The Yeshivish Brand

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27 Responses

  1. dr. bill says:

    i would argue that the question you raise must be answered affirmatively if derakheha darkhei noam; yeshivish must stress the values of punctuality and clarity of expression.

    However, one of your sentances really troubles me; it sets up a false either-or. You write: “It means that we accept Torah in toto, and follow it as a soldier follows his commander, not as a free-stylist follows his spirit.”

    Between those extremes lives a thinking and questioning Jew. imho, army discipline is not a prerequsite for for living the life of a traditional jew.

  2. joel rich says:

    Branding: You might consider whether your definition is aspirational or actual, whether it would be recognized in the general community, the orthodox community or the yeshivish community. My guess is that you would find the brand measured by the outside world more related to external markers (e.g. black hats, lack of personal interaction) than the elements you listed.

    Much more importantly you would want to investigate how the elements you seek to change becamepart of the brand. Did he brand managers (gedolim? askanim?) fall asleep at the monitoring switch or are these elements part of the fallout of attending to higher order priorities (e.g. lack of accountability serves to keep more students formally “in learning” which is a higher priority)

    She-nir’eh et nehamat Yerushalayim u-binyanah bi-mherah ve-yamenu,

  3. yitznewton says:

    I get the feeling from this that the social personalities of “yeshivish” adolescents are allowed to develop without guidance. All the formative influences the author refers to are peer-to-peer. I’d argue that appropriate behavior can and should be cultivated. Case in point: Rav Pam famously discouraged his talmidim from using imprecise or unnecessary language such as “whatchamacallit.” (Except when referring to the candy bar, of course.)

  4. Shades of Gray says:

    FWIW, this is an excerpt of a May, 1998 article in the New York Times titled “Yeshivish at Yale” :

    “In recent years, Orthodoxy has increasingly split into factions of Modern and haredi (also known as ultra-Orthodox). So named for a word describing a Jew’s imperative to ”tremble” before God, the haredi embrace the technical aspects of modernity — including higher education, when it serves a practical purpose — while rejecting the cultural ones….

    Elisha Hack, one of the Yale plaintiffs, eschews both ”Modern” and ”haredi” for a term that might well describe all the plaintiffs. ”There is an expression floating around — ‘yeshivish,’ ” says Hack, a 20-year-old freshman from New Haven. ”It doesn’t exist in a dictionary. It’s ‘yeshiva’ made into an adjective. And it connotes a level of observance, a way of thought, a type of dress.” “

  5. Daniel says:

    He’s right; yeshivish does mean that.

    But when I describe an entity as “yeshivish”, I don’t mean it in a negative way. I mean it in a positive way.

    Yeshivish means having the right priorities, and not caring about the corollaries. A yeshivish car has a banged up exterior, makes funny noises, leaks oil and fluids–and gets you to yeshiva in the morning and to shop-rite at night. A yeshivish business doesn’t have a secretary or a nice lobby or a nice website or a downtown address–but it gets the job done. A yeshivish contractor might be late returning calls or not start your job on time or change something in the middle–but he’s cheap and trustworthy and will make it work.

    That’s what yeshivish means to me. And I’ll wear the brand with pride. (And no, I would never miss a flight to my new job.)

  6. Shades of Gray says:

    On the blurring of terminology(also relevant to the post of “Non-Membership Has Its Advantages”):

    “Another respondent went even further to suggest that, in the U.S., the lines between Haredi and Modern Orthodoxy have become blurred:

    My younger brother davens [prays] in a shteibel [makeshift synagogue] in Flatbush where
    virtually everyone has a college degree, works, is very Zionist – but they wear black hats. (By the way most of their children are in Lakewood [The largest and most prestigious
    yeshiva in the American Haredi community]). What are they??”

    (Yehuda Turetsky and Chaim I. Waxman, “Sliding To The Left? Contemporary American Modern Orthodoxy”, Oxford University Press, 2011)

  7. Shades of Gray says:

    “That yeshivish girls, mostly, do not have these weaknesses is proof that the challenges are not part and parcel of our ideology, but a result of the culture that exists within and around our schools.”

