Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Choosing The Right Yeshivah

I received a request from someone for guidance about choosing the right yeshivah in Israel. Since I'm not so up on the American yeshivah scene, I suggested that he write a full description of his story, and I would post it here, for the input of my readership. Here it is:
I grew up in a frum home, the eldest son of two ba'alei teshuva. From the get go, I was the perfect off-the-derech child - I was very inquisitive of the natural world; the only thing more interesting to me than a wild plant or a rock I found was an episode of PBS's NOVA. Most of the time, my eyes were glued to the ground - there was something mysterious and enchanting about the world. While my peers were reading fiction such as The Magic Treehouse and Artscroll’s biographies, I was absorbed in the latest issue of National Geographic or Biblical Archaeology Review.

I went to a charedi-type school through first grade, but I hated it terribly. From a young age, I was a rationalist. I hated Judaic studies with a passion. I vividly remember how, "chumash class" was six-year-olds sitting in front of a purely Hebrew text (which few of us could understand) with the class Rebbe reading to the class with a poisonous dose of midrash. Midrash, in my opinion, is something that should NEVER be taught to children. To briefly quote an essay from Heshey Zelcer,

“Is Litchenstein privy to a study that analyzes how an educational approach that stresses a fairy tale version of Chumash affects modern Orthodox children? What percentage get turned off to Judaism, lose their faith, or leave orthodoxy? And what about the insult to Chazal that such a literal interpretation [of midrash] implies? Rabbi Yehuda HaChassid [hardly a rationalist] in Sefer Chassidim (page 239) gives sound advice regarding teaching midrash to children. “One does not reveal a strange Aggadah to children, lest they say, ‘This is nonsense’ and ‘If this is meaningless, so is all the rest (of the Torah)!’”.

Exactly as Zelcer describes, such a thing happened with me. Similarly, I was unable to justify how the creation narrative given in Bereshis could possibly have occurred, given the mountain of evidence for natural selection and evolution. I was disenchanted by my teacher’s inability to answer difficult questions, usually choosing to give a non-answer and then adding “Does that answer your question?” (my answer was always “no”). Often, it is better to say "I don't know" than not give a complete/real answer.

