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Yeshiva or yeshivah (pronounced /jəˈʃiːvə/; Hebrew: ישיבה, "sitting (n.)" ; pl. yeshivot or yeshivas), or metivta or mesivta (Aramaic: מתיבתא)), also frequently referred to as a Beth midrash, Talmudical Academy, Rabbinical Academy or Rabbinical School, is an institution unique to classical Judaism for study of its traditional, central texts. These comprise Torah study, the study of Rabbinic literature especially the Talmud (Rabbinic Judaism's central work), Responsa for Jewish observance, and alternatively ethical (Mussar) or mystical (Hasidic philosophy) texts. In some institutions, classical Jewish philosophy (Hakira) texts or Kabbalah are studied, or the works of individualistic thinkers (such as Abraham Isaac Kook).
Yeshivot are generally, but not always, associated with Orthodox Judaism.
Yeshivot generally cater to boys or men, although now many Modern Orthodox yeshivot also educate girls. In traditional Orthodox Judaism, such education takes place in separate classrooms with somewhat different curricula. The equivalent women's institution is the Beis Yaakov.
The term yeshiva gedola ("senior/great yeshiva") usually refers to post-high school institutions, and yeshiva ketana ("junior/small yeshiva") can refer to institutions catering to boys of elementary as well as of high school age. The term "yeshiva" is also used sometimes as a generic name for any school that teaches Torah, Mishnah and Talmud, to any age group.
A yeshiva with a framework for independent study and providing stipends for male married students is known as a kollel.
Jewish tradition holds that students should sit while learning from a master. The word yeshiva, meaning "sitting," therefore came to be applied to the activity of learning in class, and hence to a learning "session."
The transference in meaning of the term from the learning session to the institution itself appears to have occurred by the time of the great Talmudic Academies in Babylonia, Sura and Pumbedita, which were known as shte ha-yeshivot, "the two colleges."
See also: Torah study
Traditionally, every town rabbi had the right to maintain a number of full-time or part-time pupils in the town's beth midrash (study hall, usually adjacent to the synagogue). Their cost of living was covered by community taxation. After a number of years, these young people would either take up a vacant rabbinical position elsewhere (after obtaining semicha, rabbinical ordination) or join the workforce.
The Mishnah tractate Megillah mentions the law that a town can only be called a "city" if it supports ten men (batlanim) to make up the required quorum for communal prayers. Likewise, every beth din ("rabbinical court") was attended by a number of pupils up to three times the size of the court (Mishnah, tractate Sanhedrin). These might be indications of the historicity of the classical yeshiva.
As indicated by the Talmud, adults generally took off two months a year (Elul and Adar, the months preceding the harvest, called Yarchay Kalla) to study, the rest of the year they worked.
The Lithuanian yeshivas
Organised Torah study was revolutionised by Rabbi Chaim Volozhin, a disciple of the Vilna Gaon (an influential 18th century leader of Judaism). In his view, the traditional arrangement did not cater for those who were looking for more intensive study.
With the support of his teacher, Rabbi Volozhin gathered a large number of interested students and started a yeshiva in the (now Belarusian) town of Volozhin. Although the Volozhin yeshiva was closed some 60 years later in response to demands by the Russian government, a number of yeshivot opened in other towns and cities, most notably Ponevezh, Mir, Brisk, and Telz. Many prominent contemporary yeshivot in the United States and Israel are continuations of these institutions and often bear the same name.
In the 19th Century, Rabbi Israel Salanter initiated the Mussar movement in non-Hasidic Lithuanian Jewry, that sought to encourage yeshiva students and the wider community to spend regular times devoted to the study of Jewish ethical works. Concerned by the new social and religious changes of the Haskalah (secularising movement), and emerging political ideologies such as Zionism, that often opposed traditional Judaism, the masters of Mussar saw a need to augment Talmudic study with more personal works. These comprised earlier classic Jewish ethical texts, as well as a new literature for the movement. By focusing the student on self-understanding and introspection, often with profound psychological insight, the spiritual aims of Judaism could be internalised. After early opposition, the Lithuanian yeshivah world saw the need for this new component in their curriculum, and set aside times for individual mussar study and mussar talks ("mussar shmues"). A spiritual mentor (Mashgiach Ruchani) encouraged the personal development of each student. To some degree also, this Lithuanian movement arose in response, and as an alternative, to the separate mystical study of the Hasidic Judaism world. Hasidism began previously, in the 18th Century, within traditional Jewish life in the Ukraine, and spread to Hungary, Poland and Russia. As the 19th Century brought upheavals and threats to traditional Judaism, the Mussar teachers saw the benefit of the new spiritual focus in Hasidism, and developed their alternative ethical approach to spirituality.
