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Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was ordained at the age of 19. The Chofetz Chaim became a rabbi at 17. Rabbi Yisroel Zev Gustman was the youngest member of the Vilna beth din, becoming a dayan at 21. And in 2010, a fourteen-year-old boy from Netanya, Moshe Raziel Sharify, passed all the exams for the Israeli rabbinate. Previously, he’d won the city’s Bible quiz at the age of 10 and the regional Bible quiz at age 11! In addition to his formal semicha examinations, rabbis across the country had assessed him and were attesting to his erudition and brilliance.

But when word reached the Chief Rabbis, they hesitated. Could a child of 14 be ordained?


The Torah states in Devraim chapter 20, “When you go out to war against your enemies…the officers shall speak to the people saying: Whoever has built a new house and not dedicated it shall go and return home, lest he die in battle and some other man dedicate it. And whoever has planted a vineyard and not redeemed it shall go and return home, lest he die in battle and some other man redeem it. And whoever has betrothed a woman and not married her shall return home, lest he die in battle and some other man marry her.” Daf 44 in Sotah expounds the importance of the sequence of events in this announcement.

The Rabbis taught: “Who built…who planted…who betrothed,” the Torah taught us proper behavior. A person should build a home and plant a vineyard, and only afterwards get married. Similarly, King Solomon said in his wisdom: “Prepare your work outside, and make it fit for yourself in the field, and afterward, build your home.” “Prepare your work outside” refers to a house. “And make it fit for yourself in the field” refers to a vineyard. “And afterward, you shall build your home” means a wife. Alternatively, “Prepare your work outside” refers to the study of Tanach. “And make it fit for yourself in the field” refers to the study of Mishnah. “Afterward, you shall build your home” refers to the study of Gemara. Alternatively: “Prepare your work outside” refers to Tanach and Mishnah. “And make it fit for yourself in the field” refers to Gemara. “Afterward you shall build your home” refers to good deeds. Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Yosei HaGelili says: “Prepare your work outside” refers to Tanach, Mishnah, and Gemara. “And make it fit for yourself in the field” refers to good deeds. “Afterward, you shall build your home” means teach and receive reward.

Rambam (in Hilchos Deios 5:11, see Kesef Mishneh) codifies this sequence as the right way to order one’s life. First, you get a job and buy a house. And then subsequently you get married. In theory, that sounds like a wonderful plan. But in practice, how feasible is it? The average frum person finishes high school at the age of 18. The person then goes off to yeshiva or seminary for a couple of years. Then to university for an undergraduate degree. And most proceed to graduate school to complete professional qualifications. So, if you’re lucky, you might have a job by the time you’re twenty-five.

You then start working. And now you’re juggling any savings with student debt payments! So, if you’re doing okay, you might have enough for a down-payment on your first little apartment by your late twenties. And so, is it only then time to get married?!

Especially given our Western culture, it’s spiritually far healthier to get married in one’s early twenties, as most frum people today do. But then you’re stuck working in the opposite direction of the Torah’s formula! As a community, is there any way we can get back on track?

Our eldest daughter Millie graduated with an MA in Jewish Education at the age of 20. How did that happen? For elementary and high school, she went all the way through Menorah Academy in Edmonton. Early on, she skipped first grade because she was the only girl in the small class of less than a dozen kids.

By the time the class reached high school, they were down to three. And so, we got together with the parents of the other two girls and decided to accelerate the class. They were all bright kids, and so, collectively, we figured: Why should they keep pace with the lowest common denominator in the province, or for that matter, in most of the world? On average, kids take twelve years to finish school, but we knew that our girls were brighter than average.

But then, Millie was still coming home with nothing to do. The teachers told us that they had no issues of discipline to contend with and the kids were whizzing through the material. Hence, no homework. So, we registered her to take a couple of advanced-placement accredited college courses. When she finished high school at 15, we felt she was still too young to go to Israel. So, she began university and later went off to Michlalah Seminary in Jerusalem. She subsequently completed her degree in a combined BA/MA program, and voila, she had her master’s before her 21st birthday!

Let’s return to our general question about the order of a young adult’s life. What if we were to fast-track the entire process much earlier and have more kids finish school at 15 or 16 instead of 17 or 18? We were fortunate to have been able to implement such a framework in Edmonton. But, maybe, it is a model that could be followed elsewhere and made more mainstream?

Would it work for every child in our community? That’s a question for school education experts. But surely, there’s a significant number of kids being slowed down unnecessarily on account of Western cultural norms that may or may not be inviolable. And here’s the kicker: Not only would an accelerated system resolve the conflict presented by the Torah’s prioritization of life – career, home, and marriage – but it would also help alleviate the tuition burden suffered by many in the Jewish community today. Imagine, we could slice a couple of years off each kid’s tuition – in a family of half a dozen, we’re talking savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not to mention the fact that young married couples would already be well on the way to stable careers and home purchases, and, consequently, less of a financial burden on their parents.

It goes without saying that we must continue to learn throughout our lives. The Gemara’s point is that it is easier to sustain such a commitment to learning if our physical and material needs are taken care of. May you maximize your potential on Earth in the limited time you have.



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Rabbi Dr. Daniel Friedman is the founder of The Center for Torah Values. He received his PhD in International Relations from the University of Alberta and advanced rabbinical ordination semicha yadin yadin from Rav Gedalia Dov Schwartz of the Beth Din of America. He served as senior rabbi at Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue in London, a 1200-family prominent institution of Anglo Jewry. He was the inaugural chair of the Holocaust Monument of Canada and was a delegate to the World Holocaust Forum 2020 at Yad Vashem. He is the author of The Transformative Daf book series and his articles have appeared in multiple publications.