My burning questions, lack of access to answers (or Judaica, period), and heavy exposure to the rational discipline called science created someone who was destined to leave Orthodoxy. But further developments through a wrench in that machine.
When I was 8, my parents abandoned Orthodoxy. Ironically, I remained the most observant member of my family! I could not and would not eat food that wasn't kosher, if I could help it. I made a concerted effort not to ride in the car on Shabbos, and to walk to shul every week. I was still going to a Jewish, but now a modern Orthodox school, at this time. I have read about the “shift to the right” occurring in modern Orthodoxy these days. I can vouch for this. While I should have been exposed to a greater diversity of thought and ideas, I got the same unsatisfactory answers, yet masquerading as “moderate”.
When I was almost 13, my family moved to the middle of nowhere. I started going to public school on the weekdays, and a Chabad on Shabbos. Contrary to the horror stories I was indoctrinated with, switching to public school was probably the best thing that could have happen to me! I was exposed to other cultures, religions, and people. I got to see all the bad my parents had shielding me from, and I learned to appreciate what I had in private Jewish schools. I got to develop my own identity and understand of Judaism.
But now I was faced with new challenges. There were only a few fellow Jews at my new school and I had the misfortune of being the most knowledgeable about Judaism. Which meant I was the one who was faced with the challenge of the occasional evangelizer. In this instance, the internet was my friend. I watched Skobec and Singer debate Christian missionaries, and I learned what I needed to learn to stand up for the Jewish minority. Although I didn’t understand the implications of what I just did at the time, this was a very important development in my personal outlook. I gained proficiency in certain Torah concepts, absent of that “pesky” midrash or aggadah. Just plain, dry, rational Tanakh.
While at first I really fit in at Chabad (although it was very different from my more Litvish upbringing), as time went by I started to notice the ideological gap between Lubavitch and I. An annual visit to Crown Heights in Brooklyn (where Chabad-Lubavitch is headquartered) reminds me of that gap. Chassidim occupy the polar end of the rational-spiritual spectrum. Unfortunately, it so happens that they occupy the other end of the spectrum! I have come to expect “There’s spiritual reasons for it” as a catch-all answer, although I now have the chutzpah to ask “But what does the Talmud say?” as a follow up. Granted, this isn’t much different from my previous experiences, but at least now I have access to a set of English-Hebrew sefarim, so I can cross check whatever others say myself.
A few things further influenced me since I started at Chabad. First, I gained a mentor who hosted me at his lab for the summer, giving me a brief experience in genetic engineering. He also happens to be a ger. Second but unrelated, I went through a black-hat phase for two months. I don’t talk about that much. But the biggest change came last summer when a friend of mine recommended I go (קרי: coerced me into going) on an NCSY summer trip. I chose The Anne Samson Jerusalem Journey (TJJ), an NCSY Israel summer trip for American public school teenagers. My mentor from the lab told me sternly before I went, “when you are in Teveria, visit the Rambam’s Kever.” I agreed, and had my councilors reroute our activities in Teveria, so I could visit it. Although Rambam did not mean anything to me at the time, those ten, short minutes were surprisingly meaningful both at the time and in hindsight. Near the end of the trip, we visited The Biblical Museum of Natural History. I was very surprised by the intellect level of Rabbi Slifkin (and his museum volunteers), who was unlike any rabbi I had ever met. At the time, I was not aware of the rationalist outlook, so in hindsight I regret not taking full advantage of the opportunity and striking up a conversation with the staff. Blowing the shofar collection just seemed less intimidating, I guess.
I came back from Israel wanting to learn about the places I had been and seen. I went online, and began learning about the archaeology of Israel, an interest of mine from when I was a young child. What began as a secular interest eventually resulted in me learning the mishna, tosefta and gemara for contextual understanding. As a side note, I still hate midrash, although I can now appreciate midrash the way it is supposed to be learned (not literally, but as a parable so that we can learn wisdom).
Biblical archaeology lead me to discover ben Sira. Which lead to Sa'adia Gaon. Which lead to Rambam, and eventually the whole breadth of rabbinic literature. I started catching up with my yeshiva learned friends in a few months. I learned to abandon the need to reconcile all opinions quickly. I abandon pointless Zoharic this and that, including all mysticism (probably to the distress of my Chabad Rabbi). I discovered rationalist Judaism on my own.
But at the end of the day, I learned to find my own נתיב - a road personally traveled - even if it meant abandoning the straight and narrow דרך. This blog was a great influence on me. I found a like-minded person to learn from. A few days ago, I read Rabbi Slifkin’s post about the yahrzeit for his mother-in-law, Anne Samson, and read his essay about mourning. I knew the name sounded familiar... The Anne Samson Jerusalem Journey! This trip had a profound positive influence on my life, by inspiring me to learn about Israel (biblical archaeology), and leading to me learning Torah the way Torah I believe it is supposed to be taught.
So why is this story here? Since I started public school, but even more since the summer, I have wanted to go for a gap year to yeshiva. I now know I would like to go to Israel. But I wanted to reach out to the reader base to see which one(s) they could endorse. I want to spend most of my time learning - whether I'm in my yeshiva, or "in the field" (I have a passion for the natural world I mentioned), so ideally there will be a lot of learning, but also opportunities for me to go out on my own during the year. I would being interested in seeing which gap year yeshivos the reader-base could endorse (or not endorse) to help my decision along. 
If you have any suggestions, please post them in the comments!

113 comments:

  1. R' Natan, I don't have any involvement with "gap-year" Israeli institutions catering to Americans and so can't give practical advice. However, you should be able to provide guidance for a student with his interests in terms of what places might be suitable and what places to avoid. More significantly, you would be the best person I can think of to take this young man in hand. Perhaps an internship in your museum program coupled with torah study sessions could be arranged, as well as housing with a family. In fact, you might wish to consider such teaching/guidance as another facet of your career wherein you teach both torah and zoology together with field trips exploring the fauna and history of the land.

    Y. Aharon

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  2. Eretz HaTsvi is the place you wanna be.

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  3. Eretz Hattsvi is a good one. As is Orayta. The classic Har Etzion in Gush though, might be the best of them all

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    1. Firstly, definitely do not go to a yeshivah where the staff are charedi, whichever audience they aim for. Nor to a more mystically minded mizrachi Yeshivah. Both Har Etzion and KBY are sound options, and are on a high level, although KBY will have a greater focus on gemoroh over hashkaffa and more esoteric studies than Har Etzion.

      If you do go to Har Etzion, I can personally recommend you speak with Rav Amnon Bazak. And remember, irrelevant of where you go, you can still stay forge a connection with the numerous rationalist talmidei chachamim scattered across Israel. I can give you some email addresses if you want.

      The vast majority of bochurim you meet will be at complete odds with you, but there will be some like minded people. Discuss the deep stuff with them, and be friends with, and try to gain from, everyone.

      Whatever you do, הצלחה רבה.

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    2. Thank you for articulating that point about some of the "Modern Orthodox" Yeshivot in Israel. More important to look at the Hanhalla than the student body. The main difference between Har Etzion and KBY (based off my conversations with friends who attended both in the last 5 years) is that KBY, while also of a Modern Orthodox, somewhat rationalist bend, doesn't get involved with much outside learning Torah, intensely at that. You will never find a "sicha" about Philo, or about comparing and contrasting Halacha with American or Israeli law.

