Thursday, September 7, 2023

Yeshiva is an artificial institution - Rav Hutner

This is part of Rav Hutner's talk on why the yeshiva system was instituted. It is the last chapter in the Pachad Yitzhok for Shavuos. Basic idea is that the yeshiva system is comparable to the use of incubators. It works but is a not ideal - the true Torah system is for the father to teach his son.

Significance of having a yeshiva system [Part of last chapter in Pachad Yitzchok – Shavuos] 

In order to properly understand the Daas Torah concerning the unique characteristic of contemporary teachers, we must correct a deeply entrenched error concerning how the Jewish system of teaching originated. The undisputed fact is that the teaching system was initiated by the Tanna - Yehoshua ben Gamla. The gemora (Bava Basra 21a) says, "The name of that man should be remembered for the good - and Yehoshua ben Gamla was his name - that if it hadn't been for him - the Torah would have been forgotten from the Jews. Originally all those who had a father - his father would teach him Torah. He that did not have a father would not learn Torah... Then Yehoshua ben Gamla came and decreed that an educational system of teachers of children should be established." 

It is a standard refrain amongst those who write the history of Jewish education, that they take great pride in the fact that Jews were so progressive and had established their mandatory educational system already in ancient times. Let me state clearly and unambiguously that this whole idea is the opposite of the truth. Those who express this mistaken notion indicate that they have absolutely no understanding of the difference between Jews and non-Jews. 

Let's learn through this piece of gemora. The Gemora states that if it hadn't been for the decree of Yehoshua ben Gamla then, "The Torah would have been forgotten from Yisroel." This is an astounding assertion. From the Revelation at Sinai until the time of Yehoshua ben Gamla was a very large amount of time. And in all that time, the accepted view was, "Whoever had a father would be taught by him, while those who didn't have a father would not learn Torah." Nevertheless, in all those years there was never a danger that Torah should be forgotten from Yisroel. So therefore if there had never been such a problem, why should Yehoshua ben Gamla be praised so strongly in the gemora - that without his decree of establishing an educational system the Torah would have been forgotten from Yisroel? 

You have to know that in all the generations which were governed by the principle, "Whoever had a father he would teach him Torah" - this practice was built on the axiom that one must obtain Torah where one obtained life itself. And since he had obtained his life from his father he must of necessity obtain Torah from him. Let me explain this with an analogy. Let's say that we suddenly found ourselves in a particular country where we discovered that there was decree that all new born babies must be placed in an incubator. Of course we would immediately deduce that something must be wrong with the mothers in the whole country. 

This is exactly what the gemora is telling us when it says that until the time of Yehoshua ben Gamla, "Those who had a father - he would teach him Torah." A profession is definitely a blessing in life. However life itself can never be a profession. And Torah is identical with life itself. Just as one generation cannot give over life to the next generation through professionals, so is it impossible that one generation give the next generation Torah through professionals. Just like a mother must carry her children biologically, so must the fathers carry their children spiritually. The nature of an embryo is that it eats that which his mother eats and he drinks what his mother drinks. The best incubator is never anything more than a substitute. Consequently if the nature of chinuch is that no substitutes are utilized then one must have the condition that, "One who has a father - he will be taught Torah and one who doesn't will not learn Torah." 

However the existential reality is that the Jew and Torah form an identity. So just as it was Divinely decreed on Jews that they had to be subject to various types of degradation, so it was decreed on Torah itself to descend through various types degradations. And thus there came a time when there was a degradation in the nature of the father's house. The father's house lost is fundamental ability to provide a chinuch with genuine vitality. [When we say "lost" we only mean relatively. A millionaire can lose a lot of money and still remain a rich man.] When this degradation happened then Yehoshua ben Gamla came and created the educational system with teachers. In other words, he replaced the dynamic of education in the father house with the dynamic of education in schools. 

