Modern orthodoxy is dead. You've gotta start identifying yourself as something else. Dont sell yourself short. Join the yeshivish crowd. Sure there are many rotten apples. And sure weve seen more than our share of self-righteous shallow hypocrites, but that doesn't mean you should have any hesitation in identifying yourself with your great uncle or the chofetz chaim. Just because youve seen guys preaching the yeshivish penguin lifestyle and then smoking drugs on shabbos a few years later doesnt mean you should let the sour taste of the yeshivish world linger in your mouth.
You may be right that the closest group to my hashkafah nowadays is the yeshivishe velt, however my unwillingness to identify with the yeshivish crowd is not due to the presence of a few bad apples. Nor do I think that you would be correct in categorizing my great uncle or the chofetz chaim as yeshivish. I think that there is at the root of today’s yeshivish hashkafah a set of beliefs that are incompatible with Torah Judaism as I understand it. I feel the same way with regards to the current form of modern-Orthodoxy. At the end of the day, I may end up in a yeshivish community, and my kids may go to yeshivish schools, but I will do my very best to shield them and direct them away from those parts of the yeshivish hashkafah which I believe are lechatchilah wrong and harmful.
Ok, you piqued my interest. What are these incompatible beliefs that are lechatchilah wrong and harmful? I need to know, so I can shield my kids as well.
PS- the yeshivish learning curriculum is completely against Reb Nachman. He considers it a waste of time to spend so much time in Iyun when a person doesnt have a grasp in the generals of Torah. In short, breadth is depth. I can refer you to a book that I believe, if put into practice, would see a lot more yeshiva students remaining on the derech. It emphasizes the vast amount of Torah a person can obtain by quickly doing bekius. If you can do a very fast seder and finish shas every 3 years, you will certainly be a baki after going through it many times. The book is much more convincing. The modern yeshiva student learns so many rishonim and achronim, that by the time they leave the classroom, their head is spinning, and they are confused as to the halacha. This is not the right derech.
You’re absolutely right, the ridiculous focus on pilpul and b’iyun learning before talmidim even have the most basic grasp of a bekius knowledge of Torah is asinine. I’d love to know more about the book to which you are referring. I also find it a terrible indictment on today’s learning style that people can learn gemara for years and years without (a) knowing basic halacha, (b) basic hashkafa, and (c) attaining a comprehensive understanding of the Torah framework.
I think that the basic problems with the yeshivish world are more varied than this alone though. There are many concerns which come to mind, but I think that I will begin by just dealing with one in this e-mail.
I think there is a very dangerous emasculation of males that is held up as a worthy goal. This is largely caused by the anti-work, anti-world hashkafah, which flies in the face of my understanding of the Torah.
As explained at length by Rav Hirsch among others, authentic Torah Judaism encourages active involvement in the world. Hebrew uses the same shoresh (root) for the word “holy” (kodesh) as it does for words referring to our relationship with women and wine (kedeishah/kiddushin and Kiddush). The message is that unlike Christians, we do not flee from physicality and involvement in all aspects of the world, rather we are mikadesh the world, elevating it. The holy man of Torah is one who relates to the whole world passionately in a holy way. Not one who does not relate to it the world all.
Compare the "Mainstream" vision of the yeshiva bochur with that of the Torah. Yakov is the Tora's yeshiva bochur-the ish tam yosheiv ohalim, sitting in the beis midrash, a masmid and a yarei shamayim. But look at Yakov's other abilities. He defeats his more worldly brother reclaiming the birthright that should have been his. Executes and enforces a brilliant and binding contract with wicked uncle Lavan and becomes wealthy. Wrestles with an angel (he must have worked out at a health club!) and negotiates a peace with Eisav. If there is one underlying theme of Yakov's life, it is the ability to handle any situation by challenging it on its own terms and subduing it until it conforms to a Torah blueprint. He meets Eisav on the level of politics, diplomacy and warfare. Lavan on the business level, the peasant shepherds with sheer physical strength and courage, Pharoah with dignity and wisdom. Each time he displays competence and produces a kiddush hashem. This is why he is the first to bear the name Yisrael. Because he could grapple with human situations and with Godly situations and emerge victorious. You will probably agree with me that the picture of the mainstream yeshiva bochur you envisaged at the beginning of this paragraph doesn't quite match up to Yakov.
