The summary of ATID's December 1st Panel Discussion was posted to the "LookJed" e-mail list of the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education at Bar-Ilan University, and generated a number of responses from educators throughout the world. We are grateful to Rabbi Shalom Berger, moderator of the list, for allowing us to reprint them here.

We encourage you to visit the Lookstein Center's website at

If you would like to post your own reaction here, please e-mail ATID.

Date: Fri, 31 Dec 1999 08:22:17 +0200
From: Avie Walfish <>
Re: Torah She-ba'al Peh Curriculum Symposium

I would like to add my perspective to the views on teaching gemara/torah sheb'al peh at the ATID symposium as summarized in your recent posting.

The discussion seemed (if brief summaries be taken as a guide) to assume that either students are succeeding in learning gemara or they aren't. Thus Daniel Levy, positing inherent difficulties in exposing teens (or younger) to unvarnished gemara, proposed radical curriculum change, whereas other speakers proposed less radical change, on the assumption that "top students" are successfully navigating shoals of gemara study and that problems of "less than top" students can and should be dealt with by adjusting current programs rather than by major surgery.

I would propose that the question whether gemara teaching is succeeding or not is not a "yes or no" question, but depends on - as R. Adler noted - careful definition of our goals. In my experience, many "top students" who are "successful" in their gemara studies are missing important (in my view) knowledge and skills and many of those who continue their gemara studies in post-high school yeshivot are dissatisfied with traditional "lomdut" and are searching for alternatives. The statistics indicating that we are not succeeding with the majority of our students should not lead us to conclusions regarding the apparent and self-avowed failures, but rather to a thoroughgoing re-examination of the whole system.

I, for one, do not share R. Kahn's assumption that the search for spiritual meaning "in each sugya" can only lead to failure and frustration. Here again I think that the search for spiritual meaning is not an "either-or" proposition. We do not have to promise our students instant spiritual fulfillment, but my own learning and teaching indicate that an honest (intellectually as well as spiritually) confrontation with the genuine need many of our students (and some of us as well) feel to find spiritual content in the sugyot, and not only in the enterprise of talmud torah can prove fruitful. These, and other, considerations should all be taken into account in setting the criteria for measuring the extent to which our curricula are successful and in devising strategies for improving our degree of success.

Avraham Walfish

Date: Fri, 7 Jan 2000 00:19:58 -0500 (EST)
From: Aaron Shalom Ross <>
Subject: Re: Lookjed Digest Vol. II No. 1

I read Yoel Finkelman's summary of the ATID conference with great interest. Gemara curriculum has been a topic on this list before and it is one that is particularly close to my heart. However, of the four scholars who were mentioned, it seemed to me that all of them operated at no lower than the high school level, and three of them are operating at the post-high school level. What about where it all begins - the elementary school level??

While I have written on this list before about my preference for beginning Gemara instruction at an age closer to the 15 suggested by Pirkei Avot, the fact remains that 6th grade is the time that most students begin to learn Gemara (at least such is the case in the States). This being the case, if we are concerned with how students view the subject and whether or not they find it interesting, perhaps we should consider the fact that they may be bummed out of it even before they reach high school. If teaching Gemara to junior high school students is to remain the norm, then perhaps there should be a greater focus on how it is taught at that level. If it fails at the beginning, then everyone at the higher levels has to fight an uphill battle.

Aaron Ross
8th Grade Gemara Rebbe, Yavneh Academy, Paramus NJ

Date: Thu, 6 Jan 2000 19:38:03 EST

In response to Avi Walfish's response to Shalom Berger:
It is apparent that you find success using an approach that is, in your words, "spiritually and intellectually honest." Could you define what you mean by those terms? To clarify, it also would be helpful for you to define an approach that is "spiritually/intellectually DIS-honest" and provide some examples.

Or is this definitional question a matter of Potter Stewart's famous definition of pornography: can't define it but know it when I see it (lehavdil, of course).

