Thursday, July 25, 2013


Ask a Yeshiva Boy: Who Are You Learning For?

by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths

th (1)A Jewish blogger who I respect, Yeranen Yaakov, wrote…  “How, as religious Jews, can we help persuade a secular majority and show them the importance of Torah study being on, at the very least, the same level as army service in their eyes?  The truth is, it's difficult… Before anything, however, we have to believe ourselves that Yeshiva boys provide a great service to Kelal Yisrael… Tell every Yeshiva boy you meet, "Thank you for your service".  You do it for those in the military.  Why not those in Yeshiva?  Do you not believe that they should be thanked for the service that they provide?  Of course they should be thanked!  Their service is immeasurable and goes way beyond the service the army provides.  Not only do they help protect Kelal Yisrael, but they ensure the continuation of Kelal Yisrael by learning the Torah that we all should be learning.  Of course, say it to those in the army, but all the more so, say it to Yeshiva boys.”

Years ago a friend from synagogue told me this story:  “I grew up in Lakewood, New Jersey, 3 blocks away from the great Lakewood Yeshiva.  We never had any contact with the yeshiva, nor did they have any contact with us.  In my early 20’s, I traveled to Israel.  There I met some Chabad chassidim who opened up for me the world of Torah.  I learned to appreciate Torah, became an observant Jew and learned in yeshiva for a brief time.

15 years later I was living here, in this community near Lakewood.  I was offered to join some others in attending a shiur (Torah lesson) at the great yeshiva in Lakewood.  During the shiur the rabbi decided he disagreed with some position the Lubavitcher Rebbe had recently taken, and went on at length about how Chabad and the Rebbe’s path was wrong and harmful.

At the end the shiur, I went up to the rabbi and said ‘what good is your Torah when it cannot reach even 3 blocks from this building and touch another Jew?  How can you speak against the Lubavitcher Rebbe when he completely dedicates himself to helping every Jew, and his Torah reaches even the other side of the world!’”

In response to Yeranen Yaakov, the yeshiva students of Israel NEVER _act_ as if their Torah learning is for others.  During the last Lebanese/Hizbollah-Israeli war, Chabad and Breslev set up shop on the northern border.  Chabad put tefillin on the soldiers and gave them tehillim to carry into combat – as well as distributing treats to the soldiers.  Breslev danced with the soldiers and handed out clean underwear and t-shirts to the returning soldiers.  And they prayed and learned with the soldiers, and took all these actions for the soldiers.

In the recent preparation for an invasion of Gaza in response to rocket attacks on civilian towns, Chabad went to the staging areas to be with the soldiers (tefillin, davening, Torah).  Breslev drove to public bomb shelters to play music and dance with the people sheltering there.  And the yeshivas fled to Beit Shemesh and Bnei Brak, because Ashkelon and Ashdod were now unsafe…

They did not stay and share the protection of their Torah learning.  Nor did they bring their Torah learning to public shelters that could have used both the protection and comfort.  AND would have been open to a religious message and Torah at such a time!

I would not, G-d forbid, discount the value or need for Torah learning and yeshiva students.  But the vast majority of current yeshivas do not act in a way that gives an appearance of care about others or acting in any sort of public good – whether positioning themselves to provide spiritual protection or providing a religious message of strength and comfort during a scary time.

If yeshiva students wish to be treated as if they provide a public good and benefit, they have to act like it!


  1. Bravo!
    I see this as reflecting Rabbi Akiva's thousands of students who we mourn during S'fira. Something was amiss then and it is so now.

    When good, smart, intelligent, caring Jews cannot allow themselves to understand this depth of "sharing" with their brothers/sisters it is a very sad day.

    I hope YY reads this. I also commented on that.

  2. The learning of Torah does not have to stop, can still be studied, and even brought to more Jews who have not as yet met the Talmud, but like our giants of the past who also had a business on the side (Rashi was a wine merchant, Maimonides a doctor, and there are untold others) it is a Torah virtue to work with your hands and SHARE THE TORAH with others. That is why the TORAH came to the world, to be a light to shine on humanity.