We in the "frum" world take the general bumbling incompetence, the affectation of complete ignorance of the secular world as a mark of a Tzaddik. That's not a tzaddik--it's a "wimp"! Can you see many of our so called yeshivishe people walking into the Chicago Mercantile Exchange without making total fools of themselves. Yakov avinu could have, and he is the Torah's paradigm of the yeshiva bochur. Can you see a yeshiva guy take on a few New York street hoodlums? Yakov could. Could a rosh yeshiva emerge a millionaire from a transaction with a Wall Street tycoon? Yakov did. We have absorbed a non-Jewish image of a Tzaddik. We can no longer tell the difference between a tzaddik and a "wimp".
Here's a link to the book: The One Minute Masmid. It comes with a kuntrus from the Gedolim of last generation emphasizing the correct derech of learning. It seems strange how most of the gedolim say this, yet the yeshiva system is still the way it is. The guy who wrote it is a Gateshead Rabbi.
Theres a great passage in Yoma that I recently came across. 71a - bottom of the page. "To you, Men, do I call..." Rabbi Berechia says these are the Talmidei Chachamim who are like women, but have gevura like men. Rashi explains that they are like women in that they appear weak and wimpy. But they have inner strength like a lion. When I learned this gemara, I thought of you. You told me a long time ago that the big, tough, guys with tatoos never made it through special forces training. It was always the smaller guys with the inner strength. If you had known Yaakov when he was in his father's house, you wouldve felt the same way. Talmidei Chachamim are deceptive. They appear weak, but when put to the test and thrown out in the goyish world, they excel. You know the famous story about that guy who complained to Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky that his bochrim dont have a secular education and cannot make it in the "real" world. So he told the guy to pick anyone in the beis medrash. He picked the most wimpy looking "loser" and Rav Yaakov told him to go to college and get a job to make a kiddush hashem. He went and started a really famous financial group. That is the midda of a talmid chacham. Go look at the maharsha on brachos 54a. When the gemara says how tall and strong moshe was, it was referring to his strength Lefi Hasechel ( according to the intellect). Another interesting gemara you should look at is Yoma 72b. It begins with the premise that the aron kodesh refers to the talmid chacham. It then proceeds to learn out each pasuk describing the measurements of the aron, as referring to the midot of the talmid chacham. Its no wonder midah- size, is the same word as midah - virtue! The big and buff yaakov was big and buff because of his virtues, not because of sheer strength.
When Rabban Gamliel said that today we dont have to stand whenever we learn torah because we dont have the strength they used to have. What kind of strength was this? Clearly it must have had physical consequences. Was it the strength that allowed eliyahu to go 40 days without food? What about Yonah? These guys went without food and water for longer than we would say was impossible, but yet both ask God to take their soul rather than do something they held was ethically wrong. These men had such strength in torah and middos, that their human strength was way beyond physical capabilities. And we laugh when we say chazal claims moshe was ten amos tall. If their middos (virtues) were superhuman, their midos (size) didnt follow suite??
Obtaining kedusha is mainly done through asceticism. As in sanctify yourself with what is muttar for yourself. sanctity comes from separation. from breaking your physical pleasures/ boundaries. If you want superhuman strength you need to make yourself superhuman. When I asked rav cheshing how rebbe nachman achieved such maalot at the age of 12, he responded, "he broke his taava for eating at the age of 6!" The two are related. Kedusha is the lechatchila, and being involved in this world is a bedieved. Pirkei avos says this. and its codified in the shulchan aruch. Work as little as you can, and learn the rest of the day. the first rashi in Vayeshev alludes to this. Yaakov was tired of work, he wanted to finally return to the tent (lechatchila), but his fortune did not allow it, so yosef was taken.