Rob Toren

[As Rob Toren's question was directed to Avie Walfish specifically, I asked Avie if he would be so kind as to respond so that the question and answer would appear together. Here's the response. Shalom]

Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2000 09:00:15 +0200
From: Avie Walfish <>
To: Shalom Berger <>

Rob's thoughtful question deserves a response. On a lookjed posting I'd prefer not to give specific examples (I'd be happy to be more forthcoming offlist), but I can attempt to characterize (preferable, in my view, to "define") what I mean by "spiritually and intellectually honest".

Intellectual honesty would include the following: commitment to thoroughgoing and detailed analysis of the text; alertness to textual cues and clues; methodological self-awareness and self-criticism; openness to changing presuppositions when demanded.

Spiritual honesty would include: yirat shamayim; receptivity and commitment to the word of God ("na'aseh v'nishma"); awareness of one's own spiritual needs and yearnings as well as openness to those of others; humility. The combination of the spiritual and intellectual components should foster learning which is analytical, critical, and open, as well as traditional, faithful, and committed.

The openness to spirituality should sensitize the lamdan\teacher to the spiritual issues at stake beneath (sometimes: upon) the surface of the text. The commitment to intellectual soundness should serve to fine-tune the process: have all alternatives been considered? does the reading genuinely fit? does the sugya present conflicting voices? This may sound paradoxical, but not any more so than many other dialectical demands which the Torah - and life - impose upon us. These are very high standards, but true Talmud torah has always set very high stakes, without allowing us "l'hibatel mimenah" - we have to set our sights high, and expect that our limited success is sufficient to offset our shortcomings.

Some of the kinds of learning which I was trying to exclude by my characterizations of "spiritual and intellectual honesty": learning which either ignores traditional interpretations and "lomdus" or which stifles individual confrontation and engagement with the text; formalism for its own sake - whether of the academic or the "yeshivish" variety; readings which mute either the voice of God or the voice of man within the Talmud; eisegesis - reading preconceived spiritual values into the text; "tacking on" spiritual values which have insufficient grounding in the text.

The openness to spirituality should sensitize the lamdan\teacher to the spiritual issues at stake beneath (sometimes: upon) the surface of the text. The commitment to intellectual soundness should serve to fine-tune the process: have all alternatives been considered? does the reading genuinely fit? does the sugya present conflicting voices? A good way to
test yourself is to examine: do you always tend to find the same message (or small group of messages) in all texts or does each sugya present something (at least somewhat) new? does the Gemara, in your reading, come out fashioned in your image, or do you (at least sometimes) come out of the sugya with new spiritual insights - and sometimes at the expense of long-cherished presuppositions? Differently put - in a conflict between you and the text (do these conflicts ever arise), does one side or the other always win?

I hope these comments, gnomic and abstract as they are, afford some clarity.

Avraham Walfish

I. Further reactions to Talmud curriculum discussion

Date: Tue, 11 Jan 2000 09:25:06 +0200
From: <>
To: lookjed list <lookjed@MAIL.BIU.AC.IL>
Subject: Gemara education

A few questions on Avi Walfish's comments on Gemara education.

1) I find a lot of spiritual/religious meaning in the uncompromising honesty of serious Gemara learning. Not only that, I agree that if you don't do that, you are doing something wrong. Further, there is at least some measure of ideological apologetics that has occurred in my own Gemara education, which I did not appreciate. But, do you think that the majority of students can hack something like what you propose?

First, do they have the intellectual gifts to handle full-fledged uncompromising analysis of texts in such a precise manner.

Second, such a class would end up being pretty open ended. How can a teacher teach the mid-level students in such a fashion without losing them in the back and forth, in the constant challenging of assumptions, etc.? It seems possible to do something like that with a self-selected group of older and particularly committed students. But, how do you plan on implementing such a program with younger, less experienced, and less intelligent students? The extent to which the teacher does the leg-work on his own, and presents his conclusions to the students, that is the extent that you lose the value of the intellectual/spiritual search. The extent to which the teacher engages the students in that search is the extent to which you lose many students.

