The Conceptual Approach to Jewish Learning

edited by Yosef Blau Robert S. Hirt, Series Editor


The Orthodox Forum, convened by Dr. Norman Lamm, Chancellor of Yeshiva University, meets each year to consider major issues of concern to the Jewish community. Forum participants from throughout the world, including academicians in both Jewish and secular fields, rabbis, rashei yeshiva, Jewish educators, and Jewish communal professionals, gather in conference as a think tank to discuss and critique each other’s original papers, examining different aspects of a central theme. The purpose of the Forum is to create and disseminate a new and vibrant Torah literature addressing the critical issues facing Jewry today.

The Orthodox Forum gratefully acknowledges the support of the Joseph J. and Bertha K. Green Memorial Fund at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.

The Orthodox Forum Series is a project of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, an affiliate of Yeshiva University

Copyright © 2006 Yeshiva University Press

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Orthodox Forum (11th: 1999 : Congregation Shearith Israel, New York, NY) The conceptual approach to Jewish learning / edited by Yosef Blau. p. cm. – (The Orthodox Forum series) Proceedings of a conference held at Congregation Shearith Israel, New York, N.Y., March 14–15, 1999. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-88125-907-1 1. Judaism – Study and teaching – Congresses. 2. Jewish religious education – Teaching methods – Congresses. 3. Jews – Education – Congresses. 4. Jewish learning and scholarship – Congresses. I. Blau, Yosef. II. Title. III. Ser ies. BM71.O78 2005 296.6’8 – dc22 2005027025

This book was typeset by Jerusalem Typesetting,

Manufactured in the United States of America Published by KTAV Publishing House, Inc. 930 Newark Avenue Jersey City, NJ 07306 Email: (201) 963-9524 FAX (201) 963-0102

Contributors Series Editor’s Introduction Preface Yosef Blau 1 The Conceptual Approach to Torah Learning: The Method and Its Prospects Aharon Lichtenstein 2 The Impact of Lomdut and Its Partial Reversal Yosef Blau 3 Polyphonic Diversity and Military Music Shalom Carmy 4 Lomdut and Pesak: Theoretical Analysis and Halakhic Decision-Making J. David Bleich 5 The Brisker Derekh and Pesak Halakhah Mordechai Willig 6 Conceptual Approach to Learning and Hinnukh Yosef Adler 7 The Role of Lomdut in Jewish Education Jeremy Wieder viii xi xiii

1 45 55

87 115 131 145


8 “What” Hath Brisk Wrought: The Brisker Derekh Revisited 167 Mosheh Lichtenstein 9 Reflections on the Conceptual Approach to Talmud Torah Michael Rosensweig 10 From Reb Hayyim and the Rav to Shi’urei ha-Rav Aharon Lichtenstein – The Evolution of a Tradition of Learning Elyakim Krumbein 189


11 The Brisker Method and Close Reading – Response to Rav Elyakim Krumbein 299 Avraham Walfish 12 Beyond Complexity – Response to Rav Avraham Walfish Elyakim Krumbein The Orthodox Forum Eleventh Conference List of Participants Index 323

333 337

Editor’s Note: At times, we have used the term Lomdus rather than Lamdanot to describe erudition, as it is popular common usage.

Other Volumes in the Orthodox Forum Series Rabbinic Authority and Personal Autonomy edited by Moshe Z. Sokol Jewish Tradition and the Non-Traditional Jew edited by Jacob J. Schacter Israel as a Religious Reality edited by Chaim I. Waxman Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah: Contributions and Limitations edited by Shalom Carmy Tikkun Olam: Social Responsibility in Jewish Thought and Law edited by David Shatz, Chaim I. Waxman, and Nathan J. Diament Engaging Modernity: Rabbinic Leaders and the Challenge of the Twentieth Century edited by Moshe Z. Sokol Jewish Perspectives on the Experience of Suffering edited by Shalom Carmy Jewish Business Ethics: The Firm and Its Stockholders edited by Aaron Levine and Moses Pava Tolerance, Dissent and Democracy: Philosophical, Historical and Halakhic Perspectives edited by Moshe Z. Sokol Jewish Spirituality and Divine Law edited by Adam Mintz and Lawrence Schiffman Formulating Responses in an Egalitarian Age edited by Marc D. Stern Judaism, Science And Moral Responsibility edited by Yitzhak Berger and David Shatz

