By Reuben M. Gampel
Yeshivat Hakotel, like many hesder yeshivot, expects talmidim to give two weeks of service to the yeshiva community: one week for toranut (kitchen duty) and the other for shemirah (guard duty).
I had many misconceptions about these weeks and, frankly, dreaded them. Having now completed them, I can confirm that they are in no way punitive. Much anxiety leading up to these weeks could have been avoided with a clear explanation of the requirements.
Toranut (Kitchen Duty)
Each week, four students are assigned toranut from Sunday through Thursday and a Shabbat. Their duties include: washing the lunch dishes, setting up the dining room for dinner, and washing the dinner dishes. (Breakfast and lunch setup are taken care of by the house staff.) A student’s Shabbat toranut shift is usually not on the same week as his weekday shift.
On weekdays, the toranim fill large metal basins with soap and water in the cafeteria and diners deposit their dirty dishes in them to soak. The toranim then remove these dishes and scrape off any visible food particles. After spraying the dishes with a high-powered hose, the dishes are placed in a large tray that is on a conveyor belt. The dishes are moved through an industrial dishwashing apparatus.
The now clean, but semi-wet, dishes are then organized in piles on a large cart where they will dry and remain until the next meal.
On Shabbat, the toranim set the tables and serve as waiters. Hired help wash the Friday night and Shabbat lunch dishes. The only dishes Shabbat toranim wash are from seudat shelishit, and that is done on motzaei Shabbat.
The toranut schedule is made up by Israeli talmidim and mostly follows alphabetical order. One has a pretty good idea when he will be assigned based on the last names of those preceding him. Once the assignments are made it is difficult to change them. If there is a conflict, a student needs to find coverage by swapping with another talmid or paying him (the going rate is usually 30–40 shekel), or pay a fine if he misses his shift completely. It is important to be proactive if you know you’ll have a conflict, either by requesting an alternate assignment two weeks in advance or not waiting until the last minute to find coverage. This is especially true for the Shabbat toranut shift, as many have Shabbat plans and are unavailable to fill in.
The yeshiva’s door is manned by an unarmed student 24 hours a day, seven days a week. During a talmid’s shemirah week he is assigned to a three-hour shift, which varies daily. For example, one can be on guard duty from 7:00–10:00 a.m. on Sunday and 1:00-4:00 a.m. on Monday.
The shomer’s primary job is to sit in the foyer, between the front door and lobby and press the button that unlocks the door to let people in and out of yeshiva. During Shabbat shemirah the button is deactivated.
Shabbat shemirah shifts are often more difficult to switch than toranut shifts. More than one colleague’s plans were interrupted, including missing a Shabbaton or other special programming, by a shemirah shift that could not be covered by someone else. If one has a major conflict—for example, if a student’s parents are visiting for the weekend—it is imperative to be proactive and ask to be assigned to an alternate Shabbat. Scheduling for shemirah is similar to toranut and requests should preferably be made two weeks in advance.
My toranut and shemirah experiences were uneventful. Although it was more sedentary, I enjoyed shemirah more than the laborious periods of toranut. I did have a conflict on one of my toranut days, when my great-aunt and uncle came to visit, but I was able to switch my shift with a friend.
In sum, these periods of community service to the yeshiva are more bark than bite. With a little planning and a positive attitude by the talmid, they will pass quickly and uneventfully. ◼
Reuben Gampel graduated from DRS and is now learning at Yeshivat HaKotel. Reuben was chosen to receive the 5TJT Student Journalism Award in 2022.