Conversation in quarantine: isolated students hold study hall, debate night

Yeshiva students of different demographics took advantage of being in quarantine together to debate certain shared interests.

Shimon Cohen , | updated: 11:08 PM

students in quarantine debate
students in quarantine debate
Noam Liphshitz

Some interesting encounters take place at the hotels for quarantined individuals in Jerusalem. Students of the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva and students from haredi yeshivas have joined together for organized sessions of study and debate on religion, nationalism, and other matters. Noam Lifshitz, a first-year at Mercaz Harav, spoke about the dynamics at play .

"There is an incredible atmosphere of cooperation and mutual respect between all factions," Lifshitz said. "Students of the Mir and other yeshivot have brought books so different from those in Merkaz Harav. It's very nice to hear from the other side and get to know books we don't usually study, the basic concepts of their lifestyle, the nuances of the Haredi world. I sleep in a room with a Haredi student; they have whole conversations about the great Rabbis who for us are only storybook characters. They tell us of the rules in their Yeshivas, the acceptance criteria, the culture, what is allowed, and what is forbidden in their world."

"People here listen to one another, and we are finding that the Zionist and Haredi camps actually have a lot in common," he said.

Among the topics discussed were smartphones and smoking, but most of the discourse focused on the state and its institutions. "People who have been here for more than a week tend to know who has the knowledge and charisma needed for a debate, and they got together to pick the debate teams."

"Among other things, they argued about complying with the government, whether to accede to secularism and in what areas, whether a secular Jew is considered a Jew at all. Ben-Gurion, to them, is a villain who established a largely secular state and promoted secular existence as an ideal. This was one of the issues debated between students of Merkaz Harav and Har Hamor."

"I do not think anyone has changed his mind about anything, but we now know more and understand more, and better respect those on the other side. I've traded contact information with many of the Haredi students here, and we intend to maintain our friendship when all of this is over."