Conceptual Approach to Learning and Hinnukh
Yosef Adler

Congregation Moriah, the site of Rabbi Soloveichik’s weekly shi’ur on Broadway and West 80th street, was full as usual. This Tuesday evening was three weeks before Pesah and the Rav did not deliver his customary shi’ur on masekhet Sukkah, but focused on inyanei Pesah. As Erev Pesah that year was on Shabbat, somewhat of an irregularity on our calendar, the Rav concentrated on the issue of matzot mitzvah. Citing the Mordekhai1 in masekhet Pesahim: …‫כשחל הפסח להיות באחד בשבת…אסור לאפות המצות מיום השישי‬ …‫משום דאיתקש ל]קרבן[ פסח, וגם בתשובת רב יהודאי גאון כתב לאיסור‬ .‫]כיון[ דנראה דמכין משבת ליום טוב‬ The Shulhan Arukh codes the halakhah of matzat mitzvah as well: ‫ 2.נוהגים שלא ללוש מצת מצוה בערב פסח עד אחר שש שעות‬The Ga’on adds that this entire practice is only a minhag but not required by strict Halakhah. For if the equation of matzot to korban pesah was 131


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indeed legitimate, one should conclude that baking of matzot should override Shabbat, as does bringing the korban pesah.3 Without detailing the entire shi’ur, the Rav offered a very creative analysis to help explain this practice and the statements of these Rishonim. Matzat mitzvah can only be created when the issur hametz is already in effect and therefore, only after hatzot can the matzah baking be done le-shem matzat mitzvah. That is why many adopted the practice of baking matzat mitzvah on Erev Pesah. Consequently, if Erev Pesah is on Shabbat and baking matzah is not doheh Shabbat, one cannot bake these special matzot on Friday or any other day prior to Pesah. One must wait until motza’ei Shabbat, the actual leil ha-seder, in order to bake the matzot mitzvah. Therefore, even if the ma’aseh afiyah was done on Friday, the halot shem of matzat mitzvah will first take effect at hatzot of Shabbat morning. Hence, it is nir’eh ke-meikhin mi-Shabbat le-Yom Tov. Upon completing the shi’ur, the Rav, grinning from ear to ear, stated “Far dem bin ich vert a schnapps.” This paper will examine some of the methodologies used with the conceptual approach to Torah study. It will demonstrate based on psychological and educational findings, that children of high school age are capable of thoroughly digesting conceptual development and identifying the abstract principle underlying the Talmud or commentary text. It will further assert that based on the goals of the Modern Orthodox yeshiva high school network, such a method of study is not only possible, but desirable, as lomdut helps promote one of the most significant objectives of our educational system. Furthermore, this paper will also examine the merits of this style of learning within the framework of synagogue shi’urim and adult education classes. It would be most effective to begin with the issue of children’s learning abilities. Simply stating my own experience teaching in yeshiva high schools for 23 years and witnessing on a daily basis, students producing penetrating questions and answers and developing the ability to identify precise abstract principles, is not sufficiently compelling for a scholarly paper. However, research and studies in this area clearly support this contention. According to Piaget, there

