Gemara has competitors. We will denote three of them: secular studies, other Jewish religious subjects, leisure activity.
In terms of the value and the (degree of) interest, in terms of the level of teaching, in terms of the level of “reward” – the weight they carry in the Bagrut and later in university, and in terms of the burden, most of the students have at least a few secular subjects whose weight (and subsequent importance) is greater than Talmud – and the amount of class time is less! This is known to all and there is no need to go into detail.
Tanach and Machshava
Precisely in successful institutions – the primary religious achievement in terms of relevance takes place in Tanach and machshava classes, and in seminars. This is also the case in youth movements: the study of Tanach and Mishna is encouraged, but no-one considers the option of setting up a regular gemara shiur on location. This is also something to which pre-Army mechinot contributed. They proved that an emphasis on emunah, Tanach and machshava has greater success in terms of study and benefit than the yeshiva curriculum.
As was mentioned above, one of the important reasons for this is the difficulty in study. In Tanach, machshava and halacha, the class arrives at a discussion of principled and essential questions at a pretty early stage of the study. This as opposed to gemara, where the stages of initial deciphering are very long, and the time dedicated to a discussion of principle and essence is less, both relative to other subjects, and also relative to the time dedicated to deciphering the gemara and the mefarshim.
What hasn’t been said about the damage cause by television?
In my opinion, the complaints about television in the present context are exaggerated. Television does not prevent the youth from dealing with many interesting, important and principled matters. Take, for instance, the example of counselors of youth groups or MADA (Magen David Adom) volunteers.
Generally, television enters where there is already boredom, and is not a cause of idleness to someone who has important and interesting things to do. The idlers of old used books and soccer in place of TV, and succeeded to slack off to the same degree. In contrast, we should remember that there is also important and positive leisure: volunteering, counseling &c. All of these squeeze out gemara from times of leisure entirely, encouraging more “attractive” activities even during the seder and the shiur.
Next: The School and the Teachers