Thursday, May 16, 2024

D'var Yerushalyim - the most Hirschian of the BT schools

 Planning now for it's Jubilee anniversary - 50 years - D'var Yerushalyim is one of the original modern day schools for baalei teshuvah. Even so, not everybody has heard of it. Most of us know about Aish and Ohr Somayach, but not necessarily Dvar. And that's a shame, because it has its own niche. It offers something that perhaps no other BT school does and that something is freedom to be oneself as well as a general philosophy of Torah Im Derech Eretz. 

Most BT schools force an outlook on the students. In some places the genesis of this is simply that the people who run the schools don't have much life experience and give over what they know. In some places, the genesis is arrogance. The guys who run the schools think they have the one medicine that all people should take regardless of their medical profile. Oh they'll tell you otherwise on their websites. They'll tell you how they'll help you to develop your own perspective, to achieve individual 'greatness' or whatever. But the guy who writes up the web page is not necessarily the same person you'll meet in classroom. 

As I post here on the top of this blog, according to Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, the goal of the kiruv professional should be simply to help the baal teshuvah take on the mitzvos. He should not impose conformity or eradicate the essence of the person. Rav Yaakov said that it is important that the BT feel normal. He said that, for example, the typical BT will not feel normal if he does not complete his or her college education. Thus, he or she should not be discouraged from doing so.

More than any other place, Dvar Yerushalayim takes this approach. There's a former student who advertises for the school now. He tells the story of how he came to Rav Horowitz and said he'd only come if he didn't have to go to any classes, daven, or wear a yarmulka. He would spend his time on the beaches of Tel Aviv with spending money from Dvar. Here's his story. 

And so he came and he became Torah observant and now he's a nice frum Jew. It's not just Rav Horowitz, another rebbe over told me that a guy came in a said he only wanted to study Talmud Yerushalmi. Now, it many places, maybe all of them, he would have been told, no that's not for you, you are ready for that, you have to first learn Bavli. But that's the approach at Dvar. They said, fine. And he learned Yerushalmi for a while, and now he's learning Bavli, cranking out mesechta after mesechta, as it was explained to me. 

There's an expression in Zen Buddhism. If you make the fence too small, the cow will want to jump over it. BTs come from such a different culture than FFBs. Even after decades in the frum world, I feel like I'm with Martians most of the time. Imposing an outlook on the brain can have disastrous results. Rav Horovitz, in his humility and in his training as a Yekke, gets that. 

Here's Rav Horovitz:

You see this visualized in the Dvar Yerushalayim library. It's extensive and broad for a yeshiva library. Here's some books on Tefillah, which is a very important topic for BTs, for everyone, as we spend two hours a day davening.  

Here's a shelf of Artscroll Gemaras. I went to one place that wouldn't allow us to use any English Gemaras. I offered free Artsrolls to another place that declined them. 

Here are Steinsoltz Gemaras:

Some places won't allow Steinsoltz. So I'm here to tell you that Steinsoltz is fine. You can use his Gemaras and read his other books too.

This picture is blurry, but if you can make it out, there's the incredible work Dynamics of Dispute. This book helps you work through some of the larger questions on the Talmud, such as why are they arguing all the time if the Torah is from Sinai. It's a very helpful book and every BT school should have it. I see here also Reading the Talmud. These books provide an introduction to Talmud. Some schools just have you open up and begin -- Neanderthal style, without educational method. Many people do better with introductions and overviews. 

Here's books on Chassidus! Chabad and Breslov are included. 

Here's Rav Hirsch, an entire shelf. Rav Horovitz himself is a Yekke which helps explain why he has such a sensible approach to running a BT school. He was one of the translators of Horeb. 

Here's books by Aryeh Kaplan and a book on mitzvos. Kaplan is essential reading for BTs and the topic of mitzvos, as its own subject, is essential. You can't just learn a few pages of yeshivishe mesechtas of the Talmud. You have to study mitzvos. The Chofetz Chaim wrote his own book on the topic, that's how important it was even for the FFBs of his day, so certainly it's important to the BTs of our day. 

Dvar is just loaded with books. In fact, when you enter the front door, you enter a large room full of books. 

That's one side of the room. The other is shown above, the photo with the Artscroll gemaras. Maybe the shelves could be neatened up a bit, but that's not the important thing. The important thing is to have the books themselves. Here's more. 

And more. 

And none of that is even the Beis Midrash. Those are library rooms. There's lots of books in the Beis Midrash too.

Having been to nearly every BT school, I'd say that Dvar's library is one of the best. Only Ohr Somayach and Yeshiva University rival it. YU of course has a large university library, but it's not full of introductions to Orthodox Judaism. You find some of those books at different locations on campus, not all in one spot. 

Dvar also has a nice campus. Here's the building.

Here's the entrance.

Beis Midrash

Dining Room: spacious, clean, with a great view of the mountains. Suns comes right into the room. 

Lunch: not bad at all:

Looks like chicken, rice, and salad. Shown here is the serving table after everyone took their portions. 

Here's a lovely garden:

A shiur given outside:

Here's the schedule:

Let's see. Sefardi halacha, Introduction to laws and customs, Talmud Succah, Ulpan - different levels, Mishneh Berurah, Pirkei Avos and a second choice of Gemara - Chulin, Daf Yomi, Chofetz Chaim on laws of speech, parsha insights and questions, world events.

That's a well rounded curriculum. A class on Tanach would be nice. Rabbi Horowitz told a guy I know decades ago that certainly we should study Tanach.BTs in particular should do this because we can't just start with Gemara -- we have to go along the kind of progression that FFBs get before they study Gemara. 

Dvar has long been a leader in teaching Hebrew to BTs.

As for instruction in bitachon and musar, they address that with the parsha insights and periodic classes like this one.

And this one:

You'll see that Rav Horowitz has a broad education. He can weave Torah thought with positive thoughts from gentile thinkers. He's a real Hirschian. He talks about Hashem with wonderful articulation.

Not having a full out musar class is arguably a good approach. One has to go easy on the musar with BTs. I know of one place that beats them up with it. That's not healthy. You get disastrous results. Some schools beat you up with Gemara, meaning they overwhelm you with all day Gemara study. That's another way to break people. Dvar has Gemara, but the entire day doesn't have to be built on it. That's up to you.

Dvar has content on its website. You can check out classes there. They are on youtube too.  



As you can hear in these shiurim, Rav Horovitz is an English gentleman. He doesn't shout, he doesn't oppress.

Some notable people have taught here including Rav Aryeh Carmell z'l, author of Strive for Truth and Aiding Talmud Study and Rav Yoel Schwartz z'l, author of over 200 books and pamphlets on Jewish law, aggada and midrashim. He's an article on Rav Schwartz in the Jerusalem Post. 

On staff these days is Rav Baruch Horovitz, Rav Dovid Gilberg,  Rav Yitzchok Horowitz, Rav Adam Sommer, Rav Harari, Dr. Mori Bank, and Rav E. Stein. 

Here's a video for their jubilee celebration. 

and more:

A simcha at Dvar:

One  caveat, they are fairly Zionistic at Dvar, so if you are anti-Zionist or just not turned on by the topic you might not feel comfortable there.