"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, December 19, 2005

Who Knew?

As an alumnus of Yeshiva education, I was excited to see that Mortimer Zuckerman, the Editor of U.S. News and World Report, paid a visit to the Yeshiva in Lakewood, New Jersey. As you may know, that is the largest Jewish institution outside of Israel that offers a curriculum of only Jewish Studies. There are currently about 4,000 students. Yes, I was a student there for one year between the ages of 19 and 20 (not sure if they're proud of that, but I am); at the time, 1978-79, there were only a thousand students.

Here is how Zuckerman summed up the experience in an interview with American Jewish Spirit magazine.

AJS: You had the opportunity recently to visit the Lakewood Yeshiva... Can you tell us what that was like?

MZ: It was at the behest of a rabbi I study with that I went and visited the Lakewood Yeshiva. I had never been to a yeshiva before in my life and I sort of did this out of some degree of curiosity but more out of a sense of moral support for what had been such a central part of this rabbi's life. But I have to tell you, when I got there I was absolutely knocked out by it.

I will tell you that it was the single most intellectually active, energetic, fascinating environment I had ever witnessed. There was a sort of buzz and just sheer concentration and joy in the learning process and it was literally visible to somebody like myself.

I mean, I said it afterwards, it made Harvard Law School, which I happen to have attended, look like a kindergarten. It was absolutely extraordinary to see so many people - from various walks of life - in there for the sheer joy of learning about their religious tradition. And the sheer intensity and intellectual demands of this place made it such a unique place to visit.

So for me, it was absolutely a stunning experience and I wish everybody could have the chance not only to visit it but to have a guide like I did.

4 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Or you could watch So Jewtastic! on VH1, which chronicles the astonishing achievements of the Jewish people, like Gene Simmons, David Lee Roth, and the Beastie Boys.

Jay D. Homnick said...

One of the great SNL skits of all time was the game show which I think they called "Jew or Not Jew". Two eager-beaver couples were huddled over the buzzers.

The host called out a famous name and they had to know, was he or she a Jew? It was hilarious on several levels, not least its spoofing of Jews' rather pathetic need to out famous folks (like Madeline Albright) as members of the tribe.

James Elliott said...

A friend of mine's brother is studying at a Yeshiva in upstate New York. He loves it. Here's this crazy, San Francisco-bred punk-metal fan who once sported purple hair and was supposed to be the umpteenth member of his family to attend Cal, and he's up in the woods studying his theology. We all decided that it was his ultimate rebellion against his parents.

Gay? No problem. Punk-rock band? Sure thing. Going to Yeshiva? WTF?!

Heh.

Jay D. Homnick said...

Yeah, except they study almost no theology at Yeshivas. They devote their time almost exclusively to law, things like torts, contracts, trusteeships, inheritance, et al. Zuckerman's comparison to a Law School is right on target.

Ask a Yeshiva guy a theological question like "How does escaping from a danger zone help if you can only die when you're meant to die?" and he'll just shrug and refer you to some elder scholar.

But ask him why if A gives an object to B to keep for him and B gave it to C to hold and then it was lost, A is not obligated to trust C even though B, whom he trusted, trusted C: then you'll see some real animation and passion, and hear some well-thought-out arguments.