30 of the most important things I learned in yeshiva

yeshiva girlsLet me preface this post by saying that I probably would have learned most of the things had I not gone to yeshiva, but going to yeshiva definitely provides an education that is seldom matched elsewhere. Yeshiva graduates are definitely light years ahead of modern orthodox kids in terms of street smarts, ruthless business tactics, and how to get around policy, whether it be parental, rabbinical, or governmental. I can’t say I learned much in the ways of emunah, bitachon, gemara, or other Torah pursuits, but the other things I learned make up for it. Plus, most of the things I write about wouldn’t have been half as real had I gone to a modern orthodox school. 

Things I learned in yeshiva:

1)How to address the Rosh Yeshiva: When addressing a respectable person in the frum world, you’re supposed to talk in the third person. I witnessed this only before my school took the downward spiral into reject yeshiva. Even when speaking directly to the Rosh Yeshiva, one would say “can I get the Rosh Yeshiva some coffee”. Instead of speaking directly to him. I never did this, because I thought it was absolutely insane, until I read about it the Yated.

2)NCSY is assur: I never knew that NCSY was mamish evil until I came to yeshiva, not only were there girls there, but they used the excuse of kiruv to allow boys and girls to study together and be in close contact. In Rochester NCSY was pretty big and one time my roommate and I got caught going to a convention and we got a pretty long mussar session from this beis medrish guy about the dangers of girls and how they only lead to sin. Later on in life, I realized that NCSY was probably one of the most successful small town non-chabad kiruv tools in all the land.

3)Talking to girls is assur: I’m sorry to disappoint you all, but until the middle of 9th grade, I was certain that the yeshiva policy that girls were assur, was merely a yeshiva policy. I had no idea that parents themselves would prevent growing teenage boys from conversing with the opposite sex. I only learned this during a shabbos afternoon discussion about who’s parents would do what if they caught them talking to girls. I was shocked, I had never heard such narashkeit before.

4)Chabad is not real Judaism: Do you ever hear about kids who grow up not knowing about race? Well, that’s kind of how I grew up with chabad, there were no distinctions of them beingany different than we were. Well, yeshiva changed that, in yeshiva they liked the individual chabadnicks around town and chabad was the only shul that the yeshiva really got along with, but they weren’t as good as we were. Chabad was the closest thing to Judaism we had.

5)Learning Nuvi is for girls, gemara is for boys: I always wondered why we never learned anything interesting like navi and I was told that only girls learn it. I was told that men learn gemara, but I hated gemara and many of my fellow classmates may be frum today if we would have learned navi, but I’m guessing that the sex, war, and betrayal were a bit too much for a bunch of horny teenagers. When I asked why women didn’t learn gemara, I learned that it was because it made them pritzus.

6)Yeshivish Cars: I always thought yeshivish people had shitty cars because they had a lot of kids, but in reality it was a past time to work on your car and hold it together with bungee cords and duct tape. If you had a nice car you were that much closer to being modernishe.

7)Jeans are evil: One of the first things we learned upon entering the yeshiva was the dress code, jeans were a big no no. I felt kind of weird at that moment, because just the day before, my father had dropped me off and he was wearing jeans. In fact, the only thing my father ever wore during the week was jeans, so I now wondered if I had some demerit of sorts for having an evil father who was polluting me with his goyishe ways. Apparently shorts were also not allowed except inside, but outside and inside jeans were very prohibited. Jeans were so assur, that kids would hide their jeans and put them on at the airport or bus station at the start of out shabbosim. Now you see how you can repress something so much that it becomes desirable, I guess my Rabbeim would be happy to know that I just bought my first pair of jeans in my adult life.

8)Girls wearing pants are naked: It wasn’t enough to tell us to try to not look at untznius girls, they weren’t merely untznius, they were naked. I wonder if the Rabbis realized that all we really wanted to look at were real live naked girls, rather than crumbled pages of them hidden in our cereal boxes and shoes. Basically, if a girl wore pants or short sleeves, our Rabbis would say they were naked. Men in jeans or shorts were also considered naked.

