Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 12 January 2019 / 6 Shevat 5779


by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Stacey Roth in Boston, MA

Dear Rabbi,

Recently I have become interested in Judaism and have made a lot of progress by reading on my own and talking to religious people. Someone suggested that I learn in a yeshiva for women. How important is this?

Dear Stacey,

It sounds like you're off to a wonderful start. Its very important to benefit from a yeshiva experience for whatever time you can manage, for a number of reasons. Ill mention just a few of them here.

Yeshivot and seminaries offer the opportunity for total immersion in a Torah way of life, in an environment where everyone is striving to improve their knowledge and observance of Torah together. In a secular environment, ba'alei teshuvah and many Observant Jews feel like outsiders, and may be defensive regarding religious issues. It is healthy to live in surroundings that are congruent with one's lifestyle and beliefs; a yeshiva provides a community where being an Observant Jew is mainstream and perhaps even trendy. This type of experience can have an impact on even a short-term visitor to the yeshiva or seminary, and give one a needed injection of enthusiasm and confidence.

The yeshiva also provides much-needed support during the initially difficult period of the newly Observant. "No man is an island entirely of itself, every man is a part of the continent, a piece of the main" (John Donne). Any change in the familiar patterns of life is difficult, especially when this change is accompanied by the acceptance of a vast and complex new system of living. Transition is made easier when one is "in transit" with others. People who have undergone similar experiences compare notes and learn from each other's successes and mistakes and can identify with each other's trials. "One who seeks advice, increases understanding" (Pirkei Avot 2:8).

Being part of a yeshiva or seminary also means being part of a community. Members of a community celebrate happy occasions together, and provide comfort and support in times of distress. Non-Observant Jews are usually very impressed and moved by the extent to which religious people entertain the bride and groom at an Orthodox wedding. Stereotypes go crashing to the ground (and sometimes even the rabbis from the yeshiva) when the men begin juggling, somersaulting, and performing handstands in order to contribute to the happiness of the occasion. These events enhance one's sense of belonging to a cohesive, caring community.

The yeshiva also helps one establish important contacts in the religious community. Visiting Observant families on Shabbat and Festivals is an enjoyable way for the ba'al teshuvah to learn about Shabbat and family life, and to actually see much that he has learned put into practice. Do you want to spendShabbat with a family from Atlanta, Georgia, or perhaps Georgia of the former Soviet Union? Do you like Sephardi food or macrobiotic? Would you like to be with a large family? Chassidic, Lithuanian, or Yemenite? Jerusalem, Tzefat, or Bnei Brak? Do you want to meet a religious artist, author, physicist, doctor, or investment banker? Someone in the yeshiva or seminary is able to direct any student to people who share his personal interests.

Finally, anyone interested in getting married will generally have more opportunities if he or she is part of a yeshiva. Rabbis, rebbetzins, and married couples associated with an institution of learning introduce people and help with shidduchim. Teachers and rabbis provide references for their students, and usually have the connections to be able to investigate the references of a prospective shidduch. Many yeshivot and seminaries not only help their students get married, they also assist the married couple in finding housing, financial assistance, and with any advice they might seek.

Most people cannot afford to spend long periods of time at yeshiva, and certainly cannot devote most of their life to the study of Torah. It is especially important for them to take time out to study so that they can improve their skills in the language and analysis of classical Hebrew and Aramaic texts. When they leave yeshiva they will be more independent in their studies, will have a wider choice of classes to attend, and will be more proficient in their prayers and blessings.

It is human nature to put off until tomorrow (or next month, year, or decade) anything that requires effort. Laziness has a surprising amount of strength for something so slow moving. "Hillel used to say...If not now, when?" (Pirkei Avot 1:14). "Do not say, 'When I have free time I will study,' for you may never have free time" (Pirkei Avot 2:5).


  • Recommended reading: After The Return, Mordechai Becher & Moshe Newman, Feldheim Publishers.

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In our "Human Side of the Story" about "Givers and Takers" we mentioned the incident of a Jew in Israel who had contributed generously to a local food aid organization while his business was prospering, and then his receiving aid from this very organization when his business collapsed and left him with debts.

Z.R. sent us the following comment:

Thank you for this moving and inspirational story. The moral seems to be "Dont give tzedekah; if you do youll get poor." In order to prevent this from happening to me, Ill have to cut back my donations to Ohr Somayach.

Following is our response:

In regard to your comment about giving tzedakah making one poor, we refer you to the story told in Mesechta Ketubot 66b about Nakdemon ben Gurion. He was a fabulously wealthy Jerusalem Jew and great benefactor of the poor who lost all his wealth, leaving his children to the desperate level of poverty which compelled his daughter to subsist on the pieces of grain in the droppings of Arab animals.

When the question was raised how this could happen to someone who gave so much tzedakah, the answer given is that he did not give as much as he was capable of giving.

The moral of this is: Increase your donations to Ohr Somayach as an insurance policy for you and your family.

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