    To a much lesser extent, Gemara terminology has entered the vocabulary of some women. I smiled inwardly when a Beis Yaakov girl, a relative of mine, asked me if something was “too much of a ‘tircha’ [bother] “. I don’t think she will become a Maharat(but might know Navi better than her husband), but this is good when one thinks that there was a time when Bnei Torah didn’t have anyone to marry.

  8. DF says:

    “Work ethic”, is a key quality I would add to the list. In the Yeshivah, summers are off, yomtov including chol hamaoed is off, Friday afternoon is off, a Bris means you can come late – none of this exists in real life. It’s a problem we have to come to grips with. And as for Daniel’s comments about yeshivish contractors not returning calls but getting the job done – it’s funny, but when yeshivish people themsleves are trying to get a hold of their contractor or waiting for him to show up, they’re suddenly not as benign to the concept. Professionalism counts, a lot.

    But R’ Yaakov asks a good question – can the yeshivish community impart values of professionalism and punctuality, etc., while still retaining its identity? I’ve often thought the same thing, and my answer is: I don’t think so. The Yeshiva community is built on the foundation of contrarianism. Daas Torah Hefech Mi’daas Ballei Battim. If ballei battim – ie, established society – does it one way, the yeshivah culture instinctively does it the other way. I emphasize instinctive, because I dont think the community itself is aware of how deep this tendency lies. Yet, it is a fact, the more “yeshivish” one is, the more he disparages the broader culture. (Think Brisk, for example.) This means belittling all the values of society that R’ Yaakov mentioned. Hence, I dont believe it possible to separate the nonconformity elements from the yeshivish culture, without eviscerating the culture itself. Maybe individuals like R’Yaakov himself can do it, and many of us also know exceptions here and there, but you cannot do it on a community-wide scale. Implementing professionalism at the same time as the “values we hold dear” will get you Breuers, but it wont get you Lakewood.

    Which begs the question: What, indeed, are the values the yeshivah community holds dear? Are they really the Torah’s values? Are are they merely the culture’s values?

  9. Reb Yid says:

    “A yeshivish contractor might be late returning calls or not start your job on time or change something in the middle–but he’s cheap and trustworthy and will make it work.

    That’s what yeshivish means to me. And I’ll wear the brand with pride. (And no, I would never miss a flight to my new job.)”

    If this is what the yeshivish world is proud of, I shudder to think of what makes it shudder with embarrassment.

  10. Shades of Gray says:

    “Implementing professionalism at the same time as the “values we hold dear” will get you Breuers, but it wont get you Lakewood.”

    It will get you to the Agudah, which R. Sherer insisted on being run professionally.

    A Tablet reporter recently discussed Lakewood:

    “The offices are secluded— behind an intercom-protected locked door at the far end of the main cafeteria and up a staircase—and have the understated formal appearance of a high-priced law firm or investment bank rather than a yeshiva, with wood paneling, nameplates outside office doors, and a large conference room…Kotler dresses the way you might expect of a Haredi CEO—well-trimmed beard, nicely-cut dark suit—and is very careful with his words.”

    (Interestingly, R. Aaron Kotler’s namesake fundraised from American balei batim when Lakewood did not dream of having a CEO or a boardroom.)

  11. cvmay says:

    Which begs the question: What, indeed, are the values the yeshivah community holds dear? Are they really the Torah’s values? Are are they merely the culture’s values?

    NOW that is a real discussion, I’m waiting to hear!

