Friday, July 22, 2005

On Things I Learned In Yeshiva...And Things I Didn't Learn In Yeshiva

Things I learned in Yeshiva...
And things I didn't learn in Yeshiva...

There was a major Posek in the Middle Ages known as the Rambam. He composed the Mishneh Torah, a major encyclopedial work on Jewish law.
He was highly controversial in his day and was influenced by Aristotlean ideals.

There was a commentary on the Talmud known as the Meiri.
That commentary was lost for hundreds of years and only found long after his death.

That there was a prophet in ancient Israel known as Yeshayahu (Isaiah) who was righteous.
That he preached that substance was more important than form; that what was more important was how your heart felt about the Creator and your relationship with Him rather than how many sacrifices you brought or other external shows of piety.

That there was a book called Iyov that explained why bad things happen to good people.
That the explaination boils down to because "God said so and I know better than you."

That Dovid's soldiers routinely gave their wives divorces before warfare, lest they should be lost in battle and force their wives to remain as agunos.
That there is absolutely no mention of this anywhere in Judaic literature until much, much, much later.

That there are twelve months in the Jewish year, each with their own names.
That the names of the months come from Babylonian dieties.

That the Torah is true and that everything in it is literally true unless hashkafah demands that it be explained differently (such as the anthropomorphical statements about God).
That it is legitimate to state that the Torah sometimes uses metaphor to convey a point and that not every point must be *literally* true.

That Chazal knew science perfectly. The Tana'im and Amoraim could have built airplanes if they wanted to.
That this idea is so totally ridiculous that if you believe it, you're seriously hallucinating. But I didn't have to learn that in Yeshiva. I knew that already.

The Wolf


Anon said...

>That the names of the months come from Babylonian dieties [sic].

I actually learned this in 10th grade (at age 14) in a RW yeshiva. Why? Because the Ramban al HaTorah says so, and we were studying Ramban.

It's pretty difficult to hide. The name Tammuz, the month we're currently in, appears in Ezekiel 8 as the name of a deity.

BrooklynWolf said...

True. But we didn't learn Ezekiel either. :)

The Wolf

tmeishar said...

Don't you know...only weak students learn Navi! ;-)

Mis-nagid said...

I could make a much better list :-P.

Orthoprax said...

Y'know what always bothered me, the fact that before we were sitting down to first learn Navi or Gemara, it was never explained to us what these things were.

What was Navi? In elementary school my understanding of it was basically lesser Torah stories. Holy books, but less holy than Chumash. That's why on my desk I had to stack them that way.

What was Gemara? Rabbis making Halacha. But when was the Gemara written, who wrote it, what else was going in the world at that time - all that I was in the dark on.

Having no conception of where Navi or Talmud fit into the Jewish construct of things or the wider world's left me extremely uninterested until much later.

That's why I always liked science. Science simply was "the way the world works." It's place in the world was eminently obvious and so my interest in it was so much more pronounced.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Excellent post, excellent idea. In fact, I plan on doing my own one (with appropriate nod to you, of course).

Obviously people can quibble about everyone's individual list, as Anon did. This yeshiva did that better and that yeshiva did this better. In my own case we were told about the Maimonidean controversy (or at least that there was one).

momof4 said...

Great post!

Enigma4U said...


Of course you didn't learn Ezekiel because it's a book of psychodelic insanities. Check out Ezekiel 4:12-15, where God commands Ezekiel to bake himself a loaf of bread with human dung. When Ezekiel begs for leniancy, God relents and allows him to replace it with cow dung instead. But eat those loaves of dung Ezekiel must. I don't know about you, but if my kids were learning this kind of s**t (literally) in school, I would have the principal institutionalized.

The Hedyot said...

Great post and a great idea to use for the future. I'm going to work on my own version of it.

queeniesmom said...

great post! what is scary is what are our children going to be hearing and the shadings that are being given as everything is moving right (your post on shidduchim is further proof of this - how will people meet if everything is constantly separate?!)

can someone some where interject some sense into this insanity or are we just going to keep upping the anti on my hat is blacker than yours and my skirt is longer than yours?

given how things are going my husband and i will need to invent some very creative story as to how we met (an ad)so not to ruin our children's chances of marriage.

DarkBlueHat said...

That Chazal knew science perfectly. The Tana'im and Amoraim could have built airplanes if they wanted to.

I once heard a visiting Rav try to make that point to a Modern Orthodox shul. He got attacked with so many questions that I'm sure he never tried it again.

anon said...

