Shaf Yativ: A Special Needs Yeshiva for When 'It's All Too Much'

The Shaf Yativ Beit Midrash program for men with severe mental illness is located in Jerusalem, and recently expanded to a branch in Ramat Gan.

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Hana Levi Julian, | updated: 17:52

Discussing the learning program at Shaf Yatif
Discussing the learning program at Shaf Yatif
Israel news photo: Shaf Yatif

A hareidi-religious IDF soldier goes out to war -- and comes back unable to function, unable even to learn Torah. The post-traumatic stress disorder he now suffers is crippling; his future in rabbinic studies, which once looked so bright, grows dim with fear.

A brilliant young man with an academic future ahead of him has a breakdown; his Torah-observant parents are heartbroken, and the young man lies in bed all day, listless with depression. How to rekindle the spark that once lit up his eyes with the joy of learning?

Enter Shaf Yatif, an innovative Jerusalem Beit Midrash (Torah learning institute) for men with severe mental health issues.

The yeshiva bears the name of a synagogue in ancient Babylon that was built with stones from the Holy Temple “which was ruined and rebuilt and always had holy spirit within it” (Rashi, Rosh HaShana 24).

Although the yeshiva had only six students less than two years ago, Shaf Yatif today counts 30 students in the nation's capital, and has an eight-student nucleus in its new center in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan.

Rabbi Guy Avihod, director of the center, notes there is a “great need” for the program, “much bigger than we originally envisioned.” Learning takes place until early afternoon, and although Avihod says he would like to add an afternoon program and expand to include more students, he explains that he wants to be able to add a lunch program first: “Many of my students regularly skip meals, sometimes due to lack of money, many times due to lack of order in their lives.”

The student body is comprised of young men who struggle with severe psychiatric conditions, many of whom have suffered nervous breakdowns of one type or another. Full-time staff includes the director (Avihod), as well as Educational Coordinator Rabbi Uriel Eliad, who coordinates individual education programming and testing for the students; two social workers, and program coordinator Udi Marili, with whom Avihod founded the center. A volunteer psychiatrist provides consultation services once a week, and other health professionals are available on a monthly basis.

Avihod describes in a letter posted on the yeshiva's website his own personal joy at helping one of the students find the strength to develop his potential. “When he told me that he gets up every day to pray before starting his day, I couldn't help but swell with pleasure as I remembered the student that walked into our program a year ago, contending every day with the seemingly simple task of getting up out of bed in the morning,” he wrote.

The name of the yeshiva was chosen, Avihod says, with the description of the place in mind: the thought of building from the stones of the Holy Temple, “having been ruined and then re-built, all the while having the holy spirit present... I couldn't help but see these students and their sacred souls in those words.”

For more information about the program, contact Rabbi Guy Avihod at 054-790-9104 or visit the yeshiva's website at .