Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Need to Feel Judaism - UPDATED

I grew up in a Yeshiva setting. I went to an all boys elementary school, followed by an all boys Ultra-Orthodox High School. In High School, we got out at 6:30 on the early days and at 8:15 on late days when we had Mishmar. Upon finishing my stay in High School I went to Bais Medrash where the day started at 7:30 AM with Shacharis, and finished with the completion of Maariv at 10:45 PM. Needless to say, the days were packed with learning. On top of all that learning, there was a strong push to learn during breaks. The average boy (while in Bais Medrash) learned anywhere between 13 and 16 hours a day, with the top boys learning even more at times.

Over the years I noticed a common theme. The amount of boys in this environment that read from the Torah (lain) or volunteer and enjoy davening from the amud are few and far in between.

On an average out-shabbos in Bais Medrash, coming on time to Kabllas Shabbos (Friday night davening) at a random Shul in the community was a dreaded activity. That’s because we knew that the gabbia would see black hats and say “OK, which one of you yeshiva boys want to daven?” Heads start turning, and if you are lucky you have some sucker there who will actually go up. Other times, after no one volunteers, the gabbai will say, “OK, we have 2 minutes before we start anyways, so you guys figure it out in the meantime.”

I never understood that. Why is it our job to appoint someone to daven? That’s the gabbai’s job. Just because we are wearing black hats doesn’t mean that we want or frankly have the ability to daven from the amud. But the out-shabbos moment that boggles my mind the most is when Mincha comes around and the baal koreah is late. The gabbai comes up to the group of black hatters and says “which one of you wants to lain?” Which one of us? How about none of us? Did it even occur to him that we don’t know how to lain because most of us haven’t even thought about laining since our Bar-Mitzvah? And even if we did, do we just know every parsha off the cuff without practicing? There is a reason people charge for laining. When the gabbai finally figures out that he’s not getting anywhere, you’ll hear him mumble under his breath, “If these guys can’t lain and can’t daven, what are they doing in Yeshiva?” Or the age old classic, “What does the Yeshiva teach you already if not for laining?” I remember one guy telling me how he feels that a person shouldn’t be able to be admitted into Yeshiva unless he can lain fluently. Comments like that make me wonder what they think actually goes on in Yeshiva. Does he also think baseball players shouldn’t be allowed to play ball unless they can hit the high-note in the star spangled banner?
Not so long ago, I was in the Young Israel of North Miami Beach. It was time for Kabbalas Shabbos. Friday night was an out-meal at the Yeshiva here, and there were a bunch of Bais Medrash guys davening at shul. The gabbai walked up to the group to try to find a baal-tefila. After completely striking out  (no pun intended) with all the guys, he then walked over to a local high school kid who goes to the Hebrew Academy (the local co-ed day school) and asks him if he would like to daven. He immediately takes the tallis and walks up to the Amud. I was standing and talking to a Rebbe, and we both watched this take place. He turned to me and said, “It’s such a shame. We have ten or fifteen Yeshiva guys here and the only person that will daven is the Hebrew Academy kid?”

This got me thinking. Why was it that the Hebrew Academy kid was so eager to daven and the Yeshiva guys weren’t? It then hit me that this isn’t an uncommon theme, and thinking about it, I see this happen time and time again. Many times in Yeshiva, it’s the kids with the more modern backgrounds who are much more eager to daven for the Amud. Not only that, how many times have you seen a Yeshiva teen Minyan actually work out with the teens laining? I don’t really know of any, but I can tell you I know of a few that failed. The yeshiva that I work for has a teen Minyan (a.k.a the High School Minyan) where they even resorted to paying the students to lain. Yet, regardless, it’s still impossible to find someone to lain Yeshiva. However, the teen Minyan that I sometimes frequent in Hollywood (which is a much more modern community) has no problem finding guys to lain. All they do is get up after laining and ask who is available for an aliyah for the following week. Within minutes the entire parsha is taken. At the (now nonexistent) teen Minyan in Miami Beach, which was a mix of Yeshiva kids and more modern kids, it was a little harder. But it was always the non-Yeshiva kids who took the majority of the parsha. Why is that the case?

