American Yankees in Polish Yeshivas

In the early 20th century, the great talmudic seminaries of the region Jews knew as Lithuania (corresponding roughly to Belarus today and to northeast Poland in the 1920s and 30s) were at their height. After World War I, they began to attract a sizeable number of students from America. Ben-Tsiyon Klibansky describes their experience:

Most of the American students were university graduates from middle-class families, and a few were the sons of congregational rabbis. They were different from their fellow students from Germany and the rest of [their Eastern Europe-born classmates] in their loudness, their lack of manners [in the eyes of the locals], and the way they spoke to their elders. Their absorption in the yeshiva was not easy. They were liable to experience culture shock as they encountered “primitive” conditions in the remote town where their yeshiva was located.

Their highest concentration was in [the renowned talmudic academy in the shtetl of] Mir, and an article that appeared in an American newspaper described their first [encounter with] this Polish town. “When they arrived in Mir, a place that does not even appear on a map, they had to change their entire way of life. Hot baths, sports facilities, cars, a pressed suit, and the theater—all these are unknown in Mir. . . . They especially suffered because they did not find clean bathrooms.”

After the initial pains of absorption, the American young men succeeded in adapting somewhat to this new way of life, and a change was even seen in their personalities and behavior. Their desire to succeed in their studies was strong, and their broad general knowledge helped them approach the talmudic material.

At one point, the Americans organized an informal game of football between classes—only for it to be quickly shut down by the somewhat bewildered rabbis.

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewish History, East European Jewry, Yeshiva

The IDF’s First Investigation of Its Conduct on October 7 Is Out

For several months, the Israel Defense Forces has been investigating its own actions on and preparedness for October 7, with an eye to understanding its failures. The first of what are expected to be many reports stemming from this investigation was released yesterday, and it showed a series of colossal strategic and tactical errors surrounding the battle at Kibbutz Be’eri, writes Emanuel Fabian. The probe, he reports, was led by Maj. Gen. (res.) Mickey Edelstein.

Edelstein and his team—none of whom had any involvement in the events themselves, according to the IDF—spent hundreds of hours investigating the onslaught and battle at Be’eri, reviewing every possible source of information, from residents’ WhatsApp messages to both Israeli and Hamas radio communications, as well as surveillance videos, aerial footage, interviews of survivors and those who fought, plus visits to the scene.

There will be a series of further reports issued this summer.

IDF chief Halevi in a statement issued alongside the probe said that while this was just the first investigation into the onslaught, which does not reflect the entire picture of October 7, it “clearly illustrates the magnitude of the failure and the dimensions of the disaster that befell the residents of the south who protected their families with their bodies for many hours, and the IDF was not there to protect them.” . . .

The IDF hopes to present all battle investigations by the end of August.

The IDF’s probes are strictly limited to its own conduct. For a broader look at what went wrong, Israel will have to wait for a formal state commission of inquiry to be appointed—which happens to be the subject of this month’s featured essay in Mosaic.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza War 2023, IDF, Israel & Zionism, October 7