Monday, November 26, 2007

Whatever Happened to Brains

I really enjoyed this post by Jewboy, discussing the need to plan for the future when one is in yeshiva.
What strikes me about the decision making I see from many of my peers and those younger than me is the lack of cognizance of the need to consult those older than them when it comes to important choices. As I faced decisions, I sought out not only rebbeim as many yeshiva bochurim do but also baal habatim who were 5-10 years older than me who I knew had similar backgrounds and interests. Many conversations I had with some of my older friends were quite illuminating. One friend who had several children cautioned me that it was important to make a career plan now, before I was looking to get married, because he had seen the bad experiences many of his yeshiva friends had had when they started large families, only to discover a few years down the road that they had no marketable skills or training with which to support their families. Today, I am extraordinarily happy that I followed his advice.

And yet, so many of the young men I know refuse to follow along this path. They think that it is enough that their rebbeim counsel them to stay in yeshiva, and not give a thought to college or any type of career training while they pile child upon child, many times relying on parents or in laws to support them. Why do these young men not feel the need, as I did, to speak to peers that went through the same travails?
I still recall a conversation I had with a Rebbe in a certain yeshiva I was in for a few months. When the yeshiva heard I was unhappy and planning on leaving, they appointed a few different rabbeim to speak to me and try to convince me to stay. (The irony in this runs deep, but I digress...) I recall the conversation with one of them, who did not know who I was when I introduced myself nor anything about me; only "Oh, right, R' ____ asked me to speak with you, right." He asked me if I minded walking him home while we talked on the way.

As we started to walk up the hill toward his home, he asked me a few basic questions, including what my plans were for the coming year. I responded that I was likely going to be going to Lander College. He questioned why I was going to college, to which I looked at him, slightly confused, as I really didn't understand what he was asking. After a couple of seconds I responded that I needed to get a degree so I can make a living. He immediately spoke up and said simply
"That's a copout."
I was taken completely aback, but I recovered enough after a few seconds to mumble something along the lines of "You don't know me, you don't know my family, we don't have any money..." or something along those lines. He responded that it's still a copout and I was just looking for a way out of staying in yeshiva. I was too dumbfounded to respond, and spent the next 15 minutes of conversation trying to figure out how to have any constructive conversation with him. The walk ended at the door of his home, when he said "I don't believe there's anything I can do for you".*

When this is the mentality of one's rabbeim, whom one is taught to look up to as people who are worthy of respect and who have acquired wisdom, it makes it very difficult for students. They are pressured by rabbeim and mentalities such as these to make life decisions that are not at all in their best interests. Contrast that with advice I heard quoted in the name of one of my rebbeim from WITS, explaining the concept of finding a rav for oneself:
"Whatever you do, make sure you find as your da'as Torah someone who is honest and who cares more about what is good for you than what is good for him or some 'ideal'."
The problem is when those rabbeim are so hard to find...

* (As a note, I left that yeshiva and returned to OJ within the next couple of weeks, on the advice and counsel of family, friends, former Rabbeim, and other Rabbonim.)


  1. When I was in Lander, Rabbi Parnes told us that the mentality is that even thinking about college/parnassa detracts from one's understanding of the Ketzos. At best he was indifferent to this opinion, but I think he didn't view it too favorably.

    Frankly I don't really understand it. It's one thing to support full-time learning for as long as possible, but it's something entirely different to ignore that most people need an education to make a decent living.

  2. I would have responded to the rebbe that staying in yeshiva would be a copout as it is for many people. It is copping out of one's responsibilities and using yeshiva and sitting and learnign as a way to avoid getting a job. not everyone is cut out for yeshiva and when someone who isn't stays, it is a copout.

  3. N - Agreed wholeheartedly. I can disagree as much as I want with the idea of full-time learning, but I can still respect those who support themselves while doing so somehow or have people willing to support them. My brother's wife supports his learning completely - they don't live nicely, but they make it. But to ignore it? Insane.

    R' Horowitz actually has a great piece on this subject.

    RafiG - I thought at the time that I should have decked him for stupidity; in all honesty, I was too shocked to muster much of anything to say. I was also only 19 at the time.

  4. I agree with Rafi. I believe that learning long term is for a man who has what it takes to be a rebbe or rosh yeshiva. Guys who stay in kollel instead of going out to work are the ones who are a copout.