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are four major stages of development: the sensory-motor, pre-operational, concrete operational and the formal operational. Piaget claims that children enter the stage of formal operational at 11 or 12 years of age when their thinking about the world changes.4 The formal operational stage includes skills of mental operations to be applied to the possible and hypothetical as well as to the real, to the future as well as to the present as well as to purely verbal logical statements. Adolescents acquire scientific thinking, with its hypothetical deductive reasoning and logical reasoning with its inter-prepositional reasoning; they can understand highly abstract concepts.5 This idea is further supported by Crain, Chairman of the Department of Psychology at the City University of New York. I quote “it is widely accepted that most adolescents in industrial societies are at least beginning to develop purely abstract and hypothetical thinking. Most are doing so if not by age 12, by age 15. All might not reach the highest levels of abstract or formal thought. A lot depends on the students’ interests in exploring and thinking about an area.”6 Perhaps Piaget’s most controversial claim is that cognitive development is a spontaneous process. Children, he says, develop cognitive structures on their own without direct teaching from adults. The most incontestable evidence for spontaneous learning comes from Piaget’s observations on infants who make enormous intellectual progress simply by exploring the environment before anyone takes the trouble to educate them. Once we begin teaching, in fact, we often seem to stifle the child’s natural curiosity. In school, children become disinterested, lazy, rebellious and frightened of failure. The major task of education, it would seem, would be to liberate the bold curiosity with which children enter life.7 Nevertheless, many psychologists, particularly American psychologists in the learning-theory tradition, believe that adult teaching is more important than Piaget thought. In addition to innate intelligence and the power of discovery, it is possible to train an adolescent and an adult to think critically and guide them to identify conceptual abstract principles. Therefore, Richard Case emphasized that if we know what cognitive processes are involved in the use of a particular strategy, we are in a position to teach the process and


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subsequently, the strategy. Indeed, Case has detailed his theory’s implications for instruction and successfully tested instructional programs in several content areas.8 Having demonstrated that the high school age student is certainly capable of developing and appreciating analytical skills, let me proceed to the issue at hand. I am certain that other papers at this conference will directly address and analyze the analytical school, Rav Hayyim Soloveitchik as Headmaster, and the many rashei yeshivah who are part of this school. Yet, a few remarks are noteworthy. Rabbi Elhanan Wasserman quotes Rav Hayyim as having said: “mechadesh zein chiddushin is nit far uns; dos hoben nur gehat be-koach die rishohim zt”l.”9 Although there have been attempts to characterize and define the Brisker methodology and highlight its uniqueness and hiddush, Rav Hayyim’s comment has much validity. Anyone who reads a page in the Talmud will intersect with discussion trying to analyze and pinpoint the kernel of mahloket. The very first Mishnah records a mahloket between Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Eliezer regarding the allotted time for kri’at shem’a shel arvit. Rabbi Eliezer limits this time to ad sof ha-ashmurah ha-rishonah, approximately four hours into the night.10 Rabban Gamliel believes that one can read the shem’a all night long. The rationale for Rabban Gamliel is already stated in another Mishnah, albeit in a different context, “im kein lamah ne’emar be-shokhbekha u-ve-kumekha? Besha’ah she-benei adam shokhvim.”11 As people tend to sleep all night, one is therefore permitted to read the shem’a all night. It then does not require a quantum leap to understand Rabbi Eliezer’s limit of four hours or ad sof ha-ashmurah ha-rishonah as interpreting the key word be-shokhbekha as when people are retiring. Indeed, Rashi clearly and easily arrived at this conclusion.12 We expect children in elementary schools (I do not wish to debate the issue of whether or not we introduce Gemara at too early an age; my assertion is based on observations recognized by all, that students in grades 6 through 8 are exposed to some form of Talmud study) to comprehend this. Employing this idea we can expand it further and use one of the classic methods of the Brisker derekh, the hakirah. Rabbi Moshe Eliezer Wachtfogel lists the various types of hakirot typically