2) You call for intellectual and spiritual honesty, and admit that there are some paradoxes there. It seems to me that these paradoxes might be quite serious indeed, at least at the most advanced levels. Once absolute intellectual honesty has been invoked, there can no longer be any guarantee that you will end up with something that is "traditional, faithful, and committed." For example, you insist that proper study not ignore traditional lomdus. Why? If one were to conclude, using all the intellectual honesty he can muster, that the methodology of traditional lomdus itself systematically misunderstands sources, than you would be justified in ignoring it. Similarly, you deny the legitimacy of a reading that "mutes the voice of God or man," which assumes that an intellectually honest reading of Gemaras will find those voices. There are plenty of honest students of Talmud who have not found God's voice in the Talmud in any direct way. There are certainly quite a few honest students of Talmud, (probably mostly in universities) who have drawn these conclusions.

Yoel Finkelman, ATID Fellow

Date: Tue, 11 Jan 2000 07:54:49 +0200
From: Daniel A. Levy <>

I would like to post a response to Aaron Shalom Ross's posting in II:3 - Ross's query about Talmud curriculum in elementary school is right on the mark. Indeed, one of the fundamental premises of my proposal is that Talmud Bavli-based Torah She'be'al Peh instruction is inappropriate for elementary grades (I take the liberty of referring Lookjed readers to the full position paper at ). The topical TSP curriculum outline I present there is designed for grades 7-12, but upon reflection it seems to me that the same structure can be used for grades 5 and 6 as well.

I will add one general point: some criticism has been directed at the Comprehensive Topical TSP Curriculum based on the assumption that it eschews traditional Talmud study. This is not the case - if anything, students who receive a firm grounding in TSP using Mishna, Midrash, Rambam and other sources of Torah Shebe'al Peh in lower grades will be better equipped to master Gemara when they begin its study at the appropriate time (which will be different in each educational framework depending on students' background, hours available for instruction, etc.). I did suggest, however, that in the majority of educational settings, during most of the elementary and high school years, a thematic, multiple-source approach to Torah She'be'al Peh study is the most effective way to achieve our goal of enabling our students to grow intellectually and spiritually.

Daniel A. Levy
Israel Studies Institute

[In addition to Avie Walfish's reply, subscribers may be interested in reading three articles that have just been posted on the LookJed website which appeared in the Meimad magazine this past summer. The articles deal with the perceived crisis in teaching Talmud in religious high schools in Israel. They can be accessed at: by searching under "Talmud". Shalom]

Date: Wed, 12 Jan 2000 01:40:46 +0200
From: Avie Walfish <>
Subject: Re: Lookjed Digest II:3

Dear Shalom,
In response to Yoel Finkelman's questions, a few (all-too-brief) remarks:

Regarding the series of questions regarding students' ability to handle learning which juggles the multiple demands imposed upon it - I firmly believe, and my teaching experience has confirmed for me, that learning methodology and teaching methodology - especially on lower levels - are highly distinct, although hardly disjunct. Successful teaching of many subjects - of which Gemara certainly is one - requires pedagogic strategies for presenting abstract ideas in concrete ways, for breaking down complex ideas into component parts which can be digested one by one, for combining teacher's guidance and explanation with student's independent thinking and investigation.

The challenge, regarding Gemara study, is for the teacher to locate, in his intensive and probing learning, those aspects of the Gemara which can serve as entry points for the students. Certainly issues involving spiritual questions and dilemmas will be both more interesting and more manageable for most of our students than issues involving formalistic and technical definitions and equations. The teacher needs to satisfy himself that he has honestly and convincingly identified the spiritual issues underlying (or implied by) the technical and formalistic formulations of the sugya and its interpreters. The student need not replicate this demanding process; once the teacher has navigated the sugya, he can find ways of guiding the students in ways that they will find satisfying. As frequently remarked in that classic novel of the hardships of teaching, Up the Down Staircase - "Let it be a challenge to you!"

