I f the weather cooperates the first-day-of-zeman chavrusa tumult has become an event while photographers are on scene to capture the commotion and drama. The pictures of white-shirted black-trousered young men (some in jackets others opting for the casual style of a jacket round over the shoulders) outside the iconic batei medrash of Lakewood or Mir is a regular feature on the picture pages of chareidi publications.

The tumult for the uninitiated is this unscripted informal matchmaking service ensuring that every single talmid in yeshivah finds an appropriate chavrusa — yet there is no computerized list or formal director no algorithm or aptitude test just well-meaning intermediaries making suggestions and answering questions as would-be chavrusas try to gauge their potential partners.

It’s our version of the stock or diamond exchange: intense discussions frenzied negotiations serious huddles and finally a deal and a new pair is formed. The fresh duo will thank the various mediators and make their way to wherever one of them has a chazakah on a seat and a new era will begin. They will learn to discern each other’s moods start to understand the nuances and expressions of the other. What the Rashba is still shver to you? I see you’re not chapping. I need a minute to think this through. They will connect on a deeper level their souls and hearts and minds merging in the pursuit of the one and only Truth.

Beyond that however they will know when the car is in the shop the wife isn’t feeling well and the baby was up all night.

(It doesn’t always work by the way. Once a well-meaning liaison in the Mir arranged for me and a slight courteous Swiss bochur to learn certain that we were on the same wavelength. We sat down and within minutes it was obvious to both of us that it was a mistake. No one said anything but one of us excused himself to go to the washroom and then went AWOL never to return. Months later we made eye contact at the Mir Chanukah mesibah and we both smiled and nodded politely. No hard feelings.)

The term “chavrusa tumult” is intriguing. The tumult seemingly refers to the noise and disorder of the process the raised voices and heated negotiations.

I’d like to suggest a variant reference.

A person would have to be very confident to allow a team of peers with no real expertise or formal training to offer a public assessment of his abilities and skills.

Yet that’s exactly what’s happening. The candidate is on stage so to speak with any number of people weighing in on his ability as a lamdan opining about whether or not he “gets the vort ” if he’s fast but not so fast that he’s an illui if the lingering headaches that made him a no-show last zeman are still a problem and if he’s the type that needs to shtell on every little thing.

How many among us would be open to that kind of public scrutiny essentially an audit of our smarts middos and general personality?

Balabatim have it easy. Their learning often consists of formal shiurim or a steady chavrusa not one that switches every zeman. Younger bochurim are still benefitting from arranged matches the rebbi moving chess pieces around the board for them. They don’t really have to come face-to-face with how they’re perceived especially since a kind rebbi will often assure the talmid that “You’re the stronger one you need to make sure to pull the train.”

It’s only at a certain age that this brutally honest appraisal is conducted when you find out exactly how you’re perceived.

It’s the exclusive domain of the chavrusa tumult that gives you that streak-free window into your identity because in real shidduchim there are too many other external factors at play. No one is choosing a chavrusa because he’s tall his father just took the company public or he’s a ben achar ben of the Ropshitzer.

This is as real as it gets a taste of the ultimate judgment. So of course they tumult. Wouldn’t you?


Originally featured in Mishpacha Issue 672. Yisroel Besser may be contacted directly at besser@mishpacha.com