I’d like to think that we both know that this issue is not as simple as you would imply. It is dealing with a machlokes that is encapsulated in the disagreement between Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai on Berachos 35b. As you well know, that gemara ends by saying that many followed R’ Yishmael’s approach of Torah study and derech eretz and it worked for them, while many tried Rashbi’s approach and it did not work for them. The Gra says on this that it didn’t work for “many”, but there are certain unique individuals for whom this approach is right. Personally, I believe that the pendulum has swung far too much over to the side of learning without derech eretz and we are currently viewing the result…v’lo alsa biyadan. When Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky, whom you quoted, discussed this issue, he was always very careful to state that it was not a clear cut matter one way or the other. I think that you are mistaken in viewing it as such, and in so doing have demonstrated one of the traits of the yeshiva world that I view as a flaw. Rav Hirsch writes that there were twelve shevatim in order to demonstrate that there is no one correct mehalach in Judaism. You can observe halacha and be a wonderful Jew and still live a very different life from another Jew who is also living according to halacha.
This bizarre, quasi-dichotomy is also captured beautifully by the gemara in Kiddushin 82a, where R’ Meir says one must teach his son an occupation, and R’ Nehorai says he puts aside all of the occupations in the world and only teaches himself Torah. What makes this interesting is the gemara at the top of Eiruvin 13b where the gemara says that R’ Meir and R’ Nehorai are one and the same, “Shehu mayir einei chachamim b’halacha”.
There are plenty of sources espousing the value of work….not as a bedieved! Rashbatz (a physician) points out on the mishnah in pirkei avot of “ehav es hamelacha” that this obligation goes beyond the duty to support oneself; even if one has other income, he is obligated to work “not only for the earnings involved, but out of love for it.” And with regards to the positive effect that working has on one’s studies, this is clearly expressed by chazal who say, again in Pirkei avot, “yafeh talmud Torah im derech eretz…v’chol Torah she’ein imah melachah, sofah biteilah v’goreres avon.” You don’t even have to go past the peshat of the Torah to see the emphasis on work. Man is placed in gan Eden to work. Sheishes yamim ta’avod. Etc.
You must know that for every source that you have quoted ascribing asceticism as a Torah value, I can quote ones that say the opposite. Surely you know that it is not so clear cut!
A Nazir must bring a korban chata’as. According to R’ Elazar HaKapar (Nazir 19a) this is for denying himself permitted physical pleasures. Interestingly enough, this is the same R’ Elazar HaKapar who says in Pirkei Avos that Kina, Tayva, and Kavod remove one from the world. Nedarim 38a states that Hashem’s Shechina only rests on one who is wealthy and physically strong. Rambam codifies this l’halacha (Hilchos Yesodei ha'Torah 7:1). See the Ran on this…he disagrees with your assertion that this was metaphorical, and the gemara bears this out (see Kesef Mishnah and Shalmei Nedarim). See Tosfos at the top of Bava Kama 72a regarding how Rav Nachman says that he can’t clarify a Torah point until he’s eaten a nice slab of beef. And lastly, my favorite, the Yerushalmi (Kiddushin 4:12) that for every permitted thing in this world which we do not experience, we will be held accountable.
Rabbi Mordechai Gifter says that kedoshim tihiyu means that just as God is intimately involved in every aspect of the physical world - since only His will at every moment allows anything to exist – we also must have contact with the entire physical world. But our involvement has to be like God's: we must elevate and sanctify the physical.
You make many valid points in your e-mail. You are right that physical strength is not always manifested externally. My great uncle used to bend horseshoes as Purim shtick. But we very much disagree on whether the “talmidei chachamim” produced by yeshivos today are on the level of those produced in the past. Granted, some people who look scrawny may possess tremendous strength…but it would be a mistake to solely choose scrawny individuals for an Olympic weight-lifting team. Scrawniness is not an indicator of great strength. I find it hard to believe that you could randomly pull a bochur out of Lakewood nowadays who could thrive in the business world. Also, while granting your point about external appearances, don’t forget that Yosef, the only person the Torah deems worthy of the title of “HaTzadik”, is the personality whom girls used to climb walls in order to stare at.
