Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Seminary Should Be About God, not Gemara

I had a long talk with my sister about seminaries recently. Now, I don't think she should go to Michlala (where I went) but I also don't think she should just go anywhere.

She, like me, is very focused on the academic and I think that's great, but I don't think that learning gemara or tanach or mishna is what you go to Israel to learn.

You go to Israel to figure out where you stand religiously, to figure out how you want to live the rest of your life, to find role models and people to talk to. I'm not saying the actual class time isn't important, I'm just saying that it's not really what you take with you from that year.

I used to think that Israel wasn't about growing, that only wussies "grew" and that I was gonna stay exactly the same after 10 months in the Holy Land being inspired by some of the most amazing people I ever met, but I was wrong.

And now my sister feels the same way I felt then and I just don't want to see her choose a school for herself that won't allow her to grow the way I was privileged to.

I've seen so many people come back from seminary cynical and even hateful toward religion, and I don't want that to be my sister. I want my sister to be able so see the beauty in Judaism, not just the beauty in a page of gemara.

Now, you'll say, well, really you can change and grow wherever you are if you so desire, and that's true, however I think your seminary choice can make a huge difference, and I don't want to see my sister come home with an intimate knowledge of Aramaic but no intimate knowledge of God.


At 8/23/05, 8:37 PM, Blogger Michael said...

I thought MMY taught gemara, not Michlala?

Also, I think a better word to describe a person's experience in Israel (one who isn't looking to completely "flip out") would be "enhancement." Someone who's already fairly well-rooted in their limud hatorah, shmiras hamitzvos, yiras shamayim etc. goes to Israel not wanting to change drastically, but merely enhance what they already have, solidify their foundation, and attain the tools necessary to continue growing not only for ten months but for the rest of their lives.

It's not all about how many blatt (or perakim, or simanim) you learned; it's what you took out if it and how that translated into your being the best ben/bas yisrael you can be.

I wish her much hatzlacha.

At 8/24/05, 10:24 AM, Blogger Masmida said...

Seminary is like furnance. It gives you a chance to get all burning and idealistic so when you hit hard cold reality like a meteor, you have a chance of making a impact.

At 8/24/05, 11:59 AM, Blogger Stx said...

Michael - I'll let Eli7 answer the first part of your comment, but I'd venture to say that not all 17/8 year olds are "fairly well-rooted in their limud torah..." I mean, it depends. There were some girls in my Bais Yaakov class (It was Baltimore, so not REAL BY) who were definitely well-rooted in Yiddishkeit. But plenty of others have floated through life and never really thought about anything more serious than friends and clothes and finals (the most important things in high school).

I'm not referring to "rebellious" kids, but just girls who had never had the chance to figure out what they wanted out of life, out of being Jewish. I don't think that's "building" quite like you mean, although if that's how it was with you, kol hakavod! Impressive :)

At 8/25/05, 8:13 AM, Blogger fsgsf said...

Awesome post!!! So true!! The Navi and Ramban that seminary girls are fed, helps them little in their lifeskills learning how to deal with God and man!

I would argue the same about Yeshiva too btw!


NJ from NJ

At 8/25/05, 7:02 PM, Blogger Eli7 said...

Ok, on the outside I did not change drastically in seminary - I was a good girl in high school who went by my Hebrew name and didn't wear pants.

But I did all those things just because it's the way I grew up, it was what I was taught. And I'm not undermining the validity and value of that - I think that's all great.

But it took my year in Israel (and then my year at Columbia, but that's a different story altogether) to make me a committed Jew who had chosen the life for herself. I do what I do religiously because I want to and because I believe in it, not just because it's the way I grew up.

And that is growing and changing, and that's a good thing much as some people would like to think otherwise.

At 8/25/05, 8:02 PM, Blogger Michael said...

STX, I wrote that, "Someone who's already fairly well-rooted in their limud hatorah... goes to Israel not wanting to change drastically" with an implicit emphasis on that specific type of person I described. Of course, I was not implying that most high school graduates are on that level. Indeed, it's just the few "aidel" ones (i.e. the ones who won all the awards for hasmada, midos and chesed etc) that fit that description. But for those that are, and from her post it seemed that perhaps Elisheva and her sister were/are, that might be a better way to consider the year.

Having not had the tremendous zechus of learning in Eretz Yisrael for a year (or more), Elisheva's line that, "it took my year in Israel and then my year at Columbia...to make me a committed Jew who had chosen the life for herself," resonated deeply inside of me. Elementary and high school can be an extremely sheltered environment for those interested in remaining sheltered; one that can continue on to one's year in Israel. But when you get to college (unless you're in YU/Stern, Touro/Landers etc [and sometimes, even if you are]) you're forced to deal with "the real world", decide which (if any) of the mitzvos and chumros you'll keep and, if you're on a high level, which ones you'll add to make sure that you keep growing during that period of unrivaled independence-as extremely difficult as that is. I think it's much more difficult than people think to make it out of a secular college unscathed, let alone better, compared to when you entered. (A formerly frum guy offering "Pot and a Shot" on Purim my freshman year comes to mind as one of the many things I encountered during my three years as an undergrad.)