Regarding the risks and dangers inherent in the paradoxes, I am tempted to respond with the well-known apothegm regarding democracy, asserting that it is the worst system of government known to man - except for all the others. I don't know of any risk-free system, certainly not within the framework of students who are exposed to the full range of twenty-first century life and thought. We have to choose our educational philosophy based on many considerations, including risk-assessment. In my view, and that of several leading educators with whom I have discussed this, the risk that honest intellectual endeavor will undermine faith and commitment depends to a great extent on "intangibles" such as the personality of the teacher, the learning environment, and the tone and flavor accompanying the inquiry. A teacher imbued with yir'at shamayim, who knows how to project his spiritual personality, will enable his students to hear God's voice in the sugya - even while raising the most critical, even academic, questions.

It is true, as you say, that many students fail to hear God's voice, for which there could be many reasons: were they really seeking to hear it? Did they choose an environment which fosters kedusha and yirat shamayim, along with critical inquiry? Is the learning methodology they adopted suitable for spiritual searching?

Finally, I agree with you that if one honestly concludes that traditional lomdus contains nothing but systematic misreadings, then one would be justified in disregarding it. I don't find that premise to be the case and I frankly doubt that any genuinely honest (pardon the redundancy, but it seems rhetorically appropriate) investigation would yield such unequivocal conclusions. In my experience, men of great intellect and commitment to Talmud torah cannot fail to raise important questions and suggest answers worthy of attention, even when one may have severe methodological misgivings about their "derekh halimmud". Often, I have found, their ideas may not be satisfying in the context or the language in which they were expressed, but may shine more brightly if "translated" or may be instrumental in sparking other, more satisfying ideas.

To my mind, this is part of Hazal's dictum that wisdom consists in learning from all men - and should our great sages not be included (at least) in that category? Differently put: a lamdan imbued with humility and yir'at shamayim would not relate to large tracts of his tradition in a dismissive fashion, even when he disagrees with them profoundly. I think it is worth adding that the truly great academic Talmud scholars have profound respect for rishonim and acharonim alike and treat them with great deference.

Avraham Walfish

Date: Sun, 16 Jan 2000 16:41:12 +0200 (IST)
From: Rav Yair Kahn <>

I am sorry that I didn't have the opportunity to respond immediately to Avi's comments. I have however been monitoring the discussion, and am a bit reluctant to bring the issue back to the staring point. Nevertheless, I think a lot can be gained by reevaluating certain premises.

First of all, I would like to summarize my comments which formed the point of departure of this entire discussion. Danny Levy claimed that the crisis which Torah sheba'al peh faces is due to inherent problems within talmudic structure and logic. Therefore the problem is "insoluble" so long as Talmud remains the text studied.

My comments were in response to this claim. I do not believe that we can honestly claim that Talmud forms an "insoluble" barrier when we see Talmud study flourishing (relatively) within charedi circles. Furthermore, I have noticed a clear-cut distinction between the American and Israeli Modern Orthodox communities. Although the situation in America is far from ideal, a glance at the popularity of summer learning programs is revealing. Aside from Morasha and the ncsy kollel in Israel, Bnei Akiva has recently begun a Torani summer hachshara program which doubled in one year. More and more American high school students are spending their summers learning Gemara lishma! Therefore, I submit that the problems are not "insoluble". Nevertheless, I am not ignorant of the problems, I just feel that they can be solved by improvement rather then replacement.

In trying to understand why this gap between America and Israel (or in Israel, charedi and Zionistic) communities exist, I offered a possible suggestion. Israeli Zionistic students have been promised that in Israel learning Torah sheba'al peh is different and better than Torat chutz la'aretz. However, exactly what is special and unique about Torat Eretz Yisrael is left up for grabs. The common denominator is that traditional learning is no longer satisfying nor relevant. Unfortunately, another common denominator is that no one has developed a successful alternative (b"h). Some may be more interesting and charismatic than others, and have local success, however a real "Mishna sedura" despite Rav Yuval Sherlo's claims, has not been submitted.

I am fully aware that there are other factors regarding the difference of communities, however I am rather convinced that this issue plays a major role in the "crisis" regarding torah she ba'al peh. Learning a Rav Akiva Eiger or a Reb Chaim, no matter how brilliant or revealing, is "irrelevant." How does it affect me, and my life and experiences? How does it meet the expectations promised by the Torat Eretz Yisrael school?

