web analytics
July 4, 2015 / 17 Tammuz, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Birth Of A Leather-Kippah Jew

Front-Page-071312

“Let me be honest with you,” the rosh yeshiva began.

It was not a good sign. I was sitting for a farher, an entrance interview, with the rosh yeshiva of a well-known yeshiva in Jerusalem, and it was about to go very badly.

I was, to be fair, a very unusual applicant. I had just graduated from law school. My classmates and friends were headed off to prestigious clerkships or to seek their fortunes. I had other plans. My secular learning had now outpaced my Torah learning, and it was time, I believed, to catch up.

So I applied to a yeshiva renowned for its commitment and the dedication of its students. I prepared thoroughly and was sure my learning – my scholarship – was up to par.

I hadn’t gotten the look down quite right, I knew. My suit was too blue; my shoes too un-scuffed; my black hat somehow at the wrong angle. But surely, I told myself, these things didn’t matter; my commitment, my dedication and my ability were what mattered most.

The rosh yeshiva was about to disabuse me of my innocence. Time seemed to slow down. I took a deep breath, glanced at the magnificent golden Jerusalem stone outside, and leaned in to hear the unpleasant truth.

“You’ve been to university, no?” the rosh yeshiva said, more statement than question.

“Acutally, law school,” I responded confidently. That couldn’t be a problem.

“Ah, law school,” he nodded back. “Noch besser. We don’t take students here who have gone to university.”

I sat there, stunned. I wasn’t getting in. My ability and my commitment weren’t what mattered after all. I was of the wrong caste. I was unsuitable.

But I had traveled a long way and sacrificed a great deal to be in that room, so I wasn’t going to give up so easily. A note of desperation crept into my voice. I nearly begged: “But I’ll follow all the rules. I’ll keep all the sedarim!”

“No, no, no!” came his excited reply. “That would be worse!”

He grew animated, as earnest in his convictions as I was in mine.

“You see,” he continued, his voice rising, “we teach our students that university is chazer treyf. Chazer treyf! If you kept the sedarim, if you followed the rules, that would just become confusing to our students. I’m sorry, but it’s out of the question; you cannot come to this yeshiva.”

The interview over, I shuffled out of the room, passing by the beis medrash to which I had just been denied entrance. I glanced in and recognized some old friends. That was when the realization really hit me. It was me he was rejecting. My old friends sitting in that beis medrashhad also gone to college.

* * * * *

With hindsight, I was able to decipher what the rosh yeshiva was saying, what it was about me in particular he wouldn’t – couldn’t – allow in. He was telling me I was “modern.” He was telling me that, unlike the other college graduates, when I went to law school I hadn’t just learned a trade – I had also absorbed its values.

The rosh yeshiva was right. In three years of law school I had come to believe that Washington and Lincoln were important men; that the American Revolution and the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement were important events; and that free speech, democracy and tolerance were important ideals. They weren’t Torah, to be sure. But the values of Madison and Jefferson and Hamilton had become my values as well, and those values were “modern.”

The problem was I didn’t want to be “modern.” I had shown up at that yeshiva’s doorstep because I had, in my earlier yeshiva days, developed a great love for the life of the yeshiva. The modern world seemed devoid of spirituality while the world of the yeshiva provided a wonderful spirit, from the simple activities of its daily life to the fiery passion of Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur.

The modern world seemed barren of ethics; the yeshiva provided access to a life of ethical purity. The modern world seemed lacking in intellectual honesty; the yeshiva was committed to the purest, most honest of intellectual activities.

About the Author:


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

2 Responses to “Birth Of A Leather-Kippah Jew”

  1. Ronnie Urfrend says:

    Beautiful!!

  2. Eli Mandel says:

    Takeaway: the yeshiva system makes people feel inadequate and tries to keep itself exclusive that way because it actually doesn't provide a deep enough meaning.

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
UN Human Rights Council
UN HRC Condemns Israel (But Not Hamas) for War Crimes
Latest Indepth Stories
Jelgava Synagogue, Latvia

Latvia, July 4, 1941 they forced many Jews in the shul putting it on fire; everyone was burned alive

United Nations Building, New York City

There’s blood on the reporters’ hands AND New Israel Fund for funding groups feeding lies to the UN

Zuckerman-070315

Respect & appreciation for our country is not only a civic value but an essential Jewish one as well

wedding cake

When words lose meaning, the world becomes an Orwellian dystopia; a veritable Tower of Babel

Israel, like the non-radical Islamic world. will be happy see the ISIS beheaded for once.

Kids shouldn’t have “uninstructed” Internet access, better to train them how to use it responsibly

What if years from now, IS were to control substantial territory? What world havoc would that wreak?

Rambam writes the verse’s double term refers to 2 messiahs: first King David; 2nd the final Mashiach

The Gaza flotilla has been rightfully and legally blocked by Israel’s Navy, with greetings from Bibi

The president described the attack as “an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random, but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress…”

“The only [candidate] that’s going to give real support to Israel is me,” said the 69-year-old Trump.

And whereas at the outset the plan was that Iran would have to surrender most of its centrifuges, it will now be able to retain several thousand.

Now oil independent, US no longer needs its former strategic alliances with Gulf States-or Israel

In addition to the palace’s tremendous size it was home to the “hanging gardens,” which were counted among the seven wonders of the ancient world.

More Articles from Mordecai Bienstock
Front-Page-101813

In recent years an important mitzvah has been largely forgotten by Klal Yisrael. Actually, it is not just a mitzvah that has been lost but an entire Torah value that impacts the very way we understand our world.

Bienstock-101912

Editor’s Note: In our July 13 front-page essay, “Birth of a Leather-Kippah Jew,” Mordecai Bienstock described his personal journey on the path to becoming what he called a “Leather Kippah Jew.” Here he elaborates on that vision.

“Let me be honest with you,” the rosh yeshiva began.

It was not a good sign. I was sitting for a farher, an entrance interview, with the rosh yeshiva of a well-known yeshiva in Jerusalem, and it was about to go very badly.

I was, to be fair, a very unusual applicant. I had just graduated from law school. My classmates and friends were headed off to prestigious clerkships or to seek their fortunes. I had other plans. My secular learning had now outpaced my Torah learning, and it was time, I believed, to catch up.

Once upon a time, there were Orthodox Jews who wore blue hats. Blue hats! Some wore brown, or shades of gray. In the summer, they wore white, or amber hats of straw.

One Jew. One lonely Jew. Our brother. Our sister. Our neighbor. Our friend. Frustrated. Bewildered. Alone.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell which is worse – the vast and growing number of frum singles, or the equally vast and growing number of newspaper articles trying to address the problem. Seriously, though, it’s not even close; our unusual system of shidduch dating inflicts significant damage on some members of our community. That’s why I’m taking the risk of adding this piece to the glut of shidduch-dating articles already on the market.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/birth-of-a-leather-kippah-jew/2012/07/11/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: