Thursday, May 17, 2012

Rejecting students at the Mir, and at your local day school

[Download our Beit Midrash's special Toronto Torah edition in honour of Yom Yerushalayim here]

Rafi at Life in Israel took note recently of reported admissions changes at the Mir Yeshiva in Israel, under which admission would become more selective.

Of course, this will be welcome to those who contend that advanced Yeshiva should be like any other postgraduate study, open specifically to those who will excel in their studies. To others, those, this may be reminiscent of Rabban Gamliel's defeated policy of blocking entry to certain students (Berachot 28a):

אותו היום סלקוהו לשומר הפתח ונתנה להם רשות לתלמידים ליכנס שהיה רבן גמליאל מכריז ואומר כל תלמיד שאין תוכו כברו לא יכנס לבית המדרש ההוא יומא אתוספו כמה ספסלי אמר רבי יוחנן פליגי בה אבא יוסף בן דוסתאי ורבנן חד אמר אתוספו ארבע מאה ספסלי וחד אמר שבע מאה ספסלי הוה קא חלשא דעתיה דרבן גמליאל אמר דלמא חס ושלום מנעתי תורה מישראל אחזו ליה בחלמיה חצבי חיורי דמליין קטמא ולא היא ההיא ליתובי דעתיה הוא דאחזו ליה
That day, they removed the guard of the [yeshiva] entrance, and permission was granted for the students to enter. Previously, Rabban Gamliel had declared, "If a student is not the same inside and out, he shall not enter the yeshiva.
That day, many benches were added. R' Yochanan reported that there was a debate between Abba Yosef ben Dostai and the Sages, one saying that 400 benches were added and the other saying 700 benches were added.
Rabban Gamliel was upset; he said, "Perhaps, Gd forbid, I have kept Torah from Israel!" In a dream, they showed him white pails containing ashes. [This confirmed that the new students were only superficially pure, and were unworthy.] However, it was not so; this was shown to him only to settle his mind.

Granted that Rabban Gamliel's yeshiva was advanced, and not an elementary school. Nonetheless, the question remains: What are our day schools to do? Are we meant to deny admissions to those who are not up to the standard of "pure, inside and out"?

On the whole, the trend among halachic authorities is that we do not discriminate based on academic ability; rather, the community is expected to produce schools which can educate students at all levels. See, for example, Meiri to Pirkei Avot 1:1, the Tzofnat Paneiach (the Rogatchover) 2:17, and Rav Lau in Yachel Yisrael 2. [On the other hand, that is likely limited to basic schools, not an advanced yeshiva like the Mir.]

Denial of admission is more likely in the case of a potential student who displays poor character, out of concern that he may abuse the Torah he is taught, and that he may influence other students. This is a much trickier area. While the Rambam does say that we are obligated to improve such a student's character to the point where he will be able to learn, it is not clear who, exactly, is included in the obligated "we".

There are many interested parties here, with competing interests:
Parents want the best education for their own children.
Schools want to provide the best education for the maximum number of children.
Budgeteers require that schools provide the best affordable education for the maximum number of children.
Teachers want to provide the best education for the greatest manageable number of children.
The Torah mandates that we provide the best education for all children.
The pressure vectors point in every direction.

Last week I gave a shiur on the topic to a group of teachers. I have no conclusions, only sources; this is anything but simple. You can access it here, with a source sheet for downloading; note, the shiur is in Hebrew.


  1. Most litvak yeshivot over there seem to be pretty straightforward kosher places of learning and teaching Torah-- taking into account basic human selfishness and fallibility and idiocy. But as institutions they seems pretty kosher.] The chasidic ones that I saw were scams and straightforward rebbi worshiping cults.

    The good exceptions among chasidix places were ger and vishnitz.--again you have to take into account that they are still human institutions.
    But they do learn.

  2. Ancillary question-separate but equal schools/classes-better or worse?
    Joel Rich

  3. Indeed, Joel; addressed somewhat in the shiur

  4. I believe that the article is somewhat wrong. The Mir is tightening the standards but its not really meant to 'weed out' weaker boys. It is more meant to weed out boys who really don't have much of an interest in learning. Obviously, they might make some mistakes in this process but I don't believe they are trying to make it much more restrictive. They still want to have a relatively open door policy.

  5. A nice pshat I heard in that Gemara (I can't remember the source):

    Before, they had pure students who wanted to learn; they didn't care where they sat. It was their learning who defined them. After REBA became RY, they added *benches*, i.e. students whose main concern was where they sat.

  6. case in point: Avraham P. was kicked out of the Mir in Yerushalaim.
    He is a great learner and knows a lot of stuff from all areas of interest. I did not talk to him much but when ever I did he was always up to date on the most varied types of areas. Especially in Bava Metzia. But he became a Na Nach Breslov chasid. They let this go for I think about a year but then kicked him out.
    Other cases in point in netivot bachurim that were caught going to the Internet twice were kicked out of Yeshivat Hanegev and one of them said to me when he was caught that it is about time for him anyway to join the IDF.
    Neither of these two incidents seem bad at all. Yet I know there are cases in which kicking someone out of a yeshiva has resulted in bad things. I was not privy to the details but there was one case that shimon buso the grandson of bava sali said it is a terrible responsibility to kick someone out of a yeshiva.
    personally i think Lithuanian and sefardic yeshivot are human institutions that are just trying to do the job of learning Torah honestly and trying to keep it as best they can understand it. I simply can't see anything to complain about even when they make mistakes-- even terrible mistakes. I only complain against the fraudulent ones that are scamming the public. This raises my ire.