How Yeshiva Failed Me

Posted on March 16, 2021

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By David Ettinger

What We Learned
I was raised Jewish in New York. My parents sent me to Hebrew School, known by the Hebrew word Yeshiva (from the root “sitting”). I attended the Hebrew Institute of Long Island from 1st grade through my junior year of high school.

Attending Yeshiva was an all-day endeavor, classes beginning at 8 a.m., and ending at 5 p.m.

The day was divided into 2 segments: Hebrew-related studies from 8 a.m. to noon followed by lunch, then standard studies (English, math, science) from 1 to 5 p.m.

The Hebrew portion of the day consisted of classes in Torah, Mishna, Gemorah, and Hebrew grammar. Basically, Torah, though specifically referring to the first 5 books ­– Genesis through Deuteronomy – represented all studies in the Old Testament.

Given equal time individually – and twice the time totally – were the Mishnah and Gemorah. The Mishnah is the written collection of the oral tradition of the Torah. The Gemorah is the rabbinical analysis of and commentary of the Mishnah. These 2 books comprise the Talmud.

Therefore, the Mishnah is a rabbinic commentary of the Torah, and the Gemorah is a commentary of the Mishnah. To be clear, though the Torah IS the Word of God, the Mishnah and Gemorah are not; they are the collected works of men. Therefore, in Yeshiva, we spent twice as much time on the word of men than on the Word of God.

Failed Teaching
So, this is what was taught, but how was it taught? In a few words: analytically, intellectually, and formulaically. The feeling of the Yeshiva was that, as Jewish boys and girls these were the things we were to know.

Where it failed, however, was in explaining why we were to know these things. We were taught to love God, but were never shown a reason why we should. Rather, we were fed the sundry teachings of rabbinic scholars which had no bearing on our lives. Furthermore, these rabbinic teachings were, ultimately, a system of works. One’s actions determined whether or not an individual was good or bad in God’s eyes.

But where Yeshiva failed was in explaining the sinful state of humanity and how it could be found acceptable to God. We were never told we were born sinners, though the Torah clearly teaches it (Psalm 51:5; Isaiah 53:6). We were never taught that these sins separated us from God though the Torah clearly teaches it (Isaiah 59:2; Exodus 32:33). We were taught about the sacrificial system – that God required a blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, the crucial verse being Leviticus 17:11: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.”

However, following the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in A.D. 70 and the end of the sacrificial system, Judaism realized they had a problem. They had no blood sacrifice to atone for their sins. In time, the rabbis concocted a belief system where good works, or Mitzvot, can atone for sins.

Yes, the word “concoct” is strong, but fitting. The rabbis concocted this system out of their own heads. They heard no voice from God, who never rescinded His requirement for blood atonement as per Leviticus 17:11. And this mistaken theology remains.

The Yeshiva I attended taught salvation through good works. Not a word was spoken of blood atonement. So, rather than teaching us how sinful individuals could be made acceptable before a holy God, my Yeshiva taught us good works, and filled our young minds with the contrivances of the Talmud – an endeavor which could never bring us closer to acceptance before a holy God.

What They Missed
What my Yeshiva – and I imagine every Yeshiva – missed is that God never rescinded the requirement for blood atonement. And what Yeshivas further miss is that God HAS provided the permanent blood sacrifice for sin in the person of Yeshuah HaMashiach – Jesus the Christ – Israel’s Messiah who came as the sacrifice for sin.

What Yeshivas miss – and how they fail – is recognizing that their system of works only leads to the pit of Hell, not to the bosom of Abraham. What Yeshivas miss – and how they fail – is in not understanding that only a blood sacrifice can atone for sin, and that a permanent blood sacrifice HAS been made. It was made by Yeshuah, who died for the sins of all humanity, the Jewish people included.

What Yeshivas miss ­– and how they fail – is in not understanding that Yeshua is the one and only way for human beings to be saved – to be found acceptable before a holy God.

May God open the eyes of the Jewish people that they may come to a saving knowledge of their true Messiah – the one who atoned for all their sins, if they would only accept His wondrous sacrifice on their behalf!

Read my testimony: “From Judaism to Christ”