Tamar Ross' book on Feminism and Orthodoxy has tainted my religiously-inspired, Torah-motivated, "Shanah Bet Material" mind. Like any good Chakira, my entire world is effected- and explained- by this new perspective. Now that I've been enlightened to the male-dominated, male-focused, androcentric religion that is Judaism, I can't stop but see the same phenomenon in the Yeshiva system as a whole. Three patterns that put the man in Yeshiva mannerisms:
Beit Medrash Envy: Size matters.
Every time a camp or YULA friend visits the HaKotel Beit Medrash, the first reaction is always the same. Responding to the question that everyone's testerone seems to ask, they announce to the world in their most macho . . . "Oh, ours is bigger." The first time I experienced this ritual I thought it strange, unnecessary- immature. Now I just think it instinctive. As the rush of chemical activity came to its peak and enzyme reacted to fired nerve ending, my chest expanded and I looked my competition in the eye: "No way. Mine is much bigger!"
Be not mistaken:
Reishit- You're like HaKotel's little brother. Eretz HaTzvi- Say hello to the Alpha Male. Netiv Aryeh- I guess there is enough room for the both of us in the Old City. Gush- Hmm, Its hard to tell. You don't really appreciate the Rumpa until you've been back there for some bittul. Tzorich Iyun.
Nothing beats the "my Rebbe" story. We don't want to hear about the Vilna Gaon, or Reb Moshe, or any Hacham or Baba- but if its a Rabbi Tarragin in KBY, or Rav Elon in Mercaz . . . its like a drug. I guess that impressionable Shanah Aleph's like myself just want to feel part of a hierarchy: I want to know who is above me and then see them pushed higher and higher by the stories surrounding them; for if they are Gadol material- well, God damn it- I mean, B'ezras ha'shem yisbaruch, so am I!
Which explains the tingly feeling in the pit of my neshama in the presence of a rebbe's own rebbe stories. (Heretofore referered to as the Super-rebbe.) Every tale of the Super-rebbe justifies my existence: the Beard and Glasses whom I struggle to emulate has his own Super- Beard and Glasses (albeit super-whiter and super-thicker) looming in the impossible distance. The journey is not futile and the system does work- by putting in enough time, energy, and most importantly rebbe stories, I can one day be the Super-rebbe to a new generation of competition-minded talmidim.
Makom Identity: Learning isn't about the knowledge in your head, but the pricetags on your table.
Each row in the Beit Medrash communicates dozens of silent social messages. The right sefer informs the pack of your strength and status (and, with G-d's help, a front row seat in shiur), whereas even the wrong writing utensil pencils "Ramaz" all over you. In effect, a entire language of unspoken words indentifies each talmid and places him into one of the many subdivisions within the Hesder beit medrash. A guide to the man behind the bookshelf:
Mikraot G'dalot- I'm interested, motivated, and wonderfully naive. My goal for Shanah Aleph is "to learn how to learn." However, I don't know which seferim to buy, and there's no way I can really learn all this. Two volumes on Nach . . .what was I thinking. What is a Chagi? Maybe I'll get to it after Smicha.
Tehillim- I'm the nicest guy on this row. When my mother sends cookies- everybody gets. There is a special place in Heaven reserved for people like me. Also, I send out mass emails.
Shita Mekubetzet- That's right, I went on NCSY Kollel. I remember things from 11th Grade shiur; does that intimidate you? I have a large assortment of blue and white patterned shirts and they all match phenomenally well with my black srugi WITH srugi stripe, thank you. My long term goals include several photo appearances in YU paraphenalia and getting psyched before applying for the Torah scholarship.
Moreh Nevuchim (in English)- I am going to have to know these things when I attend the Ivy League university of my choice. Now, it's been said that I keep secular books at my Makom. Like Moreh Nevuchim, they were purchased on a date at Barnes and Noble.
Full-set Orot- It was either purchasing these books, or enlisting in Tzahal. I figured this was the more tzioni choice. See, most sforim are black, or navy- can you say HAREDI! But not my full-set of Orot; she's as white as my Shabbat srugi. If only Rav Kook wrote in English.
Dozen-volumed Shas- Because I bought it, it's like I learned it. Everytime I look at this baby, I am overwhelmed by the sweetest of Shanah Aleph feelings: fake accomplishment. Afterall, if I hadn't accomplished so much, would I buy a Shas? I chose the one that's broken into so many volumes because they will be easier to carry when I start learning while waiting for the morning bus to the Mir. Oh, the maarei makomot calls for a Gemara in Krisus . . . this is gonna be sweet!