A Rabbi’s Dilemma – Rabbi Barry Gelman

I am sure I am not the only rabbi faced with the dilemma of teaching torah to a population that does not have all the skills necessary for in-depth study.

 Morethodox communities with mixed demographics are ripe for this type of question.

 Spending time in Yeshiva one learns the importance of slow meticulous study with time to analyze the texts being studied. Torah students require patience as the answer to questions is not always clear. We are taught that the “pay-off” for all the hard work and frustration comes when we solve the riddles of what we are studying. Suddenly everything becomes clear. We have learned the importance if living with uncertainly and the reward to persistence.

This is indeed a wonderful experience but difficult if not impossible to replicate in a community setting.

Many community members do not have the time or the background to study original sources. There are so many who are eager to learn and I marvel at the efforts made to study Torah, but the yeshiva style study is illusive to many.

In place of that there are English sources, shiurim that provide information instead of time to analysis. Learners are often eager to get to the final answer and skip the analysis. I am not opposed to English sources, I am simply pointing out that their existence indicates a reality.

What are some approaches to this dilemma. I consider it a dilemma as I do not  believe one experiences a “top shelf” learning encounter absent the ability to analyze and decipher sources.

Part of the reality is the “instant” culture that we live where data is available to us with delay. I liken the current trends in community learning to daily blog with have baked information and no time to check sources as opposed to a well researched magazine or newspaper article. (Yes, I know I am writing on a blog).

Do others see this as a dilemma?

Is there a way, short of having community members spend time in yeshiva to learn those skills, to create the beit madras experience?

Schools must also struggle with a similar issue, that of deciding how much time to  spend on practical halacha – teaching the rules balanced with teaching our students how to learn “beit madras style”. Taking time to teach learning skills means that our students have less time to master practical of Jewish living (how do I make a salad on Shabbat).

It is clear that not every helacha can be taught in school, but what is the proper balance?

2 Responses to A Rabbi’s Dilemma – Rabbi Barry Gelman

  1. RyanP says:

    Excellent topic.

    Perhaps it is necessary to take a step back and ask the question, “How should an observant Jew actually live?” How much Torah study is enough for an observant Jew (however we wish to define observant) who has a career or a business, a family, continuing education requirements; who has a community of people dependent on him/her, but who also has hobbies or other interest, or who justs wants to enjoy life a little ? When is it enough?

    The starting point should be a realistic view of how people live their lives and what role Torah study can realistically play, and what role Torah study ought to play. Perhaps some historical perspective could also be helpful:

    Have there ever been as many Jews engaged in serious Torah study as there are today? Is there historic precedent for projecting yeshivische fluency in Jewish text as a normative level of education for ba’alei batim? What did e.g. Hirsch think?

  2. Matthew says:

    Hebrew College in Boston has a great Beit Midrash program where people gather for a week at a time to study a theme in depth. Programs like that seem like the solution to me.

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