Friday, December 12, 2008

Well Rounded? Or Cookie Cutter?

The YU commentator has an article which discusses the frustrations some of its students have there. This is normal for any Yeshiva student. There is always room for improvement in the minds of many of a school's students. This is true of any Yeshiva - as well as Yeshiva University. Not that every complaint is valid. But every student should have a right to be heard and try and improve what he sees is lacking. But there is one paragraph that raises my hackles:

Another prominent as well as compelling complaint by students regarding the MYP program (Mazer Yeshiva Program), is the lack of a classic yeshiva structure, both in terms of a 'high' and 'low' scale for shiurim, as well as an absence of a pervasive 'yeshiva avira' (yeshiva atmosphere) within the walls of the Beis Medrash and around the greater university campus. Some attribute part of these issues to the absence of a clearly defined 'head' Rosh Yeshiva. Adam, a third year student, remarked, "The simple truth is that the abundance of rebbeim with the title Rosh Yeshiva both adds to our diversity as a Beis Medrash and detracts from our unity as a yeshiva. This is just an axiom about YU and I don't believe it can nor will ever change. Yeshivas are generally homogenous places; here, however, due to the wide spectrum of talmidim in attendance, the yeshiva is quite heterogeneous- both in terms of hashkafah (world view) as well as people's learning levels. While this does not necessarily detract from the caliber of learning, indeed it may very well serve to enhance it, it most definitely takes away from that 'yeshivah-like' atmosphere which was familiar to many from their smaller yeshivot in Israel."

It is so sad that this is the attitude developed by students in their year in Israel. Unfortunately these students have been indoctrinated to believe that something called ‘a Yeshiva atmosphere’ is of high value in their Jewish education. They attach far too much importance to it. Because in the end it is nothing more than the trappings of a Charedi yeshiva. This is indicative of some of the 'flipping out' that I believe occurs there.

I have no quarrel with such an environment. But to imply that this is in some way a superior type of Yeshiva is incorrect in my view.

What is important is not the ‘Yeshiva atmosphere’. It is what is learned there – and the degree of Yiras Shamyim one can achieve. YU clearly has that for those who are motivated to seek it.

The diversity of Roshei Yeshiva is a plus that few Yeshivos have. I give no special value to the 'yeshivia' environment’. Who cares what color a shirt is ...or whether a Kipah is knitted ...or whether there is the rigid structure of a classic Yeshiva?

And what added value is there to a Yeshiva that provides no secular studies and dismisses all secular culture as evil? Secular knowledge does not detract from one becoming a great Talmid Chacham. It enhances it.

YU's environement did not hurt Rav Hershel Schachter. Nor did it hurt Rav Aaron Lichtenstein …or Rav Aaron Rakeffet …or Rav Mordechai Willig or …Rav Yosef Blau... or any great Talmid Chacham and Yiras Shamyim who went there.

What it did do - is provide them with a much broader perspective and much greater degree of both Jewish knowledge in subjects like Jewish history and Jewish philosophy - and secular subjects than the standard Yeshiva provides.

Does Yeshiva University have problems? Of course it does. It would be nice if it had a Rosh HaYeshiva like Rav Soloveitchik for example. But its environment is a net plus for any serious student with an open mind who wants to become a Talmid Chacham. He will have a great opportunity to achieve a high degree of Torah learning and secular knowledge which will net him a worldliness that the typical right wing Yeshiva cannot - and will not provide. Their graduates will in general be far more well rounded than the most of the cookie cutter clones the standard Yeshiva produces.