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    3. @Yavoy I am actively avoiding charedi yeshivot, thank you. As well as the more “mystically minded”. I would appreciate email addresses of Americans and Israeli rationalists alike. Who is wise? One who learns from everyone. Thank you! Your kind words are highly appreciated. You can reach me at RationalistStudent@gmail.com

      @Eli Nadoff This is constructive information for comparison/contrast.

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  4. I would investigate Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah. Definitely a place into clear logical thinking. In fact, they have visited Rabbi Slifkin's museum the past two years.

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    1. Migdal hatorah are chaitnicks- the worse possible place for a kid like this.

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    2. Can you define "Chaitnik" and please bring one example from Rabbi Chait's vast array of online published essays and recorded shiurim that demonstrate a lack of clear logical thinking?

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  5. Agree. Eretz Hatzvi or Orayta.
    (also: Not sure why it's such a surprise that a program named for your mother-in-law visits the Museum)

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    1. Not a surprise at all. However, my exposure to Rabbi Slifkin was limited beforehand, and I happen to be notorious with names. It took me a some time to connect the dots.

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  6. Check out BMT and Rabbi Rakefet's classes

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    1. BMT doesn't exist anymore.

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    2. Yes, hasn't existed for what, twenty plus years?

      Which brings up issue of dated advice. A big problem with this question.

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    3. BMT is now called Ohr Shraga

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    4. First, it's Torat Shraga. Second, it's not at all BMT, which was run by the Jewish Agency, but an independent school. It merely occupies the same building (YU's building) as BMT once did.

      Also, it's definitely not the place for this author. YU might be. :-)

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    5. @Nachum YU is a university option, but more realistically I have explored the possibility of summer courses.

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  7. You are a Gushnik! No question. (I say this as a mother of 2 past, 1 current, and 2 future Gushnikim.) And you're welcome to come to our house for Shabbat, wherever you end up. We do science. And I, personally, do Midrash. For real, not the way they teach it in lower school. (I do it in the context of the Haftarot, as the Midrash often uses the Haftarah to do Drash on the Parsha - take a look: http://www.torahforum.org/haftara/?p=415 - you can contact me through that blog when you're ready to take me up on that Shabbat invitation.)

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    1. Where I come from, people are loyal to their colleges like nothing else. Children go where their parents went, and everyone knows where you went because the college logo is plastered all over your car. Reminded me of that just a bit! :) But I digress…

      I’m the kid who got into Gryffindor, hated the magic classes, started going to muggle school, learned magic in muggle school, and is now trying to get back his magic.

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    2. :-) This isn't just loyalty. My husband actually didn't go to Gush, he went to Shaalavim, which was quite different back then. My eldest son chose the Gush, and his brothers (twins) looked elsewhere, just to say that they did, but chose to go there because when it's right, it's right. The next younger brother, a junior now, having spent many Shabbatot there with his brothers, has no interest in even looking anywhere else, because why waste his time?

      And no, you weren't in Gryffindor. You weren't even in Hogwarts. You'll see.

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  8. Gryffindor!

    (Sorry. Couldn't resist.)

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    1. If public school made this guy more Jewish them TOMO will make him even more of a rationalist

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    2. Did public school make me more Jewish? No. Less Jewish, also no. Just different Jewish.

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  10. Get onto the yeshiva websites and listen to the shiurim!
    Har Etzion is the obvious choice...

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    1. “Get onto the yeshiva websites and listen to the shiurim!” Good idea! “Har Etzion is the obvious choice...” So everyone keeps telling me…

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  11. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeshivat_Birkat_Moshe

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    1. A great suggestion but all of the classes are in Hebrew.

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  12. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeshivat_Birkat_Moshe

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  13. I would recommend checking out migdal hatorah I think you will find many like minded teachers there (Rabbi Chaim Ozer was my Highschool teacher).

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  14. Look into Migdal HaTorah

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    1. Great choice, I can reassure you that you will thoroughly your time there.

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  15. I have no input as to where this young man should learn. But I think it's important to point out that this young man was liable to go the way of the rest of his family and abandon observance altogether, if it weren't for someone like Rabbi Slifkin emphasizing the Rationalist approach to Judaism. (This would be a better polemic against Rabbi Meiselman and Rabbi Menken than all the posts about the irrationality of pi!)

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    1. I don’t know if I would have totally abandoned observance. I guess we’ll never know. On the point of my post potentially being a better polemic then the pi posts, perhaps Rabbi Slifkin will invite me back (or I will invite myself back) if (when) another dispute takes place. I’ve always wanted to write a refutation!

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  16. Regardless of wherever you go, do tune in to the Torah of Rabbi David Bar-Hayim. You may well be inspired.

