WHEN you enter the yeshiva Tomhey Temimim (Support of the Innocents), a Habad yeshiva in Lud, Israel, you see scores of boys wearing kippas (skullcaps), with tassels hanging at the sides of their trousers. Among them one recognizes youngsters after their Bar Mitzva, wearing black hats and coats.
In the yeshiva, some 240 students in the first to seventh grades and about 100 preschool-aged children study under the direction of Rabbi Manasseh (Menashe) Hadad. The youngest ones begin their reading, writing, and religious studies at age 3.
The yeshiva, part of Israel's state religious school system, is funded by the Ministry of Education as well as by Habad, a Jewish movement derived from Hasidism. The pupils study continuously from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The teacher, Haim, is a burly man who wears a broad skullcap, has a white beard, and looks rather intimidating. He teaches Talmud.
Facing him sit 27 students, absent-mindedly curling their sidelocks and yawning surreptitiously, while carrying on a matter-of-fact discussion concerning a customer who causes distress to a shopkeeper. They comment on the Scriptures and consider his case in the light of religious law
Avremaleh Weisel, 11, wears a black skullcap covering his whole head. He listens attentively. When the teacher addresses him directly, he gives give a sharp and succinct answer. Sidelocks hang on both sides of his cheeks, his eyes radiate intelligence. Although he studies in the eighth grade, his freckles give a hint of his young age.
Avremaleh has three sisters and a brother. His father works at a butcher shop, and his mother is a homemaker. The family lives in the moshav (a small-holders cooperative) of Gamzo, a religious village near Ben Shemen forest. Avremaleh's father drives him to school every day. He has studied there since the age of 6. Only one other student lives close by, so he doesn't meet his friends after school.
``I begin my lessons at 8 o'clock and finish at 18 [6 p.m.],'' he says. ``I study in this school because of the high level of its religious studies. We don't learn English here, but we learn arithmetic, geography, computers, and natural sciences. Most of the curriculum consists of Torah studies. Most of all I like to study the Torah, the prophets, and arithmetic. When I grow up I shall work in a job that has to do with religion.
``The teacher is important to me both as a teacher and as an example, an educator. I also care about my marks. During recess I learn Mishnayoth by heart, and when I don't, I play marbles. I don't like playing football or sports That's why during recess I usually prepare for quizzes, which take place at the end of the year. I prefer among my textbooks `Babylonian Talmud: Baba Mazia.' Among the last books I read were `Treasure of Tales and Legends: The Prophets and Hagiograph,' and a book about tales from the Bible that the teacher gave us to read at home.
``Most of all, the thing I like in school is when we go home. But I also enjoy the prayers and the computer class. One of the things that I'd like most of all is to meet an American kid. It could be an interesting encounter.''