I think I may have the answer. I’m not sure if it’s true and it may offend some, but I’m going to throw it out there anyways. When a person is in a “sub-par” Judaism environment, or at least feels deep down that he is in a sub-par Judaism environment, he naturally will want to do more outwardly and publicly for Judaism. We know the concept of a Pintele Yid- that little spark inside every Jew that will pull him or her back to the source through a yearning for spirituality only fulfilled by Judaism, even when he or she is the furthest away. I believe the concept can be true even when a person is religious and not in a “sub-par” Judaism environment. If the person feels deep down that although he is religious he could be doing more, he has that pintele yid that’s driving him to practice more Judaism. The mere fact that he is an Orthodox Jew doesn’t fill that need, as he feels deep down he should be doing more. This leads to participating in public Jewish activities like davening and laining. It fills the void. By going up and davening from the amud or laining from the Torah, he feeds that inherent hunger for Judaism and it makes him feel that he is more spiritual due to this public form of practicing Judaism.

The concept of proving one’s Judaism through public display to justify the lack of internal feeling might explain why non-religious Jews occasionally throw lavish Bar or Bat Mitzvah parties, or their need to tell Orthodox Jews about the traditions they actually follow. That is the extent of their Judaism and they need to show (mostly to themselves) that they really are Jewish. This might also explain why the Hebrew Academy kid was so quick to say yes in front of a large group of Yeshiva guys.

On the other hand, someone who is in Yeshiva all day doesn’t feel any need to increase his level of spirituality by going down those paths and participating in public forms of Judiasm. He is swimming in Judaism and constantly growing through learning all day. That’s more than enough to make him satisfied with his Judiasm. He doesn’t need to look for outward manifestations of his religiosity to make himself feel better about what he does not have. When the opportunity to daven for the amud or to lain arises, he shuns it because he doesn’t feel the pull towards it.

It’s the same reason that Young Israels can get away with 3 hour davening on Shabbos but if Yeshivos go over two hours, the daveners rebel. Yeshiva guys don’t feel the importance of a long davening and don’t get the satisfaction out of it that a non-yeshiva person would. He would rather have a faster shabbos davening and sit down to learn afterwards.

I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing; it’s just something I noticed.

A number of people pointed out that there are many yeshiva guys who like davening and laining and asked if I was implying that they were doing it because they also needed to fill a gap in their Judiasm. Obviously there are many Yeshiva guys who lain and daven. I in no sense of the matter mean to say that this is the only reason why someone would in his right mind want to daven or lain. It just seemed odd too me that the numbers were disproportionate when it came to Yeshiva guys vs. non-yeshiva guys. I think my reason can help us understand why some of the daveners and lainers want to lain; and why it's more common for a Hebrew Academy student to want to lain and daven than for a Yeshiva guy.

One of my family members was insulted for my father's sake. For those that don't know my father, he is a big lainer and davener. On the side he is a posek (should be fairly obvious by the title of this blog). I told them that my father is actually a poster child for this post. He didn't grow up a posek. He was in a coed school through eight grade (past his bar mitzvah). He grew up in a small, not at all yeshivish, modern community. He was looking for something more so he started laining right after his bar mitzvah (he ended up a posek). While not necessarily true, it's very possible that this post details the exact reason my father picked up laining and davening. The fact that he still does it isn't a question, because it's become a part of his life. Just because he doesn't NEED it anymore doesn't mean he will just drop it.


Chaim said...

You could be right, or it could be that the "frummer" element is so involved in "intellectual" and detail oriented Judaism that it isn't spiritually uplifting and meaningful anymore. How can you enjoy laining if your being batted over the head with "mapik hai's" and Shva Nachs? I once was in a uber-modern shul in Boston (Kadima)and the Baal Koreh lained like he was telling a story, with tons of emotion (I can't remember what parsha it was but it wasn't Pekudei). If you tried that in a Yeshiva minyan the'd have your head. As far as the "frummer" kids in modern schools, they are usually much more spiritually awake and in tune with Hashem through Tefilla and their limited learning than you find in classical yeshivos.

Anonymous said...


I think this blog post is absolutely CRACKED!!


Unknown said...

It reminds me of something I noticed years ago. The more frum a person is, the less likely to wear "Jewish" jewelry (star, chai, etc.).

Those for whom Judaism is their life, don't need a piece of Jewelry to proclaim it.

Jughead's Hat said...