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    1. I am familiar with David Bar-Hayim. I don’t necessarily feel “inspired” by his lectures (I think it was NCSY Induced Inspiration Desensitivity or NCSYIID for short), but his hashkafa has influenced me more than I want to admit. I do disagree with certain conclusions of his, however.

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  17. Shalom BrestickerJune 29, 2016 at 7:52 AM

    Many years ago, I learned at Rabbi Brovender's yeshiva. They later merged into Ohr Torah Stone in Efrat. I don't know what they are like today, but it is another option to check.

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  18. Alon shvut american program.

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  19. Obviously the place for you is ToMo. Or netiv. Or maybe brisk.

    Just kidding.

    But seriously wherever you decide to apply make sure you show them this post that you wrote so they understand exactly where you are coming from. Many times yeshivos will accept you and try and convince you to come even if it's not the best fit for you. For the average guy due to the similarity of the places he'll be applying it really doesn't make that much of a difference at the end of the day if he could have gone to a slightly more fitting yeshiva. For you on the other hand if they don't really get your whole background they may just relate to you as a typical boy just with a more rationalist bent and tell you how their yeshiva will be perfect for you when in fact it will end in disaster. Conversely, some yeshivos might not want to accept someone who was in public school and therefore has a weaker learning background and they won't understand the depth of your intellectual curiosity and desire to learn that comes across in what you wrote.

    Wherever you go though there will be other amazing rebbeim who share your hashkafa in different yeshivos and institutions. Don't limit yourself seek them out and build a connection. But one piece of advice: stay away from anyone who makes a business out of bashing those not like them and have to constantly tell you how everyone else is wrong (too frum, too chareidi etc) it will only make you contrarian bitter and cynical and destroy any possible benefit you will glean from your year(s) in Israel.

    I wish you hatzlacha and write this as someone only a few years out of Israel myself.

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    1. Wow. Thank you. I really appreciate your advice.

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  20. I would recommend Aderet Eluahu of rabbi Zilberman, followers of ha-Gra. Unfortunately they believe in Zohar, but at least they take Tanach, Talmud and halacha very seriously and rationally.

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    1. The vast majority of Orthodox Jews believe in the second-century authorship of the Zohar. I guess it depends on how you define an Orthodox Jew, really. Not sure what the status on the ban still is, but worst case scenario we could use it for some great P.R.

      “Those Orthodox Jews stabbing people at parades and spitting on women? No, that’s not us! We’re the guys arguing with the rest of Jewry on how a 13th century book is the worst thing to ever happen to Jews.”

      Humor aside, ultimately I think peace and a respectful disagreement is the only viable way forward.

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    2. Bit that's only the dumb Orthodox Jews....

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    3. Zilberman's do not necessarily believe in 2nd century authorship (at least for the majority of the Zohar).

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    4. Respectful disagreement is impossible. Most Haredi believe that having any doubt about the provenance of the Zohar is heresy.

      Amazing how easy it was for alien religious ideas to slip into Judaism. In fact, today the same thing is going on with what's known as "Innate Health" or "Health Realization", which is really just New Age/Hinduism disguised as a legitimate psychology.

      HaShem should protect us.

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    5. @BreadFromTheLand: Rabbi Reuven Margolis made an edition of the Zohar with parallels between pieces of Zohar and Midrashim from Chazal, and made a companion sefer "Sha'arei HaZohar" which goes through Aggadata and Midrashim and references the parallel pieces of Zohar. (They are both published by Mossad HaRav Kook). So it's not so clear that the Zohar was an attempt to get "alien religious ideas" into Judaism.

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    6. Not every single line from the Zohar, to be sure.

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    7. Brodsky wrote, "Unfortunately they believe in Zohar"
      I heard from Rabbi Dovid Fink (of WebYeshiva) that, although Rav Ya'akov Emden wrote extensively to disprove that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai authored the Zohar, he still said that it should have the authority of a Rishon (since it was discovered in the time of the Rishonim). I don't know where Rav Ya'akov Emden wrote this, but, knowing Rabbi Fink, he wouldn't say this if it was baseless.

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    8. @Yehudah P. Let's both accept the hypothesis for a minute that Moses de León was the author of the Zohar. Assuming this is true, we would be inclined to ask, why did de León pass off the Zohar as being authored by R' Shimon bar (ben) Yochai (as opposed to the reality of the situation where the Zohar was the product of de León's hand)? Most certainly profit, but it is unlikely the work would have gained the notoriety it had back then and enjoys today if it was sold as de León's book. Should we treat the Zohar as an equivalent work of a Rishon when it was and continues to be held to a different standard than other works of the period, but also only gained popularity because of a lie? What precedent does this set for other works of Pseudepigrapha?

