Comment following article: "OS is deffinately a cult. They might not have anything to do with Chabad, but they sure do things similar. I do find it ironic that they ban internet, yet have their own personal sight. They also try to lure poor unsuspecting souls into their cult trap by giving them trips to Israel and Oz and all sorts...obviously one must attend the torah learning sessions (in which the omar then brain washes them).
Tragic. They also have tons of money available to them. Funny how they scorn those who earn money for a living and are also able to give to charities and then take from that same money to use for their own decreped purposes.
Also the OS Rabbis come out of there like over zealots. My husband was in Ben Yehudah in a bar with his friends and some new OS Rabbi came over and sat himself down and then started going on about all the evil they are doing. I think they told him where to go. That and the fact as my husband said. That over zealot had become frum two seconds ago and was spouting out over righteous tattle. Basically, they are a bunch of nuts."
I got the following email from “Seth.”
I’ve recently discovered your blog and have really enjoyed it. I notice you speak a lot about Ohr Somayach, or “Dark Light” as you appropriately label it. I attended Dark Light and would be interested in sharing my experiences with you in the hopes of maybe preventing others from making the same mistake that I did or at least know exactly what they are getting into.
You got it, “Seth.”
So drink your eggnog, and nurse your hangover. Wednesday, the celebrations end, and it’s back to work. And we’re kicking off 2008 with a three part series from one man’s experience in the Dark Light.
Guest Post by “Seth”
Part I: The Road to Dark Light
I had been a ba’al teshuva for less than a year. I grew up in a fairly secular family that didn’t observe Shabbos or kashrus, but I attended Hebrew school in the evenings as well as Sunday school, was bar mitzvah’d, and our family would attend shul on High Holidays, etc. When I moved away to university, I didn’t do much that was Jewish at all. I stopped coming home for Pesach and other celebrations, dated almost exclusively non-Jews and barely considered myself Jewish at all beyond feeling a connection with Israel,and trying to defend Israel on a campus that was fairly rife with anti-Israel activism. I graduated and began a successful career in the [deleted] industry but got somewhat out of control.
I was working insane hours, was constantly stressed, was drinking too much and having a series of short-term meaningless relationships. An old friend from college who had since become frum invited me to join her and some others for a Shabbos dinner. It was terrific. I had never had a true shabbos experience like this before and I loved the peace of not worrying about work, not watching TV or taking cell phone calls. Just eating a great meal with nice company and having good conversations. I began dating one of the attendees at this dinner, a young Baal Teshuvah [newly Orthodox], who was quite frum by this point. Through her, I became more connected with Yiddishkeit. I began going to shul, keeping Shabbos and learning Torah with a terrific rabbi. Although the relationship didn’t work out, my connection to Yiddishkeit survived and actually thrived. I met someone who was a recruiter for Ohr Somayach who invited me to a Shabbaton at [deleted]. It was a great time. Tons of food, lots of beer, very relaxed, a little bit of learning and just generally fun. It became very clear, however, that the purpose of the weekend was to recruit us to attend Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem to learn full-time. After the weekend, I got calls repeatedly from Ohr Somayach people telling me how much I was missing and what great programs they had. They said if I liked the weekend at [deleted], I’d LOVE being in Jerusalem because it was like that every day. The truth is that I wanted to keep learning and working full-time made it difficult. Being a Baal Teshuvah I had a lot of catching up to do and twice a week for an hour after work wasn’t cutting it. I decided to go to Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem.
I arrived in an absolute living hell.
Tomorrow: In the Belly of the Beast (Part 2)
Guest Post by “Seth”
Part II: Welcome to Ohr Somayach
I took a cab from the airport to campus. Campus seemed nice enough. The rabbis and other students seemed friendly enough. I was led to my apartment off campus which was an absolute hell-hole, infested with cockroaches and being shared by 9 students in a spae that seemed only fit for 3. My roomates were a mix of first-year students like me and students who had already been there for over a year. Seeing the more experienced students gave me a lot of fear because I assumed that this is what you turn into after a year at Ohr Somayach. They all dressed completely in black and white, complete with black fedoras. None had any interest in discussing anything other than gemera [Talmud]. Since I am a big sports fan, my father would mail me back issues of Sports Illustrated. I left one out on the coffee table and later was told that the other students had taken a vote and decided that Sports Illustrated was banned from the apartment because it was not “appropriate in a yeshiva environment.” One student bought a box of cereal, one of the “healthy” types that featured a middle aged couple jogging on the box. He actually took a black magic marker and scribbled over the woman because she was not dressed tznius [modest]. One of my roommates who had been there for almost two years boasted that in his entire time in Israel, he had not once left the Charedi neighborhood where the yeshiva is located.
What is most disturbing to me is that all of these students had such great achievements and promise prior to arriving. Most had graduated from top universities. Many left successful careers with 6 figure salaries to live with 8 other people in a run-down roach-infested apartment and learn for 14 hours a day. One of my roommates graduated from an elite law firm and interned at the White House before attending. Within 6 months of arrival, he was married to a woman he had met 5 times. This woman worked as a secretary for Aish. He would continue learning at OS [Ohr Somayach] with no income. He had close to 100 grand in student loans to repay but the rabbis insisted he stay and learn and even suggested that he simply make aliyah so as not to have to repay the loans.
Tomorrow: Seth Reviews The Checklist (Part 3)
Guest Post by “Seth”
Part III: Seth Reviews The Checklist
One of your posts entitled “Checklist for Steve Brizel” asks several questions that I will do my best to answer.
