Ben Yeshiva: You Need Not Leave – A Yotzei Min Ha-Klal Perspective

I read the new (and fabulous!) edition of Klal Perspectives with great intrigue. Grappling with the transition from ben yeshiva to baal habayis is a very sensitive topic in general, but for those personally undergoing this transition, it is often one of disorientation, frustration, and even trauma and despair.

The solutions presented to enabling a smooth (as possible) transition, and the resolutions for balancing Torah and avodah, are delicate and often pretty touchy, but they make a lot of sense and are welcome and quite necessary. Yet in the end, to an idealistic ben yeshiva, they can reflect a sense of abandonment of his idealism, for if one has been bred and cultivated to embrace Torah excellence and focus on limud ha-Torah as the apex, a prescription that includes an abandonment of his ascent to the peak is an exceedingly hard pill to swallow.

Obviously, one needs to be practical and fulfill his responsibility to provide for his family and himself; the challenge, rather, is the perceived need to basically throw in the towel, say goodbye to the beis medrash and radically change course. Giving up one’s life ambition in Torah is not easy, no matter how important and rewarding a multifaceted life of kedushas baal habayis really can be.

I would like to put forth a counterintuitive solution that I have witnessed as greatly successful, and to follow up with a practical suggestion and a question.

Common thinking on the part of some b’nei yeshiva who transition to the workforce is that they need to stylistically recalibrate and reorient their Torah learning to accommodate their new roles. This usually manifests itself as joining a bekius-style daily Gemara shiur, or learning a masechta with a chavrusa before Shacharis and/or at night, with a focus on Rashi, Tosafos and perhaps a few other meforshim or points of interest. For someone who has (hopefully) until now been learning with exceptional depth, spending hours if not days at a time analyzing and arguing over singular phrases in the Rambam and hairline machlokos of Rishonim, the radical shift in learning style as a baal habayis can be shattering. Yesterday, the person was a ben yeshiva who was presenting a new solution, a bold personal chiddush, to an acute problem posed by Reb Chaim, and today, the same person, in comparison, feels that he is merely glossing over sugyos, vastly reducing his intensity, and not getting too far beyond the surface in Torah learning. Coming from an advanced beis medrash experience, in which deep, exciting and spectacular analyses of sugyos was the norm, the transition to the “baal habayis” derech in learning can be quite a jolt. And coming from a culture in which the highest goal is excelling in lomdus, profundity and chiddush, the contrast can be a seismic shock and a letdown, as one feels that he is forfeiting his lifelong aspiration in Torah, which has been one of the most important things in his life.

What is the solution? It is that the ben yeshiva should retain his yeshiva derech in learning and continue to learn b’iyun, even though his seder for it may be brief. The exhilarating experience of daily immersion in the depths of Torah, be it for even a small fraction of the day, enables the baal habayis to learn like a ben yeshiva and maintain the sensation of yeshiva learning for his entire life. Not to mention continued growth in learning and ascent, at whatever pace, to the apex of Torah understanding.

I know several baalei batim who have taken this course, and despite their resultant inability to knock off numerous masechtos a year bekius-style, these baalei batim are immensely energized and focused on their learning. Their iyun seder, no matter how brief, keeps them involved and growing in yeshiva learning, and it carries them through the day.

The father-in-law of one of my friends attended a daily bekius Gemara shiur for decades. Feeling that he was not getting the most from the learning, this man instead joined a small iyun shiur for baalei batim, taught by a maggid shiur every morning before Shacharis. My friend’s father-in-law states that, as a result of his new iyun seder, his learning and his whole life have been transformed. Despite being an attorney with a grinding schedule, his daily early morning iyun seder makes him feel like he is still in yeshiva, stimulating and inspiring him to think in learning during the course of his day. So many other people whom I know well – all with demanding, full-time office jobs or graduate school schedules – have likewise taken on learning b’iyun as their early morning and/or night seder, and they are able to feel immersed in sugyos and to seriously think and talk in learning as anyone else in yeshiva. Yes, the time for one’s daily learning may be limited, but the sensation and growth in Torah when learned b’iyun are present and strong.

A baal habayis does not need a private maggid shiur in order to have a meaningful iyun seder. I know baalei batim who upload a daily iyun Gemara shiur from or alternative sources, and others who maintain a chavrusa for their early morning or nightly seder b’iyun. Accessibility to serious in-depth learning is broad and varied.

One major impediment to substantive Torah learning on the part of the baal habayis, as well as to general efficiency in numerous other ways, is residing in neighborhoods that are extremely distant from one’s place of work. In some cases, such as when a person’s office is located very far from Orthodox neighborhoods that feature proper chinuch and limud ha-Torah opportunities, one has no choice but to live far from work. However, there are cases in which Orthodox neighborhoods with affordable housing and very solid “Torah amenities” exist not too far from people’s places of work, yet people instead opt to live in extremely distant locales, commuting three or four hours round-trip each day to and from work. This obviously cuts deeply into available time for regular learning – not to mention time with family and so much else. These geographic considerations are a huge factor in the life of a ben yeshiva who transitions to the life of a baal habayis.