9)In d’hoisin: The only Yiddish I really learned was “in your pants” to which I figured out how to say what’s up in your pants in Yiddish. The Rabbis would tug on your untucked shirt and say “In d’hoisin” really loudly.

10)Compliment your hosts: It wasn’t all about issurim, some of the things I learned were timeless and apparently other yeshivos taught it too. In the middle of the meal, it was important to say “everything is delicious” and I’ve noticed that on cue every yeshiva guy I’ve ever had over will throw it down in the middle of the meal.

11)Standing for Rabbis: I had never stood for a rabbi until I went to yeshiva, the truth is I still don’t really stand until I actually know I respect the guy. There are too many phonies running around claiming to be Rabbis and I don’t want to be caught standing for the wrong guy. In yeshiva we did the full stand, in adult life people do it half assedly.

12)Vecker: I learned about the vecker, just like in the shtetl they had a guy waking you up, in yeshiva we had someone slamming open our doors and yelling at us to get up shachris like we were in boot camp.

13)Kishke: I didn’t really know from kishke until I went to yeshiva, there was this dude who made it in his room on Friday afternoon and sold it. I was a big fan, I still am a big fan, if only I could get the real stuff.

14)How to get meals and invites: Until the tenth grade I didn’t get so many meal invites, then I figured out how to just ask. Sure, it takes some balls to just invite yourself out, but the opportunity to look at girls in shul and eat something other than yeshiva food was too good to pass up on. Little did I know that this skill would serve me well in my formative years and it still does.

15)Double head covering: I always thought that the rule to wear a hat and jacket for davening was merely a uniform, I never knew that it had real tradition. I learned early on that one needed a double head covering for davening (I was told that this is why black velvet yarmulkes are all the rage). No one has ever been able to actually prove such things, but it sounds good. I also learned about hats, gray hats, straw hats, black hats, blue hats, big brim, wide brim, narrow brim, up hats, down hats, up brim down brim. I basically learned how judge someone based on their hat. My first hat was from sears, it was black and had a red feather in it. My second hat was olive green and cost 10 bucks at marshalls. We had initially gone into Kova Hats because apparently we’re related to the guy, but we took one look at the prices and out to sears we went.

16)Yarmulkes and stereotypes: Up until yeshiva I had just assumed that there were those who wore black velvet yarmulkes and those who didn’t. I wore knitted at that point in my life and I switched between knitted and suede and reform satin ones as well. I was considered weird, I also learned that switching is uncommon and those who switch have to deal with a lot of politics. For instance, I was in yeshiva during the whole kids at risk thing and those kids always wore small flat black velvet yarmulkes that needed bobby pins. Apparently bobby pins were frummer than clips, but both were assur because if you needed them, your yarmulke wasn’t big enough. I probably would eventually learned about this, but yarmulke style is such a big deal in a more left wing yeshiva like I went to, that I had lessons about shine vs no shine, 4 piece vs. 6 piece and the only truly assur yarmulke were those that had sports teams because you apparently put them between you and God. Only did I learn later on in life that you really can’t judge someone by their yarmulke alone, you also had to see where on their head it was placed.

17)Women don’t celebrate purim: I always remembered purim from my youth as spent eating with cousins in Monsey, pounding my face with nosh and watching yeshiva guys knock on the door and dance with the men for money. It took me sometime to realize that besides for the little girls dressing up, women didn’t really do purim. I guess it probably has to with the fact that honey pot missions aren’t really flaunted in the frum community and we don’t want women reinacting the story of purim from their dealings. The women came to watch the men get drunk and throw up on each other.

18)Frum girls were worse for our neshama’s than goyishe ones: We were all excited to have a girls school open in Rochester, until we realized that wherever they went we had to avoid. We wondered why a bunch of “naked” girls at the ice rink were fine, while the frum girls in skirts made the place assur. I later learned that the Rabbis had faith in us that had no shaychis to the goyim and so we wouldn’t want anything to do with them. I’m fairly certain they wizened up to that shtick.

