April 10, 2024
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April 10, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Candles burn, tables turn, butter-makers churn and students learn. But where does all of this activity take place? Candles burn on birthday cakes and menorahs and, for workaholics, at both ends. Tables turn in business, spy novels and when a caterer is asked to rearrange a ballroom. Butter-makers churn in their shops and, ironically, the higher the customer churn, the less butter that needs to be churned. Students can learn anywhere (even in their rooms via Zoom) but some of the best learning occurs in a yeshiva.

The term “yeshiva” is a Hebrew word that literally means “sitting” and it shares the same shoresh (root) as the infinitive “la-shevet,” which means “to sit.” A “yeshiva,” however, is commonly understood to mean a place of learning, e.g., a school, seminary or other educational institution. It nevertheless makes sense that “yeshiva” is linked with sitting because when most people learn, they do so in a seated position. There are practical reasons for a sit-and-learn. Lying down usually does not work because horizontal learning quickly leads to reclining, relaxing and resting. Vertical learning also does not work because eventually your feet will fail you. A seated position seems to be the Goldilocks solution (“not too hot, not too cold”), keeping students both awake and comfortable.

Does this mean that a student in a yeshiva should always be sitting? No. According to the Talmud: “Do not sit excessively, as sitting is harmful with regard to hemorrhoids; do not stand excessively, as standing is harmful with regard to heart trouble; and do not walk excessively, as walking is harmful with regard to eye problems. Rather, divide your time: One-third for sitting, one-third for standing, and one-third for walking.” (Ketubot 111a) This tripartite approach is not necessarily supported by modern medical science, except for the hemorrhoid warning (“Ouch!”). For example, excessive walking typically does not lead to eye problems, unless you are walking straight into a beam of ultraviolet light. Excessive swimming, however, can lead to ear problems (see, otitis externa) and excessive pepper can lead to nose problems (“Hachoo!”).

Nevertheless, it is significant that sitting is part of the recommended rabbinical regimen and thus supports the “yeshiva” name. The Talmud offers other guidance regarding sitting: “With regard to any sitting that is without support, i.e., an object on which to lean, standing is more comfortable than that position. The Gemara asks: Can it enter your mind that standing is better than sitting? Didn’t you say that standing is harmful with regard to heart trouble? Rather, with regard to sitting without support, standing with a support, i.e. an object against which one can lean, is better than [sitting].” (Ketubot 111a—111b) In other words, if a yeshiva features only backless benches or stools, you should think twice about attending. If you must attend, you may be better off standing up and leaning against a wall, or stringing up a hammock. Sitting back-to-back with a fellow student, like soldiers in a foxhole, is another potential solution, as long as your respective body odors are compatible.

The Talmud has additional advice regarding sitting: “Continuing with the subject of health, it was taught in a baraita: Ben Azzai says: On all beds, lie, except for the ground. On all seats, sit, except for a beam, lest you fall off.” (Berachot 62b). This “health” advice sounds more like an OSHA safety warning. Other safety guidelines to consider include:

1. Never jump out of a plane without a parachute, unless the plane has not yet taken off.

2. If you’re climbing a ladder, always have someone there to hold it, unless it’s a corporate ladder.

3. Do not play with fire, unless your best friend happens to be named “Fire.”

4. If you ride a motorcycle, always wear a helmet because if your overly-protective Jewish mother sees you on a motorcycle, she’s going to try to knock some sense into you.

5. Be very careful with knives and cautious with forks but you can be relatively reckless with spoons.

6. Never torpedo anything, except for an idea.

7. Never pull the trigger, except on a final decision.

8. Projectiles can injure, projectile vomiting will disgust.

9. Take shelter during a storm, unless it’s a brainstorm.

10. There is nowhere safe to bomb, except at the box-office.

Finally, the Talmud has advice on sitting as it pertains to eating habits: “Eat an onion and sit in the shade, i.e., eat inexpensive food while sitting in a comfortable place….” (Pesachim 114a) However, if you constantly have onion breath, you will be sitting in the shade all by yourself.

Final thought: What did the defiant rabbi say when he was asked to give up his favorite chair? Answer: “I won’t stand for this!”

By Jon Kranz


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