I conclude with a very delicate issue – one that is often the elephant in the room – and I broach it with great anxiety. It is an issue that cannot be ignored, and whatever the answer is, I respectfully submit that it needs to be forthcoming. Here we go:

In many (certainly not all) traditional-style yeshiva circles, young men who are in yeshiva are systematically denied access to any training or education that is necessary for most careers, even though it is expected and known that the majority or a sizeable plurality of these young men will leave the full-time yeshiva setting for the secular workforce. We can spend from today until eternity discussing how to make this transition smooth, but the most glaring obstacle here, staring us in the face, is how someone in his mid-20s, with no secular career education or training, is to now start looking for a job that can support a wife and a growing family. Such a person cannot now start college, he is not eligible for admission to graduate school (absent a BTL (Bachelor of Talmudic Law) and law school – and even then, who will support him and his family for three more years?), and hence 90% of the available employment for such a person is menial work that cannot really support a frum family. I most respectfully ask the aforementioned yeshiva establishment if placing its talmidim on such a trajectory is desirable? A prospective life of unemployment and/or wages that cannot come close to sustaining a family and paying the bills, concomitant with the potential emotional toll of frustration and despair, are not things that one would expect the Orthodox community to invite upon its youth. I ask whether consideration for some type of educational training that can lead to respectable and remunerative employment needs to be made. While several yeshivos in the traditional yeshiva world make room for their talmidim, after a year or more of full-time learning, to take a limited college load two evenings a week, many yeshivos do not, and I fear that this latter policy will eventually backfire and lead to a churban. I therefore respectfully suggest that the policy be revisited.

With siyata di’shmaya and forethought, the ben yeshiva can continue his yeshiva learning trek throughout his career as a baal habayis. Sometimes, thinking out of the box is exactly what is needed in order to be able to remain in the box.

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10 Responses

  1. joe cohen says:

    “Such a person cannot now start college, he is not eligible for admission to graduate school (absent a BTL (Bachelor of Talmudic Law) and law school”

    A brief comment on this: I myself (a former Kollel Yungerman for almost 10 years) as well as numerous others I know, were able to get a Masters degree in Accounting, Social Work, or several other fields using a Yeshiva degree, and subsequently obtaining quality employment. A degree in my case took under 18 months, with classes at nights and Sundays, which allowed time to get entry level job experience before completing my degree.

  2. dr. bill says:

    I agree that learning b’iyun would make the transition easier. However, the obligation to know kol haTorah kulah, appears to me to be a more fundamental (halakhic) need. Perhaps, during the kollel period, some significant time would already be so dedicated. This is not as daunting as it might appear. The combination of sedarim in Kehati Mishnayot and the Aruch Hashulchan, gets you a long way to the goal. A weekly iyun shiur, as oneg Shabbat perhaps.

  3. joel rich says:

    It’s only an elephant to those who choose to be ostriches.

    If one subscribes to the philosophy attributed to R’ Dessler (1 gadol hador is worth 1000 who try to be one and don’t make the cut), there is no problem. When C-C asks for topics for KP, a number want women’s issues, indicating the paradigm of your avodah is taking care of kids and husband is also being viewed as problematic.


  4. Dr. E says:

    Rabbi Gordimer:

    Your elephant in the room remains very much at the core of the challenge to transition into “Baalabus-hood”. While you call for a change in “policy” towards secular studies, it’s that simple. The current posture is that of marginalizing Secular Studies and even thinking of “Limudei Chol” as a necessary evil. Others overrate the abilities of talmidim to catch up and even surpass the rest of the world for a good job when it’s time to leave the Yeshiva. The reasons why this is quite prevalent are based on desired image, identity, and the need for validation as a Yeshiva. In fact, recently some have taken this to an extreme, as an actual competitive advantage to attract whom they perceive as the best and the brightest. So, the inertia based on that business model will be impossible to counter.

    The solution will ultimately lie in not waiting for existing mosdos to change, but the founding of a new (type of) school that will be a model of balance of Limudei Kodesh and Secular Studies. As to the Secular Studies, it will take someone with courage to establish a significant up-to-date curriculum in a non-defensive and unapologetic way. This has to be l’maaseh, and not merely lip-service to pander to parents who feel that is important. On the Limudei Kodesh side, the curriculum would need to be a top-notch one, with talented and committed Rabbeim. But it cannot fall into the popular style-over-substance trap. Furthermore, the leadership of such an institution would have to be intellectually honest and know for the average HS age kid that the prevalent number of hours dedicated to core and extended Limudei Kodesh has counterproductive returns (even beyond detracting from available time dedicated to Secular Studies). And even for the above-average “illui”, that he might be better off long-term with a balanced chinuch with the tools to be able to make conscious employment decisions several years later.

    The question is who will be the Nachshon ben Aminadav here.