Despite Avi Walfish's claim that he has been able to solve this Gordian knot, I am skeptical. I know Avi personally, and am impressed every time I speak to him. Nevertheless, I don't think he, or his method, can solve this problem. If formalistic learning is irrelevant, why did the greatest talmudic minds engage in it? If learning must be connected to spirituality or philosophy to be worthy of involvement, why did the Rav zt"l spend do much energy when he was feeble and sick on such unworthy endeavors as solving pshat in a difficult Rambam, that had no ulterior message?

The basic assumption of the "irrelevance" of learning per se, without greater spiritual or philosophical content, is far off the mark. This is well known to anyone with a sense of mesorah, who continues to walk in the path forged by the gedolei olam. To them the world of Torah, which is the revealed word of Hashem, as transmitted and translated by the Chachmei Hamesora, is relevant by definition. Involvement in, and submission to this word, is a profound religious act. Being creative, and attempting to define these divine categories in human terms is an exciting and dynamic act of human involvement in passing on the revealed word throughout the generations.

This is the message which I received from mori v'rebbi the Rav zt"l, as I sat in his shiur, while he grappled with formalistic problems. This spiritual and philosophical giant, weakened by age and poor health, would enter the classroom and begin barely at a whisper. As the shiur progressed, while dealing with "irrelevant" formalistic details, he began to get stronger. His mind began to focus. He was able to draw from some mysterious pool of strength as the shiur continued for over two hours. Talmidim tired way before he did. But he wasn't dealing with things irrelevant to his life. Pshat in the Rambam WAS his life. The pool from which his strength was drawn was a spiritual one. Because Torah sheba'al peh, the revealed word of Hashem, was his life.

I don't wish to be misunderstood (again). I do believe that there are problems regarding the study of Gemara. I am open to suggestions which will help solve those problems. (Starting at an older age, better choice of masechtot, integrating spiritual values and philosophical ideas, developing curricula for teachers, etc.) However, in the process, one must be very careful that the message of the mesora is not made anachronistic, through our own actions. As a supplement, to increase interest and appreciation, the exploration of spiritual and philosophical relevance is acceptable. However, when this becomes the focus of learning, the entire message changes, and the problems of bridging the mesorah with the newly created expectations are insurmountable.

Rav Yair Kahn

Date: Wed, 19 Jan 2000 07:12:08 +0200

Regarding what has been written about Talmud teaching, I wish to add a few remarks. First of all, I entirely concur with Rav Yair Kahn that "relevancy" is "irrelevant" - G-d forbid that we should say that any piece of Torah knowledge is out of bounds because it is irrelevant to practical life! Furthermore, I agree that the problem is not in the Talmud text, whether it is printed this way or that, although some printings may be more legible than others. The problem is simply that our Talmud teachers have not been trained how to teach Talmud properly - with the skills and tools that the child requires to accurately attack the sugyah. No fancy inventions such as computers will solve this - the child must go through the painful task of acquiring skills.

What we can do as teachers is create a curriculum which is spiral, logical, and includes all the necessary tools to make the student independent. I am presently writing such a curriculum for a primary school here in Israel, and it will take the student through the preparatory stages for learning Talmud. It will be finished by Tammuz or Av, b'ezrat Hashem. Interested parties may write to me directly at

Pinchas Hayman

[A reminder to subscribers that Dr. Hayman's article on teaching Talmud appears on the Lookstein Center website Search in the Resource Library under Talmud for a complete list of articles on the subject, or look for the specific article by searching under author "Hayman".]

Further response to Talmud curriculum discussion

Date: Fri, 21 Jan 2000 00:24:11 +0200
From: Avie Walfish <>

A brief clarification regarding the ongoing discussion about teaching

I believe that some contributors have resorted to rhetorical overkill in their zeal to stress that (in Pinchas Hayman's words) "relevance is irrelevant". One doesn't have to choose between the absolutes of relevance and irrelevance. The teacher who attempts to make learning "relevant" (I prefer: spiritually meaningful) does not need thereby to convey or imply that Torah is important because it is relevant. The message can equally as well be (my own personal credo): relevant because it is vitally important, consecrated, commanded.

