(Belated) Open Thread Sunday

What’s your experience with gemara study (like it? hate it? religiously fruitful or harmful?)?

What type of study do you like (academic, brisk, telz or otherwise)?

Place your answers below.



Hi, my name is Avi Woolf. I'm an American-Israeli MO Jew living in Israel. I have a background in Israeli (as in Land of Israel) and Jewish History and an insatiable need for knowledge. I also have professional experience as an editor, translator and indexer. Enjoy the ride! If you are interested in using my services or just want to drop me a line, contact me at: opdycke1861NOSPAM@yahoo.com
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4 Responses to (Belated) Open Thread Sunday

  1. fred says:

    love/hate. sometimes it really clicks, but most often it is a lot of hard work with little tangible results. off the top of my head, here are a number of reasons for this: studying an oral dialogue as written; the assumption of encyclopedic knowledge; the meandering seems pointless; drashas are without rhyme or reason; questions seem far-fetched, answers moreso.
    religiously fruitful? i dont even know what that means.

    derech halimud? i dont know what that means either. go with whatever works at the time. i find that often discussion of fealty to a derech is pretentious, and often stems from ignorance. hey, if i can just nail pshat, and can remember the important parts of the gemara for later reference, i am ahead of the game. i suspect i am not alone in my sentiments.

  2. Shlomo says:

    I don’t see how anyone with a day job can learn with a “derech”. Normal people who learn texts do so in a passive/receptive manner, in which you react to challenges one by one as they are brought up in the text. In contrast, a “derech” calls on you to (super)impose your own thought patterns on those that appear naturally from the text. It also calls on you to have a wide variety of other texts and ideas available to be called on as sources or support for your theories. All this takes an incredible amount of mental effort, and a one-hour chavruta or whatever most normal people do is simply insufficient for it.

    Bekuit, on the other hand, can be done by relatively intelligent people even if they’re not in yeshiva or kollel. It is the most viable way of connecting to God intellectually – that is to say, occupying your mind with religious matters, in a way sufficiently challenging that you cannot become complacent or arrogant, while giving the experience of immersion in a structure of God’s word so vast that you will never be able to fully comprehend it.

    [I suspect that 1) Mishna and halacha as typically studied do not have the depth to be sufficiently intellectually challenging, and 2) serious study of Tanach and machshava quickly leads to many questions where one possible answer is theologically acceptable and the other is not, thus “teiku” is a religiously detrimental response. Therefore these subjects cannot replace gemara for the purpose I described.]

    Of course, all this depends on having a sufficient level of textual skills and background knowledge. I find that “oral dialogue as written” is actually a great strength of gemara, allowing you (and a chavruta) to easily recreate the oral dialog and feel personally involved in the study. Far-fetched drashot can be seen as asamachtot, and okimtot can be explained by the perceived fallibility of the tanaim (those living in the amoraic period) or by the need to uphold Babylonian custom. More troubling to me is the feeling I sometimes get that the gemara, in deeper ways than does tanach, often seems to take a moral stand that disagrees with my own.

    BTW, Avi, if you don’t mind my asking: how old are you?

    • AIWAC says:

      I’m 28, why do you ask?

      Your response is certainly an interesting one; I’ll have to mull it over.

      One thing with which I disagree is the idea that gemara is safer than Tanach in terms of questions. I have run into not a few problems with many statements made in sifrut Chazal that I had (and still have) a lot of difficulty with on a moral level, some of which I have to deal with in my thesis. Another issue I have are the sometimes very condescending/negative statements about women.

      Then there’s the extreme frustration with the “we can’t change or challenge anything” in halacha that seems to pervade most, if not all of the halachic elite.
      Once upon a time (chazal’s time, to be exact), matters were much more dynamic. There were boundaries, to be sure, but there was room for maneuver when circumstances demanded. There’s nothing more frustrating than being told to learn and have a command of Torah and halacha only to be told that everything’s already been decided and there is no right of appeal.

      Anyway, rant over.

      • Shlomo says:

        Gemara is safer than tanach because its apparent flaws can be often be relegated to the category of human rather than divine flaws. For example, Chazal themselves recognized their fallibility in matters of science; it’s not such a stretch to extend that to issues like the abilities of women.

        As for the inflexibility of halacha (regarding halachot that feel outdated, and some of those which feel like they never should have existed in the first place), I’ve made my peace with that through R’ Kook’s drasha on bikurim, see http://adderabbi.blogspot.com/2010/01/of-fruit-dried-and-fresh.html . For a long time now, halacha has been inflexible out of necessity. Like R’ Eliezer Berkowitz I look forward to the day on which it can be “rehydrated”.

        Another point: the gemara study which frustrates you seems to focus on results, while in my description of gemara study, the focus was probably more on the process.

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