This is the true understanding of the circumstances of, "One who had a father he would teach him Torah, while one who didn't have a father would not learn Torah." And when this was the reality of the world - there was absolutely no danger that Torah would be forgotten. In fact the opposite of common understanding is true. This is truly the healthiest circumstance for Torah and Mesora for Jews, and even if a boy was orphaned in this environment of "One who had a father he would teach him Torah". In such a climate you will find no concern raised about Torah being forgotten. Yehoshua ben Gamla deserved praise in the gemora because he had anticipated the coming degradation and therefore had created the educational system before it was too late. 

Therefore when someone writes the history of Jewish education and boasts with pride that Jews had already had mandatory education in ancient times - we need reject this boasting with ridicule and the derogatory laughter reserved for idolatry. That which is being claimed as a point of pride for us should be viewed as the greatest shame and embarrassment - even if the age of mandatory education is old. However it is unquestionably true that for the goyim the institution of mandatory education constitutes progress and a movement to the ideal of "education." In contrast for Jews, however, it is merely an "adjustment." So if people sing our praises with how ancient our mandatory education is, then we need to reply that they don't even begin to understand the difference between Jews and non-Jews. 

However it is important to understand that when the Sanhedrin institutes a decree for all the subsequent generations until the end of days - the decree itself gives the Jewish people all the powers which are needed in order fulfill the decree properly. Therefore when a decree is made to transfer the chinuch from the father's house to the schools, the decree itself gives the power that through the teaching of Torah that a teacher acquires the various skills needed for the good of the student. Therefore a proper Jewish teacher never falls into the mentality of being a "professional." That is because deep inside his soul he realizes that he is only a "stand in." The teacher is merely substituting for the father. 

It is important to know that the many sources that say that the Mesora (tradition) of Torah is specifically from father to son - are in fact describing only an aspect of the Giving of the Torah. That is because the Torah itself speaks about the Giving of the Torah in two different ways. One aspect is that the Torah was given to 600,000 recipients. The verse concerning this says, "And you shall teach the Torah to your children to speak regarding it when they dwell in your house ... " and "You shall make the Torah known to your children and grandchildren - as the day which you stood before the L-rd Your G-d at Choreb." All the sources which are connected to, "He who has a father - he should teach his son", are only concerned with this aspect of the Giving of Torah."

However the second aspect of the Giving of the Torah is explicitly described in the Torah as not being a transmission from father to son. Rather it is addressed equally to the fathers, sons and grandsons. This is the Torah verse which states, "Those who are in fact standing with us today before the L-rd our G-d and those who are not here with us today." 

We typically describe the second aspect of the Giving of the Torah mentioned in the verse, "Those who are here today ... and those who are not here" as describing the Giving of the Torah to neshamos (souls). That is because our Sages stated that this verse teaches that all the souls were there at Sinai. And since it is referred to as the Giving of the Torah to souls, people think it has nothing at all to do with our world. This is simply not true. That is because if it weren't for the second aspect of the Giving of the Torah, and it was exclusively the transmission from father to son - then if there was break in the transmission for one generation there would be a break in the chain. And if there is a break in even one link in a long chain - then the integrity of the entire chain is destroyed - it is simply broken and ceases to be a chain. But since the Giving of the Torah has a second aspect which is actually much deeper than the first aspect and it addresses itself to fathers and sons equally - then even if a misfortune happens - chalilah - and one generation falls away - the next generation is not cut off from the Source. It can start anew. 

Now we will be able to understand that which is in the halachos of teaching a special description for a special case of chinuch. The case is that of teaching the son of an ignoramus Torah. The special description is that when someone teaches the son of an ignoramus Torah - the psak is that it as if the student is learning directly from the mouth of G-d. This described by the prophet Yermiyahu (15: 19), "If you take out the precious from the vile, you shall be as My mouth." [You should not be surprised how this psak was stated because a halacha is derived from this expression that the son of an ignoramus is given priority in chinuch.] 