Moshe did not imply that any part of Torah could be disregarded or skipped when he taught that the Mitzvot are "hukim u'mishpatim zaddikim" which convince the nations that we are a wise and understanding nation. Nor did the Rambam's zeal to find ta'amei hamitzvot prevent him from warning (end of hilkhot me'ilah) against making commitment to Mitzvot contingent on believing that we have understood their rationale. However the teacher who thinks that he can infect his students with his own enthusiasm for Torah lishmah simply because "it's there" is unlikely to succeed, certainly not in our "modern" or "centrist" or "Zionist" Orthodox frameworks.

Searching for the spiritual foundations of Talmudic discussions is an aid to helping the students sense the wisdom and sanctity of Torah, which many of our students sorely need. If the teacher doesn't make success in this search a precondition, he is likely to succeed in conveying to his students a true unconditional love of Torah.

"V'im reik hu - mikem!"
Avraham Walfish

Talmud and Multiple Intelligences

Date: Sun, 6 Feb 2000 10:52:45
From: Shalom Berger <>

I believe that almost all of my colleagues who participated in the ATID conference on teaching Talmud have taken the opportunity to clarify their positions, so I would like to take the opportunity to do so, as well.

The discussion focused on the perceived lack of interest and enthusiasm in studying Talmud among students in elementary and high schools. Danny Levy's proposal suggested a sweeping change from the current emphasis of studying a given Masechet, replacing it with a structured curriculum that emphasized a more "Machshavti" approach.

My reluctance to embrace this suggestion stems mainly from my experience with standardized curricula and contemporary research that suggests that standardized texts, workbooks and the like limit excitement and imagination in the classroom. The present Israeli curriculum offers a well-planned, well thought out developmental course of study, culminating in national exams. Yet, if anything the problem of a lack of excitement and interest in Talmud study is even greater in the Dati Leumi community in Israel than it is in modern-Orthodox Day Schools in the United States.

The standard Day School makes certain assumptions about the cognitive abilities of its students. A student who cannot compete on a purely academic, cognitive level is perceived as being a failure. I do not believe that substituting a new curriculum that emphasizes similar skills will satisfy the needs of those students who are not making it under the present system.

The suggestion that I raised was to make use of some of the modern research in pedagogy to better respond to individual student's needs in the classroom. In particular, Howard Gardner's research (which has been discussed on this list before) on multiple intelligences fits in nicely with what I believe are traditional Jewish concepts of pedagogy (See Mishlei 22:6). Subjects should not be taught; students should be taught. I brought three specific examples of how one could use the "multiple intelligence" concept in teaching Talmud (aside from the traditional method, that would probably fall under the category of Logical/Mathematical intelligence):

1. Musical intelligence - The Tiferet Yisrael on Mishna Arachin (4:1) suggests that extra words in Mishnayot appear in order to allow the Mishna to be sung to a specific tune. This idea, based on Gemara Megilla 32a, allows for introducing music and rhythm into a traditional study session.

2. Natural intelligence - The Gemara in Sanhedrin 5a-b relates that Rav spent 18 months studying animal husbandry in order to be able to rule on questions of Bechorot. There can be many contemporary parallels, an obvious one being the study of the Hilazone in rediscovering Techelet.

3. Spatial intelligence - What Shas is complete without the fold-out from Mesechet Middot that details the floor plan of the Mikdash?

Perhaps the greatest example of the use of multiple experiences in a traditional learning setting is our behavior at the Seder Table on Pesach, where the Chachamim set up an evening of pedagogy which includes questions and answers and a whole slew of experiential opportunities that tweak each one of our senses to get us to better reexperience Yitziat Mitzraim.

In short, there are many, many students for whom the present educational system works. It would be a shame to short-change them by diluting their experience with Talmud. For students who do not succeed in the present system, there is certainly a need to better train teachers to be sensitive to the needs and abilities of different students so that they can better challenge every student individually.