19)Rush is kol isha: Secular music was assur, but kol isha was downright evil and it turns out that my dorm counselor considered Rush and almost all 80’s hair metal to be kol isha, he simply didn’t believe me that it wasn’t.

20)Mettalish, Piamenta, Instrumental Rock: Yeshiva guys needed music and they found it in ways that were frum, because no one wanted their tape and cd collections burned. So they had all sorts of instrumental stuff like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai and all sorts of not so frum Jewish music. Black Hattitude was also big and thanks to yeshiva I had a love for crappy frum music. Though I think I never got into Shweky because he went to our yeshiva and his girly voice at melave malka’s was a bit much. I also learned that boys choirs existed to replace kol isha and that kind of freaked me out, it still does.

21)The N word: Until yeshiva I had only heard the N-word used in anger, in yeshiva it was used in everyday speak, it wasn’t so strange to me, because I hadn’t been exposed to liberals as of yet. However, some of the more modernishe kids would respond to the N word by asking people not to use it and some of the more Brooklyn types would call them N-lovers.

22)Cheeseburger Moshel: When it came to speaking in mussar, it always came back to the cheeseburger, like this was the ultimate sin. They made the cheeseburger so lofty that when my classmates finally tried them, they were very disappointed. I’ve never had one, but it makes sense, I’d prefer to try real seafood if the treife tayva hits me. What do modern orthodox yeshivas use as the “tayva moshel”?

23)Goyim all secretly wanted to kill us: I was brought up with the scary fact that the Nazis would regain power in the US, but in yeshiva it was drilled home. The goyim all wanted to kill us and we could not trust them.

24)The government is not to be trusted: Another thing I was brought up with that yeshiva intended to instill us with, a true fear of the antisemitic government. Cheating on government things was allowed because they forced us to pay for public schools and pay for programs we didn’t need.

25)Modern Orthodoxy was a wolf in sheeps clothing: When it came to modern orthodoxy, we were taught that it may even be more assur than blatant breaches of Judaism. At least if one drives to shul on shabbos you know where he stands, but one who appears to be orthodox but has an immorally low mechitza, coeducation, untznius clothing, and sends their kids to college is harder to recognize.

26)Yeshiva University is worse than non-Jewish school: We weren’t encouraged to go to college, but we were definitely discouraged from attending YU, once again it was passing off as a frum school but really wasn’t. I didn’t really know all the politics back then, I merely thought it was because they had a Gay Club and allowed girls to learn things other than Navi that it was assur. The only kids who went to YU were the in-towners, everyone else ended up in Touro, community college, or getting a BTL and then going to state school.

27)Klepping and Charter Oaks: I never knew about graduating high school without actually going to high school, but there were a lot of these mail order diploma scams and klepping that people looked into. A lot of folks just wanted out, they hated yeshiva and wanted to get on with the drinking and sex portion of their youth.

28)Alter Bachur: There were single guys in our yeshiva who were almost middle aged, in the yeshiva world they wouldn’t give you semicha until you were married and so you had these 40 year old’s learning with 20 year old guys, it was a bit odd and those guys were always odd. I wondered how a guy who’d spent his entire life in yeshiva could move into a healthy marriage, but one of those guys we never thought would marry, did in fact get married.

29)Porn is bad, but selling it is the worst: It was one thing to go watch a movie or get some porn, it was a whole other thing to share those dirty deeds. I learned about the sin of dragging others down with you. Actually I learned it first hand because I sold some kid a bunch of Maxim Magazines and he in turn hid them in his freezer and when he was caught he snitched on me.

30)Don’t be a snitch: I now understand when Dr. Dre talks about killing snitches, because that’s the absolute worst thing you can do in yeshiva. Nobody likes a snitch, even the Rabbis have ill feeling towards the snitch because he is going against his supposed friends and stabbing them in the back.

What did you learn in yeshiva?

Find out more about yeshiva on 4torah.com