Wednesday, June 22, 2005

On Yeshivos and One's Free Time

This is an incident that happened to me a long time ago in Yeshiva. You'd think I'd have gotten over it by now, especially since I'm a fairly easy-going person, but apparently I haven't. Maybe airing it out will do the job.

I went (as I have mentioned on this blog before) to a fairly RW Chareidi school. Back in the 80s, when I went (and probably today, I guess), there were several things that were taboo, for one reason or another. TV, of course, was one. Movies, too. Many secular books as well. And, for some odd reason, baseball cards. And that leads me to the story.

The time was 1986, and I was in high school. High school consisted of a full-day, from the Shacharis minyan at 7:30 in the morning until the Ma'ariv minyan at 9:15. During the day, there was a half-hour for breakfast, an hour for lunch and an hour for dinner (and a fifteen minute break for recess in the morning).

Now, I have always been a big baseball fan. Ever since I was a wee kid, I would always grab the paper in the morning and open it to the sports section to see how my beloved Yankees did the night before.

It was the summer of 1985 that I discovered Strat-O-Matic baseball. For those of you who are unaware, Strat-O-Matic baseball is a game whereby you can play baseball games using the abilities of real-life major leaguers. Each player has a card, and the managers assemble the lineups, roll the dice and consult the cards to determine what happened on that particular play. I played a few games with some friends during the summer and, while I wouldn't say that I was hooked, I certainly came to enjoy the game immensely.

The following spring, the new player cards came out (a new set is released each year based on the players' performances from the previous year). Armed with my new game and no one to play with, I quickly thought up a plan. I gathered up three friends whom I knew were underground baseball fans, such as myself. After explaining the game to them, we quickly set up a league. Each of us would draft a team and play during lunch. We found an unused dorm room and during our next meeting began to draft players.

Well, we were a few rounds into the draft when my legs were getting a little cramped from sitting down. So, I got up and began to walk around the room. I noticed on a shelf a large roll of bookbinder's tape. This wasn't so unusual -- boys were forever re-binding seforim that were worn out from use. However, what *was* unusual was that there was a small red light in the roll. Moving closer to it, I saw that the red light was attached to a tape recorder... we were being taped!

It didn't take very long to figure out who'se tape recorder it was... it was the Rosh Yeshiva's son's. I took the tape out and disbanded our little meeting. (As an aside, it was far easier to figure out to whom the recorder belonged than to figure out which one of my three "friends" betrayed me.)

I was confronted by the RY's son later when he had the nerve to demand the return of his tape. I politely informed him that I was keeping the tape, as he had no right to do as he did. I even told him I'd buy him a new tape (boy, wasn't I a sucker!) but that under no circumstances would I return the tape in question. He blustered, he threatened. He told me that I was a ganav (thief) and that I had no right taking the possessions of innocents (I guess he should have considered himself lucky that I didn't keep the recorder). He threatened to have me expelled.

None of that happened. I doubt he ended up telling his father what happened, as I have little doubt that had he known, I would have heard about it from the RY directly. Maybe he was secretly ashamed at what he did? I doubt it. But who knows?

In the days following, while waiting for the axe to fall, I spent a fair amount of time trying to come up with my defense. My first line of thought was that if there was a rule against possessing baseball cards then I certainly wasn't in violation of it. These weren't baseball cards, they were game cards. Of course, I began to realize that such a defense would fall flat, simply because the RY wouldn't know what a baseball card was. The game had cards, it was about baseball... ergo, they were baseball cards.

This happened almost twenty years ago. I sometimes wonder if things have changed (for the better) in some yeshivos. I don't know if this sort of story is atypical (i.e. I just happened to have a snooty, holier-than-thou, ready-to-stoop-to-any-level RY's son in the same school) or if this sort of thing goes on all the time. I certainly hope not.

The Wolf


Anonymous said...

Wow. I never had anything like that happen to me. But then again, I was a pretty obedient yeshiva kid (and if you believe that...). Throughout my years in yeshiva, there were always people snitching on each other to the authorities. It could have been somthing as harmless as using an iron or reading a newspaper or as forbidden as seeing a movie or smoking a cigarette, but no matter what rules you violated, you had to be on the lookout for those jerks.

Anonymous said...

Het I went to some yeshivos (in bklyn and out of town. Wondering if I know these yeshivos. Are they in the ocean oarkway vacinity? :)

Ben Avuyah said...


I went to a heavy duty yeshiva too, and one day I came back and found my room had been turned upside down. Mattress on the floor, drawers empty.......

Missing ?

One AM/FM radio that I kept under my pillow.

You are not the only one to have lived in a police state, and I sincerely doubt it is any better today.

Anonymous said...

ytc huh.....

Anonymous said...

That's absolutely horrible! And the son actually had the gall to ask you for the return of his tape? That's unbelievable...Nothing like that ever went on in my school- the teachers spy on/ report on the students, but they don't tape you.

Reuven Chaim Klein said...

Today marked the end of a 9-month school term of me staying in my Yeshiva's dormitory, and the closest thing to happen was someone putting up a sign for others to remember to flush the toilet.

BrooklynWolf said...


I'm sorry, apparently I wasn't clear. The RY's son was a *student* not a teacher. He was (and presumably still is) a year younger than me.


Using an iron ??


The Wolf

Orthoprax said...

Jeez. Kids becoming informers. Orwell was not just bluster. You have to love authoritarianism.

They'd have made good Nazis.

Anonymous said...

