Jack Bieler

Rabbi Bieler, of the Kemp Mills Synagogue in Silver Spring, MD, is a distinguished educator and author and a member of the TEN DA‘AT editorial advisory board.


Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein Vol. 1 (Jersey City, NJ: Ktav Publishing House Inc., 2003) The Torah community has eagerly awaited the appearance in print of the writings of HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein, Rosh Yeshivat Har Etzion. Rav Lichtenstein has served as Rebbe, Halakhic and Hashkafic role model, and intellectual inspiration for many contemporary rabbis and Jewish educators, as well as countless ba’alei batim throughout the world. The important perspectives and ideas that are so eruditely and rigorously explored in this first of two projected volumes should be of interest to a wide range of readers. Major portions of the volume at hand, however, should be particularly important for readers of TEN DA‘AT, as they illustrate Rav Aharon’s insights and observations on the field of Torah education.

The very first chapter is devoted to a passionate investigation of the issue, “Why Learn Gemara?” As the author notes, and as those of us in the field can fully attest: “(this question) is asked by many of its students today, explicitly or subliminally, in both senses, even in certain segments of the yeshiva world” (p.2). Rav Lichtenstein explores conceptually how the specific studies of Halakhah in general, and the form in which Halakhah is presented in the Talmud in particular, can be exciting as well as spiritually meaningful. He is not elitist and does not



presume that every student has the abilities and potential to be motivated to see such learning as the essence of his/her Torah experience. Nonetheless, he suggests that a richer understanding of the nature of the expectation and aspiration to master Talmud study can go far to enhance the learning process. Teachers of Talmud should certainly reflect upon this essay and consider ways by which to incorporate some of its lessons into their personal learning and teaching.

The Brisker Derekh: Is it “good or bad” for the Jews?
In “The Conceptual Approach to Torah Learning,” he provides the reader with a masterful explication and illustrations of the methodology that was originated by R. Hayyim Brisker, and continued by his disciples. He also engagingly categorizes the challenges that an individual encounters when opening a page of Talmud to either study or to teach (p. 23 ff.). The tension between learning a specific text and a sugyah results in the need to make a choice regarding the actual subject matter that will be addressed. Where one puts his/her emphasis, will determine the type of overall approach, or derekh, that a teacher presents to his/her students. The challenge to identify all relevant data related to the topic being studied, the need to resolve apparent contradictions as well as the various strategies by which such solutions can be achieved, and the definitions of the components comprising the rabbinical discussion, are all in play when one studies Talmud. While contending that the conceptual approach involves significantly more “creative energy “ than other approaches, it is important for educators to be as aware as possible of how they go about their personal learning and teaching. In addition, Rav Aharon notes that a serious problem that arises with regard to teaching the conceptual approach to contemporary yeshiva students is the unfortunate limitations of knowledge, background and motivation (p. 46 ff. See in particular the comments on p. 57). As a result, day school educators have to resourcefully pursue means by which their students’ breadth of learning can be significantly increased and constantly monitor whether their approaches to subject matter are fully responsive to the level, abilities, prior learning, and motivation of their students. The essay also raises the question of whether someone who him/herself learns Talmud conceptually, should be teaching in this manner to average day school students or ba’alei batim, recognizing that


Jack Bieler it is virtually impossible for them to appreciate, let alone replicate such a methodology.

Truth: Absolute or Evolving
In “Torat Hesed and Torat Emet,” Rav Aharon explores the dialectic between the assumption of a closed-ended, absolute truth and an openended, evolving truth that may include simultaneously competing and contradictory positions. We have all recognized that at least certain students feel more comfortable when material is presented to them in black-and-white terms, where the lines of right and wrong are clearly delineated and the “right answer” is clearly defined. The author argues that it is not in the nature of proper Torah study, particularly in terms of Talmud, to harbor such expectations. In fact, it is a function of God’s kindness to man that He not only has given us the Torah, but has allowed us to draw legitimate conclusions from it that may be “contrary” to the “true” divine position. Teachers of Jewish texts constantly have to deal with multiple interpretations, and considering this phenomenon from a theological perspective will be helpful to them personally as well as to their students.

Synthesis and the Dual Curriculum
In “A Consideration of Synthesis from a Torah Point of View, “ and “The End of Learning,” Rav Aharon analyzes and rationalizes a conceptual approach to the dual curriculum that constitutes the educational structure of the day school, and the benefits of specifically studying the humanities. He insists that Torah must be seen as primary in such an educational setting, although many problems will inevitably arise and have to be addressed. Too many day schools simply take for granted that they must simultaneously offer their constituencies this corpus of subject matter without considering the important implications that are generated by this type of educational experience. Reflecting on the contents of this essay, composed by an individual who is a master of both Torah and secular disciplines, would aid in developing a truly responsible approach to this type of education. An additional, practical aspect suggested by Rav Aharon’s analysis, relates to the type of teacher who would be effective in such a setting and the preparation that s/he needs to receive. Teachers as well as students should have to resolve the conflicts that their various studies generate, with the teachers modeling



approaches of how to reconcile these worlds that are very much at variance with one another. The balance of the essays include: broadening the range of poskim available to the traditional community; a theological and philosophical consideration of the yeshivat hesder concept; the degree to which human considerations enter into the determinations of pesak halakhah, and reflections on the lives and work of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. The breadth and scope of Leaves of Faith are impressive, and the ideas contained are inspiring and stimulating. Acquiring this volume, slowly savoring and reflecting upon its contents, is strongly recommended.


Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful