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Which yeshiva should I go to?

baal teshuvaHi Heshy,

I just found your site (through the amazing post you did a while back on the politics of yarmulkes) and have enjoyed reading it. I admire how you try to find an amusing path through all the ideological strife that seems to roil the Jewish world these days – I imagine you know the story in Ta’anit about the two comedians who merit the world to come (I read it in English in a book by R’ Telushkin a while back but applications seem to keep coming up). I am not yet at a high level of being able to find the sad satirical humor in our present situation.

Beyond thanking you for your brave writing, I wanted to ask if you are still in the Bay Area. I live in (Exact city removed) and am considering going to yeshiva at some point, but I am having a very hard time making a decision because there seems to be a lot of risk in accidentally aligning with a hashkafa that maybe doesn’t actually make sense, even if it claims a true mesorah (but how to actually figure this out without going to a yeshiva to get the foundation to figure it out from the sources?). Would you have time to meet up over coffee at some point to talk through some of the complex terrain?

Thanks very much again either way,

When I get something like this, I always hope the sender will give me permission to re-post, because I think the readers will probably have something interesting to add. I think questions like this are going to become more common, because of our dear friend the internet. Back in the day, your local orthodox Rabbi would have convinced you to go to some random yeshiva in Israel and beyond their brochure, you probably didn’t have much to go on. The beauty and curse of the internet is that potential Baalei Teshuva can do really good research into the derech they wish to take. The problem is that no one hashkafa is going to work for anyone.

The kiruv world skews toward black hat, gone are the days of moderate kiruv, in general kiruv yeshivas and rabbis are on the right side of the spectrum. I’m not really sure what you mean by true mesorah and I’m not sure anyone can really claim their derech as the right derech. There are general beliefs in Judaism, but much of what different groups hold of comes down to social norms. If you go to any yeshiva, whether it be renewal or yeshivish, you will be expected to conform to their set of social norms.

One of the advantages to becoming frum nowadays is the fact that there is a fairly vast network of kiruv programs out there that allow you to do research without having to commit to one hashkafa, they will of course try and force you to drink their brand of koolade, but you don’t have to. Even within kiruv organizations there are sometimes multiple different hashkafos and styles. In the Bay Area we have the JSN (in my response he mentioned that he’s familiar with it) and within the JSN there are Rabbis who are more modern and rabbis who are more yeshivish. The biggest issue with kiruv is that they are basically sales people and so you really have to pry to get them to open up.

On the flip side you can always find a local chabad and get some of that flavor, but chabad kiruv generally seeks to turn you into a chabadnick and if that life style doesn’t suit you I would stay away from chabad yeshivas. Of course every yeshiva is trying to turn you into what they think is the proper mode, but chabad in general doesn’t work for people trying to explore and meld different hashkafos. Remember, you really don’t need to be aligned with one hashkafa.

Yeshiva is good to get a basis, but I’m not sure what you are seeking? A lot of times your hashkafa will change with whatever community you happen to live in. I don’t consider myself yeshivish by any means, yet I feel more comfortable in frummer communities. I tend to not conform personally, but what I do on my own time doesn’t concern my community members, it’s more of a social thing and I prefer to be in a shul where I’m the least frum rather than the most frum.

The best advice is to keep an open mind and don’t rush into things, you don’t have to align with anyone overnight.

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{ 15 comments… add one }
  • dave July 22, 2013, 8:58 PM

    Oh,, Hesh, your turning into the internet Rabbi!

    Maybe you should advise him to check out Rochester?? From all your stories, it sounds like a fun place!!

    • Heshy Fried July 24, 2013, 3:04 PM

      Actually someone just asked me if Rochester was right for their kid, I’m not sure when I become the guy who advises people about where to send their sons to yeshiva.

  • Cough K July 22, 2013, 11:00 PM

    Chofetz Chaim in Kew Garden Hills

    The dorms have no AC in the summer and no heat in the winter. The lunch sucks and the Rosh Yeshiva is always on his fucking high horse.

    Pretty much trains bochurim to the experiences they will face when they realize learning Torah in this place makes the workforce seem like a walk in the park.

    Yes, I’m mad.

  • Cough K July 22, 2013, 11:01 PM

    Chofetz Chaim in Kew Garden Hills

    The dorms have no AC in the summer and no heat in the winter. The lunch sucks and the Rosh Yeshiva is always on his high horse.

    Pretty much trains bochurim to the experiences they will face when they realize learning Torah in this place makes the workforce seem like a walk in the park.

    Yes, I’m mad.

    • Dan July 23, 2013, 3:55 PM

      Funny, you don’t seem mad. You just seem petty. There’s a difference.

      I mean, here you’ve already left the yeshiva and you have these big complaints that make you so mad that you want to bash them anonymously on the internet. About what? The lunches and the air conditioning.

      • Cough K July 23, 2013, 10:11 PM

        Bochurim need basic human rights. This isn’t Abu Ghraib.

        YCC in KGH is the worst Yeshiva in the east coast, at least for me.

        While I’m ranting and raving, imagine how much revenue a Yeshiva could keep if it didn’t pay Kollel guys? These are mainly 30 year old “men” who sip coffee and learn while their wives are taking care of their 5 kids, their only income is the measly Kollel check and what mommy and daddy gives them.

        30 years old and still dependent on someone for income? The Kollel system is a failure.

        • G*3 July 24, 2013, 11:21 AM

          > 30 years old and still dependent on someone for income? The Kollel system is a failure.

          No, the kollel system is functioning exactly as it’s meant to. Self-sufficiency is not a kollel value. From the point of view of the system, it’s only right that the elite kollel yungerleit, who are keeping the world going with their learning, be supported by the masses who are benefiting from their efforts.

          You can argue that 30-year-olds should be self-sufficient, but while I’m inclined to agree, I don’t think you can argue for that as a universal value.

          • Cough K July 24, 2013, 3:00 PM

            >From the point of view of the system, its only right that the elite kollel yungerleit, who are keeping the world going with their learning, be supported by the masses who are benefiting from their efforts

            Hahahahahaha oh God, my sides.

            So we should keep grown men fed and clothed until he gets Semicha, then he works for a Yeshiva that milks parents for every penny so he could follow the same schmucky path?

            and then we wonder why we’re labeled money grubbing kikes.

            • G*3 July 24, 2013, 8:48 PM

              Look, I dont agree with the premises of the kollel system. I think its deeply flawed, practically speaking. BUT you said that its a failure, and Im pointing out that its working exactly as its supposed to.

              Maybe Im being too pedantic.

              > o we should keep grown men fed and clothed until he gets Semicha, then he works for a Yeshiva that milks parents for every penny so he could follow the same schmucky path?

              No, we shouldnt, but those who buy into the kollel system think that this is a good thing. You have to understand them on their own terms, even if you vehemently disagree. From their point of view, as I said, those who are learning are keeping the world going.

              > and then we wonder why were labeled money grubbing kikes.

              This is disgusting.

              Jews have a reputation for being money grubbing because we were banned from the trade guilds, and often had no choice but to become money lenders. When loans came due, the non-Jews perception of the Jewish money lender constantly asking for his money back was that Jews were money grubbing.

              Youre perpetuating a stereotype born of systematic persecution.

  • the real ms July 23, 2013, 11:46 AM

    I don’t have any real comment to make on this but I really like this post.

  • Yochanan July 23, 2013, 12:34 PM

    “The biggest issue with kiruv is that they are basically sales people and so you really have to pry to get them to open up.”

    I would like to add: They may not literally be selling something, but many Kiruv workers have the same personality types as salespeople.

  • Anonymous July 25, 2013, 7:15 AM

    I hate religion ,jeez what a load of clap trap. you guys amuse me, and yes i went to orthodox yeshivas, what a waste of time. it is a baby sitting service. Glad I ran from the stifling version that rabbis portray it as ,glad i got out and realized there really isnt any solid reasons why i was brainwashed in to all the stupididty. sorry for ranting……haha

  • Balensen July 25, 2013, 12:36 PM

    Just go balls to the wall black hat. Afterwards you can always dial it back. I suggest Mikdash Melech. They have above average food and good cholent.

    • The one who asked July 31, 2013, 10:03 PM

      That’s a Sephardi yeshiva, right? I’m Ashkenazi and assumed I had to go to an Ashkenazi one.

      (Thanks everyone for thoughts so far)

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