How NOT to Teach Gemara in High School, Part V

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

The School and the Teachers

A. The Schedule

The Multiplicity of Frontal Lectures

One of the problems of the educational system is the fear of changing existing patterns, as well as the need to appear if only slightly like the (Charedi) yeshivot. Therefore there is a demand for a large amount of hours, and there is a tendency to forgo innovations in teaching. This is both because they didn’t teach that way in (Charedi) yeshiva and other excuses, which may have been correct for the pedagogical thinking of the yeshiva gedola, but are not appropriate for younger students at the beginning of their journey, and whose future is not that of endless diligence (in study) in yeshiva frameworks.

A Lack of Direction in Self-Study

On the other hand, (schools) do not trust in the ability to create a true yeshiva atmosphere, and thus take from the worst of both worlds. The yeshiva gives it students a huge amount of freedom; most of their hours are spent in self-study. However, in order for the self-study to be effective, it needs an appropriate environment and a certain climate. Since one cannot create this climate in a high school setting, the seder is wasted time. The students complain about the wasted time, but the substitute, multiple frontal shiurim, are no less dull. Thus, (the school) maneuvers between the worst of both worlds: a wasted seder and a boring shiur.

The Bagrut Requirements

(The requirements) are very basic and therefore very dull. This is to say nothing of the oral exam, which contains no small degree of injustice: eight years of study are tested in a brief discussion of ten minutes. In another section (of the Bagrut), the ability to self-study is tested with a “section (of Gemara) which was not taught” but there aren’t enough systematic tools for teaching self-study. The exam on the masechet refers only to the unit which was studied that year, and it does not prove much more than the intensive memorization which takes place the last weeks before the exam. As is well known, the final form of the exam exudes its influence from the top down, on preceding years, and on the teachers who prepare the lower classes to adapt for themselves the appropriate tools towards this goal.

Equal Learning For All

Every self-respecting subject has (different educational) tracks – be it “hakbatzot”, study according to levels and amount of study units (of the Bagrut exam), or optional subjects of study only for those who are interested. Thus is teaching according to ability and interest made possible. In the prestigious (sections of) religious education, all students are required to take a 5-unit gemara Bagrut exam (the highest level). There is a feeling that less than that harms the quality (of Gemara instruction), both intellectually and religiously. Reducing (the amount of) gemara study units is identified with religious weakness, and therefore (schools are) afraid of changing and diversifying the curriculum.

The price is that in any event, we are speaking of (an educational situation of) mediocrity, both in teaching and in learning.

Next: The Teachers – The Gap Between Yeshiva and High School


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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2 Responses to How NOT to Teach Gemara in High School, Part V

  1. Pingback: How NOT to Teach Gemara in High School, Part VI | QED

  2. Pingback: How NOT to Teach Gemara in High School, End | QED

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