What Gemara Can Theoretically Provide Students (Introduction)

Over the next couple of weeks, alongside my series on advice to people of college age, I will try and discuss some of the benefits students can gain from gemara education. I will deliberately eschew the usual arguments of “it’s our mesora” and “Talmud Torah Lishma”. This is for three reasons:

1)      The above arguments are usually a cover for incompetent and ineffective teachers and teaching methods. Just because the gemara is holy doesn’t excuse the ineptitude with which such a complex subject is often taught. Teaching methods do not have kedusha.

2)      “Talmud Torah Lishma” alone isn’t going to cut it in the MO community. Gemara study is very hard and requires a great deal of motivation and positive incentive. In the Charedi community, where gemara study has no real competitors and grants social status, “Lishma” may be sufficient. Not by us.

3)      Alongside “lishma”, a feeling of a measurable sense of accomplishment is a great positive incentive to learn. However, outside the “hiddush” or finishing a masechet, traditional yeshivot do not provide many avenues of measurable success that would increase motivation. The purpose of this series is to expand these avenues as much as possible.

My focus in this series will thus be on the various skills and positive incentives one can theoretically gain from gemara. I am writing this because I do not want people throwing the baby out with the bathwater – just because gemara teaching is generally awful doesn’t mean gemara itself is also awful.

Interestingly, Johnathan Rosenblum has caught on to some of what I am going to say. However, I will be going more in depth than him. Also, my posts will be aimed at an MO, not Charedi, audience. Just so y’all are not kept in suspense, here is the list of headings for the posts to come:

  • Learning a Foreign Language, Studying a Foreign Culture
  • Logic
  • A Culture of Conversation and Debate, Not Authoritative Diktat
  • The Devil is in the Details, or The Small Stuff is Important
  • Negotiating with Tradition
  • True Interdisciplinary Study

If anyone has any other suggested areas, please comment below. The series will begin Monday.

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About AIWAC

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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6 Responses to What Gemara Can Theoretically Provide Students (Introduction)

  1. ” “Talmud Torah Lishma” alone isn’t going to cut it in the MO community. Gemara study is very hard and requires a great deal of motivation and positive incentive. In the Charedi community, where gemara study has no real competitors and grants social status, “Lishma” may be sufficient. Not by us.”

    If you are going to argue they get social status – then clearly it isn’t “Lishma”. I’ll comment on the rest of your posts when you actually post them, but I have a feeling we are not going to agree much.

    Next time you are in Jerusalem send me an email, a cold beer is on me.

    • AIWAC says:

      Good point, my bad (no point in editing now).

      I actually look forward to reasoned disagreement, it’s better than talking to an echo chamber or in the desert.

      I’m actually not a beer drinker, but you can get me a 1 1/2 liter bottle of Cola Zero instead :). Would look forward to such a meeting.

      Shavua Tov,

      Avi

  2. Moshe says:

    “….the way we have developed, or the Yeshivas have developed..
    our methodology of definition, defining or abstraction or classifying, demonstrating or postulating..
    we are not behind the most modern philosophical analysis… we are ahead of them…
    our instruments of thought are far more precise and finer than..
    the instruments of thought of … John Dewey or William James….”

    [audio src="http://download.bcbm.org/Media/RavSoloveitchik/MachshavaOther/Concepts_Jewish_Education_75.mp3" /]

  3. AIWAC says:

    Moshe,

    One of the problems is that only a few people truly gain a great deal of satisfaction from such philosophical discussions. Most of us are hard-wired for other kinds of accomplishments and discussions.

  4. Pingback: What Gemara Can (Theoretically) Provide Students, Part I | QED

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