More Thoughts on the Situation in Beit Shemesh

by Rabbi Aryah Ben David,

The way we learn Torah affects the way we relate to people.

I studied for many years as an adult in several very observant yeshivot in Israel. The yeshiva where I received my Rabbinic Ordination hosted many prominent Rabbis, including a former Rabbi of a large city in Israel, numerous poskim (halakhic deciders) and writers in Encyclopedia Judaica. I began learning with my chevruta (study partner) at 4:30 in the morning, braving many freezing cold hours in the unheated Beit Midrash. I was the gabbai (organizer) of the early morning minyan, and a central figure in the yeshiva for four full years.

I offer this background not to extol my role, but to note that I played a very central and conspicuous part in the yeshiva.

That being said, it is quite mind-boggling now for me to look back and realize that in the countless hours during those four years not once did a single Rabbi approach me and ask, “Aryeh, how are you doing?” I repeat – Not Once.

Innumerable times I was asked, “Aryeh, did you understand the Gemara? Did you crack the Tosephot? Aryeh, what new idea can you say today?”

But not once was I asked how I was doing.

“I”, as a Jew and a human being, was not important. The only thing that was significant was the Torah learning I was engaged in.

I think this attitude led to my valuing myself only insofar as I could master the Talmud and other books. This led to a total disconnect between myself and my learning. I replicated this modeling with my chevruta, Ariel. What did I care how Ariel was doing? I never talked with him about his life.

My wife Sandra once asked me while I was studying with Ariel, “How is he doing? They’ve got three little kids, is he sleeping, is he overwhelmed?” I looked at my wife dumbfounded, telling myself “She obviously doesn’t get what Torah learning is about. How should I know how Ariel is?! And what do I care? The only thing Ariel and I care about is – did we crack the Gemara. Caring and talking about each other? That’s equivalent to bitul Torah (wasting of Torah studying time).”

It was pure learning. And purely disconnected from life.

Which is, of course, the opposite of what Torah learning should ultimately be. It should be the greatest connector to life.

Now it is many years later and of course I am embarrassed and ashamed of what I wrote above and much more.

Which leads me to the present furor and crisis visiting Israel these days and thoughts which I am sure many will consider heretical.

It seems to me that men have been directing the condition of Judaism for the last several thousand years. I look around and ask myself, “Is learning which is disconnected from life going to make us a more compassionate and spiritual people? Is this really the way of Torah? Is Torah really just about accumulating more and more information without pausing and reflecting and applying it to life?”

It didn’t cross my mind to connect my learning to my life. My wife Sandra always connects her learning to her life.

Men have always been the ones in power. We know that it is very hard for someone in power to relinquish or even share it. Especially when one’s reputation, prestige, and livelihood depend on keeping the status quo intact.

But maybe the time has come for us men to admit that we have really bollixed up this whole Judaism thing, and give the women a chance to fix it.

Maybe it’s time to reflect on that for a while.

About Froma Fallik z"l

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  1. "Bollixed"? Where's my dictioinary? I commend you for somewhat realizing that many of those you talk about have become so reliant on thinking about life that you've become lost. This conversation is a good and important one, but it is also on a very delicate subject. Please be kind to yourselves as you learn to feel more of the dimensions of "being". No matter how much thinking you do- you are still not actually being. The mind has a part to play in understanding and negotiating this physical realm we find ourselves in, especially when it comes to survival. But after the survival needs are satisfied and one is secure then the spiritual life of being and connecting uses the mind less. Of course this is all my little, silly opinion (and life-learned experience) but I offer you a somewhat different approach, which is one of OPENNESS, which has less and less to do with the mind, and more to do with feeling and experiencing yourself and the manifest universe. Another in-road to "knowing" is paying attention to the QUALITES in yourself, others and life, for it is thru them that you contact the richness of it all. But to do THAT you then have to change how you go about living your day-to-day life, in that you have to slow down, feel, care, and pay attention to the details, and that friends IS WORK. So the real question is then how much do you want to work to stop being automatic and thinking beings and become what we were made to be, that is, whole, conscious, loving, responsible, strong, upright and righteously happy beings made in His image, etc. And this is hard for women too, except men have been a bit piggish about being in charge. Yes, let's hear from the women!

  2. I dunno. I don't think of Torah study as disconnected from life. But sure we get very much into the "thinking" as if it was the answer. Knowing Hashem involves the heart, so why think so much? I agree that women are generally more heart-centered, which is necessary to being a balanced person. And I also agree that men are generally not as sensitive so as to even recognize women or even see themselves. But actually men are deeply sensitive, we've just got off-track. Thank you for waking up to this truth.