      This point needs to be discussed in the larger 'Zohar question'.

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    9. Dr. Fred Rosner translated certain letters that were attributed to the Rambam, and he proved that they were not authored by the Rambam. Attributing something to a Torah luminary, when he really didn't write it, is not necessarily for profit--it could just be so that it gets wider acceptance.

      Again, I don't know Rav Ya'akov Emden's reason for his position--but it could be that it simply isn't likely that Moshe De Leon wrote the entire Zohar (because of it's sheer size), but that it was more likely the work of several Kabbalists, composed over many years. I think that's more the scholarly consensus nowadays.

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    10. @Author: This is a halachah that comes to mind to illustrate the position that the Zohar holds in halachic rulings, as well as the position of the Vilna Gaon: In Orach Chayim 25:11, the Rema writes that some have written to put on the תפילין של יד sitting, and the תפילין של ראש standing--the source of this is from the Zohar (Part III, 120b). The Rema writes that this is not the Ashkenazi minhag.

      The Mishnah Berurah (42) there cites the Biur HaGra who said that the Zohar can be understood to allow putting on the של יד standing--so that's what should be done. (So I understand it to mean that the traditional sources are more clear, whereas the Zohar is ambiguous, so there is no reason to swerve from the non-Kabbalistic sources.)
      The Magen Avraham says that if there is a difference of opinion between Kabbalah and the Gemara, we go like the Gemara. In a case where the Kabbalah is more strict, it's recommended to go like the chumrah of Kabbalah, but we can't compel people to do so. Also, the Kabbalah can be used to decide in a case where there is a machlokes in the Gemara and no clear decision was reached.

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  21. Maale Gilboa. Normal, open minded thoughtful diverse. Brilliant. A must. The opposite of all that garbage you've been through.

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    1. I agree. MG is the most rational and intellectual of all the yeshivot, but you would need pretty good Hebrew. You should email Rav Bigman directly. He's an American originally from Detroit.

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    2. Hmmm... not unless he goes to see. The kind of people who go there... I'm not sure "Author" would find a common language with them. And I don't mean Hebrew.

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  22. If you are still involved/connected with any NCSY advisors, they are an excellent resource for finding the right fit for you.

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    1. First place I went was to my NCSY advisors, but I think they’re still having trouble figuring me out.

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  23. If you are still involved/connected with NCSY, their advisors would be an excellent resource for helping you find the right fit.

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  24. I would say that of all the yeshivot mentioned so far Har etzion/gush is on the highest level and will give you the greatest range of options, and the greatest variety of people to meet.

    However depending on your current standard, you may find it more useful to go to a smaller Yeshivah first. You can always move halfway through the year.

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    1. We used to joke that a Gush Boy commits suicide bu jumping from his ego onto his intellect.
      Can't imagine where that idea came from...

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    2. I actually have nothing to do with gush in the slightest. This is purely an outside (possibly completely wrong) opinion.

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    3. Gush has changed and wants parve kids who buy into the program. They had a bad rap for years because so many kids were focused on intellect and nothing more. They dumped religion once they went to college. It is no longer an intellectual haven and those who are so arrogant to think so are fools. Th woman further up who sees herself and her children as great geniuses ought to know that the school has changed since Rabbi Lichtenstein has passed on. They don't want kids who think any more!!!

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  25. Moshe said: "But one piece of advice: stay away from anyone who makes a business out of bashing those not like them and have to constantly tell you how everyone else is wrong (too frum, too chareidi etc) it will only make you contrarian bitter and cynical and destroy any possible benefit you will glean from your year(s) in Israel.
    You left out also those who say (too modern, too Zioni, etc).

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  26. I'd like to make a frank comment, and I apologize if it offends, but I think some "Dutch Uncle" talk is called for.

    This young man sounds quite sincere, and, to be honest, I probably agree with most of his views on all these matters. And I wish him all success in his endeavors. But.

    "Gap year" is usually freshman year (in the Orthodox world) or junior (elsewhere). Since it's a little late to be planning for this coming semester, that makes this young man either a junior in high school or a freshman in college. (Although his writing is far more advanced than that.) By his own account, he has not learned in yeshiva since before his bar mitzvah.

    "resulted in me learning the mishna, tosefta and gemara for contextual understanding...discover ben Sira. Which lead to Sa'adia Gaon. Which lead to Rambam, and eventually the whole breadth of rabbinic literature. I started catching up with my yeshiva learned friends in a few months."

    Leaving aside how archaeology can "lead" to Ben Sira, and how Ben Sira can "lead" to Saadia Gaon, I find these statements a little unlikely, to say the least. There are people who've learned full time for years who've never opened a Tosefta. There are octogenarian talmedei chachamim who will not claim to have touched "the whole breadth of rabbinic literature."