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employed by those engaged in teaching Brisker terminology. An example of one type that he states is: Through which precise point is the din created? Is lailah the mehayev of kri’at shem’a of arvit or is zeman shekhivah the mehayev?13 Any student who is exposed to the earlier sources, either the Mishnah or Rashi, will obviously select the second option. A rebbe in class could then turn to Rashi’s comment regarding those shuls whose practice it was to daven ma’ariv before true nightfall (in reality, many shuls today have adopted this as standard procedure). One can fulfill the requirement of tefilat arvit after sunset (but before tzeit ha-kokhavim) or even after pelag ha-minhah, yet one has not fulfilled the mitzvah of shem’a and must repeat it after dark.14 It is not difficult for a student to make the connection. Tefilat ma’ariv might be dependent upon a halakhically accepted definition of lailah, different from the definition of lailah required for the recitation so the shem’a. In the Beit ha-Mikdash, lailah began after pelag ha-minhah, about 1.25 hours prior to sunset. Thus you could daven ma’ariv at any time defined by the sages as night. However, the shem’a, as derived from the common denominator between Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Eliezer, is a function of zeman shekhivah. Despite the fact that sunset might trigger the onset of lailah (qua ma’ariv), it is definitely not the time when people are retiring or actually sleeping; hence, the shem’a could not be fulfilled at this time. So when Rav Hayyim said “mir sogen nisht kein chiddushim,” he was correct to a point, whereby some of the issues he would be concerned with have had the groundwork laid out in the Talmud text or its commentaries. My point is not to belittle Rav Hayyim, has ve-shalom. I certainly have recognized and been amazed by his creative thinking. My point is that if we accept the notion that some of the methodology can be traced to the Talmud and commentaries which we expose children to, it stands to reason that the mind of a high school student can handle this approach and succeed in accomplishing many of its objectives. A second illustration will further illuminate this point. The Rogotchover raised the following hakirah: does one fulfill the mitzvah of shem’a by reading the actual mandated text or does he fulfill the mitzvah by being mekabbel al atzmo ol malkhut shamayim?15


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He uses this hakirah to explain the controversy between Rebbe and the Hakhamim as to whether or not shem’a must be read in Hebrew or may be read in other languages. In truth the Mishnah already alludes to the idea that the shem’a’s main purpose is kabbalat ol malkhut shamayim. For this reason, the shem’a is selected as the first portion of the three paragraphs read twice daily. Seeing this information will enable everyone to readily identify with the hakirah of the Rogotchover as to precisely what is the essence of the mitzvah. Accordingly, one could direct a student to the opening line of the second chapter of Berakhot, “‫61.”היה קורא בתורה, והגיע זמן המקרא, אם כיון לבו – יצא‬ The Gemara initially believes that the kavanah mentioned in the Mishnah refers to kavanah lazteit, the acute awareness necessary to fulfill a biblical commandment. Its discussion, therefore, legitimately touches upon the broader issue of mitzvot tzerikhot kavanah or ein tzerikhot kavanah. Having posited the earlier information into a student’s head, it is not difficult for him to arrive at another interpretation of im kivain libo, namely that if one had kavanah to accept the yoke of Heaven while he was casually reading the Torah text, he is yotzei the mitzvah of kri’at shem’a. As such, the Mishnah does not broach the subject matter of mitzvot tzerikhot kavanah and sheds no light on the issue. As is well known to all, not all of Brisker terminology or methodology flows so directly from the text. In all probability, Rav Hayyim would, in relation to the Rogotchover’s hakirah, say that the ma’aseh ha-mitzvah is the actual reading of the text, while the kiyyum ha-mitzvah is accepting the yoke of Heaven. The Rav zt”l, on numerous occasions, has used kri’at shem’a as an example of where the ma’aseh and kiyyum ha-mitzvah are not synonymous with one another to help explain our understanding of shofar and a handful of other mitzvot. As such, recognizing that such an enigma as this dichotomy exists, would have to be introduced to the student. Having digested this idea, one could show students two areas where the Rambam’s precise definition of the mitzvah in his introduction (koteret) to the halakhah differs from the subsequent actual delineation of that halakhah. In his koteret to Hilkhot Tefilah, Rambam