Some variety developed within Lithuanian yeshivas to methods of studying Talmud and mussar, for example the contrast between breadth (beki'ut) and depth ('iyyun), or the place given to pilpul (the type of casuistic argumentation popular from the 16th to 18th centuries). The new analytical approach of the Brisker method, developed by Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk, has become widely popular, though there are other approaches such as those of Mir and Telz. In mussar different schools developed, such as Slabodka and Novhardok, though today a decline in devoted spiritual self-development from its earlier intensity has to some extent levelled out the differences.
With the success of the yeshiva institution in Lithuanian Jewry, the Hasidic world developed their own yeshivas, in their areas of Eastern Europe. These comprised the traditional Jewish focus on Talmudic literature that is central to Rabbinic Judaism, augmented by study of Hasidic philosophy (Hasidus). Examples of these Hasidic yeshivas are the Chabad Lubavitch yeshiva system of Tomchei Temimim, founded by Sholom Dovber Schneersohn in Russia in 1897, and the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva established in Poland in 1930 by Meir Shapiro, who is renowned across Hasidic and Lithuanian Judaism for initiating the Daf Yomi daily study cycle of Talmud.
Across Hasidism are various schools and approaches, that have reflected the different teachings of their leadership, as well as varying historical factors. In many Hasidic yeshivas study of Hasidic texts is a secondary activity, similar to the additional mussar curriculum in Lithuanian yeshivas. These paths see Hasidus as a means to the end purpose of inspiring emotional dveikus and mystical enthusiasm. In this context, the personal pilgrimage of a Hasid to their Rebbe is a central feature of spiritual life, in order to awaken spiritual fervour. Often, such paths will reserve the Sabbath in the yeshiva for the sweeter teachings of the classic texts of Hasidism. In contrast, Habad and Breslav, in their different ways, place daily study of their dynasties' Hasidic texts in central importance. Illustrative of this is Sholom Dovber Schneersohn's wish in establishing the Habad yeshiva system, that the students should spend a part of the daily curriculum learning Habad Hasidic texts "with pilpul". Pilpul is the in-depth analytical investigation of a topic, traditionally reserved for the profound nuances of Talmudic study. The idea to learn Hasidic mystical texts with similar logical profundity, derives from the unique approach in the works of the Rebbes of Habad, initiated by its founder Schneur Zalman of Liadi, to systematically investigate and articulate the "Torah of the Baal Shem Tov" in intellectual forms. Further illustrative of this is the differentiation in Habad thought (such as the "Tract on Ecstacy" by Dovber Schneuri) between general Hasidism's emphasis on emotional enthusiasm and the Habad ideal of intellectually reserved ecstacy. In Breslav, by contrast, the daily study of works from the imaginative, creative radicalism of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov awakens the necessary soulfulness with which to approach other Jewish study and observance.
Although the yeshiva as an institution is in some ways a continuation of the Talmudic Academies in Babylonia, large scale educational institutions of this kind were not characteristic of the North African and Middle Eastern Sephardi Jewish world in pre-modern times: education typically took place in a more informal setting in the synagogue or in the entourage of a famous rabbi. In medieval Spain and immediately following the expulsion in 1492 there were some schools which combined Jewish studies with sciences such as logic and astronomy, similar to the contemporary Islamic madrasas. In nineteenth-century Jerusalem a college was typically an endowment for supporting ten adult scholars rather than an educational institution in the modern sense; towards the end of the century a school for orphans was founded providing for some rabbinic studies. Early educational institutions on the European model were Beth Zilkha founded in 1870s Iraq and Porat Yosef Yeshiva founded in Jerusalem in 1914. Also notable is the Bet El yeshiva founded in 1737 in Jerusalem for advanced Kabbalistic studies. Later Sephardic yeshivot are usually on the model either of Porat Yosef or of the Ashkenazi institutions.
The Sephardic world has traditionally placed the study of esoteric Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah) in a more mainsteam position that in the European Ashkenazi world. This difference of emphasis arose in reaction to the historical events of the Sabbatean heresy in the 17th Century, that suppressed widespead study of Kabbalah in Europe in favour of the strength of Rabbinic Talmudic study. In Eastern European Lithuanian life, Kabbalah was reserved for an intellectual elite, while the mystical revival of Hasidism articulated Kabbalistic theology through Hasidic thought. These factors did not affect the Sephardi Jewish world, which retained a wider connection to Kabbalah in its traditionally observant communities. With the establishment of Sephardi yeshivas in Israel, after the immigration of the Arabic Jewish communities there, some Sephardi yeshivas incorporated study of more accessible Kabbalistic texts into their curriculum. Nonetheless, the European prescriptions to reserve advanced Kabbalistic study to mature and elite students also influence the choice of texts in such yeshivas.
Types of yeshivot
There are a few types of yeshivot:
- Yeshiva ketana ("junior yeshiva") - Many yeshivot ketanot in Israel and some in the Diaspora do not have a secular course of studies and all students learn Judaic Torah studies full-time.