    Again, I am by no means accusing this young man of making anything up. I am sure he is sincere in everything he writes. And I think his ideas should certainly be continued in the way he sees fit, which again is very valuable. But before we get all excited in encouraging him to go to the Gush or the like, let's take a breath and see what might be really good for him.

    Unfortunately, I'm all talk and can't think of a good place.

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    1. I hear what you're saying, but I've met people like this. Their college acceptance essays sound just like that, too.

      The Gush. And it doesn't matter how far behind he is and how unbalanced his background, he'll catch up. Plus, he'll meet other kids whose college acceptance letters sound like this, too.

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    2. Your constructive criticism has been appreciated. At the time of this writing, I was in Junior year. Perhaps you are misunderstanding some of my statements. By “touched”, I meant “spent a little time on”. I also used an exaggeration with the expression “whole breadth”. But I think it conveyed my point quite nicely: I am relatively unlearned; however, I am trying to familiarize myself with as much material as possible. Don’t overthink the statement. I apologize if it came across as arrogant or boastful, that certainly wasn’t my intention. I did not really mention the normal learning I’ve done as well.

      If you want to know how archaeology can lead to Ben Sira, I was reading about Masada. The text I was reading mentioned the early Ben Sira scroll found there. Intrigued, I did what any Millennial does; I went on Wikipedia. “Interesting, a non-biblical book treated as bible by Christians and quoted by the Rabbis in the Talmud, then lost for 1,000 years?!” Totally read it. After that, I wanted to find out who this Saadia Gaon character was, who had the last known surviving hebrew copy of Ben Sira. “Debated tons of people and won? Awesome.” Reminds me of the anti-missionary Rabbis I’d been listening to. So I checked out some of his works (not extensively; brief summaries, excerpts, and english translations). Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of translations in English, so I’m limited in my ability to read and understand his stuff, but particularly the brief philosophical pieces I find from him tend to excite me. Side note: if anyone is potentially interested in learning with me, feel free to send me an email. RationalistStudent@gmail.com

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    3. Thanks for the clarifications- and the answers! My estimation of you grows.

      There are also of course connections between Ben Sira and the Dead Seas Scrolls (the Masada scrolls are technically not part of that collection) as well as the Cairo Geniza. And to bring things full circle, the first Dead Sea Scroll discovered was actually found in the Cairo Geniza (it was a medieval copy). I could go on for a while about this. I'll drop you a note if you want more information.

      Saadia Gaon's Emunot V'Deot has been translated into English only once, I think, as part of the Yale Judaica Series. You can probably still get it. Back when we learned it in YU there was one very old edition in the library; I don't know if that was a separate translation or an older edition.

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    4. Saadia Gaon's "Book of Beliefs and Opinions" can be bought (I bought one :). Also his commentary on Bereishis has been translated.

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  27. When I was a child, I used to read "The little Midrash says" which we had at home. And each time I read it I ended up upset and annoyed.

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    1. When I was a kid, I read through the entire The Midrash Says. (The "Little" version hadn't come out yet. It was also only decades later that I read a piece pointing out the not-so-subtle strong attacks on Modern Orthodoxy within.)

      At some point, my older brother (much frummer and learned than I) told me that no, the Midrashim are not literally true. For example, Og of Bashan didn't really pick up a mountain over his head, or have ankles thirty amot off the ground. It was like telling a Christian kid there's no Santa Claus, but I took it well enough, and am still pretty happy I read through them.

      Delete
    2. I still have that set. And I also end up upset and annoyed. Great learning for Tish B’Av!

      Delete
    3. re og bashan, I think it suggests alternative explantion

      Delete
  28. The boy could get in touch with Rabbi Amnon Bazak and with Rabbi Chaim Navon here in Israel. Both are authors of books of the style he will like (see e.g. "Ad Hayom Hazeh" by Amnon Bazak, in Hebrew). And both Rabbis are active on Facebook...

    ReplyDelete
  29. Writing the majority of your post a railing against an ideology you cannot change, instead of teaching your own ideology - NOT SO RATIONAL

    Writing a "real letter" that has more plotholes and a more confusing storyline than Planet of the Apes (2001 version) and is as believable as The state reported accomplishments of Kim Jong il and Kim Jong Un - NOT SO HONEST (and kinda sad)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL, so you think that I faked the letter?! Thanks for making me laugh out loud!

      Delete
    2. ******************June 29, 2016 at 5:53 PM

      Doubt that you faked the letter, I think this is just some sort of a wind up that you fell for....

      And the responses look like an Artscroll Halocho sefer! In other words, completely useless.

      Why not just go to the Mir. Plenty of scope for somebody to follow their own mehalech there. Seems like this chap already knows how to learn, so he does not need to be taught that.

