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III.  A Yeshiva for you, the Beginner

Of course, the best way to experience what a yeshiva is all about is to enroll in one as a student.

 Nowadays there are many yeshivot with beginners’ programs. They study curriculums designed especially for students who are interested in learning more about Judaism, but without any formal background. These yeshivot exist in Israel and the United States and many were established for the sake of students, like yourself, who never had the opportunity for serious Jewish study. There are programs for both men and women; the only qualifying criterion is that you be Jewish.

           During the late 60s and early 70s there was a movement among the younger generation away from the Western culture’s emphasis on materialism, and towards seeking more spirituality.  A great number of Jewish students were among those searchers.  Many turned to their own, ethnic and religious heritage and rediscovered its meaning and values. Jews, who had been raised to assimilate and were deprived of a Jewish education, began to investigate the teachings of their ancestors and were thoroughly intrigued. Due to their lack of background however, many of the ideas and texts were inaccessible to them.

In response to this situation, a few pioneer rabbis dedicated themselves to making Jewish wisdom available to all who desired to seek it.  They opened beginners’ Yeshivot whose purpose was to provide any Jew with an understanding of his religion and the skills to study it. As a result, a great many Jews altered their lifestyles and became completely observant. They are known as “baalei tshuva”(masters of return) and today they number in the many tens of thousands.  Interest in authentic Judaism continues to grow, spawning more and more programs that cater to Jewish beginners.

          These programs basically operate on two levels. There are classes which talk aboutJudaism, its values, beliefs and practices. These lectures and discussions serve as an introduction to basic Judaism. Then, there is a second level of learning which involves actual first hand study of Jewish texts. Because so many of these sources have, over the past few decades, been translated into  English, it is possible to examine their meaning without having the requisite language skills. Of course, obtaining the skills necessary to study in the original is a high priority as it allows a student to analyze these texts on a deeper level.

Among Yeshivot with beginners’ programs, there are several types with various emphases. There are yeshivot that stress the intellectual, those that are more emotional or spiritual, and some that strongly encourage Zionism. A prospective student has many options and should try to select a program, which emphasizes the kind of observance with which he is most comfortable.

There are also programs in the United States where a newcomer to observance can begin to study Judaism without any previous background. It is, however, greatly preferable to have this experience in Israel because Jewish consciousness and commitment are so greatly enhanced there. (See above “Israel”).

For the beginner there is even the possibility of visiting a Yeshiva in Israel, all expenses paid, through the Birthright Program.

For a listing of several Yeshiva programs see the appendix.

 

Last updated on: 12/14/2017
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