    Where in the Torah does it say that not providing for your family is a mitzvah?

  5. What I've learned over the years is that we all have to go on the path we feel we need to go on, and not care what other people, including most rebbeim, say. These rebbeim will not be paying our bills when we have multiple kids and nothing to support them with. However, I didn't realize this fully as I do now when I was 19, and so I struggled with decision making for a number of years. I now see people younger than me struggling with the same things and I try to give advice sometimes, but as my post indicates, I don't find that many of them are listening.

  6. How about this related "walking the Rebbe home" incident from my life. I was in my first year of seminary in New York worried about Shidduchim so I went to a shiur given by one of my high school Rebbes, a man I respected, hoping to get a moment after the Shiur to speak with him about what I was going to marry and how I would go about attaining that (I was feeling more "modern" than what the teachers were saying I should be). He asked me if I minded meeting him at home so I drove from the Shul to his house--an inconvenience because I didn't live locally-- and waited in his study. A while later, he came in and I explained my concerns. In a sentence or two, he boiled it down to this:
    "Don't worry. You'll marry a Ben Torah." He was referring to the kind of Ben Torah that sits and learns. What I wanted to say was, "What if I don't want a Ben Torah?!!" But, at 18 1/2 years old, I thought better of it. "Thank you," I said and walked off frustrated into the Brooklyn night. It took me 10 years to get a clue as to what I needed to marry and that was even after I got married! Moral of the story: Everyone should be a learning boy. Everyone should marry a learning boy.

  7. I heard a fascinating shiur by Rav Zev Leff (רב הראשי מושב מתתיהו) and he brought down different sources, and the end decision was that those who are willing to sacrifice and learn full time can manage - G-d WILL take care of them. However, they must be 100% dedicated to it and willing to suffer through the hardships. Those that don't have that type of trust in G-d or tenacity in learning are REQUIRED to learn a trade.

    A separate issue is that most of us don't have enough learning under our belts to properly gauge if this is for us. Of course, trying to find out starting 18 is not really helping things. If the education system were how it is supposed to be, by 15 we'd have a pretty good idea if we could handle it...

    To anonymous mom: You are absolutely right that every girl should marry a Ben Torah. But being a Ben Torah does not mean anyone who doesn't learn full time is not. There is no doubt that the requirement to earn a living does not mean - "I earn a living, so I don't have time to learn." At the end of the day, our living is not provided by us, but by G-d. Everyone should set aside a minimum of an hour a day to learn, if not more, regardless of how hard they work. Investing in G-d is a better investment than one more hour of work. But being a Ben Torah still applies. Just the definition has been redefined these days.

    Unfortunately, the yeshiva system (starting in kindergarten) is quite flawed, and I truly don't think anyone really can gauge their ability to learn full time before they have some serious learning done (a few years minimum).

    Its sad what we've come to today.

  8. when I was in yeshiva (in Israel) and considering leaving to go back to the US for college, I had been at the end of my second year in Israel. I was leaning to not returning and rather remaining in the US for college.

    A rebbe (not like in your case, this rebbe knew me well) spoke with me about it. He did not say college is assur (I was surprised because this was not one of these one year programs - this was a very yeshivishe yeshiva) or anything like that. he simply said that I should stay for a third year and then go to college. He said boys who stay for the third year transform into bnei torah in a way that is not comparable to those after two years.

    I ended up deciding to stay in Israel (I am sure that speech had something to do with it but it was not everything) and ended up never going back though I got my college degree while in Israel.

    He spoke to me wisely rather than liek those who spoke to you... While looking back I am sure it was a ploy and he probably realized that had he said college was assur or something like that I probably would have gone. He knew how to talk to me to get me to stay. I do not think he really believed that college was ok after a third year of yeshiva, but he knew I would not reject that argument.

  9. SaraK - Agreed!

    JB - What I've learned over the years is that we all have to go on the path we feel we need to go on, and not care what other people, including most rebbeim, say.

    Exactly. And while it's true most of them aren't listening, I wonder if that's because we're not reaching them early enough - people (with reason) tell children to respect Rebbeim, but don't realize what that often turns into.

    AnonMom - Wow. That's... crazy.

    BZ - Great comment, thank you. Nothing to add...

    RafiG - Right. And that's how rebbeim who knew me approached it... this guy in the post was sadly not as wise or caring.