How NOT to Teach Gemara in High School, End

[Intro, Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI; once again, all bracketed comments and emphases are mine – AIWAC]

[Well, this is it. I have finished a translation job worth over 500 NIS – for free (by my rates). I hope this work succeeds in encouraging constructive discussion on the topic. It has inspired me to write my own, far more personal love-hate relationship with gemara and Rabbinic literature next week. Stay tuned. – AIWAC]

C. The Teachers – Lacking in Training

From the aforesaid are derived the deficiencies in training gemara teachers for high school instruction:

There is a lack of training for structured instruction at a basic level, as at the yeshiva they learned at a higher level. There is also a lack of psychological readiness for it, since it appears to be a coldly intellectual and alienating type of study. There is also no appreciation for the importance of studying gemara at the basic level and understanding it fundamental and accurate meaning. Therefore – the teachers themselves do not value this kind of work, and they tend to search for other solutions to add value to their educational work.

On the other hand, they are not willing to allow students to skip the basic stage with assisting tools, as it is considered an inferior and “not serious” way of learning. This is the reason for the revulsion felt towards assisting tools: Steinzaltz, dictionaries, the Mei Menuhot &c.

There are no tools for attaching significance for that which is being studied. Most Talmud teachers will say, that it is indeed boring and meaningless to learn just gemara in most of the sugyot in Shas, and that in order to find relevant, existential significance, one must find selected sugyot.

Because of the huge gap between the level of study in yeshiva and the level of study in high school, teachers have a low impression of their field, and of course they radiate this onto their students. The teacher himself is not the “Matmid” (of Bialik fame), he has other areas of knowledge and occupation. Sometimes, he suffers from a lack of access to “competing subjects”, and he does not know how to open a principled and spiritual dialogue with the students. Sometimes, the exact opposite happens, and he is perfectly capable of conducting a live and fruitful dialogue with his students, but he does it during a “general discussion” with the class, or on the basis of individual friendship. Precisely in this way he radiates the lack of interest that he and the students have towards the gemara itself.

Another problem which the teacher from yeshiva brings with him is the unwillingness and inability to deal with the requirements of the system and maneuver within it. On the one hand one gets radical teachers, who want to break the frameworks and make the high school more like a yeshiva, something which the system will have difficulty swallowing, and on the other hand teachers who accept the (system’s) diktat, and surrender to the authority of the system, under the heading of “what can you do, they have to be prepared for the bagrut” or “what can you do, this is the level of my students”. Thus do they avoid any significant attempt to enliven gemara study.


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:
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1 Response to How NOT to Teach Gemara in High School, End

  1. Pingback: Open Thread Sunday | QED

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