- Yeshiva High School - Also called Mesivta or Mechina or Yeshiva Gedolah, combines the intensive Jewish religious education with a secular high school education. The dual curriculum was pioneered by the Manhattan Talmudical Academy of Yeshiva University (now known as Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy) in 1916.
- Mechina - For Israeli high-school graduates who wish to study for one year before entering the army.
- Beth Medrash - For high school graduates, and is attended from one year to many years, dependent on the career plans and affiliation of the student.
- Yeshivat Hesder - Yeshiva that has an arrangement with the Israeli Defense Forces by which the students enlist together in the same unit and, as much as is possible serve in the same unit in the army. Over a period of about 5 years there will be a period of service starting in the second year of about 16 months. There are different variations. The rest of the time will be spent in compulsory study in the yeshiva.
- Kollel - Yeshiva for married adults. The kollel idea, though having its intellectual roots traced to the Torah, is a relatively modern innovation of 19th century Europe. Often, a kollel will be in the same location as the yeshiva.
- Baal teshuva yeshivot catering to the needs of the newly-Orthodox. The best-known are Ohr Somayach, Aish HaTorah, and Hadar Hatorah.
Traditionally, religious girls' schools are not called "yeshiva." The Beis Yaakov system was started in 1918 under the guidance of Sarah Schenirer. This system provided girls with a Torah education, using a curriculum that skewed more toward practical halakha and the study of Tanakh, rather than Talmud. Beis Yaakovs are strictly Haredi schools. Non-Haredi girls' schools' curricula often includes the study of Mishna and sometimes Talmud. They are also sometimes called "yeshiva" (e.g., Prospect Park Yeshiva). Post-high schools for women are generally called "seminary" or "midrasha".
Conservative Jewish Yeshivas and Kollels
There are a number of yeshivas and kollels run by the Conservative movement in Judaism. In addition there exist a number of non-denominational yeshivas and kollels. These are not affiliated with the Conservative movement, as formally defined, but rather fit within the more generally defined category of Conservative Judaism.
In all of these institutions both women and men are enrolled as equal students, study within the same classrooms, and follow the same curriculum. Students may study part-time, as in a kollel, or full-time, and they may study lishmah (for the sake of studying itself) or towards earning semichah, rabbinic ordination.
These institutions offers a synthesis of traditional and critical methods, allowing Jewish texts and tradition to encounter social change and modern scholarship. The curriculum focuses on classical Jewish subjects, including Talmud, Tanakh, Midrash, Halacha, and Philosophy. Learning is conducted in the traditional yeshiva method (chevruta and shiur) with an openness to modern scholarship.
Yeshivas and kollels formally associated with the Conservative Jewish movement include:
- The Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, Los Angeles, California, USA
- The Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York, USA
- The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, Israel
- The Jewish Theological Seminary of Budapest, Hungary
- The Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano, Buenos Aires, Argentina
- The Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, Israel
Non-denomination yeshivas and kollels include:
- The Academy for Jewish Religion, California (AJR-CA), USA
- The Academy for Jewish Religion, Riverdale, New York
- The American Seminary for Contemporary Judaism, New York, USA
- The Rabbinical School of Hebrew College, Newton Centre, Massachusetts, USA
In most yeshivot, the year is divided into three periods (terms) called zmanim. Elul zman starts from the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul and extends until the end of Yom Kippur. This is the shortest (approx. six weeks), but most intense semester as it comes before the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Summer semester starts after Passover and lasts until either the middle of the month of Tammuz or Tisha B'Av, a duration of about three months.
The following is a typical daily schedule for Beit Midrash students in mainsteam Lithuanian yeshivas:
- 7:00 a.m. - Optional seder (study session)
- 7:30 a.m. - Morning prayers
- 8:30 a.m. - Session on study of Jewish law
- 9:00 a.m. - Breakfast
- 9:30 a.m. - Morning Talmud study (first seder)
- 12:30 p.m. - Shiur (lecture) - advanced students sometimes dispense with this lecture
- 1:30 p.m. - Lunch
- 2:45 p.m. - Mincha - afternoon prayers
- 3:00 p.m. - Mussar seder - Jewish ethics
- 3:30 p.m. - Talmud study (second seder)
- 7:00 p.m. - Dinner
- 8:00 p.m. - Night seder - Review of lecture, or study of choice.
- 9:25 p.m. - Mussar seder - Jewish Ethics
- 9:45 p.m. - Maariv - Evening prayers
- 10:00 p.m. - Optional evening seder
This schedule is generally maintained Sunday through Thursday. On Thursday nights there may be an extra long night seder, known as mishmar sometimes lasting beyond 1:00 am, and in some yeshivot even until the following sunrise. On Fridays there is usually at least one seder in the morning, with unstructured learning schedules for the afternoon. Saturdays have a special Shabbat schedule which includes some sedarim but usually no shiur.
