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Are Yeshivas only for Rabbis?




In an interview with on his 83rd birthday, Kirk revealed that being blessed with a sharp mind, he did extremely well in his Cheder studies. All the Jews of his community wanted to collect money to send him to a yeshiva to become a Rabbi.

This frightened and terrified Kirk immensely. He did not want to be a Rabbi; He wanted to be an actor! The community was insistent. Kirk himself testified that he had to work extremely hard to not to go to yeshiva.

With honesty and introspection, Kirk discusses how for well over seventy years he neglected his Jewish heritage. Kirk never entirely lost his connection to his Judaism, and rediscovered it almost 70 years later in the 1990’s.  In another book of his, “Climbing the mountain”, he details his eventual renewal with his heritage and his affiliation to “Aish Hatorah.”

An excellent question that needs investigation

However, Kirk, in refusing his community’s offer, raised an excellent question that needs investigation.

Imagine a person goes out and interviews people on the street. The interviewer has but one question. Would you like to go and study in a yeshiva?

A fair amount of people would answer “People attend medical school to become a doctor. One enrols in law school to be a lawyer. Yeshivas are places where people learn to become Rabbis!! I don’t want to be a Rabbi and therefore for what purpose do I need to learn in a yeshiva?

This answer requires careful investigation. Is such a claim true?

Are yeshivas designed only to produce future Rabbis or are they built for a broader audience?

In the Parshah of Vayigash which we read two weeks ago, we find a fascinating answer to this question.

Immediately before Yaakov’s emotional reunion with Joseph after so many years of being separated, Yaakov together with his family makes plans to take up residence in an area of Egypt called Goshen.

To pave the way for their settlement there, Yaakov sends Judah first to prepare the area. “He sent Judah before him to Joseph to instruct ahead of him in Goshen and they came to the land of Goshen” (Bereishis chapter 46, verse 28).

What exactly is a yeshiva? 

Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, based on a Midrash in Bereishes Rabba, explains this cryptic verse to mean that Jacob sent Judah to establish a yeshiva in Goshen. Once this was accomplished, only then would Jacob would settle in Goshen.

Jacob thus made it eminently clear for future generations that while it is important to find lodgings that will be comfortable, it is vital and critical to have a yeshiva close by.

One would think that Yaakov wanted a yeshiva only for tribes such as Issachar who were full time dedicated Torah scholars.

However the Midrash continues: “Rabbi Nechemia said that Jacob sent Judah to prepare for him a house of study where he could instruct Torah and where the tribes could study the Torah”. The implication of this part of the Midrash is that from here we see that everybody needed to learn Torah- not just the outstanding scholars of Jacob’s family.

To fully appreciate the above statements, we need to understand what exactly is a yeshiva? Why is it so important that every Jew learn in one?

It is where a person learns how to live as a Jew

Tragically, so many people have a limited and stereotyped understanding of the function of a yeshiva. Furthermore, as a result of ignorance and lack of knowledge, they are deficient in their understanding of what Torah is and why it is studied in a Yeshiva setting.

A yeshiva is not just a place to memorize facts from a book. A yeshiva is a place where a person learns how to live as a Jew. It would be unthinkable for one to practice as a lawyer without immersing in legal studies at law school. How could a surgeon perform a surgical procedure without being fully absorbed for years in the intricacies of anatomy in medical school?

So too, for a Jew to live a holistic, fully integrated Jewish life, one needs to spend time in a yeshiva.

The Torah that a Jew learns in yeshiva is not bible stories or religious laws that has to be kept or else. Nothing could be farther than the truth.

Torah is Hashem’s instruction booklet for maximizing each moment of life and infusing it with meaning and pleasure. Studying Torah equips a person with the tools to enjoy life and get the most out of it. No other body of wisdom transforms you into a “mentch”, a person of superlative moral stature. At a yeshiva, the atmosphere is permeated with self-improvement and real, personal growth. Torah learnt in a yeshiva helps you to realize your potential into reality. The result of this is immense joy since you become the person you always wanted to be: Yourself.

