Why I want to go to Yeshiva – Part 1, The Question

My name is Mike. I am 19 years old, currently living in a small Jewish community, but soon to be making Aliyah. And my initial plans for when I arrive in Israel are to study in Yeshiva. My family thinks that I’m crazy and that I’m wasting a year of my life. I beg to differ (clearly or else I wouldn’t be going.)

I grew up in a traditional Jewish South African family. Of course there was always a strong connection to Judaism, close ties with the Jewish community and the State of Israel but we were never “Frummers”. We would drive to shul on a Friday night (some weeks), make kiddush at home and even bentsch occasionally. But then we would watch TV after leaving the dinner table. Saturday was a day just like Sunday, time off from work or school but no greater meaning to it than that. And while pork and cheeseburgers were a no-no there weren’t too many qualms about eating beef lasagna or calamari.

I lived in and felt comfortable with this status quo all my life until a few years ago when I started to attend shul regularly, first on only Friday nights. After a while I started going on Shabbos mornings too, eventually Shabbos afternoons joined the fold. And before I knew it, on weekday evenings as well as mornings I could be found at shul. It got to the point where, in the words of family and friends, I was simply “praying too much.” Of course at the same time I became more involved in issues of kashrut, tzniut, began wearing a kippa and tzitzit. And while I’ve had my fair share of difficulties in dealing with my less-observant family members, they’ve come to accept me for the “fanatic” I’ve become. I no longer feel uncomfortable declaring that I’m waking up at 6 in the morning to go to shul or announcing that I need to wash before I can eat bread. I don’t any more feel the need to hide away in my room and bentsch quickly, hoping that noone will discover me.

However, there is one issue which I still have difficulty relating to my family, an area of my “fanaticism” which still creates a sense of discomfort in our relationship. That is the area of Talmud Torah.

My family simply cannot grasp the inherent value of studying Torah or the pleasure and satisfaction it provides me. When I sit at home wasting away the hours in front of a TV that’s ok – it’s normal – but if they find me streaming an audio shiur from the internet or reading one of my “Rabbi books”, well that’s just weird, fanatical and extreme. And if that’s the reaction I get when we’re talking about half an hour of study here or there at home, you can imagine the sort of response I was greeted with when I announced that I want to do this full time for a year.

The most common reaction is simply the question “Why?” Why waste a year of your life when you could be studying something “useful”, begin using your brain, develop a career and earn a living. Maybe if I was planning on becoming a Rabbi then going to Yeshiva would be ok but why would anyone else possibly want to spend their time there? “It’s such an insular environment and you won’t get any exposure to the real world”, they accuse. “You need to start earning money and a year in Yeshiva is a luxury you just can’t afford to take,” I’ve been told. And even once we manage to break that barrier there’s always the challenge of “but a year is so long, why do you need to spend that amount of time there? Make it a month or so…”

These questions, accusations and challenges have caused me much distress and worry. On the one hand it’s simply impossible to explain the inherent value of Talmud Torah to someone who doesn’t believe in it. On the other hand, I think part of the reason these questions have caused me so much distress is that the answers aren’t actually as clear in my mind as they should be. I’m currently working on correcting that and I think that putting my thoughts down on paper is probably one of the easiest ways to do it.

We can’t begin to answer anything unless we have the question. So now the question seems clear enough in my mind: “Why do I want to go to Yeshiva?” along with all the side points and difficulties mentioned above. And now it seems to me a little bit easier to answer. I should have that part ready soon. In the meantime, what do you think?

12 comments on “Why I want to go to Yeshiva – Part 1, The Question

  1. Don’t do it. Go to college first. At least for a year. Go to yeshiva during a summer or something. Then go back to school.

  2. Two unrelated things –

    one, who ever said that a liberal arts education is practical? unless you have a particular field in mind (medicine, law, teaching, plumbing, etc.) and go to college/trade school FOR THAT, a college education is mostly about “learning for its own sake”.

    And two, we all know that isn’t really the issue, but the fact that they don’t “get” it. They may not ever get it, but IY”H they will eventually come to accept that it makes you happy. It’s always hard for parents to accept that their kids grow up, more so when that entails choosing a different path through life.


  3. Thanks a lot for all your comments. I’m gonna refrain from saying too much now cos I’d like to do it in another post but I will mention a few points.

    While I’ve received some vlauable tips on how ot market this idea to my family (and I plan to use them), I’ve also realised that most of my rationale for wanting to learn really can’t be explained – but that’s ok cos there’s not really anything I can do to change that. Even so, it’s still important for me to clarify exctly what my goals are so that I can know whether I’m reaching them or not.

    Secondly, as some people have mentioned, my parents really ar eon my side and want the best for me (even though they don’t actually undestand what they is.) As I’ve discovered from many other people’s experiences, it seems that once they see me in Yeshiva and how it is influencing me positively (PG) thye will realise that it might not be such a bad thing after all. Even if they still can’t understand it, I think we might come a lot closer to acceptance.