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states, “‫ .”לעבוד את ה׳ בכל יום בתפילה אחת עשה מצות‬The Rav explained that in the koteret, the Rambam identified the kiyyum or essence of the mitzvah; in this case, a manner of service and dedication unto Hashem. In his later halakhic development, Rambam chooses to focus on the more technical ma’aseh ha-mitzvah. In addressing the issue of whether or not Rambam believes that there is a mitzvah of teshuvah or not, the Rav used this method to resolve the issue. In the koteret, the Rambam writes “‫ ,”והוא שישוב החוטא מחטאו‬highlighting the fact that the kiyyum is to repent from one’s transgressions, whereas in the halakhic development beginning with halakhah alef, Rambam writes “hayyav le-hitvadot,” to recite verbal confession, for this indeed is the ma’aseh ha-mitzvah.17 Once shown the concept, the student could make the same application as did the Rav zt”l. The ability for high school age students to grasp these ideas is not limited to what is referred to “easier masekhtot.” It applies even if one chooses to handle the “yeshivishe masekhtot” of Nashim and Nezikim. Students can understand the subtle differences in the wide variety of interpretations as what constitutes gerama and what is identified as garmi. Upon reading selected sugyot of tractate Bava Kama, a student will easily be capable of recognizing whether the concrete case of the Talmud supports or challenges a particular Rishon’s point of view of this very difficult topic. Assuming that one comes to grips with the fact that high school students posses the intellectual capacity to digest abstract thinking and lomdut, the question which I must still address is whether or not this type of an approach ought to be the focus of one’s learning experience during the formative years. The rationale for the counter argument is relatively simple. In order to enable us to produce young men who will someday be budding talmidei hakhamim, one has to impart the skills that are necessary to engage in independent study. The ultimate goal is textual proficiency, so that one who leaves the yeshiva will be capable of “making a laining” and will be exposed to as many pages of the Talmud as possible. This approach will hopefully expose the student to the style of question and answer, the phraseology, grammar and punctuation of the text. It will also expose the student to a wide array of ideas known as “yedi’ot” in shas (although


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the Ashkenazic rendering “yedi’os” is more telling). Armed with the skills of reading Talmud and commentary text, the student will find his year of study in Israel and his learning at the collegiate level meaningful and significant. I submit, however, that this strategy cannot succeed with most students. I personally attended the Kaminetzer Mesivta of Boro Park, the type of school that shared features and outlook with Chaim Berlin, Torah Vodaath, Mir, Tiferes Yerushalyim and Chofetz Hayyim. My day consisted of learning Gemara from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and then beginning college preparatory studies until 6:30 p.m. (referred to as secular studies). The study of Tanakh was never considered. School was in session six days a week, limudei kodesh classes met until 4:00 p.m. on all legal holidays and mishmar was mandatory once a week and optional (but yet pressured by the Principal’s call “mi la-shem eiloy, ver kumt zu mishmor heint bi-nacht”) the rest of the week. In reality, I had already been exposed to such a rigorous day in grades 6–8 of elementary school. Having covered 40 blatt of Gittin in grade 7, 50 blatt of Kiddushin in grade 8 and the typical exposure to Yevamot, Bava Kama, Bava Batra and Ketubot in high school, I was exposed to many pages of the Talmud. Somehow, even through osmosis, something sinks in after staring at Bava Kama 22a for six straight hours and one can read the discussion of isho mi-shum hitzav or mamono intelligently. There were far fewer distractions at that time as well. Although the Mesivta participated in the yeshiva high school basketball league, it offered nothing else. There was no dramatic society performing full length plays, no Model U.N. sponsored by Yeshiva University (even had it been in existence we would have been barred from participating because of the Yeshiva University sponsorship), no debating team, no mock trial, no chess team, no Torah Bowl or College Bowl, no organized hockey, tennis, wrestling or golf, all of which today are staples of the Modern Orthodox yeshiva high school experience. The social life was controlled. If one were walking to the Agudah on 14th avenue and 46th street, one had better be on the east side of 47th street. The west side of 47th street housed Machzike Talmud Torah, which included those dreaded girls and a Kaminetzer bochur was never permitted to say as much as hello to a girl. We were told not to go to movies and that television is noth-