Thats how they teach kovod habrios and honesty.

Anonymous said...

good nazis'
thats way over the boundary.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

In any social group with a hierarchy there are always suck ups and snitches.

Conservative Apikoris said...

Jeez. Kids becoming informers. Orwell was not just bluster. You have to love authoritarianism.

They'd have made good Nazis.

Oh no, Orthoprax! You've just invoked the evil "N" word that ends all arguments and dfelects all legitimate criticism.

Now, like Senator Durbin, you'll have to grovel in apology.

Even though your point is valid. The line between the Nazis and the rest of us isn't as sharp and clear as some moralistic types would like to think.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't clear, either- what I meant to say is that the teachers are the informers in our school (though there are some tattle-tale kids) but they would never tape us. The kids definitely don't tape us. *shudders*

Anonymous said...

Ive come across back stabbers and snitched throughout my life. ie. grade school, high school, college and of course work. By now you may call me paranoid but I consider myself prudent. I trust NOONE. Even friends have turned on me for their benefit. Those flase plastic smiles. And people in religious garb don't necessarily mean that they are religious, or that they ascribe to a higher set of values. All it means is that they (s)he conforms to a mode of dress necessary to live and interact withi n a specific group.

Anonymous said...

Rachack , even though you go to a yeshiva, you still go to a yeshiva in LA-LA-land. Probably a bit less intense.

Unknown said...

I had my Tom Henke card taken away from me in 10th grade. I was analyzing the card during shiur. I figured out the "code" of the cards and would be able to determine a players' value based on the card rather than his stats. Henke, despite a mediocre ERA had a great card. He was my closer and my team would never be the same.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

When I was in third grade a kid brought some of his dads old cards to school and the rebbe made him rip them up. I remember there was a 1962 Don Drysdale card there. It was probably worth twenty bucks.

Meyer said...

Let me take you back a bit. The year is 1960 and a concerned father who has had doubts about Torav Vodath sends his little boy to Mesivta Beth Shraga one of the first "moisdois" in Monsey. He drops his son off with Rabbi Mendelvich and kisses his little boy goodbye. The Rabbi asks an older boy to show the new kid his room and orient him. Well I was the little boy and the first thing the bochur showed me was where the sex magazines were hidden in the bathroom. so What else is new!

Enigma4U said...

Heshy said:

"And people in religious garb don't necessarily mean that they are religious, or that they ascribe to a higher set of values. All it means is that they (s)he conforms to a mode of dress necessary to live and interact withi n a specific group."

This must be an imposter. The real Heshy would say that there is spirituality in the frum dress code; the dress code, for example, the yarmulkas men wear on their heads, serves to remind us of God's presence and that we are his chosen people. The tzitzis reminds us that God will punish us for cheating on our taxes and that the doubly-delicious kugel on Shabbos keeps us on a spiritual plane with the angels........oops, that's something Lisa would say.

Orthoprax said...

I used the analogy because it is so strong. Most Nazis were _not_ evil. They just didn't care and did what they were told.

Kids who rat on other kids and folks who work at places like the goddamn DMV and other beaurocratic hellholes are exactly the types of people who made Nazi Germany possible. People who can't see past the ends of their noses and take notes from any authority like they're the holy golden plates of Mormonism.

For every soldier who shot bullets there were three others in offices pushing pencils and working the logistics and infrastructure.

Anonymous said...

> Using an iron ??

Yeah. Some of the yeshivas I went to had these crazy strict rules about anything that could possibly be a fire hazard. That meant no irons, no hot plates, no coffe makers, etc. Ironing wasn't actually forbidden, but it had to be done in some designated area. If you did it in your romm, you'd get in big trouble.

Air Time said...

Did you ever figure out which of the three friends betrayed you. That is even more unforgiveable than the Rosh's kid trying to bust you.

Air Time said...

As for baseball cards, in elementary school the teachers used to give them out as prizes. One teacher whose husband worked for the Tigers would take a the top student to a game at the end of the school year.

I have seen plenty of things get confiscated in dorm room raids, but I never heard of anyone having a problem with baseball cards. Only basbeall magazines (or any other magazine) with advertising in them

BrooklynWolf said...

Yeah, I eventually figured it out. I still don't have concrete proof, but I was able to pretty much rule out the other two.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

I hate to tell y'all, but it's like that anywhere you go. I went to a public school my whole life, and we could'nt have anything even remolty fun on school grounds. Comic books, baseball cards, amything was asure. I ived ina dorm forawhile with my school and it was the same way. They opened by backpack and took my candy, comics, magaiznes and even much of my food (which PS I have a medical condiation and I really needed that special food) My point is that this is just what happens is school, wither black hat Yesviah or hippy public school

BrooklynWolf said...


You weren't even allowed to bring games/books whatever to play/read during recess? In high school?!

The Wolf

PsychoToddler said...

WTF is wrong with Baseball cards??? It's not like dirty magazines! These places really need to figure out where to draw the line. I understand TV (way too much znus on TV), and the internet (pr()n), although it's a pain that I can't email my son. But baseball cards?

All work and no play makes wolf a dull boy. Oh wait, no Stephen King either.

Anonymous said...

"When I was in third grade a kid brought some of his dads old cards to school and the rebbe made him rip them up. I remember there was a 1962 Don Drysdale card there. It was probably worth twenty bucks."

I've heard stories like the above more thank once. I understand a teacher of any subject not wanting a kid to bring in items that will distract the student and the class, but what basis in halacha is there for destroying someone else's property?