that they see themselves as having less of a responsibility to give themselves a proper (and textually oriented) post-high school religious education.

In fact to who is this applicable if not to you?

There are many factors to consider though. I'm just saying that the only factor shouldn't be "I'll graduate sooner if I skip seminary".

I'm a big opposer of "fluffy Judaism". We're a literate generation. Why limit yourself to attending "Torah' classes with relatively unfounded content. One should get to know their religion. Become acquainted with the literature. Especially with regards to Judaism. ...I don't believe in restricting a girls religious education in todays' day in any way..

inkstainedhands said...

The reason it seems to me that you're talking more about men is that you discussed Beit Medrash and scholars, and you mentioned that you have a "historic/tradition-oriented approach" to it. Traditionally, the woman's role was in the home; her parents taught her enough to be able to build her own home, and they instilled Torah values in her, but women did not have many opportunities to engage in intellectual studies or in serious limud Torah. Of course, there were some individuals who taught themselves or were taught by their scholarly fathers, but for the most part, women did not learn the Torah (both bi'ktav and baal peh) anywhere near as thoroughly as girls do now in high schools. (The Haskala caused some change in this system in big cities, but it was still not that common for a girl to be so well learned in Torah matters.) It wasn't until the 1800s or 1900s that girls began getting a serious education. That is why your historic argument is invalid in regard to girls. Girls in those times did not have the same opportunities as boys. Boys went to yeshiva, had chavrusas and rebbeim, busied themselves with learning Torah, while the girls stayed at home.

If you look at it that way, the fact that girls can actually get such a thorough high school education is great progress!

Of course, I am not denying the benefits of seminary. I support girls' decisions to go to seminary, and I think that the opportunity is a wonderful thing. But, although it is wonderful, it is not always the RIGHT thing for every girl. Wanting to start a career early is not the only reason why a girl would choose not to go to seminary.

Another point you made was that girls should be more knowledgeable in the area of Jewish literature. I fully agree, but who says that seminary is the only place where they can acquire this knowledge? What happened to going and finding out for yourself? And then, if you have questions on what you learned or read, why not ask a Rabbi or a former teacher? Why does everything have to be given to a person on a silver platter?

I understand that for men it is better to learn with a chavrusa, under a Rav, etc. Part of the learning experience is to discuss, debate, and learn from each other. Girls can do that too -- choose a friend or a teacher and learn with them privately. I think more can be accomplished that way than by sitting in a classroom, spacing out every so often, and hoping the lesson will somehow sink in by osmosis. Not every girl is interesting in learning -- it is simply a waste of time for many of them and they don't gain much by it. Those, on the other hand, who DO want to learn should not be limited to seminary when they are capable of taking out books, going through them, learning, and educating themselves.

Does that make sense?

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

While I agree with most of your sentiments, I think you misunderstood me Hannah; by "historic approach" I didn't mean keeping things in the status quo. What I meant was having the situation now being equivalent to what it was then-based on the changes that have taken place.

Once again, to clarify: Jewish Girls in the past were uneducated as a direct influence of the community surrounding them in which girls were uneducated. I said that in the past the level of religious education that boys or girls received was based solely on the level of secular education children in the general community received. Therefore since boys started attending universities, it was decided that religious education should be on the university level as well for more people than would normally attend yeshiva (I'm thinking of the situation in pre-war Eastern Europe).

The same, therefore, goes for the girls; if girls receive a university education in secular studies they should receive a university level education in Torah.

I should admit again though that you're hitting on a nerve; I actually agree that seminaries aren't the best place to become 'knowledgeable in Jewish literature', since the level in which the girls are taught there is not up to par with the university level. Like I said, I'm no fan of 'fluffy Judaism', and what better place to receive a 'fluffy Judaism' if not in seminary? I also admit that it would be a waste of time to try to teach people who are uninterested.

The point of what I was suggesting though is that sometimes people need an opportunity to become engulfed in religion. To become engulfed in Torah. Taking out books, asking questions and asking a rabbi isn't quite the same as 'engulfing' ones entire year (or so) in Torah and religion.

So the obvious question remains "if I shouldn't go to seminary sand I shouldn't study Judaism on my own time while in college then what the hell would I do?!". Excellent question! Well, my personal opinion would lead girls to institutions like "Drisha" (, which is an orthodox institution in which girls are taught gemara and they learn in pairs and are able to discuss. I don't know how many similar institutions there are, but I do know that it is this type of school that will help combat the stigma that women are supposed to have a 'fluffy' type of Judaism even in today's day and age..(not that self-study is a stupid idea!, but once in a while a person needs more structure in this type of study).