This post is one of the main problems we face as separate communities. Sefardic vs. Ashkenaz, Chasidic vs. Litvish, Reform vs. Conservative vs. Orthodox, even Out of Town vs. In Town. We assume that what we have right now is the best. No other form of Judaism can live up to the level of Judaism we have now.
Most people have the following mentality: everyone to the right of me is a fanatic and everyone to the left of me is a liberal. I'm just right. And that's the way everyone feels about it. Clearly, SoP, you do as well. Describing anyone else's form of religiosity as "sub-par" is ignorant. Do you consider yourself to be "sub-par?" Guess what? Most Chassidim do.
You have to look no further than kashrus. What's good for me may not be good enough for you (cholov sta"m), but what's good for you may not be good enough for someone who only drinks Be'er Mayim "soda." Are you wrong? Am I wrong? Who is sub-par here?
The Conservative Jew who keeps kosher in his house, but goes to non-kosher restaurants, or the Reformed Jew who will eat everything but pig, do you think they are doing something wrong? Do you think they think they're doing something wrong? Both of those people have the same mentality: I am right and everybody who disagrees with me is either a fanatic or a liberal. Is it possible that more than one person is right?
Additionally, please clarify the Rebbe's statements because it sounds to me as though he felt that there was something wrong with a modern kid davening. I just tend to think that there is nothing wrong with that, even if the only type of Jew he is is pintela. I have always reserved that term for the guy who had nothing to do with Judaism and decided to take a trip to Israel on a whim. When he ends up becoming frum (yes, even if he becomes Modern Orthodox), he shows his Pintela Yid. I don't think that a day-school kid davening for the amud qualifies as that spark. He was, afterall, FFB. Possibly.

Unknown said...

Woa - slow down.

Take the time to read it carefully.

I never said the HA kid was sub-par. I was referring to the non-religious Jew where the Pintele Yid concept is generally talked about. The "guy who had nothing to do with Judaism and decided to take a trip to Israel on a whim" who most people, like you, reserve the Pintela Yid concept for. The whole point of my post is based on the proposal that the Pintele Yid isn't just for the sub-par Jew but for the Orthodox Jew as well.

To quote my post - "I believe the concept can be true even when a person is religious and not in a “sub-par” Judaism environment. If the person feels deep down that although he is religious he could be doing more, he has that pintele yid that’s driving him to practice more Judaism."

Additionally, according to my point, it's irrelevant what other people think about you or what you think about other people. It's the feeling inside of you that you are going after.

I'm sorry if I wasn't clear.

As for the Rebbe, you raise a good point. I happen to be know that the Rebbe didn't mean that it's a shame a HA kid is davening. The Yeshiva guys aren't seen much by the community except for out-shabbosim. His comment was based on the fact that it doesn't look good for the Yeshiva that when the BM guys come not a single one will daven time and time again. Hence the comment “It’s such a shame. We have ten or fifteen Yeshiva guys here and the only person that will daven is the Hebrew Academy kid?” (As opposed to the Yeshiva boys.)

Ezzie said...

Wow, that is horrible.

Ezzie said...

Rather than shred the individual lines in the post, this always brings to mind the famous story of a Rosh Yeshiva (I wish I could recall who) who asked his talmidim about a few psukim. The talmidim didn't know what he was referring to, and one piped up "Rebbe, we aren't ba'alei kriah, we don't know this." He replied sharply "Then maybe you should all become ba'alei kriah first."

I never understood why most yeshiva bochurim seem to view laining and davening as beneath them or something that's only to be done if they're paid for it.

I'm not sure why only in less yeshivish places there seems to be an understanding that frumkeit includes doing things for the klal, or knowing how to read from a Sefer Torah, or being involved rather than being a bystander. In the (very yeshivish) circles I grew up in, most guys did actually lain a bit in 7th/8th, but by the time I worked in Magen Av for a summer, I had to lain every single week for the earlier minyan because nobody else could.

In summary - it's not that those "modern" kids are missing something and trying to fill it - it's the Yeshiva guys in your post who are missing something and apparently have no clue.

I think the Rebbe is the one who actually got it: It's a shame that none of his bochurim will do something so important and basic. It's a bigger shame that they didn't even understand what he was saying.

Unknown said...

Ezzie -

I happen to agree with you. It's not a good thing that Yeshiva guys don't feel the need to daven and lain. And you are correct - they have no clue that they are missing something.

What brought me to write the post was a simple question; why did you have to lain every week? Had you been brought up in a more "modern" circle, chances are you would have had many people to share the laining with you.

While the Rosh HaYeshiva was correct, the fact is that none of his guys lained. Why not?

Kid at Zoo said...


daughtersintheparsha said...

if they go over the parsha "shnei mikra echad targum" throughout the week like they should, and they do it with the leining "trup" I think they wouldn't be that intimidated by getting up to lein. to be honest I thought your point was going to be how they are in front of a torah 13-16 hours a day and they want time off.

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