In this lies the unique spirituality in this issue. We can only activate our souls through our bodies. Our natural path for Torah and the Mesora is only through the transmission of father to son. The Giving of the Torah to souls can only go from G-d's mouth alone. Therefore when someone is a teacher of Torah to the son of an ignoramus it is a case where the transmission of father and son has been broken and represents a failed generation. It is only then it necessary to utilize the alternative path of the Giving of Torah to the souls. This Giving of Torah to the souls is direct and is only relevant to the mouth of G-d. Therefore when a teacher is successful in bringing forth the "precious from the vile" and is successful in returning the lost ring in the chain - it is a sign that he is utilizing the Giving of the Torah of souls. Therefore we can say that one who teaches Torah to an ignoramus - his mouth is like the mouth of G-d. "If you bring forth the precious from the vile you shall be as My mouth." 


  1. "However it is important to understand that when the Sanhedrin institutes a decree for all the subsequent generations until the end of days - the decree itself gives the Jewish people all the powers which are needed in order fulfill the decree properly."

    That is questionable, not everyone can withstand the decrees. If 50% can't withstand them, then the decree is not valid. If 49% cannot withstand them, then these people are called mamrim and can be killed off without trial. So it is back to the Sdom Hotel where they stretch or cut off the heads of guests who don't fit in the bed.

  2. Then what will you do with the pesukim of concerning Moshe giving the Torah to the kohanim,/leviim as they're the teachers, or Shevet shimoni being the melamdei tinokos??

  3. Emes L’Yaakov (Bereishis 49:7): ... Look at what I wrote previously in Bereishis (34:5). There I explained that it is certain that that this represents a punishment for Shimon and Levi, nevertheless Yaakov specifically appointed these tribes to these exalted responsibilities of educating the children and supervision of holy food. That is because only Shimon and Levi manifested the kano’as (zealotry) required for these jobs. This was seen by their response to Yaakov concerning the rape of their sister Dinah (Bereishis 34:5): “Is our sister to be a prostitute?” They alone were referred to as the brothers of Dinah because they were willing to sacrifice themselves for her welfare. Thus for these positions to be fulfilled successfully it is necessary to appoint people who have the attribute of kano’as (zealotry) and mesiras nefesh (total devotion) to serve G-d and His Torah. These positions require men who when they see something irregular, will immediately be aroused for the sake of G-d like an inferno and they will serve their position well. Therefore Yaakov specially appointed Shimon and Levi for this work.

    However if we look carefully to see whether they in fact did these jobs according to their father’s expectations, we see that only the tribe of Levi actually did the work of education but not the tribe of Shimon. It was only the tribe of Levi that served as a strong barrier against those who arose to nullify the covenant with G-d. In contrast we don’t find that Shimon was involved in this work. The reason for this is clear. Only the tribe of Levi was exempt from working for Pharaoh during all the years of slavery. Thus only the tribe of Levi was able to sit and be immersed in Torah study. Only when kano’as (zealotry) is grounded and defined by Torah parameters - is it successful. That is why when the Leviim saw the terrible chilul HaShem that resulted from the sin of the Golden Calf they immediately expressed their zealotry for G‑d and killed even friends and relatives who were participating in the sin. Similarly when there were Jews in the Wilderness who wanted to return to Egypt, it was the Leviim who were in the vanguard against them. During the entire time that passed from the events concerning Dinah until the Redemption from Egypt they maintained their zealotry - but it was always bounded and guided by their deep knowledge of Torah.

    In contrast, while the kano’as of Shimon was also strong it was not guided by Torah and thus did not have proper nature. When did his “kano’as" manifest itself? It was in the events of the worship of Baal Peor. It was Zimri who expressed this “kano’as” against the rule of Torah provided by Moshe. It was used to uproot the attribute of modesty which was then prevelant amongst the Jews. He expressed his zealotry by his open involvement in sexual immorality with the non‑Jewish woman. Therefore it was only the kano’as of Pinchus, from the tribe of Levi ,who was guided by the laws of the Torah who was able to attack Zimri and defeat him and stop the plague that was punishing the Jews. Kano’as which is not guided by halacha does not have the ability to be successful because it ultimately just destroys the kanoi. It is only the gedolim in each generation who have the proper intuition and sensitivity to know and decide when it is necessary to be a kanoi and to protest and when it is best to remain silent. This ability is only acquired by those who have the keys to Torah in their hands.


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