  12. L. Oberstein says:

    Yeshivish is not a synonemous with shlump. My Rosh Hayeshiva, Rav Ruderman, zatzal, was always impecably dressed without a spot on his clothes. He walked erect and radiated malchus, he was a prince and it was evident to all. That was the way the Alter taught his talmidim, the greatness of the person. I heard a Friday shmues from Rav Nosson Tzvi finkel in his home given in English and his theme was that a Ben Torah is a Nichbod, an elevated human being. He doesn’t do something wrong because it doeesn’t become a person of his stature. That is what “yeshivish” means, not having an old car that couldn’t pass the emitions test ,etc. I recall once going into the Rosh Hayeshiva’s office witha group of Semicha students around 1969. I was not wearing a jacket and he made me leave and put on a jacket and then come back into his presence. A yeshiva person has to be an aristocrat, not a shlepper.

  13. David F. says:

    Interesting points, but I’m not sure the problem is exactly as R’ Yaakov states it.

    I never once showed up to a date late or a job interview and I’m firmly entrenched in the yeshivish camp. I think it may have more to do with the household in which one was raised.

    Furthermore, having worked with many non-Jews, non-frum Jews, Chassidic and Modern, and experienced a decided lack of professionalism on all levels, I’m not convinced that much of what we refer to as “yeshivish” is not just what one finds in the NY, NJ area. Out of town [i.e. Midwest, South etc.] communities are more formal and the population as a whole, behaves more formally. In the NY area, it’s much less formal. of course, much more gets done, but don’t judge ’em on style points.

    For example, my accountant is modern orthodox and my financial advisors are both non-observant. I can’t recall a time that any of them were on time for a meeting. ever! The contractors I’ve hired have been disasters regardless of their backgrounds and my car mechanic – an Israeli – talks to four customers simultaneously and runs his place like he’s never seen a cleaning rag. He does fix cars exceptionally well however. Our pediatrician processes patients at a rate that our former midwestern pediatrician could only dream of, but he’s outstanding and really cares about his patients even if he rarely expresses that sentiment in words.

    I guess I’m just not convinced that the problem is as R’ Yaakov states. Professionalism must be learned and most eventually do.

  14. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    Most of the “Yeshivish” crowd hails from NYC and its environs. The general culture in that region is much more aggressive and in your face. That might explain why some “Yeshivish” mannerisms irk people from Dallas and other “out of town” areas of the US while it might be perfectly normative in the NYC region even among the general populace.

  15. Jewish Observer says:

    There is something missing from this discussion. To me, Yeshivish, at its best, represents the ideals of:

    – exuding the kind of openness that can exist only bewteen people who trust each other completely
    – cutting through the noise and political correctness and getting to the heart of an issue
    – dropping everything and running to help someone in need, even though it will mess with your schedule
    – not standing on ceremony and showing up uninvited to wish mazel tov when common sense says it will be appreciated

  16. ben dov says:

    Kudos to Yaakov Rosenblatt. This is the kind of thinking we need. He identifies with his own group, but is self-critical and willing to learn from others. Excessive group loyalty and group think inhibits growth. This is a theme in my new blog 1honestlyfrum.blogspot.com

  17. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Maybe there needs to be a training program for Yeshiva students who are moving to the real world, or maybe they shouldn’t be isolated from the real world for that long.

  18. Hoffa Fingerbergstein says:

    I think that the description of shlumpy yeshivishe guys is “greasy”. That look where the hat is punched in, the no chup short haircut and the greasy bulk of payos behind the ears, glasses askew, yarmulke peaking out from under the hat, and other such things. You see this even today. Personally, my experience is that this is dependant generally on a) the personality of the bocher and b) whether the bocher comes from money or not.

  19. Shades of Gray says:

    Ori Pomerantz offers a gevaldige and gaon’ishe eitzah(excellent and ingenous advice)that could not only help the Yeshivishe Brand(TM), but also with the “At Risk” issue. And it’s not even a chiddush(novel concept), but is as traditional as chicken soup!

    -In “Dale Carnegie Next Door”(Cross Currents 11/06), Jonathan Rosenblum described a Dale Carnegie course for Belzer Chasidim next to his office in Yerushalyim.

