web analytics
April 23, 2014 / 23 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Spa 1.2 Combining Modern Living in Traditional Jerusalem

A unique and prestigious residential project in now being built in Mekor Haim Street in Jerusalem.



Birth Of A Leather-Kippah Jew

Front-Page-071312

Share Button

“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.

Share Button

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.

Leave a comment (Select your commenting platform)

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.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Loading Facebook Comments ...
Loading Disqus Comments ...
Current Top Story
If what happened in Egypt on July 3 was a coup, US aid must be cut off. No one in the White House is using the "c" word.
Egypt Plays US off Russia, Gets Military Aid Back
Latest Indepth Stories
Al-Aksa Mosque was claimed to be the site from which Mohammed ascended to Heaven, but it was built nearly 50 years after Mohammed died.

Jerusalem only seems important in the Islamic world when non-Muslims control or capture the city.

Israeli police enter the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City to disperse stone-throwing Palestinian protesters.

Jordan’s king is adding fuel to the fire on the Temple Mount, blaming Israel for violence by Muslim Arab rioters.

Imam Suhail Webb who boasted his Muslim community persuaded Brandeis President Fred Lawrence to withdraw an invitation to Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

At Brandeis, much of what counts as Western civilization got cold feet and won’t stand with Hirsi Ali.

Text of anti-Semitic flyer distributed to Jews in Donetsk, Ukraine on Passover 2014.

But the lesson from this meditation is that hidden behind the anti-semitic act is the greatest light.

As support of their messianic dream, Halevi and Antepli approve dishonoring Hirsi Ali as a ‘renegade.’

If itis a mitzva to eat matza all Pesach, then why is there no berakha attached to it?

When we are united with unconditional love, no stone will be raised against us by our enemies.

The reporter simply reports the news, but it is greater to be inspired to better the situation.

The Big Bang theory marked the scientific community’s first sense of the universe having a beginning.

Freeing convicted murderers returns the status of Jewish existence to something less than sanctified.

“The bigger they are the harder they fall” describes what God had in mind for Olmert.

We, soldiers of the IDF, who stand guard over the people and the land, fulfill the hopes of the millions of Jewish people across the generations who sought freedom.

How much is the human mind able to grasp of the Divine?

Jews have brought the baggage of the galut (exile) mentality to the modern state of Israel.

The Haggadah is an instruction manual on how to survive as strangers in strange lands.

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.

    Latest Poll

    Now that Kerry's "Peace Talks" are apparently over, are you...?







    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

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: