Thursday, January 03, 2008

Wasting our youth.

I wrote a lengthy comment on Cross Currents today, for an article written by Jonathan Rosenblum. I don't know if they'll post it or not, but even if they don't, you should read the article. It touches on some issues that I feel strongly about concerning the Yeshiva model of orthodox society.

Interestingly, the Kvetcher is posting a series of articles detailing a letter from someone, a BT to the Cheredi community, and his experiences at Ohr Somayach. This is a typical experience, actually - the sad part is only that most of the bochurim never wake up and smell the coffee. Installments in the story thus far:

Three-Part Testimonial Series on Ohr Somayach to be Published on The Kvetcher

Letter From Dark Light (Part 1)

Letter From Dark Light (Part II)

I'm sure you can find the future posts yourself. I have also posted comments recently on Orthonomics and the Archdruid Report, basically covering the same ground - what will it take for people to change over to a more rational, realistic way of life that does not put our economic viability as a community and as individual households in danger of implosion?

As near as I can tell, it will take nothing less than a catastrophe of economic collapse to get anyone to act in a financially responsible manner. It is massur to rely on miracles, yet that is what everyone is doing - they KNOW the budget doesn't balance, yet they keep on with business as usual anyway.

Class - you've heard, I'm sure, the old adage: What is it called when you do the same strategy over and over and over, each time with identical failing results, and yet somehow expect a different outcome "this time?"

It's called "insanity."



Ohr Somayach "THE OTHER LIGHT" of the story!
In this letter I would like to address some of the points that "Seth" raised, presenting a distorted picture of the Ohr Somayach Yeshiva in the article calledthe "Dark Light." Let me tell you a little about myself, since I think it is crucial for the reader to understand my point of view. I am not here to argue with "Seth" about how he feels about Ohr Somayach. To be honest, I felt that a lot of the statements made were not only not true, but quite silly in nature. (as will be explained below)

My name is "Emit Pinchus", although this is not my real name, if anyone wants to contact me they may do so via email, or they can ask the administration who I am. and I am currently attending Ohr Somayach Yeshiva in Jerusalem. I have been here for 2 years. I recently got married and am living in Jerusalem. Prior to coming to Ohr Somayach, I earned my BS in Commerce, and then went on to complete my J.D. Every summer between the academic years at law school, I would go to Ohr Somayach to learn more about my Jewish heritage. I found the classes to be intellectually stimulating and informative. During each summer the Rabbis made it a point to express their positive feelings about my goals, referring to my desire to become a lawyer and yet taking the time to learn about our Jewish tradition. Never, and I mean never, did a Rabbi tell me or even hint to me that I should leave law school to pursue solely Jewish studies. After I came back the second time, I really felt that I wanted to set aside time after the completion of law school to study the Torah on a serious level. When I got to Ohr Somayach after taking the Bar exam, which I passed, I was pleased to find beautiful living arrangements in a Maalot Dafna apartment, with 8 other guys. Let me tell you the make up of the guys: an investment banker; an accountant; a security analyst for a major mutual fund; a professor of German-Jewish studies; a trader for another major mutual fund; a political science graduate on his way to law school; and a biomedical engineer. (I don't remember the last one's occupation.) They had all been religious for a few years, and decided to come to Ohr Somayach to strengthen their skills in learning as well as build their connection to Judaism. All were very lively guys, with upbeat personalities and were a real joy to live with. That first year gave us a chance to become friends and grow in our observance of Torah. Some people were more religious then others, and the Rabbis made it a point to have a lecture about how students should never tell other students how to live their life or keep mitzvoth. They said that theses are all personal decisions, which should be left up the individual.

When someone asked the Rabbinic head of our department, about whether he encourages the students to leave Universities and their careers, he said and I quote, "Absolutely not, staying in Yeshiva and learning is a completely personal decision, where many factors have be taken into account, like financial stability, family, potential job and the like.”

He advised one of my friends, who had a sick father, to go back home and help his mother to take care of his father.

In my case, I really wanted to stay and learn because I felt a need to acquire the skills to learn Jewish texts independently.

We learn in an intensive program dedicated to getting the student on his feet in terms of his learning and observance level. The Yeshiva never told me what type of kippa I had to wear, or whether I should wear blue shirts, or white shirts. That type of stuff is not within their scope of education. They are teaching us how to grow in our religious observance, like keeping Sabbath, wearing Tzizit, and being able to learn from a Gemara.

My Rabbis never mentioned anything bad about any other type of Jew, whether it is secular or modern orthodox, or chassidic. Their goal was to help us get a foundation in learning and keeping mitzvoth, and not to get into the political issues of our times. A student might ask aRrabbi his opinion on some political issue and the Rabbi would answer him privately, but, in my experience, each Rabbi has his own mind and answers accordingly. Never did I hear anyone mention anything against the Rav, J.B. Soloveitchik, Ztl; on the contrary, Rabbis were quick to say that he was a Gadol b'Torah...

In regards to Ulpan, we have an amazing teacher who’s name is Rabbi Gogak. He transformed my Hebrew from literally nothing into a level where I am able to read difficult Jewish texts by myself, a goal that I have always dreamed of attaining.

In regards to newspapers, I don't know who reads newspapers and who doesn't, but I know that there are students who subscribe to secular newspapers and receive delivery at the Yeshiva.

The statements made by Seth that the Yeshiva says that everything in the secular world is bad and wrong is both mistaken and silly. I have heard many Rabbis discuss the greatness of technology in the past 150 years. Many Rabbis ride buses, drive cars, use computers, use cell phones, etc. So, to imagine that they would say that nothing in the secular world has ever produced good is absurd.

