The Anthropologists Go to Yeshiva

The anthropologist Jonathan Boyarin, in his recent book Yeshiva Days, recounts and analyzes his experience studying at Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem, a prestigious orthodox yeshiva on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Reviewing the book, Shai Secunda details a few of its observations:

Some of Boyarin’s best insights into the texture of Jewish learning examine what he calls the “unmaking of time at the yeshiva.” The learners regularly spend ten hours a day struggling to make sense of intricate rabbinic texts, but they do not seem to be driven by a desire for the kind of mastery that is sought in terms of four-year degrees or 10,000 hours of practice. We hear little of tests or study goals, and while a few students are there to work toward rabbinic ordination, it is largely beside the point. Life in the yeshiva is a bewildering combination of scholastic determination and inertia that advances, tarries, and doubles back. Boyarin provocatively, and I believe correctly, identifies this “noninstrumentality.”

An academic colleague of Boyarin’s goes so far as to compare regular Torah learning to the beautiful sand mandalas that Tibetan Buddhist monks create, contemplate, and then destroy annually. And yet, learning in yeshiva also includes a regular practice of ḥazarah (review), whose aspiration is, indeed, a permanent mastery of the material. In ethnography, such contradictions are not problems to be solved but antitheses that reveal the glorious complexity of culture.

In this same review, Secunda considers a more ambitious and systematic Hebrew-language book by the ethnographer Shlomo Guzmen-Carmeli, who studied Israeli places of learning, each very different from the others:

Apart from the apparent differences in method and scope, what ultimately distinguishes these ethnographies is their orientation. Guzmen-Carmeli works in the modern state of Israel, a religiously dynamic place where new forms of Judaism are constantly bubbling to the surface. His personal vignettes and energetic writing communicate genuine excitement about what comes next. Boyarin, on the other hand, toils in the Diaspora. As he puts it, “the impulse of my work is to repair the breach of memory.” His beloved Lower East Side, once the most vibrant and densely Jewish neighborhood in the world, has been, for a century, vanishing. Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem is also going through a long and slow decline. Indeed, as I was writing this review, Boyarin’s beloved rosh yeshiva [or dean], Rabbi Dovid Feinstein, passed away.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Judaism, Judaism in Israel, 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