A Beraita is cited in today’s daf (Yevamot 42b) which makes reference to a ruling מפי חכמים בכרם ביבנה – ‘from the mouths of the Sages in Kerem (lit. ‘the vineyard) B’Yavne (lit. ‘in Yavne’)’, and given that studied in Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavne – whose founding was inspired by the great academy of Yavne established by Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai, I thought I would reflect on the name כרם ביבנה – vineyard in Yavne – which I think might offer us some fascinating insights into what the Yeshiva and Seminary experience can mean for various people. So why was this institution referred to as a vineyard?
Interestingly, Israel Abraham’s initially posits that, ‘like the Greek philosophers who taught their pupils in the gardens of the “Academy” at Athens, the Rabbis may have lectured to their students in a “Vineyard”’ (Short History of Jewish Literature p. 2). However, he then acknowledges the view of the Yerushalmi (Brachot 4:1) that ‘the term “Vineyard” was only a metaphor… where “the Sanhedrin sat in rows like vines in a vineyard”’ (ibid.).
Parenthetically, it is worthwhile noting the question raised by various commentaries as to how could it be that the Sanhedrin sat in straight rows, like a vineyard, in Yavne since we are taught in Mishna Sanhedrin 4:3 (Sanhedrin 36b) that the Sanhedrin sat in a semi-circle? To this, Rav Goren (in his essay in ‘Torat HaMoadim’ on the Sanhedrin in the post-destruction era) explains that this is precisely why we are told that the Sages met in Kerem B’Yavne (i.e. in a way comparable to a vineyard) to teach us that while these Sages continued to be referred to as the Sanhedrin, they did not function or render rulings like a Sanhedrin. Instead, their task was solely to teach and secure the transmission of Torah to future generations.
Returning to our daf, we have made reference to the Yerushalmi which explains that the term ‘vineyard’ describes the visible layout of the academy where the Sages sat in straight rows. Still, the Beraita could have said this without needing to invoke the metaphor of a vineyard. Given this, what are we to learn from the use of this term? On this, the Tifferet Yisrael explains (in his commentary on Eduyot 2:4) that this rabbinic academy was a place of planting and growing. As such, it was fitting for it to have been called a vineyard.
What we have from here are two different explanations about the use of the word ‘vineyard’. The first refers to external appearances, while the second refers to inner growth. Sometimes – and here my comments are general and have no direct bearing on Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavne (KBY) – Yeshiva and Seminary students change both internally and externally. Sometimes they change in one and not the other. And sometimes it takes a while to see any impact or change from their experience. Yet what should be clear – not only in relation to the Yeshiva and Seminary experience but in terms of almost every Jew – is that the exterior and the interior are often not mirror images of one another, even though we often presume that people are spiritually transparent.
Significantly, this is a topic that I have recently been thinking, reading and writing about whose fruits I hope to share in the coming weeks and months, and this is because many of the people who turn to me for spiritual advice often do so because of a dissonance that they feel between the deep spiritual compass that inspires and guides them from within, and the life that they live which is visible to themselves and others.
True, sometimes we feel the need to appear in a certain way in order to fit the neat boxes and straight rows – perhaps comparable to a vineyard – of the communities and institutions that we live in and that we affiliate with. Yet it is important to remember that personal and spiritual growth is – like the individual vines that grow in a vineyard – not always neat or predictable.