In regards to the point that there is aRrabbi here who tries to disprove science, is even more laughable then the last statement. I think he is referring to Rabbi Dr. Gottlieb. Rabbi Gottleib prior to coming to Ohr Somayach was an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University. He has a Phd. in mathematical logic, and is well versed in Physics and all the Natural Sciences. One of his classes discusses the problems with the evolution theory. He never once said (and I have his lectures recorded) that evolution is wrong. He does maintain that there are scientific problems with it. He is not the only one. There are secular Biology professors at major universities who also raise questions about the theory. I am not a scientist by profession, I am a lawyer and I think that it is wrong to mention theories without also providing the problems to those theories. Some of the sources that Rabbi Gottlieb quotes are as follows:
Johnson. Phillip, Darwin on Trail, 2nd ed., Intervarsity Press, 1993.
Shapiro, Robert, Origins - A Skeptic's Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth, Bantam, 1986
Behe, Michael, Darwin's Black Box, Free Press, 1996
Raup, David, Extinction - Bad Genes or Bad Luck?, Norton, 1991
Stanley, Steven, The New Evolutioniariy Timetable, Basic Books, 1981
Crick, Francis, Life Itself - It's Origin and Nature, Simon and Schuster, 1981
All of the sources stated above are of a secular nature.

No one at Ohr Somayach wants to make a person into some type of cookie cutter Jew; everyone is different, and the Rabbaim work hard to cater to all of the issues that each student has. It's quite sad that a person like Seth had a bad experience, but it would be even sadder if people take his point of view as fact. I feel very grateful to have been a part of this Yeshiva. In a few months I will be moving to back to New York as an attorney. The one thing that I learned from this place was that each Jew has a lifetime full of mitzvoth to fulfill, and Ohr Somayach was the stepping-stone for me in terms of my Jewish observance.

As for my roommates from the first year, I can tell you that they were sad to leave the Yeshiva, but not because they were thrown a guilt trip by the Rabbis, but because they felt this place was a place of growth for them, a place where they met people and formed friendships. Out of the eight of us, two of us were the only ones to stay for an extra year. The others went back to their respective careers. Whenever there is a reunion in America, all the guys make it an effort to attend.

If anyone wants to contact me via email, please feel free to do so. My email is

All the best,

Ahavah said...

You're entitled to your opinion, of course, and your experience may have been great. But I am not unacquainted with Yeshiva education - my late hushband was one of those "allergic to employment" types, too. Later, my oldest son attended yeshiva in Monsey and his experience was a whole lot like Seth's experience. After that, I decided my other sons were not going to yeshiva, ever. We are still in contact with some of my son's friends from Yeshiva, and they, frankly, have no prospects of ever being gainfully employed. They aren't allowed to have any secular studies at all - are not even allowed to have a part-time job to help cover their living expenses. They depend on charity for their meals, basically. My oldest son is back home now, B"H, and I'm very glad. His life would most certainly had been wasted if he's stayed in Monsey. And I feel very sorry for the brainwashed youths who are still there. They have the enthusiasm of youth - because they have no realistic idea at all of what is going to be required them when they are husbands and fathers and responsible for their aging parents and so on.

The Ohr Somayach Yeshiva said...

Listen, I know people who began their university careers and dropped out because they didn't like the social scene or were generally unhappy. Should we say that that person's opinion represents the entire University. Let's question the 10s of thousands of students who enjoyed their time at Ohr Somayach.

Give them a chance to post an article. but David Kinsley doesn't want that because he doesn't want people to know that, wait, there are people who really enjoy their experience, and look forward to enhancing their Torah observance beyond their present level.

6 out of 8 roomates of mine went to work. More than 80 percent of the people within a year or two, go back to their school or careers. I live here I see. Fine, there could be yound people that want to be Rabbis and spend a few years in kollel, but if they are willing to make the sacracfice why does it bother you. We are talking about maybe 5 percent that stay for more than 3 years, and they pick rabbinical work as their career.

People have bad experiences with Judaism in all types of places and with all types of people, but that could depend on their own personal history and sensetivity points. If your son did not like the yeshiva, it doesn't mean that his brother's wont like it. Perhaps he had other things going on in his mind when he was a teenager, and for some people being a teenager and in Yeshiva can be a challenging thing.

In regards to your post that no secular subjects are discussed is wrong. One of my career counslers in the Yeshiva is a Rabbi, who is actively helping me find a law job. The Yeshiva even allows boys to make extra money on the side. That's what I am doing right now.

Ahava, i dont know your religious observance level, but what I can tell you is that a yeshiva setting allows boys to 1. gain a grasp over jewish law, which they must know. 2. develop their character traits 3. and its a place where people can spend time to buiding a closer relationship to Hashem.

Could this be done outside of Yeshiva, perhaps, but it is much harder. Image getting a M.D, degree today without ever stepping foot inside a medical building.

I feel blessed that I came here. I met my wife in Israel, and we are trying to build the foundation of Jewish home. I owe a lot to my Rabbaim, who have helped me become more knowledgable in Halacha, as well as my connect to Hashem.\

I wish you all the best,

Ahavah said...

Dear Emit,

I gather from other posts at Kvetcher, etc., that your yeshiva experience was many years ago. Whether or not that is so, you have not acknowledged in your posts that RIGHT NOW, the Rabbis are basically strong-arming parents to send their sons straight to Yeshiva from Jewish Day School, and once they're there, they are NOT encouraged to obtain a secular degree of any kind. Failing to admit that is the CURRENT situation is disingenuous, to say the least.

And you analogy at the end is completely backwards - imagine getting a medical degree without ever setting foot OUTSIDE the building. That's what Yeshiva is: a training that is ultimately devoid of any sympathy for or ability to deal with real life problems of real live people, coupled with extremely unrealistic expectations for their "graduation."

And I notice that any glowing reports of a son of yours in Yeshiva are conspicuously absent.