“Is Hebrew Ulpan [language] taught sufficiently? How many levels? When is it taught? As part of the normal schedule, or during the nap break at midday? How many levels are offered? Are the “Bais Midrash” students encouraged to learn Hebrew as well?”
In my opinion, it is not taught sufficiently. It is offered twice a week for a total of 3 hours, which in my opinion is not nearly enough. It focused mainly on conjugating verbs and was somewhat helpful with grammar but did not go nearly far enough in giving us the skills we need to actually converse or to understand what we were reading. I picked up far more Hebrew taking taxis than I did in ulpan. It was not mandatory and most chose not to attend. It was only offered for 1st year students. Those beyond first year could not attend and had no ulpan of their own. Students in the Beis Medrash program did not have ulpan.
“Since this is a haredi yeshiva, and its curriculum Talmud intensive, is there an Aramaic Ulpan for these baal teshuvahs? If so, same questions as above.”
There was no Aramaic ulpan or Aramaic instruction of any sort. Which made learning Gemara [Talmud] next to impossible. Because we could not read it or understand it on our own, the Gemara shiurum consisted exclusively of a rabbi reading it to us and offering his commentary and interpretation.
“How is Modern Orthodoxy presented by the Rabbinical staff?”
It is seen as a start, as a springboard to become Charedi. It is seen as something you do “at first” to “get comfortable” with Yiddishkeit with the expectation that you will continue to grow into a charedi. This is where I noticed a huge difference between Ohr Somayach and Chabad since I had previously learned with a Chabad rabbi. Chabad feels that just because you are not ready to do everything doesn’t mean you should do nothing at all. If you’re not ready to go learn in kollel, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep kosher or keep Shabbos. Ohr Somayach advocates an all-or-nothing approach. If you’re not ready to whole-heartedly adopt charediism, they don’t see a point in even trying to be a good Jew.
“How is Yeshiva University and Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik presented by the rabbinical staff? Is Modern Orthodoxy presented as somehow insufficient and “not really” religious?”
Rabbi Soloveitchik was never discussed because we spent no time discussing philosophy or Jewish history, simply halacha. In fairness, there were a couple books by him in the library. Yeshiva University was looked down upon and students were not encouraged to attend. In fairness, ALL universities were looked down upon. When two students I knew who were taking a year off from law school to attend yeshiva announced that they would not be returning to law school, the rabbis congratulated them for making a great decision.
“Is scientific method accepted? What is O.S.’s position on evolution? What is the position on Rabbi Slifkin?”
Scientific method is certainly not accepted and neither is evolution. A rabbi tried to disprove evolution by saying that the heat of the flood when Noach was saved has altered the earth’s make-up to the point that carbon dating was impossible. One rabbi presented an idea from Talmud that a baby’s sex is determined after a certain number of days. This has been proven absolutely false by doctors. I tired to show him an article from a medical journal showing otherwise. He refused to read it. Another rabbi suggested that spending money on medical research is a waste because a cure for cancer will not come from scientific breakthrough but through prayer. He insisted that if we took that money and gave it to kollel families, we would get a cure for cancer much sooner.
“What is the position of Ohr Somayach on college studies for high school graduates? Does Ohr Somayach discourage or advocate postponement of college education to its students who have not yet attended or finished college?”
Absolutely. As I said, convincing people to drop out of law school was seen as a victory. Many students came for a year before they intended to go to college and have simply never left. I would guess that of the high school students who attend OS, less than half will go on to college and of the college students who take a year off to attend, less than half will ever go back.
“Is the western world taught as incomplete in terms of what it offers a traditional Jew, or is it presented as depraved in its entirety and engagement presented as something to be avoided? Does Rabbi Weinbach (the Rosh Yeshiva of Ohr Somayach) consider the secular world in its entirety an “environment of sin?”
Absolutely. I had one rabbi tell me that “nothing good” has ever come or ever will come out of secular society. I suggested that things like the automobile, airplane, the space program, the cure for polio, the progress made in treating illness were all pretty good things. He replied that it wasn’t worth it. That these things cost too much and that it may be fine for the goyim, but it’s not our place.
“Is poverty common among those recruits who are “successful” when they come from middle class backgrounds?”
Very much so. Many have given up careers with lots of money and now learn full time while their wives work a low-level job. They live in tiny, rundown apartments with 10 kids in 2 bedrooms. It’s heartbreaking, frankly to see.
“Is Kollel instead of a vocation advocated as preferable to advanced students?”
Not just advanced students, but almost all students. Because they discourage college and think it’s inappropriate to take any job where you might have to work with non-Charedim or be exposed to women, they rule out most occupations that most would actually want or where one could make any money. For those not considering kollel, they encourage them to take classes on how to be a schochet (ritual slaughterer).
“Are students encouraged to disengage from the world to the point of not even reading newspapers?”
Completely. I would estimate that less than 5 percent of students read a newspaper on even a weekly basis. I read three papers a day before arriving and this was amongst the hardest part of the transition. I was told that there was nothing in the newspaper I needed to read and that I wasn’t missing anything. Having an interest in anything other than yeshiva is discouraged. Because there is no internet on campus and it is not allowed in the apartments and because the charedi neighborhood does not sell secular newspapers, keeping in touch with the world is incredibly difficult. They say this is their goal. They think yeshiva should be about leaving the world behind and concentrating only on studying.