Method of study
Studying is usually done together with a study-partner called a chavrusa (Aramaic: "friend"), or in a Shiur (lecture). The chavrusa is one of the unique features of the yeshiva. The partners actively and intensely study the nuances of Talmudic text.
In the typical yeshiva, the main emphasis is on Talmud study and analysis. Generally, two parallel Talmud streams are covered during a zman (trimester). The first is study in-depth (iyyun), often confined to selected legally-focused tractates, with an emphasis on analytical skills and close reference to the classical commentators; the second seeks to cover ground more speedily, to build general knowledge (beki'ut) of the Talmud; see the Talmud in modern-day Judaism.
Works generally studied to clarify the Talmudic text are the commentary by Rashi and the analyses of the Tosafists. Various other mefarshim (commentators) are used as well.
Generally, a period is devoted to the study of practical halacha (Jewish law). The text most commonly studied in Ashkenazic Yeshivot is the Mishnah Berurah written by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan. The Mishnah Berurah is a compilation of halachic opinions rendered after the time of the writing of the Shulchan Aruch. In Sephardic Yeshivot the Shulchan Aruch itself would likely be studied.
Ethics, mysticism and philosophy
The preeminent mussar (ethical) text studied in yeshivot is the Mesillat Yesharim ("Path [of the] Just") by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. Other works studied include:
- Orchot Tzaddikim ("Paths [of the] Righteous") Its authorship and time of writing is uncertain, but as it quotes Maimonides, it was written some time after his works were disseminated.
- Chovot ha-Levavot, by Bahya ibn Paquda.
- Ma'alot ha-Middot ("Benefit [of good character] traits")
- Mishnat R' Aharon Mussar Lectures on many topics by Rabbi Aharon Kotler.
- Mikhtav me-Eliyahu, the works of Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler.
Hasidic yeshivot study the mystical, spiritual works of Hasidic philosophy (Chassidus). This draws on the earlier esoteric theology of Kabbalah, but articulates it in terms of inner psychological awareness and personal analogies. This makes Jewish mysticism accessible and tangible, so that it inspires emotional dveikus (cleaving to God) and spiritual contribution to daily Jewish life. This serves some similar purposes to mussar, but through different means and with different contributions to intellectual and emotional life. Chabad yeshivot, for example, study the Tanya, the Likutei Torah, and the voluminous works of the Rebbes of Chabad for an hour and a half each morning, before prayers, and an hour and a half in the evening. Many Yeshivot in Israel belonging to the Religious Zionism study the writings of Rav Kook, who articulated a unique personal blend of mysticism, creative exegesis and philosophy.
Torah and Bible study
Intensive study of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy with the commentary of Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaqi 1040 - 1105) is stressed and taught in all elementary grades, often with Yiddish translations and more notes in Haredi yeshivas.
The teaching of Tanakh, Hebrew Bible, is usually only done on the high school level, and then only for short periods of time. Many Orthodox yeshivas have no extensive or formal teaching of the Bible except for the Torah. Students are supposed to read the Weekly Torah portion by themselves (known as the obligation of Shnayim mikra ve-echad targum, "Hebrew Bible twice and Aramaic Targum once"). The in depth teaching of Nevi'im and Ketuvim is not encouraged but students may study them on their own. Exceptions are the five Megilloth and Tehillim which are read.
The reasons that most yeshivot do not offer or encourage a course of study in Bible are not clear and controversial. The yeshivot contend that they are Talmudical colleges and thus concentrate on the Talmud, but they do also teach Jewish law, customs and ethics. Historically, intensive Bible study was something of a speciality of the Sephardim, though some Ashkenazi authorities such as the Vilna Gaon have also written major commentaries.
College and college credits
Haredi Yeshivish (slang)
"Yeshivish" is a word derived from "yeshiva" usually refers to Haredi non-Hasidic Jews, and is similar in meaning to "misnagdim". Such Jews may be identified by their dress, outlook, and other aspects.
Used in another context, yeshivish can sometimes refers to the culture and mode of speech which has grown out of the American Orthodox Jewish yeshiva system. Used as an adjective, there are several connotations: (i.e.) certain cultural and other quasi-halachic norms of the "Olam Hayeshivot" (yeshiva world) — e.g., wearing a black hat, jacket, and white shirt for davening.
- "Session," in fact, similarly derives from the Latin sedere, "to sit."
- Daniel Elazar, Can Sephardic Judaism be reconstructed?
- e.g. http://www.nationalponsi.org/ccr/Listings/yeshiva_shaarei_torah_home.htm
- e.g. http://view.fdu.edu/default.aspx?id=6589 for Farleigh Dickinson University
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