Shalom Berger

Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2000 16:33:46 EST

Regarding lack of interest in Talmud study, I have observed first hand inour relatively small Jewish community of Seattle, both in the classroomitself and among the student discussions, a remarkable interest in Talmudstudy due to the extraordinary teaching of the headmaster of our localNorthwest Yeshiva High School. In this school and in this class are alarge percentage of students from non-day school and non-Orthodoxbackgrounds. The rabbi-teacher is very demanding, setting a very highintellectual standard, offering students opportunities to succeed at theirvarious levels. His shiur is very much "b'iyun," going deeply intorishonim and achronim, to give students a taste of authentic lomdus. In myjudgment, "authenticity" is the key. The students become genuine,authentic participants in lomdus. I overheard one student admiringlyremark that this rabbi is one of the smartest people he could ever imaginemeeting. Paraphrasing in my words, this student is obviously inspired bythe genius of Talmud study.

What does this add to the on-going debate about Talmud teaching andcurriculum? Curriculum doesn't do much for either really great teachers orreally poor ones, in my limited experience. The above example is "just" anexample of great teaching. In what would you invest precious resources:finding and supporting great teaching or writing curriculum and discussingad infinitum the various curricular options? As Rav Brovender remarked tome privately, "The Talmud doesn't need a curriculum. It is its owncurriculum."

Rob TorenSeattle,WA

Date: Sun, 13 Feb 2000 09:11:55 +0200
From: Nataf <>

I can no longer hold my peace in connection with the discussion onimproving methodology in teaching Talmud. While I think you (ShalomBerger) make some very valid points, everyone I have read is closing theireyes to the more obvious meta-question that we really need to address:Should we be teaching Talmud to all (or even the majority) of ourstudents. Suggestions of adapting the curriculum to multiple intelligencesmake as much sense as trying to teach advanced physics that way. Yes, wewill get better results than you would if you taught a mass audience onlywith traditional methodology, but such an endeavor would only be advisableif there were a clear-cut benefit to teaching the material to such anaudience to begin with.

My own conclusion is that Talmud was never meant to be studied by a massaudience with no regard for talent or aptitudes. While I am not forcinganyone to agree with my conclusion, I invite others to at least ponder thequestion.

I use this as a starting point for a rough proposal of a new model toaddress the needs of the majority of our students. Anyone interested canaccess it as "Ideas 4 - The Rambam Was Right" at

Francis Nataf
Assistant Dean
Bnot Chayil College for Women
Jerusalem, Israel

Date: Wed, 16 Feb 2000 15:04:49 +0200
From: David Bernstein <>
Subject: Talmud curriculum

Those who believe that we should follow the way in which Talmud was taught for generations, simply because that is the way it was taught, are following in the footsteps of those who opposed Chassidut, the introduction of Musar into the yeshiva, the Brisker method, and Torah learning for women. Each generation (not to mention each student!) sees Torah with somewhat different eyes, and hears the words of the Talmud with somewhat different ears. We need not throw out traditional methods of learning just because they are traditional; but we dare not reject educational innovation (which can mean improved Torah learning) just because it is new! Sincerely,

David I. Bernstein, Ph.D.
Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies

Date: Wed, 16 Feb 2000 14:55:14 +0100
From: Simon Goulden <>

I too have been fascinated by the ebb and flow of debate surrounding the teaching of Talmud.

Unable as I am to quote anything in the name of one of the gedolim, I am reduced to the experience of my own eyes. Many parents feel that if their son (but not daughter) is not learning Gemoro, sometimes by the age of 9 or 10, they are educationally impaired and - by extension - will not flourish elsewhere in life. It seems odd that they do not apply the same criteria to other subjects, like advanced maths or chemistry, but by doing so they are ignoring the wisdom of Pirkei Avot (5:24). If 2000 years ago it was not considered appropriate for boys to learn Talmud until they were educationally mature enough - at 15 - then why should we know better? It may not be the style of teaching, or even the curriculum, but the age at which it is being started to be taught, which is producing the problems.

A generation or two ago, a yeshiva education was a privilege for a very small number of boys - the intellectual 'cream of the crop'. These days ALL boys seem to regard it as their right to spend several years in yeshiva. Are they all the intellectual 'cream of the crop', or is there perhaps another motive, of which I am unaware?