    -Touro in Flatbush, for a number of years, has had a required course in speech(which is actually not the same as public speaking).

    –What can be more traditional than the Pressburg Yeshivah(as in “chaddash assur min hatorah”)? I heard a history lecture from R. Berel Wein that there was training in giving derashos(public speaking) for rabbinic students in Pressburg.

    B’emes(truthfully speaking), in addition to traditional public speaking courses, there is innovative training for lawyers and business people in improvisation(from the field of drama), and sensory awareness(from the field of mind-body awareness) to help with self-expression and presentation. Public speaking and improvisation exercises could be given during Bein Hazemanim. This could help with self-confidence, thus touching on the “At Risk” issue. Camps for boys already have plays, but there are a limited amount of acting parts, and the courses would benefit those who need it most.

    R. Yaakov Horowitz wrote(“An Open Letter to Yeshiva Bachurim”), “Think of the other skills you will need to succeed in chinuch: public speaking, writing skills, lashon hakodesh, and computer graphics. All of these skills will be enormously helpful to you in your quest for chinuch excellence and will impede your success if you don’t master them. As one who interviews dozens of potential mechanchim each year to fill positions in my yeshiva, I can tell you firsthand how important proficiency is in these areas”.

    Courses for yeshiva bachurim of all persuasions could make a difference– mamesh tog und nacht, literally night and day!

  20. cvmay says:

    An addition to the post by ‘Shades of Gray’

    Presently in my field of work, the increase in lack of social skills, sensory issues and attentiveness all add to the Yeshivish problem. As young children grow into adults if these deficients are not noticed or compensated, then you have the ‘greasy’ Yeshivish mode of behavior. I do not see the connection to lack of money, since the well to do bochurim can fall into this path as easily (except their parents are more demanding).

  21. Jewish Observer says:

    “I think that the description of shlumpy yeshivishe guys is “greasy””

    – that word went out with the airport date

  22. Mair Zvi says:

    The problem is basically a lack of a sense of responsibility. Also, the attitude of “talmud Torah keneged kulom” has the unwanted side effect of denigrating anything other than Torah as unimportant by comparison. This attitude is fostered and encouraged by all Roshei Yeshivos. Formal written and oral examinations should be mandatory. Those who consistently fail examinations should be forced to leave. Once married, a husband should be expected to obtain gainful occupation, (a paying job)in order to support his wife, himself, and future children…he should not expect to be financially supported indefinitely. Army service (for Israeli “learners”) is also an excellent cure for those who are disorganized and irresponsible. Shabbat Sholom.

  23. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Shades of Grey, thank you. I did think this is simply the common sense of the matter. It seems that Yeshiva has two separate roles:

    1. Teach Torah
    2. Be the place where most young men are expected to spend their early twenties. Those young men, for the most part, will not spend their lives as Torah scholars.

    Torah is eternal and unchanging, but job skills aren’t. Knowing how to be a shepherd (Rabbi Akiva) won’t help you run a flour windmill for a Polish nobleman (the reason so many of us are called “Miller”). Knowing how to run a flour windmill won’t help you in a New York clothing sweatshop. And the clothing sweatshop experience won’t help you in an office cubicle.

    IIRC, Yeshiva used to be an elite institute with job skills taught elsewhere. If it is to be a popular institute instead, it needs to provide what the students need.

  24. Mr. Cohen says:

    I feel frustrated and disappointed when many Yeshivish Jews
    are careless or apathetic with issues of: health, nutrition and safety.
    A few examples of this:

    “Where I live, smoking cigarettes is very acceptable.”

    “Why should I exercise? The Chafetz Chaim didn’t exercise!”
    [This is not even true; he did exercise by walking up stairs many times.]

    Crossing Coney Island Avenue, at a place where there is no traffic light
    [danger 1], at night [danger 2], while wearing black clothes that automobile
    drivers are unable to see, until it is too late [danger 3], G_d forbid.