So many thousands of people can testify that the best years of their life were those that they learned in yeshiva. Google the word “Yeshiva” on the internet. You will see that there are literally thousands of yeshiva’s catering to people of different age groups and backgrounds. Programs range from weekly to monthly to yearly. Courses and curriculums are tailored to suit the student’s interest.  Do not just take my word for it. Go visit a yeshiva in action and you will see all this in action and more.   

So is accessing the world of the yeshiva going to make you into a Rabbi?

For some yes, for most it will not.

The vast majority of people who have entered the world of the yeshiva are knowledgeable as to the what, why and how of Jewish life. Most importantly, they have absorbed from a yeshiva the beauty, splendour and magnificence of what being Jewish is all about. The yeshiva has prepared them for a lifetime of exalted living. 

When they pursue their professional careers, they have the confidence that they will act as proud, educated Jews in whatever situation they may find themselves in. There is no greater sanctification of Hashem’s name than that.

Do yourself a favour. Take the time to spend some time in a yeshiva. It will be the best decision you will ever make. 

  • Rabbi Shmuel Bloch is a regular contributor to SA Jewish Report Online. To see more of his writings on this website, CLICK HERE!


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  1. Choni

    Jan 5, 2015 at 8:53 am

    ‘Better still, make that Yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael.’

  2. david

    Jan 5, 2015 at 10:33 am

    I have never considered entering a Yeshiva, having been surrounded by a few. 

    However a question arises, ‘would I be a better person today if I had gone to a Yeshiva?

    I cannot answer the question, as it never happened and will never happen. I don’t believe it would have made me more proud of Eretz Yisrael, or a prouder Jewish man. Yes I would definitely have prayed more. 

    I do have a big concern that attending a Yeshiva may have instilled in me, a belief that I need not and should not, protect my country, as some sects in Jerusalem and elsewhere do. I also would fear that I could have become a stonethrower on Jews who ‘break’ the Shabbos and women who dress with less than the respect that these ‘believers’ expect for their culture and traditions.

    So, yes I have a few questions, with an obvious ‘no answer’ result that would satisfy my tiny but open mind

  3. Denis Solomons

    Jan 6, 2015 at 10:49 am

    ‘Of course not !’

  4. Choni

    Jan 7, 2015 at 9:11 am

    ‘David, The editor of this website once made a very profound statement. He said \”I was brought up to believe that nobody should question our Torah\”…..but everything else should be questioned.

    I believe he is 100% correct, but should know that according to our true belief everything that a Jew does or questions  is based on Torah. So while I agree that we should question everything, the answers to those questions can only be given by someone who is learned in Torah. If you really seek answers, no matter how ‘tiny’ your mind is, only a Rabbi can give them to you.

    You might struggle to find a suitable Rabbi for these answers, but if you really seek them, you will find a Rabbi who can. What better place than a Yeshiva with it’s thousands of Rabbinical books.?

    Yes,you can become a better person with Torah study.



  5. David

    Jan 8, 2015 at 3:43 am

    ‘Choni  Choni  Choni — What has Torah got to do with my comments ?  They were about attitude and entitlement to pressurise others into doing what they say.

    Rabbi’s , of course talk Torah , but they preach their understanding and interpretations as their own, and those of the wise sages.

    If we do not question and delve into the mire of innuendo, lack of explicit detail, and attempt to expand our minds, we are simply singular beings and what we feel and believe, we are eventually inconsequential and our influence is zero, like sheep.

      Choni I leave any further comments to you, goodnight’

  6. Choni

    Jan 8, 2015 at 7:53 am

    ‘Rabbi Bloch, If you are reading this I’m sure you could give David some sort of idea of what your article is about.

    I , myself, have got no idea of what he is trying to say.


    Choni Davidowitz’

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