    Share the treasure; don't keep it locked in an ivory tower.

    Each neighborhood in Eretz Yisrael need a Beit Midrash to call to its neighbors to come learn, open your eyes, your mind and your life to the light of Torah. One was opened in the German Colony area and is attracting people from the area who never learned before. A perfect example.

  3. Akiva,

    The idea of learning Torah is a value in and of itself. One does not need to learn "for someone" in order to get the benefits of Torah learning. The learning itself is beneficial and should be the cause for giving thanks.

    In fact, the gemara in Sota 21a says that the benefits of Torah learning is greater than those of doing Mitzvot. Helping others with Tefilin, distributing sweets, dancing with soldiers, etc. are wonderful things. However, none compare to the Mitzva of Torah learning. We know that Talmud Torah Keneged Kulam.

    You mentioned those who prayed and learned with the soldiers. This is wonderful. Those who are on the level of teaching Torah to others, Bechavod.

    Here's a point you probably don't understand, coming from a Chabad background. Most Yeshivot don't encourage younger boys going out to the community to teach Torah - until they're in a community Kollel setting - since that would limit the quality of their Limud Torah. And quality counts. There is a concept of Bitul Torah Be'eichut (learning Torah, but not on the level that one can learn Torah is considered Bitul Torah Be'eichut).

    Whether it's better for younger boys to go out to the community or to stay in the Beit Midrash is a larger Mahloket than one between me and you. Much greater people have debated this. Please understand that it is not black and white and that there is merit for just staying in the Beit Midrash, especially for those not able to teach, but even for those that can, it is an Ark of protection from the outside world, in order to nurture one's Torah, so that they can go out to teach later in life.

    Why Yeshivot in Ashkelon and Ashdod evacuated? I don't know. I believe they were given a heter to do so by one of the Gedolim. Perhaps, they didn't believe in their own protection. Does that negate it? Absolutely not.

    In summary, the spiritual protection is not dependent on whether they do OTHER THINGS for the community. The fact that they are doing THIS THING - i.e., learning Torah - shows that they care for the future of Kelal Yisrael. And even if they didn't care for Kelal Yisrael, which I doubt, Torah learning is STILL beneficial.

    Therefore, please thank your local Yeshiva boy who is learning, regardless of for whom he's learning.

  4. Yaak,

    While I won't disagree with your points, we do not live in the time of the shvatim. If they expect to _voluntarily_ be treated NOT as Shevet Levi, but as the Kohanim (not going off to war and living off the trumah of the rest), they're going to have to share more than just a locked-away spiritual value.

    BTW, I fully agree and don't expect yeshiva bochrim to be running off to do outreach or Torah classes, or comforting during war efforts. We'll leave that to Chabad and Breslev, they're strong enough and prepare for it. But 25 year old married kollel men are a different story.

    It's a very tough position to say you want to stay isolated, receive the safety benefits of the country, use the semi-free health system, receive support payments, AND receive religious payments, do not want to contribute defensive personnel even to units that meet a reasonable set of religious needs (though it's not a good environment, and it's certainly a foreign non-isolated one - but the country can't choose to disband it's army and live), and don't want to provide any societal benefit that the average person can see or appreciate.

    The last IS the point. If you want my secular co-workers from Tel Aviv to be willing to support AND exempt, then you've got to do SOMETHING to show you CARE and want to provide them a direct value. Doesn't have to be a big one... Torah classes, support during tough times, heck just visiting the army bases before the holidays to show support and appreciation (like Chabad going to the bases to bring sufganiot for Chanukah and to shake a lulav for Sukkot).

    What a mess.

  5. I hear what you're saying. My point, however, is that we must convince ourselves of the truth that Limud Hatorah is beneficial first before we can convince the secular public of it. Hence, the "Thank a Yeshiva boy" idea.


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