      Delete
    3. Either you did or someone else did and sent it to you.

      Delete
    4. I apologize if my life story “has more plotholes and a more confusing storyline than Planet of the Apes (2001 version)”. As I have yet to see The Planet of the Apes (2001 version), I can’t remark on this. However, I can explain why I spent the majority of my post talking about other ideologies: the vast majority of my life has been in total exposure to these and ONLY these ideologies. Having personally experienced these communities, I can talk about the faults in them. As there is no rationalist community, certainly not one that I have ever experienced, I’m stuck talking about others. I can parrot what Rabbi Slifkin and similar rationalist thinkers have said. But why read what I’ve written when you could just read from them? As far as my accomplishments go… I named one! Working in a lab at 15 is an exceptional opportunity, but it isn’t impossible.

      However, accusing Rabbi Slifkin of making the letter up doesn’t show a very high level of integrity on your behalf. I think you owe him an apology.

      Delete
    5. ****...:
      I know the mir very well. Its true that a lot of more rationally minded people can manage there since you can pretty much do what you like, but it is not a place where somebody coming from this sort of background can be nurtured and grow in a positive direction. He will not be able to get guidance from people he respects there.

      Delete
    6. You are correct, Rabbi Slifkin I apologize for accusing you of faking the letter.

      I will direct these questions to you the real author.
      How can you say "the vast majority of my life has been in total exposure to these and ONLY these ideologies. Having personally experienced these communities, I can talk about the faults in them" when you were in an orthodox school from 6-8, a modern orthodox school from 8-13, and a public school in middle of nowhere for high school. How can you possibly have such strong opinions when your "total exposure" to orthodox, and modern orthodox schools was so limited?
      How can a self titled "relatively unlearned person" say with authority they were "poisoned by and hate Midrash" rather strong terms for the writings of Chazal.
      Which schools did you attend?

      Delete
    7. You are misunderstanding my experience. I was also in near total-exposure/seclusion to the Charedi lifestyle until 8 when my family made a dramatic change. So until about 13, my exposure to anything non-Charedi was limited. At 13, I got plunged into a nearly 100% secular environment. See the contrast? Never really saw the middle ground. For me the middle ground - what masqueraded as the middle ground - was a school a little less strict on tznius, where the girls and boys were together in Elementary school, etc. That may seem like a big deal, but when the majority of Judaics studies teachers are Charedim, it doesn't impress on young students that way.

      I have slowly come to appreciate Midrash more for what it is, or what it can be. The form that it was presented in to me as a young child was a "fairy tale". So of course, I resented it. With time and maturity I'm slowly coming to understand them. I don't hate the writings themselves, but hate the way I was taught them, hate the way they were presented to me. I think it is inappropriate for some children.

      I hope you understand, but I would prefer to keep the identity of the schools I attended to myself.

      Delete
    8. Ok, just out of curiosity, where is the middle of nowhere you moved to, and which chabad and ncsy chapter are you affiliated with?

      Delete
  30. Consider Otniel.
    Immersion in Hebrew can be a wonderful thing. And they have R. Yakov Nagen, an American with a beautiful balanced m'halach. It is a chassidically infused place, a Rav Kook-infused place, but it is quite modern and free as well. Maale Gilboa is good but the bochrim are generally more comfortable with historical criticism than avodah penimi.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And you'll come home a nationalist extremist too! Bonus!

      Delete
    2. You might come home more connected to our holy land and more thankful for the sacrifices that the bochrim make over there, of their lives, for the Jewish people and the Jewish homeland. If that's nationalist extremist then thank G-d, and please stay away from places that regard putting one's life on the line for our people as a chillul hashem.

      Delete
  31. I think Orayta is a great idea. You've been through a lot in a short time, and it sounds like a supportive, small environment would encourage your growth. http://www.orayta.org/about/about-oryata.html

    ReplyDelete
  32. After reading your article, and an avid follower of Rabbi Slifkin myself, I can highly recommend Yeshiva Migdal Hatora for you. The Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Chaim Ozer chait is someone I had the privilege of learning under in both Richmond VA and In Migdal. He is an extremely knowledgeable and rational person who not only loves the Rambam, but can be argued that he is obsessed over it!

    The staff at the yeshiva, including Rabbi Chait's son are all very knowledgeable and rational people as well who will truly make your year or 2 the ultimate experience.


    http://www.migdalhatorah.org/

    You can email me rodystien@gmail.com should you have any questions.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Perhaps someone can recommended a shidduch for the young man too, while we're at it?

    It's OK for one to describe a yeshiva. But to suggest a match based on an anonymous guy's third-hand email - not wise.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As far as a Shidduch goes… I think I’m a little young. But I think someone should set up a Rationalist Orthodox version of J-Date. ROJDate.com! Except maybe make the URL sound less like it’s talking about Reverse Osmosis and more like Rationalism.

