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17. Chapter 8b: Jewish Geography: A Yeshiva

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II.     A Yeshiva

          Yeshiva (house of Torah study) is an academy for Jewish scholarship, where the classical texts are studied, debated, analyzed and interpreted. The Jewish people earn the title “people of the book” by sitting long hours in these yeshivot. These houses of study are a hallmark of Jewish history and have been a constant presence in every land and culture where Jews have lived as far back as biblical times.

          A Yeshiva houses the dynamic intellectual component of Judaism. Jewish Studies requires use of the mind to the utmost extent and a Yeshiva is where the pursuit of these studies take place.

          The institution of yeshiva is one of the unique aspects of Judaism which distinguishes it from all other religions. It takes a very short time spent in a yeshiva to realize Judaism is not about mindless religious fervor and dogma, but rather, involves a demanding intellectual process based on critical analysis and intense study.

          Entering a yeshiva, one is immediately struck by its sights and sounds. Unlike a library setting, students are sitting in pairs, arguing loudly and gesturing emphatically. They are discussing legal intricacies. The volume is no barrier to concentration; quite to the contrary, the great din enhances focus. A sharp focus is necessary because every detail of the Torah must be consistent and in-sync with each other. By analyzing each point, questioning and defending its merit, and arguing its implications, consistency is achieved.

          The majority of yeshiva scholars are young men who pay a tuition fee and who have been studying for years; many have been in yeshiva since first grade. There are also a select few who receive a small stipend for their scholarship. They are members of the yeshiva “kollel” and have dedicated themselves to Torah study, forsaking more lucrative pursuits. Study in yeshiva after high school is known as “learning l’shem shomayim”, learning for the sake of Heaven, because there are no material motives. Their study is purely for the love of Torah.

          Not every Jew is interested or qualified to study in a yeshiva. The Jewish world, however, as a whole, greatly respects and admires these scholars. They are viewed as the very foundation of our existence, without whom we could not survive.

          There are probably more than 1,000 post high school yeshivot in Israel and 100 more in the United States. Some are tiny places with no more than 10 to 20 students, a few enroll several thousand. Many yeshivot are named and modeled after yeshivot in Europe before World War II and reflect a particular style of study and worldview.

          There are two noteworthy yeshivot that are most impressive to see: one in America the other in Israel. The one in America is located in southern New Jersey, in a town named Lakewood. Because the Jewish population of the town is comprised mainly of yeshiva students, it is known as the Lakewood Yeshiva. Its formal name is Beth Medrash Govoha and it is the largest yeshiva in the world.

          In Israel there is a yeshiva called Mir, named for a town in Polish Russia where its predecessor stood. There are several thousand students there as well, many from the United States. They are both quite impressive sights to behold.

          Why are they so impressive? Nowhere else in the world can you see up to 1000 men in the same study hall locked in intellectual battle. You are struck by how seriously these men take their studies and how it seems to define their existence; they are totally absorbed in pursuit of understanding texts thousands of years old, which they find relevant to their lives today. This is no Intro to Psych course given in a large lecture hall. While most of the men are in their  twenties, there are some older rabbis in their forties and fifties and some even in their eighties who have been studying their entire lives. Although many years they’re senior, they learn side by side with the younger men, toiling equally to get an ever sharper understanding of the Torah. The excitement generated by words on a page is unparallelled.

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COM_EASYBLOG_GUEST Saturday, 21 October 2017
Last updated on: 10/21/2017
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