Conceptual Approach to Learning and Hinnukh


ing more than a disguised yetzer har’a. I do not wish to editorialize as to whether of this type of an approach is productive, suitable or desirable; I personally did enjoy my experience. I only make these comments to describe the reality of the day. The targets of this paper are not rabbonim, educators and scholars whose world revolves around the above-mentioned yeshivot. The Modern Orthodox yeshiva high school of today, although displaying sharp and subtle differences amongst themselves on several key educational issues, such as co-ed versus non co-ed instruction, English versus Ivrit as language of instruction, does not offer Gemara from 9:00–3:00. These schools are in session five days a week, are off for all legal holidays and have nearly a week and a half for winter break (Kaminetzer gave off one Friday). One is exposed to Gemara an hour and a half a day, some up to 2 and a half hours, none beyond that. The overwhelming majority of these students are going to Yeshivat Har Etzion, Sha’alvim, Kerem bi-Yavneh, Mevaseret Tzion and a myriad of other Israeli yeshivot and will form the nucleus of the incoming class at Yeshiva College of Yeshiva University. As an educator and principal, I feel that establishing as a goal that every student cultivates the ability to make a successful laining is unrealistic in today’s climate. Insufficient hours, diversions from extra curricular activities and attractions from the media, all contribute to the diminishing time allotted for Gemara study. I do not have 6 hours a day where I can spend 3 hours hammering skills and another three hours analyzing the sugya of heizek re’iyah shemei heizek. As such, I have developed a different set of goals and objectives. First, that every student who comes through my doors should leave with a healthy respect for Torah and Torah scholars. We are all too familiar with the profile of someone who attended yeshiva high school and beyond, who not only is yet to be observant but down right hostile. So many students could not generate any satisfaction in the intensified atmosphere of learning. For them Gemara, and Yahadut as a result, became a living hell. Even if a graduate of mine chooses not to be observant, I still want him to emerge with positive feelings for Torah. I want him to realize that his rebbe challenged his mind and attempted to make him part of the learning process.


Yosef Adler

Second, I want to generate excitement about learning; my task is to encourage students to want to continue learning beyond their high school years and during their college experience. The most effective method to spark the heart, capture the mind and soul of each student, is through the use of lomdut. The rebbe does not deliver the shi’ur, he is but a catalyst and guide to enable students to probe and use their God given intellect to arrive at torat emet; you cannot compare the thrill of connecting to a Ramban or a Rav Hayyim with anything else. Somehow, being more proficient in reading the shakla ve-tarya or memorizing word banks, just cannot match the intensity of the excitement and sense of connection of comprehending, or better yet, suggesting a sevarah to help resolve a difficult Rambam. There will be ample time in Medinat Yisra’el to focus on skill development. Gemara is the overwhelming part of all yeshiva diets and Talmud study 8 to 10 hours daily is not uncommon. Should students then choose to attend Yeshiva University, they are offered ample opportunity to spend six hours and more confronting the Talmud and commentary text. As a result of this approach, I can proudly claim that I have encountered few religious cynics graduating amongst my students. In my current school, the overwhelming majority (88–90%) go to Israel for at least a year and many are even devoting their high school summer vacations to Torah study by enrolling in the Morasha Kollel or joining the ncsy Kollel in Efrat. This is nurtured by creating a love, a passion for Torah study. Seeing the depth of each sugya, its analysis, difficulties and resolutions help contribute to a very satisfying experience of Torah study. Of course, textual skills are important; I obviously do not wish to denigrate and diminish their significance. But for the typical Flatbush, Ramaz, mta, haftr, Torah Academy, Frisch, Hillel and hanc students, conceptual analysis is the way to capture them. It is the most effective way to fulfill and implement that which we pray for thrice daily “ve-tain helkeinu be-Toratekha,” that each every student feel the he has a portion in Torah and its development.18 Although the scope of the paper is limited to lomdut, more often that not associated with the study of Talmud and its commentaries, I would interject a word concerning the study of Humash. It