Over Shabbos I reviewed the Ramban's commentary on Shemos 12:2, and I realized that while he does say that the names of the months are Persian, that they are a souvenir of the Babylonian exile, and that they occur only in the "Babylonian prophets" and in Megillat Esther, he doesn't say that they are the names of deities ("getshkes," as we would have said in yeshiva). I must have picked up the latter piece of information elsewhere and conflated it with the Ramban.

The lesson I've learned is never to cite a source in a blog comment without looking it up.

Hanan said...


So where WAS it written regarding the soldiers offering divorces to their wives?

BrooklynWolf said...

I can't quote the exact source, because I don't have any seforim with me here; but it is in stated in the attempt to claim that David did not commit adultery with BatSheva. The idea is that she was no longer married because Uriah had given her a divorce before he went to war.

The Wolf

Hanan said...

Then why was he chastised by Nathan the prophet? Is this some more Charedi revisionism?

Hanan said...

Then why was he chastised by Nathan the prophet? Is this some more Charedi revisionism?

BrooklynWolf said...

It's in the Gemara (Shabbos 56a) that Dovid's soldiers gave their wives conditional divorces before leaving for war.

The Wolf

PsychoToddler said...


Science has a history too. You may learn "this is the way the world works," but 200 years ago they were teaching that it worked another way.

All studies should be intellectually honest about their origins. But sometimes you have to take the subject matter separately from it's origin in order to simply learn the concepts.

I'm not saying that's why none of this interesting stuff is taught in Yeshiva. There are probably dogmatic reasons for that. But they may cut to the chase in order to get the concepts across.

EN said...

I don't see what the habaloo is about. I learned all those things in Yeshiva (both the black and red). Do you think they are hypocritical? Why can't both statements be true?

Ben Avuyah said...

You are a smarter man than I am, Wolf, I really strugled painfully with that last one, you know, the chachamim knowing all of science..I knew it couldn't be true, but on the other hand it had to, didn't it? I mean it came from the mouth of the same guy who told me how to do teshuvah on Yom Kippur and what being a Yid was all about.

Orthoprax said...


Yes, science does have history to it. But you really don't need to know the history to get a good understanding of chemistry, however interesting that history may be.

To understand Navi it is rather essential to understand why the hell the Prophets are writing stuff in the first place. They are social commentary and to understand them you need to understand the society.

The way I was taught Navi was like being taught Animal Farm and not being given any outside understanding of it. So we study and memorize the plot and all the mi amar lmis, but the meaning, the meaning is lost.

Orthoprax said...


"Why can't both statements be true?"

Some of them are simply mutually exclusive. Others just show a clear tendency for yeshivahs to make a "sell" than to show kids the real deal. It's not hypocritical, it's just half an education.

Anonymous said...

There was a discussion of the names of the months in mail-jewish a while back - only one or two of the names could be attributed to deities - the rest are not.

Pragmatician said...

What shocked me the most is when learning Chumash and the Rebbe says "mish auf perek so and so" he was actually using a system created by priests.
Yes priests divided the 5 Books of Moses into Chapters. The same as printed in the Chumash used in schools, Yeshivas and Synagogues all over the world.
Of course The Rebbe in school didn’t tell me that.

BrooklynWolf said...

We actually had a rebbe who told us that!

However, what no rebbe has told me (maybe because they didn't know) is that Rashi's script was introduced by a Christian printer named Daniel Bomberg!

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

Wolf this is a pathetic post, as you simply weren't paying attention.

You didn't know hte meiri was found relatively recently? Your own fault.

You never read through yeshaya (didn't even listen to the frequent leining from yeshaya? didn't listen on yom kippur?) your own fault

you didn't read iyov? your fault.

you didnt notice that the mention of get for yotzei lmchilamos beis dovid is a gemara? your own fault

you didnt read the ramban on chumash on hachodesh haze lochem? your own fault

that you never read any work of jewish philosophy that would deal w/ the last two is also your fault.

manuscriptboy said...

The Wolf - Rashi's script was not introduced by any Christian printer, not even Bomberg. It was adapted by Jewish printers in Spain from the semi-cursive script they used in their manuscript. It became known as Rashi script because the first (actually, second) printing of Rashi on the Torah, Reggio di Calabria 1475 by Avraham ben Garton, a Spanish Jew.

Anonymous said...

you didnt notice that the mention of get for yotzei lmchilamos beis dovid is a gemara? your own fault
anon: relax adn unbunch your panties. if you look up a few comments, wolf posted the source of the gemara.