This post is part of the series “Scientific Naturalism and Rationality Meets Judaism“.

A day in a yeshiva

My days here are very intensive which I really like. It is almost impossible to make myself work as hard as I am working here in a regular home-work environment which is the main thing I have been struggling with for years.

The classes start at 7:30 AM. We have one hour of study, then 30min break, then the morning prayer (9-10 AM) and the breakfast is served 10-11.

One may find this strange and I indeed would have expected the morning prayers to be first.The reason why breakfast is only after prayers is quite obvious: Prayer is more important than stuffing your stomach – something we can do here 3 times a day anyway. It is not forbidden, however, to drink water or have a small snack in the morning – if it helps you to concentrate on the prayers. But why do we have a class before the morning prayer? The explanation for this schedule is that the morning prayers are so important that ideally one prepares for them by studying spiritual texts and thereby “elevating his state”.

Yes, “his”, there are only males here, which could be a topic for another post. It interestingly changes the social dynamics between men when there are no women around. No need to swagger.

Then 11-14 we study, between 14:00 and 14:15 we have the afternoon prayer, then there is lunch and from 15:30 to  18:00 we study again.

All studying in yeshiva happens in little groups, most often as small as one teacher and two students. The students and the teacher take turns in reading a given text (usually in Hebrew) and discuss it thoroughly. Both teacher and student raise questions and the questions are discussed together. All questions are welcome. I haven’t encountered a situation yet where my question hasn’t been given a serious consideration even though my questions are quite often controversial. This format of studying somewhat reminds the current trend at the mathematics department in Helsinki, but still differs from it in some essential way. Perhaps in the fact that we do it almost around the clock here. 😀 There is still something to learn from this thousands of years old tradition of Jewish studying.

After that there is lunch and most people return to studying again at 20:00, evening prayers are at 21:30 and on some days (around once a week) there is a “farbrenging” in the evening which means that Hasids say l’chaim, drink some alcohol, sing hasidic songs and discuss life, Torah and tell jokes. Lots of fun!

Since I am trying to go to the gym, write this blog and get some other things done as well, I tend to sleep less than 6 hours a night and usually use 80% of the meal-breaks to do something else than eat.

An interesting detail is that there are no mirrors in the building at all. But that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Judaism. But I like it!

My brain is constantly going on the limit of its capacity, because just reading Hebrew is a new thing to me and trying to pronounce the words right is already a big challenge. Now add to it that what you’re reading is thousands of years old wisdom and philosophy – or at least you’re trying to figure out what’s the wisdom in there if anything. Simultaneously the social environment is holding a tight grip on you not to fall asleep or get distracted.

This is awesome. My brain needed that.

Moral. I wish I could recreate this kind of intense study environment for, say, mathematics. What if our, say, 4th year master’s students would dedicate themselves to mathematics in this manner for a month? The results could be mind blowing. Another question would be, how could I recreate such an environment just for myself? Without study partners it will be hard, but possible at least to approximate, I hope!

4 replies
  1. Dominic Reichl
    Dominic Reichl says:

    I enjoy reading these posts, and I very much relate to the way you are reflecting on your experiences, also in the two other parts of the series. About a year ago I was likewise pondering the relationship between naturalism, rationality, and spirituality. I have written about it here. In any case, I am looking forward to reading about further insights YHWH may grant you (metaphorically speaking).
    — Dom

    Reply
    • Vadim
      Vadim says:

      Thanks! Interesting. Oh no, I can’t say God’s name. Oh no, I can’t even think about it. Oh, but nobody knows how to pronounce it anyway, so pheew.

      Reply
  2. Mikko Oittinen
    Mikko Oittinen says:

    Nothing is stopping you from starting, say, a voluntary four week “study camp” at someone’s summer cottage for advanced math students. Everyone chips in with the costs, people have designated cleaning and cooking responsibilities and all the rest of the time is for studying. If you produce some results, you could maybe get some funding for something like that? Just an idea.

    Reply

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