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is much easier to help cultivate the sense of belonging to the Torah community with Torah she-Bikhtav as opposed to Torah she-Be’al Peh. The language of the text is not as great a barrier for most students as is the Talmud text. Hammering home the point that virtually no parshan offers a commentary unless there is some difficulty emerging from the text, one can demand that students think critically and identify the issues prior to looking at a Rashi, Rashbam, Ibn Ezra or Ramban. Students can then evaluate how effectively a particular parshan addressed the highlighted issues. Particularly within the narrative portion of the Torah, he could and should be encouraged to offer his own suggestions. It is even possible that his initiative will be more compelling and satisfying than a comment of Rashi who, more often than not, relies on the Midrash to resolve the textual difficulty. A student then feels that he is studying Torah not only through the eyes of others but through his own experience, his own intellect and his own soul. This is what the Rav, I believe, meant when he said so fondly “that learning Torah is a romance with God.” If I can convince a student that this is his Torah, then I have fulfilled my sacred task. Although I do not drink, “Far dem bin ich vert a schnapps.” Although the topic of this paper center around the use of lomdut in the high school arena, initially, when contacted, I was asked to reflect as well on its application to the synagogue. Within most shuls you have a heterogeneous group; there are some members who have had little or no formal Jewish education, some have had exposure to serious learning and hopefully, a group of people who are capable and take learning very seriously. In many shuls, the rabbi directs his remarks to the lowest common denominator. What happens in such shuls is that the serious benei Torah are not sufficiently challenged in such an environment and consequently gravitate to the hashkamah minyan or another shul with a slightly greater “yeshivish” bend. The rabbi, thus is identified as someone who is not recognized as a lamdan. The benei Torah of the shul feel that they can only receive their spiritual nourishment from their former or current rashei yeshivah. No relationship is cultivated between the mara de-atra, and more knowledgeable ba’alei battim. If the Rabbinical Council of America conducts their annual conference, it is the rashei yeshivah who are


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most often invited to present the Torah lectures; synagogue rabbis are rarely called upon. When ncsy runs their annual Yarchei Kallah, once again, familiar rashei yeshivah garner the headlines. Despite the fact that the neighborhood selected for the retreat might contain several prominent pulpit rabbonim, it is rare for any of them to be invited to make a presentation at such a conference. All of this helps fuel the rhetoric that often emerges from yeshivot both here and abroad that pulpit rabbis are amei ha-aretz and ought not to be reckoned with on halakhically sensitive issues. At significant lifecycle events, it is the rosh yeshivah who is asked to serve as mesader kiddushin, or as the sandek at the berit. I believe that the way to counter this is for the rav of the shul to establish that serious learning is a high priority in his shul. This includes not only a commitment to invite prominent rashei yeshivah to their shuls for periodic shi’urim, but also the rabbi’s personal delivery of such shi’urim on a regular basis. The overwhelming majority of our lay communities are generally intelligent people who have succeeded in their respective careers; many have distinguished themselves in their fields of interest. There is no reason to believe that such a person cannot digest the subtleties of conceptual learning. Even people with little formal education can understand abstract principles. The difference between the mature mind of the seasoned student and that of the raw beginner is the pace. When one reads a Gemara or a Tosafot, the issue does not change; we attempt to understand the Gemara to the best of our ability. Our attempt to resolve the issues will be dependent upon the listener’s background. For those accustomed to learning, the language, skills and process have been well rooted. Consequently, the pace of the development of the shi’ur can be commensurate with their ability. For others, the pace of the presentation must reflect their lack of familiarity with the material; but it does not preclude them from participating in this realm. The net result of such an approach is that the Rabbi commands respect as a true talmid hakham in addition to being recognized as a skillful pastor and effective preacher. All segments of the kehilah will feel comfortable addressing all of their queries to him. A profound