All in all, I think that you are in danger of oversimplifying Judaism into a one-dimensional vision that does not encapsulate all of Torah, but only those parts of it that align with your desired worldview. And I truly say this out of nothing but friendship and respect. I hope that you realize that I would only speak so bluntly to someone whom I care so much about and whom I know only engages in machlokot l’shem shamayim.
I just saw an amazing Tosfos that directly answers our issue. Its in Taanit n11a D'H Amar. The gemara quotes Shmuel who says that anyone who accepts upon himself a personal fast day is called a sinner. THen he quotes the passuk that identifies a sinner to his soul. Then tosfos asks how thats possible if we know that when someone injures himself he is patur. Tosfos rules that yes, he is certainly a sinner, as we learn from the korban the nazir needs to bring. (thats what you said) The gemara finds a kal vchomer. Just as the nazir needs to atone for not drinking wine, how much more so does someone who refrains from other pleasures. (you said that too.) Yet, Tosfos makes a 180. He rules that nevertheless, the mitzvah that he receives significantly outweighs the minor aveira. (Of course, this raises the issue of mitzvah haba ba'aveira, and sur meira, then aseh tov) He then proves it through the Taanit chalom situation. Where a guy wants to anull a bad dream he had, so he fasts on Shabbos and then on Sunday to atone for that fast.
The gemara in brachos is explicit that although its a tough nut to crack, the lechatchila is according to Rebbe Shimon. The problem is, we cant pull it off, so we end up with the Bedieved. Thats the pshat. As proof that this is pshat, look in Taanit 7a. There are two psukim: "If youre thirsty, you are given water." And "All who are thirsty go drink water." The answer the gemara gives is that the tzaddik has his parnassah given to him, and the not-so-tzaddik has to work for it. In other words: being a tzaddik and not working is lechatchila.
The mishna in pirkei avos that requires melacha piggybacks the command given to adam. God tells the not-yet-physical adam that he put him in the garden to work and to guard it. The garden is Torah, as it represents the 53 parshiyos in the Torah (GaN = 53). I'm sorry, I don't remember where I saw that gemara, but its quoted all over chassidus. Adam was placed in the GaN leOvdah, uleShomrah. The gemara (you'll have to forgive me, I forgot. Its either in the end of Yoma, or the beginning of Taanit.) It says that someone who studies and doesnt have Yirei Shamayim is like someone who has a fence around his garden, but doesn't have a garden. In light of this gemara, you see that to work and guard the garden, cannot possibly mean to become a lawyer and spend 12 hours a day pleading for a rapists life. Rather it means to work on your yiras shamayim (Ovdah) and learn torah to guard it (Shomrah). If you do not think this is pshat, then explain what work and guarding means to a non-physical entity.
I think you are missing the point by phrasing it in terms of l’chatchila and bedieved. This is a question that harkens back to the dispute between Yehuda and Yosef in Mitzrayim of whether to integrate in society or whether to stay in yeshivot in Goshen. I think the real answer is that we need both approaches integrated into one national identity.
Regarding the gemara dispute between Rebbe Yishmael and Rashbi, again I think you are missing the point. Once more, I reiterate that for every source you quote supporting your view, I can bring you one supporting the other view. The Gra explains that you need to be medayek on the lashon of the gemara. Many will never be able to pull off the approach of Rashbi, it is not intended for many. But there are a few unique individuals in each generation for whom it is meant. The vast majority of us, however, are meant lechatchila to engage in work and learning.
So, in closing, I believe that the Jewish world needs Lakewood, but it also needs YU. I think the quality and quantity of people in each institution are not ideal, but that’s a topic for another time.
Bruce: Ok, fair enough. I guess we'll find out when eliyahu comes....Teku.