I would appreciate the wisdom of others.


Date: Wed, 16 Feb 2000 10:19:52 -0800 (PST)
From: Larry Schwed <>
Subject: Talmud methodology

I've been following with great interest the shakla ve'tarya on the subject of teaching Talmud, Talmud curriculum, methodology, etc. While there appears to be much emotional attachment to the subject, I think it behooves us as modern Torah educators to take a step back and look at what we're trying to accomplish. It seems to me that different schools may have different goals in mind in introducing their students (boys and/or girls) to Talmud.

Are we looking to train our students to become independent learners of the Gemara? Are we attempting to present the Gemara as one of our ancient Holy texts in order to understand Chumash better? Is our goal to develop "learning" skills? To "expose" students to another genre of our ancient Jewish literature? etc. etc.

Of course the method of presentation depends on the goal one is trying to reach. While it is admirable to try and teach all of our students (on all levels) Gemara, it is wise to do so? If they're not successful, will they God forbid be turned off to learning or to Torah in general?

To push the question even further- why do Yeshivot feel the urgency to begin the study of Gemara so early, before their students really know Chumash (not to mention Navi and K'tuvim) very well? In our rush and enthusiasm to teach our students what many of us enjoy learning, we may be putting the cart before the horse. Why not take the time to build good Chumash and Parshanut skills, Navi and K'tuvim as well, before we overwhelm them with Gemara?

Further- why do Yeshivot rarely spend much time teaching Mishna properly? The Mishna is so beautifully written, in relatively simple Hebrew (as compared to the Aramaic of the Gemara). One prominent educator once told me years ago that the answer to this question is that Mishna is boring to teach, once you know Gemara. That may be so for the adult, but what about the student's perspective?

Lastly- while it is interesting what Yisroel Frankfurter wrote regarding the question of teaching Gemara in Masechtot or in topics, I wonder two things- as another lookjed respondent replied recently- Did Chazal ever dream that Gemara would be "taught" to the masses? Probably not. In addition, I wonder how many "korbanot" we produce in teaching Gemara the "traditional" way (often by teachers or rabannim who have had limited pedagogic training.) It seems to me that methodology such as the one Rav Sabatto in Israel has been working on holds much hope for us as educators.

I remember hearing in Israel on a seminar I attended in the summer of '98 that the most hated subject in Israeli dati high schools was Gemara. It's time we took a serious look at what we're doing and why we're doing it.

L. Schwed
Yeshivah of Flatbush E.S.
Brooklyn, New York

Date: Sun, 20 Feb 2000 02:21:44 +0200
From: Esther Lapian <>
Subject: Teaching Talmud

I have been following the discussion about teaching Talmud for a few weeks, and I would like to offer the following metaphor as a way of understanding this complex issue. After the Six-Day War, one of the first tasks that the State of Israel took upon itself was the renovation of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. The architects chosen to do the job approached their task with awe and humility. They wanted to preserve as much as they could of the unique beauty and charm of the Old City as it had been. But they also intended for families to move in, and expected that they would have the same everyday needs as people living anywhere. They were moments when they thought they might be able to keep all the old structures in tact, but it also meant that the electricity would be precarious and the sewage might get clogged. So, as painful as it was, certain structures had to be relocated, at the risk of loss of their original beauty, and some had to be sacrificed completely. All this was done only after months of thought and much painstaking planning.

In the end, the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is a wondrous place to visit- a unique fusion of the old and the new. History is lovingly preserved, but the delightful music that one merits hearing are the sounds of the children scampering up slides and negotiating with parents about when to come home.

There were two possibilities here: Leave everything as is, don't touch a thing- it's too old, its too precious. The price: no one moves in. But hundreds of people come to visit daily, and everyone marvels at - and mourns- the majesty that once was. Or, one take risks. We adore the old, respect and admire it, but understand that we cannot live with it exactly as it once was. Its just not workable in the same way. If we insist on moving in anyway, the kids will move in with us. But they won't stay.

Esther Lapian

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