It's always puzzled me why people think that part of the "flipping out" process must include going exclusively by your hebrew name from then on. There are so many other halachos and hashkafos and midos to work on, why focus on that? It's not like it's an easy thing to do. Is it stressed because that was one of the things for which we merited being redeemed from shibud Mitzrayim? My junior- and senior-year rebbi, himself the son of a prominent rosh yeshiva, along with his sister and brother-in-law (my sophmore rebbi) are all residents of Lakewood, "Ir HaKodesh" and all go by their english names. I understand that that wasn't something you 'changed' when you went to Israel, but maybe you know why it's such an important thing for some people.

Whoa, I'm far too garrulous tonight...sorry!

At 8/25/05, 8:19 PM, Blogger Stx said...

Michael ~

I've been thinking about that lately. Why IS changing your name, talking a different way, etc. all part of the "flipping out" process. After all, I've done it. I didn't do it in seminary; for me, high school was when I began really changing religiously. And yes, after a while of changing little things, I decided to start going by my Hebrew name - a name that up until then had been a foreign word scribbled on the top of my Ivrit tests.

There's quite a story that goes along with my "naming," but I'll make it short. I found a passage in "Horeb," by Rav Hirsch, that was aimed towards the flipping-out teenager of his age. One of the things that he mentions is that one who wants to change himself should change his name - as a sort of symbol of his dedication to change. That way, whenever anybody calls him by that new name, he'll think "What? Why is he calling me that? Oh, right, I decided to change." And in that way he'll keep the inspiration strong.

Of course, each Hebrew name has its own strength, as well as the power of those you're named after (if you are). That's probably the simplest, most common answer. But it's not mine.

At 8/26/05, 2:52 PM, Blogger Michael said...

I posted a comment last night to STX but I don't see it here. Did anyone else? Was it deleted? Or did it not go through? I spent some time formulating a perfect response and now it's gone! :(

At 8/27/05, 5:54 PM, Blogger Eli7 said...

Michael, it never went through to my e-mail, so it must not have ever even registered on the blog. Sorry. I'm curious to see what it said...

At 8/28/05, 7:41 AM, Blogger Michael said...

Since you're so curious I decided to try, to the best of my ability, to recap what I "posted" last week. Once again, I clicked "login and publish" and the publishing process got stuck about halfway through.

On this cloudy and rainy Sunday morning one of my torah tapes has already been 'eaten' by the tape player and the comment I tried re-writing was rejected for a second time. It's not looking good for me today, huh?

Unfortunately, I don't have any more time today (last minute visits, purchases, packing etc) but I promise to make a sincere effort to try for a third time later tonight. If that fails, I'll email it to you and you can post it on my behalf if you'd like.

Sorry!!! :(

At 8/28/05, 7:42 AM, Blogger Michael said...

Of course that one works perfectly...

At 8/28/05, 10:01 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Hopefully the third time's the charm!

Since I never had the immense zechus of learning in Eretz Yisrael and therefore missed the whole "flipping out" thing, I can only speculate on why people 'change their names.' Maybe I'll come up with something plausible but if not, you'll understand why I'm so far off.

Maybe people do it because of the reason I mentioned before: the fact that keeping our Jewish names was one of the five things for which the Jewish people merited to have been redeemed from the bondage of Egypt is quite impressive. These people recognize the effect it had back then and hope it will have a similar effect today.

Alternatively, perhaps they all read the same part of Rav Hirsch's "Horeb" and were similarly inspired.

Or, maybe they do it for the sme reason STX did it-it's part of their gradual and healthy change into a better ben/bas Yisrael.

Lastly, from a cynical perspective, maybe it's just part of the "flipping out" process. Since they've changed what they look like externally, their external name must reflect this change. However, I hope that's not their true motivation.

I was named after my paternal grandfather, z"l, who was niftar fifteen months to the day before I was brought into this great world. Since I was the only person in my family to have been named after him I, too, wish that my parents had only named me with my Hebrew name so that I would be reminded more often of the name I'm "keeping alive." I haven't taken a test on which I've written my Hebrew name in over three years and the few times I get an aliyah in shul does little to help me with this. Sometimes, when I look at my tefilin bag that has my Hebrew name embroidered on it, I think of my grandfather, z"l. But it's not very often and it should/could be different.

I've heard that parents, when deliberating the name of their new child, are given a bit of ruach hakodesh. That means that our names are not haphazard; our names "define" us somehow. I'm not sure how to reconcile that with the fact that each person has free will in this world, but I'll take the previous sentence as a given. Reminiscing on the past few years of my life and looking forward to the job I'll begin next week, b'ezras HaShem, I think that my name (a "personality" from one of the megilos) fits me perfectly. And for that reason I, too, wish that I went by that name exclusively (though some non-Jews might find it difficult to pronounce). As a result of my thoughts on the issue I think that, imy"H, when I have a family I will only name my children with Hebrew names so that they'll always be associated with their heritage and their religion. Maybe that will heighten their awareness of who they are, what they should be doing with their lives, and maybe that will let them far surpass whatever (hopefully) good values I instilled in them. And perhaps that will help bring the geulah just a bit faster.

I'm not sure I answered the question but these are my thoughts. They were better the first (and second) time when it was not quite so late but hopefully this will actually find its way to Elisheva's blog properly! :)


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