  4. First of all, hatzlacha rabba in reaching your goal.

    Second, would it be too intimidating for your parents if you got other people in your corner fighting for you? Perhaps you could find a yeshiva graduate who’s done what you hope to and now has a successful career and family life. Perhaps if you can introduce them to some “normal” yeshiva graduates, their minds might change.

  5. What about if you show your parents our recent post “The Value of Learning”. Show them how Mr. Zuckerman, a Harvard Law grad (I believe) and a captain of industry thinks that learning is important and says that the seriousness and thirst for knowledge in a yeshiva eclipses that of Harvard Law School. Maybe if your parents see that someone they consider to be successful agrees with your view on the importance of learning, it may assuage their fears a little.

  6. Mike,
    My wife is South African so I already like you! There are some great people there that you might want to meet. Are you in Joberg? Rabbi Larry Shain and Rabbi Zev Kraines are both old friends of mine and very refined people. Perhaps they could meet you and even your parents and work something out. They’re both involved with Ohr Somayach there, but likely kow that already. If you go this route, please tell them I say hi)

    My advice to you is, try to understan why your parents are saying what they are. They are truel concerned for your well being. In their mind, the best advice they can give you is to be productive. If you were to study in order to become a rabbi, that would be productive. Studying just to know stuff, seems like a step out of life at a time when you should be planning your future.

    I would try to gently (repeat – GENTLY!!!) explain to them, that gaining learning skills as you becoming an adult is very important to you to develop as an adult. In your view, being able to engage in religion with a maturity, requires developing a skill-set that you don’t yet have. While it’s true you could theoretically wait unti after you have a degree to do this, it makes more sense to do this now, so that those skills are with you as you grow into anadult, instead of putting a whole piece of your personal growth on hold.

    Of course, they likely feel that putting a college degree on hold is also putting your personal growth on hold. That’s where some important conversations with your parents will take place. If you’re up for it, they might learn more about who you are deep inside.

    I attended Ohr Somayach years ago. After about 8 months there I informed my parents that I needed a second year and received a pretty negative response. I told my parents that I didn’t know if I wanted to become a rabbi, but I certainly wanted to be a father who could teach his kids. There was so much about running a Jewsih home that I still needed to learn. And then I aked my parents, who taught you alef bais? What would be if nobodywas there for you? All I want to do is make sure someone will be there for the next generation. That was it. Case closed. No more opposition.(I ended up staying for 13 years, but that’s a different story)

    But I would try to contact one of those 2 people I suggested above. They are both very articulate and might be very helpful.

    Good luck!

  7. I have an multi-pronged idea to answer your parents. I think it combines a practical and idealistic approach. You might say to you parents: “Part of me wants to learn in a yeshiva because I think it is the best way to ensure that I have Jewish grandchildren. Another part of me wants to learn because it is more stimulating than any other pursuit of knowledge. Another part wants to learn in order to work on my relationship with God. Another part wants to learn so that I can become as great as /this/ man (then show a picture of Rabbi Feinstein’s or Rabbi Auerbach’s funeral.) Another part because I want to help the Jewish people in a way I think it needs; and I think I’m suited for it.”

  8. When I went to college as a liberal arts major, it was mostly about having fun and behaving destructively. I don’t know if it is like that in SA. You will be SOOOooo… much better off by spending time in a Yeshiva – absolutely you should do it.

  9. I did the same thing at age 37 – and not only did I get to enjoy a year learning but I came out ahead financially – the only thing I wish is that I could have spent two or three years, but I didn’t have the bitachon for that.

  10. I had a very similar experience about 7 years ago when I told my parents that I was going to Yeshiva for 1 year. (It turned into 1.5 yrs.)after 1.5 years, my father told me that it was time for the vacation to end, i.e no work all this time. Mind you that it was my hard earned money that was being spent. I felt that the foundation that it was going to provide was immeasurable. As a friend told me, you should immerse yourself in the culture completely. If you want to study chinese that you go to the land of China. To immerse yourself in Judaism you must go to Israel. By the way, I have never regretted it and my family eventually reconciled themselves that I wanted to learn “Lishmah”.

  11. Ever consider applying to YU and its James Striar School? You will get a great college education, a degree and learn how to learn and a lifelong desire to do so. If your parents are worried about your professional career being limited, YU’s admissions re law, medicine ,business, is quite impressive. You can enter YU after spending a year or two learning in Israel. I realize that others may have attended other yeshivos, but in lieu of your parents; specific concerns, I would not certainly dismiss YU from the realm of possibility after atttending the proper program in Israel.

  12. When people ask me what I did with the past two years of my life (learn in midrasha), I usually explain that I didn’t go to Jewish school, so I wanted to catch up on my Jewish education. Most non-Jews and Jews I am not related to find this logical.

    As for family, they just want to know that I’m happy, and I have found it more reasonable to explain that this is something I’m really interested in and want to do. You are an adult and you don’t need to justify your choices.

    Kol hakavod for taking this time to learn. It will be the best year of your life, and I hope it develops into many more.

Comments are closed.