Thursday, October 29, 2009

Yeshiva Growth in the 60s--Not a Recreation of Europe

Back in January of 2008 I put up a posting about the relationship between yeshivas today and the Vietnam War. Frankly, I'd all but forgotten about the posting until someone in a conversation yesterday made the statement that our explosion of yeshivas back in the 60s and 70s was direct proof of our understanding that we needed to be living a frummer life, one based on Torah study for long periods. That we were "going back to our roots" when we extended the learning time for young men.

The statement that sent me scrambling to find the old posting was "B"H, we saw what we needed and we provided it. If we were going to recreate European Jewish life we needed to recreate the yeshiva system that nurtured it and sustained it and was central to it." I'll leave the history of that Jewish Europe to another posting (and the recreation of European Jewish life), but suffice it to say that whole swathes of the frum population were not sitting in yeshiva for years on end, certainly not after marriage. The yeshiva system in place today may carry the names of many of the yeshivas that existed in Europe--and a whole slew that did not--but they are not parallel.


Anonymous said...

Wow. Thanks for the history lesson. I hadn't seen your prior post about the draft and yeshivas. I pray this country never needs a draft again. I'm not so sure clerical students should be excused if g-d forbid there ever is another draft.

Anonymous said...

p.s. - I forgot to mention -- thanks to your husband for serving. Sadly, so many returning soldiers, and the families of those who did not return, were neglected. At least we learned our lesson, and even those opposed to the war in Iraq, respect and care about the soldiers who served there. That did not happen in the Viet Nam era.

Arnie said...

I was there during Vietnam, I served, and you got the yeshiva story right. Lots of people today who'd like to tell you that it was just a coincidence that the yeshiva explosion happened during the height of the draft. Sorry but no coincidence. I'm the only one in my group of friends who served in the Army...all the rest were in yeshiva, or at least sort of in yeshiva. Amazing how they all managed to finish their degrees right on time and be working also at the same time.

Rosh yeshivas are kidding themselves if they think that noone remembers how this all started.

Ruth said...

It should also be mentioned that back in the 60's and 70's the yeshivas had no problem with allowing the boys to go to college. Back then they recognized that a college education was an important tool for making a living, and making a living wasn't looked at like it is today. Mostly these yeshiva is better than being drafted boys were in CUNY and went four nights a week. Very few boys back then who were legitimately going to use smicha for purposes of being a shul rabbi or a rebbi in yeshiva. And the yeshivas weren't dictating that everybody had to sit and learn for extended time periods after they got married.

Anonymous said...

First time I am hearing this theory but it makes sense to me. My grandpa always tells us that the yeshiva situation wasn't like this in Europe. The best boys went to learn and only if a way to support them could be found. Eventually all of the boys had to learn a trade and find work.

Situation seems to have reversed itself here. Everyone has to stay in yeshiva and only the worst boys(not my valuation) are the ones allowed to go out and work.

Lion of Zion said...

the principal of my high school used to say that no one every did more for the study of torah than ho chi minh

JS said...

Excellent, excellent post. Can't believe I missed the Vietnam post earlier this year.

My father was nearly drafted, luckily he had a good number. But, he's told me the yeshiva draft dodging story numerous times. It was an open secret in Brooklyn that somehow became a closed secret.

Another anecdote: my wife's grandfather has smicha from torah v'daas. He got married AFTER he finished smicha. In his wedding album you'll find the following:

1) Roshei yeshiva and rabbeim without hats.
2) Him dancing with his wife.
3) Him kissing his wife.
4) Mixed seating.
5) No mechitza on the dance floor.
6) Elbows and ankles galore.
7) No sheitels. Just hats with hair sticking out.

I think you get the idea.

Kayla said...

I've heard the stories of the draft dodger yeshivas from my dad. His feeling is like yours is, that yeshivas of today owe a whole lot to Vietnam. What amazes him is how a whole lot of people ignore what was the truth and come up with the Europe connection as the cause of how the yeshivas grew the way they did. But people are always rewriting history, the further they get from the actual events of that history. Why should the yeshivas be any different?

Anonymous said...

FWIW, It didn't start in Vietnam, and not everyone who went was simply avoiding responsibility. My father, a yodeah sefer who has never capitalized on his smicha (yet who certainly earned it) shocked me when he informed me that the only reason he didn't finish his BA was because he left YU and returned to Chaim Berlin to avoid Korea.

In his case, however, the war-avoidance was coincidental. There's no question he would've finished smicha at a later date. The only thing the war robbed him of was the opportunity to finish his college degree.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

ProfK: Israel has a similar situation. The yeshiva culture explosion in Israel is directly related to the mandatory IDF draft.

Whenever someone even mentions that perhaps the draft should be abolished, the Chareidi askanaim go ballistic, because they know it would:

1. Drastically lower yeshiva attendance.

2. Entitle people to go to university in Israel...enabling them to...

3. get better jobs, be independent of the askanim/politicians whose whole Raison d'ĂȘtre is to provide funding and funding and funding for Chareidi families.

4. If you don't need the funding any more because you aren't starving in kolel, then voting for Degel/Aguda isn't as important as it used to be.

Lion of Zion said...

you reminded me to post this:

i just went back to read your vietnam post (somehow i had missed it). interesting, but i think this is incorrect:

"Those Jews of European descent certainly had a basis for their worries; in Europe, Jewish boys who were drafted were frequently never heard from again."

these worries didn't prevent 550,000 american jews (50% of elligible draft-age men!) from serving in during WWII. (i forget the numbers, but jews also served in very high number in WWI).

why would a fear of "never [being] heard from again" suddenly pop up re. vietnam when it was never an issue until then?

ProfK said...

It might not have been clear but I was speaking specifically about those Jews who came from Europe post WW II and who were suddenly faced with their children becoming eligible for the draft and going to Vietnam. Their experience of the reality of army service in Europe was still fresh in their minds.