      Delete
    2. Fair enough, but we can suggest some names to look into. Here's a list of the most common suggestions

      Migdalhatorah
      Gush/Har etzion
      Orayta
      Maale gilboa

      Also suggested

      Eretz hazvi
      Otniel
      Birkat Moshe

      Sorry if I missed any out

      Definitely not:

      Mir
      Netiv
      Tomo
      Conservative theological seminary
      Satmar

      Delete
    3. Only because a yeshiva is now a place for 'finding yourself' as opposed to a place to learn Torah. If you are a lost boy who needs a rebbe to tell you how to think then your advice not to give advice would be true. If the kid wants a good school then you can make a recommendation just like you could, say, recommend Oxford or Cambridge as better universities than, say, Manchester; -)

      Delete
    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    5. I think the point is to produce a list of options so that he can listen to shiurim from the yeshiva's website, read articles etc. and among the ones that seem interesting him get in touch with Rabbis in those yeshivot to find out more.

      Delete
  34. Rabbi Slifkin, you listening to this? It would be an interesting experience, but I am looking more for a traditional gap-year yeshiva (oxymoron?) experience. Regardless, thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Does more traditional mean you want them to convince you to stay for a second year (called 'shana bet')?

      Or, heaven forfend, 'flip out' and become 'charedi' ((and really worry your parents.)

      Both common occurrences in the gap year world.

      Delete
    2. If you think I'm scaring him, delete the previous comment. But delete this either way.

      Delete
    3. The comment was a reply that somehow got detached from the original comment. Weird. Both Shana Bet and Charedi are "off the table" at the moment, fortunately.

      Delete
  35. Hi,
    This might be a valuable link, it has info on many of the gap year programs available.
    http://yu.edu/israel-program/gis/

    also speak to your advisors from ncsy im sure there are quite a few who vibe with your thought process and they can connect you with people they know like you who spent time in a gap year program.

    gluck
    Hillel

    ReplyDelete
  36. Hi,
    This might be a valuable link, it has info on many of the gap year programs available.
    http://yu.edu/israel-program/gis/

    also speak to your advisors from ncsy im sure there are quite a few who vibe with your thought process and they can connect you with people they know like you who spent time in a gap year program.

    gluck
    Hillel

    ReplyDelete
  37. > While my peers were reading fiction such as The Magic Treehouse and Artscroll’s biographies

    Is that supposed to be, "reading fiction such as The Magic Treehouse; and Artscroll’s biographies," or " reading fiction: such as The Magic Treehouse and Artscroll’s biographies?"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I took it as the latter and got a really snarky grin out of it. Thank you though for pointing out the alternative reading. Let's see what he says.

      Delete
    2. I intended the latter, and it took 15 minutes of messing with the wording of that sentence to get it to work. I'll send if I can make the meaning clearer for a future use of the essay. Thanks!

      Delete
    3. I think it's perfect the way it is. The ambiguity makes it an inside joke.

      Delete
    4. Don't touch it. Works fine as is, IMO.

      Delete
  38. You should really proofread your writing before making it publicly available. "Through a wrench" -- really? Also, the third-to-last paragraph switches tenses (or else the author misspelled "led" as "lead"). There are also sentence fragments littered throughout. (This is not even addressing the stylistic problems, such as the monotonous tone of some of the sentence series.) I'm not just trying to nit-pick; honestly, I found it hard to read due to the many basic errors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How unfortunate. Those errors not only slipped past me, but also my proofreaders. It is not the best example of my writing. I will revise it based on your (and others) feedback for future use.

      Delete
    2. Did you where a kippa in public school? That would be so epic!

      Delete
    3. I'm quite sure he didn't "where" a kippa anywear. Come on!

      Delete
    4. "I'm quite sure he didn't "where" a kippa anywear. Come on!"
      This is totally off-topic, but my brother-in-law had to take an English course (his mother tongue is Russian). One reading exercise was a paragraph where every almost word is a homonym of the word that is intended, and it goes through the spell checker just fine, but it ends up making no sense! (like saying "spell chequer" instead of "spell checker").

      Delete
  39. Author, if you'd like to be in touch about Migdal Hatorah, please contact me, I teach there and think it is a viable option. My email is ravuri@migdalhatorah.org

    All the best,
    Uri

    ReplyDelete
  40. If you're now going into your Senior year, a TJJ alumni still connected with your NCSY advisors... that means you might be going on Yarchei Kallah this winter?? If there's a way I can help make that happen, please let me know I would love to meet you and perhaps get to know you face to face to and maybe be a part of your journey! rabbiarieh@ncsy.org

    ReplyDelete

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