  5. tzippi says:

    About the elephant in the room: Perhaps the chaval is you are only asking the yeshiva establishment. What about the parents? When did parents stop being partners with their children’s rebbeiim? Why does it stop?
    Perhaps, if you have to ask the yeshiva establishment something it should be how do we start a revolution (though this is much more reactionary than revolutionary, to be precise) of chanoch l’naar al pi darko?

  6. Eli Blum says:

    Rabbi Gordimer:

    The real problem is that the question should not be a question at all. For 90% to 95% of all bochrim, their ultimate tachlis will be to build a bayis neeman and continue the mesorah to their children. The few years they may spend in Kollel or in Bais Medrash after high school are only a hechsher to prepare them for those future years. It is usually well known which bochrim have a possible future in learning (and will be Oved Hashem in that direction), and for whom (Ruba D’Ruba) their Avodas Hashem lies elsewhere.

    If only the “Roshei Yeshiva” were willing to admit that. Instead, they take the R’ Dessler tact (as others pointed out) and are perfectly willing to throw bochrim to the wolves (or the bear) of the outside world with no preparation simply because the the bochur/kollel man wishes to be a responsible Oved Hashem? We can talk about it ad nauseam, but until there are consequences to those who are unwilling to face the reality that they are ruining people’s lives, nothing will change.

  7. DF says:

    Your suggestion [which could have been written in the space of one paragraph] is based on your belief that a balleboss wants to feel as though he were still in yeshivah. I’m sure that’s true for some people. But other people have grown beyond that stage. Their desire is to advance in actual learning and knowledge. My recommendation for such people is that they cultivate the ability to study on their own. No one ever became a scholar without spending the majority of time learning on his own. The most learned rabbis of every stripe spend most of their time studying on their own. Unfortunately, the concept of “chavrusa” is so stressed in yeshivah, that few people are able to spend time on their own studying. That is the biggest obstacle to covering ground, and lingering on the subjects that interest you.

    And I’m not sure what you mean by suggesting they learn “b’iyun”. I presume you mean that in the way its understood in the yeshivas you presume ballebattim yearn to be part of. So let’s say a man has only fifteen minutes to learn. What exactly are you recommending – he open a Ktzos? Or he offer speculative svaros based on the page in front of him, without bothering to check the parallels?

    Learning “b’iyun” in yeshivah means covering about 20 pages over a span of four months, learning nearly four hours a day in first seder. [Obviously that can vary, but it will do for an average.] You call that learning? And that’s what you want a balleboss to aspire to, in his limited time? If he had as much as an hour a day, he would be learning – as it were – one medium sized masechta every five years.

    The problem here is getting to the heart of what it means “to learn.” That’s a bugaboo a lot of people have tried to grapple with over the centuries. But until our time, its only been relevant for a very narrow slice of Jewry. But under the “learning is for everyone” paradigm we have moved into, it has taken on greater importance.

  8. Joe Socher says:

    I’m not quite sure what the chiddush is here: If a Baal HaBayis-Ben Torah wants to learn “be-iyun” then of course he should do so. There is no reason why he should abandon his intellect on leaving yeshiva.

    But I would dispute the premise of the article which seems to imply that the “real learning” that one does in life is during the years in yeshiva. On the contrary, leaving yeshiva should be viewed as a new phase in a person’s growth in learning.

    In many cases on leaving yeshiva and entering the working world a ben torah will find that he has a new perspective that he may not have had previously. Furthermore (and relatedly) it may bring a liberation from learning in exactly the same derech/mindset of his peers.

    This may manifest itself in different ways – e.g.: greater focus on connecting the learning to practical psak, ability to focus on topics of direct interest to learner, freedom to explore different genres or more obscure texts.

    I’m reminded of something that R. Rakeffet says often about smicha: smicha is a license to start learning. Whether one gets smicha prior to leaving yeshiva or not, the idea applies, in my opinion.

  9. SA says:

    So maybe that has to be yeshiva world’s next attitudinal transition: Inculcating into young people that life upon leaving the yeshiva isn’t a separate, inferior phase of a person’s development, totally divorced from the kollel experience, but simply the next stage, where one gets to put into practice much of what one has learned. Taken that way, general/vocational studies can be considered far less threatening or “bitul zman”; such studies are simply one of the tools needed to optimize the results of that next stage.

    Moreover, as I’ve noted elsewhere, we should also recall that our generation, one that has been blessed with longer lives, may indeed have time later in life, when our children are grown, to return to a more learning-based focus. It can be something for the true Ben Torah Ba’al Habayis to look forward to.

  10. Big Maybe says:

    In my experience, the trouble with the small B’Iyun seder is that it cannot compare to the Kolel Iyun seder. You cannot find clarity in a sugya while learning “piski piski” or to use another colloquialism, you need to be “ligging in learning”. You need sustained, four-hour daily blocks of focus and concentration, you need a wide breadth of source material review, and occasional “pilpul chaverim”, none of which are doable in a daily 30-minute shiur. By the time you get to Tosfos, you’ve forgotten the Rashi. You’ll need to accept a watery understanding of the subject and that won’t put any Kolel departee worth his salt at ease.

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