    Most Yeshivish Jews would never eat foods containing the slightest
    kashrut problems, but they see nothing wrong with eating foods
    overloaded with: fat, cholesterol, sugar, salt, and other unhealthy ingredients.

  25. Jewish Observer says:

    “Most Yeshivish Jews would never eat foods containing the slightest
    kashrut problems, but they see nothing wrong with eating foods
    overloaded with: fat, cholesterol, sugar, salt, and other unhealthy ingredients”

    – this is simply not true anymore

  26. Dr. E says:

    Part of the problem is that “yeshivish” has even become a brand. As such, (young) people want to “fit in” and the whole thing becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Rabbi Yakov Horowitz had a great piece a while back where he laments the demise of “Chareidi Classic” which was comprised of serious Bnei Torah who became Baalei Battim, most often in the general workplace. They did business b’emunah and remained steadfast in their Shmiras Shabbos and koveh ittim. Many of them could “learn most Yeshiva guys today under the table”. And they were the pillars of the communities of which we are all the beneficiaries today.

    The Yeshivish brand also comes with a degree on informality called “heimishness”. In the best of circumstances, it is cute and innocuous. In the worst of circumstances, it gets in the way of professionalism, punctuality and work ethic. It is based on the premise of “we all know each other, are all frum, so why does that really matter?”

    That does not play well in the real world, which does not have built-in travel days before and after YT and religious accommodation that would exempt someone from work for significant “religious” observances such as a Shabbos Sheva Brachos of a 3rd cousin in Monsey, which somehow starts on Thursday.

    It always irks me when I hear of, in the context of a simcha, Rabbeim and Roshei Yeshiva who feel that they are too busy to commit to their attendance on a response card. What’s that all about?! Well they are just SO BUSY and they might have a bochur in some sort of shidduch crisis (3 months from now?!) whom they might have to care for. After the Baal Simcha makes multiple calls to the home to find out about a place setting or if he will show up to get “bracha acharita”, the Rebbitzen basically answers the equivalent of “Teiku”. So, it starts from the top and the role modeling that goes on.

  27. Yakov Spil says:

    It took a lot of courage to write such a piece that reveals such embarrassing situations. Reb Yakov, I have always held my hero in the chareidi world to be Rabbi Moshe Sherer zl. He was sharp, crisp, articulate, concerned with detail that I’m sure made the office cringe. But when you’ve got “it”, everybody understands the mission. “It”, to me, is the magic word you used, professionalism. Put another way, it’s called Kiddush Hashem. It’s the vehicle that we use to communicate to others the inspiration and pursuit of truth that you articulate and are so dedicated to. Kiddush Hashem is what a frummeh yid has in mind and asks himself when he meets someone, no matter who, “how do I connect with him, his neshomo, his essence, to leave a mark?” If I stay in my own daled amos of what was comfortable, using “yeshivishe shprach” because that’s how I want to communicate, it’s not going to connect me with many people. Believe me, I love the shprach. But my background helps me to turn it on and turn it off depending on who I speak with. I am hardly a master communicator. But this is what I want to do and accomplish with someone I meet.

    Regarding the job experiences you mentioned. Tardiness is just not a midah we tolerate. In my manager position, the supervising agency and the store would not tolerate it for a host of reasons. Rav Shraga Feivel zl was meticulous that bochurim come to seder on time. They knew obstacles would be placed for those who did respect the clock. It’s poshut that this prepares us for life after yeshiva. It’s poshut that so many things we learned while being cloistered away in yeshiva can prepare us for life.

    I will close with the idea that life after yeshiva is not synonymous with “life in the real world.” The real world of the chachomim, of the middos we learn from Mesilas Yeshorim, from the shmuessen we heard from our Rabbeim are the reality that we take with us because there’s no question that kedusha is what helps us function in that other world. Knowing how to connect with others in order to find their special nekuda is what we learned and what we take with us in order to provide for our families and fulfill our mission for as many years as Hashem gives us. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences.

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