Conceptual Approach to Learning and Hinnukh


relationship will develop between himself and the most learned members of his shul. People evaluating a neighborhood in which to establish a residence will gravitate to that shul as opposed to others serving the community. An ancillary benefit of having such a population is that the actual decorum, dignity and kavanah of davening will also be uplifted due to the fact that most serious benei Torah immersed in the yam ha-Talmud, understand what tefilah is and conduct themselves appropriately. I should add that these observations apply to women as well as men. As the revolution of women’s Torah study continues to spread, we have witnessed first hand the impact serious learning has had on their level of commitment and relationship to Am Yisrael. When women are trained, they can develop the ability to think critically and identify the underlying principles associated with a Mishnah, Gemara or commentary; they begin to realize that there is a method to our madness. The halakhic system has a process whose conceptual framework can be identified. They suddenly begin to see how complex, how rigorous Torah study actually is; there is so much more than that which appears before the naked eye when reading the text of a Mishnah or Gemara. As such, they gain a healthy respect for Torah scholars, Torah study and the halakhic process. They can, and will make a valuable contribution to help shape the values of their own children, encouraging all of them to pursue serious Torah study. And that can only be beneficial to all of Am Yisrael. As to the brevity of this paper, I state emphatically that any paper treating a topic such as lomdut could not be lengthy and verbose. One of the signature features of the Brisker methodology is to be as concise as possible. The Rav zt”l often told a story of his youth when he was learning with his father who asked him to precisely identify the position of a difficult Rambam. After formulating it in a manner which the Rav thought would be most enlightening, his father slapped him across the face. When he sheepishly asked his father why he warranted such a response, the reply he received was “oib mir ken dos zogen in fir verter, tor mir dos nisht zogen in finfte verter.” Having spent so many years learning with the Rav, I too have learned the lesson.


Yosef Adler

1. Mordekhai, Pesahim: 643.
2. Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 458:1. 3. Hagahot ha-Gra, ad loc. 4. B. Inhelder, and J. Piaget, The Growth of Logical Thinking from Childhood to Adolescence (New York: 1958). 5. J. Piaget, “Intellectual Evolution from Adolescence to Adulthood,” Human Development 12 (1972): 1–12. It was pointed out at the conference that perhaps Piaget’s conclusions and findings have no relevance to high school students as the majority of his work focused on pre-adolescence. However, it could easily be argued by way of a kal va-homer, that if a 10–14 year old is capable of conceptual thinking, then certainly the more mature mind of a young man 14 – 18 years old could grasp the abstract principles associated with the concrete cases of the text. 6. Oral communication. 7. William Crain, Theories of Development: Concepts and Applications, 3d ed. (New Jersey: 1992). 8. R. Case, “A Developmentally Based Theory and Technology of Instruction,” Review of Educational Research 48 (1978A), 439 – 469. 9. Kovetz Shi’urim, introductory remarks. 10. Berakhot 2a. 11. Berakhot 10b. 12. Rashi, Berakhot 2a, s.v. ad sof. 13. E. Wachtfogel, Brisker Derech (New York: 1993), 3. 14. Rashi, ibid. 15. Wachtfogel, 5. 16. Berakhot 13a. 17. Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchick, Teshuvah Derashah, Americana Hotel, 1968. 18. Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein suggested that one may be able to accomplish both objectives of honing textual skills and developing the critical mind, by moving away from the traditional method of learning a particular masekhet and plowing through each daf. Instead one should plan a Talmudic curriculum based on the sugya approach where exposure to a wide variety of Talmudic text or a given topic would help illuminate certain issues by seeing one text in comparison or contrast to another.