Isaac Kaplan

"Is it any wonder I've got too much time on my hands?"

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Freedom vs. Discipline in Yeshivos, Pt. 1

Back in my yeshiva days, I went to many of the "top" places. Most of the guys were serious learners. Sure, there were some clowns, as there are in any yeshiva, but not as many as other places.

The high school and the yeshivos I went to were very strict about rules. For example, when I was in Israel, many neighborhoods were off-limits. So if your uncle wanted to take you to Cafe Rimon? Too damn bad. You had stay in yeshiva and eat the stuff they served there. And novels, newspapers, and non-Jewish music were off-limits. There were strict dress codes, to boot. In a different yeshiva, radios were a no-no. The yeshiva even had raids, where the mashgiach went into the dorms and confiscated anything he found objectionable.

And when people questioned the authorities about the rationales behind such rules, the answers were always the same: "these distractions will take you away from learning," "such materials don't belong in the heilige yeshiva," and "it's all tumah and the yetzer hora."

A few years later, I met many people who had frummed out in other yeshivos. And these yeshivos, mind you, weren't nearly as rigid as the places I went to. And nevertheless, these guys didn't embrace their taavos and choose a life of bar-hopping and hanging out at the beach. Instead, they were shtarker and enjoyed learning much more than I did.

And on my side of things, while at that time, I understood the rationales for my yeshivos having such rigid regulations, and enjoyed learning, I still felt something missing. I felt the urge to see what was out there, to be able to roam wherever I wanted, to go to the bars and the beaches, and see what it was all about. Was it my yetzer hora? Or an actual urge to see the world and have a good time? Maybe I needed a break?

So for a while, I was a little jealous of the guys in the more relaxed yeshivos, the ones that could do whatever they want. And after they got it out of their system, they could learn like crazy.

At the same time, however, I could understand why my place was so strict. After all, for every guy who went to a yeshiva with fewer rules and frummed out, there were guys who embraced their taavos and became obsessed bars, movies, and the like. And then there were a few who'd get into drugs. Not cool. And maybe in a place with strict, rigid rules, that doesn't happen.

So what's the better approach? A strict approach that attempts to ensure that nobody will develop a taavah for something other than learning, or an approach that gives someone more freedom to feel out their passions and desires?

The simple answer? Chanoch L'Naar Al Pi Darko.
The complex answer? Part 2 of this piece.


Anonymous Rinkley said...

I've thought about this a million and one times, and I've concluded that it's a circular argument, but if you can put it to rest for me, I'd love to hear it!!
I think it essentially depends on the student himself. His family background, his psychological and emotional well-being. A lot plays into it, not just the Yeshiva. Within the school I attended, some girls are able to attend Brooklyn College and remain strong. Others fall prey to the Taavos they were restricted from in school, or were supposed to be restricted from

11:39 PM  

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