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THE MICHAEL SCHARF PUBLICATION TRUST of the YESHIVA UNIVERSITY PRESS NEW YORK
The Role of Lomdut in Jewish Education
A discussion of the role that lomdut and specifically the “conceptual approach” (Brisker lomdut), should play in various educational contexts presupposes a generally favorable attitude on some level towards the enterprise itself. If one is opposed to Brisker lomdut under all conditions,1 the discussion is obviously moot. As the scope and validity of lomdut is the topic of other speakers at this forum, this paper takes as its premise the position that the conceptual approach has a place and time. The difference between lomdut and an approach which might be defined as a careful and nuanced analysis of a text requires explication. A viable alternative to lomdut must be something more than the mere translation of the questions and answers in the flow of a sugya with a minimum of explanation. If this were the case, no one could reasonably oppose the enterprise itself or question its 145
relevance to education. Let us assume for the moment that the alternative approach to lomdut is one which focuses primarily on the text and that which can be clearly extracted from the text. The Brisker lamdan seeks the broader ideas to be found in the topic and assumes that alternate conceptual models solve all problems, whereas the student of the alternative approach resorts to extra-textual abstract conceptions only when other methods fail.2 The appropriateness of the conceptual approach to a particular context depends upon three factors: The ability and experience of the students,3 the goal of the study of Torah in the given context and the suitability of the material for conceptual analysis. With the consideration of טעם וסרת יפה אשה חזיר באף זהב נזם (Prov. 11:22) in mind, it should be acknowledged that lomdut may be appropriate for one group but not for another. The discussion here will be confined to two distinct arenas. The first is the formal education of students in yeshivot in the junior high school and high school years (approximately from twelve to eighteen years of age). Among younger students, with extremely rare exceptions, one rarely finds the abstract thinking necessary for a basic understanding of lomdut. By the end of this stage, the student has hopefully acquired most of the necessary knowledge and skills to apply, with appropriate guidance, whatever method of analysis desired.4 The second arena is adult-education, which typically involves an intellectually mature audience, which has not the time or perhaps the inclination to prepare for a shi’ur. As far as subject material, the discussion relates to the application of conceptual analysis to the study of Gemara. The study of Mishnah, while theoretically lending itself to a similar form of lomdut, aims primarily at equipping the students with a broader base of knowledge and the spending of extended periods of time engaged in lomdut can only undermine that goal.5 Similarly, the study of Halakhah in the formal educational context under discussion aims to impart to the student a large volume of practical information. Hence, a significant amount of energy dedicated to conceptual analysis impedes the necessary progress. Finally, it is obvious that lomdut has little relevance to the study of Torah she-Bikhtav, unless one wishes
The Role of Lomdut in Jewish Education
to create a new genre of midrashic interpretation for Scripture and make it the focus of one’s labors in hinnukh.6 Legal passages in Scripture have already been subjected to “lomdut” in the Midreshei Halakhah, and any serious attempt at forcing lomdut into narrative violates the obvious literary structures and simple intent of text.
II. The educational philosophy of Hazal
Educational endeavors, focusing now only on the cognitive and intellectual aspects, generally aim at one of two goals and sometimes at both. These are the conveying of information7 and the stimulating of thinking skills, i.e., the ability to manipulate and process the knowledge imparted. Clearly one without the other will produce an undesirable educational product. One who is brilliant but possesses little or no textual knowledge of Torah can do nothing with his brilliance. In the parlance of Hazal, he has no mountains to uproot and grind against one another. At the same time, the student with a memory but no analytical capabilities is mocked by Hazal: ההוא דהוי תני הלכתא ספרא וספרי ותוספתא ושכיב. אתו ואמרו ליה לרב נחמן בר יצחק ליספדיה מר. אמר היכי נספדיה הי צנא דמלי סיפרי (:דחסר. )מגילה כח
There was a certain man who used to repeat halakhot, Sifra and Sifre and Tosefta, and when he died they came and said to R. Nahman, Sir, will you deliver a funeral oration for him, and he said, How are we to deliver over him an address: Alas! A bag full of books has been lost!8 (Megilah 28b)
Clearly the ideal lies somewhere in between, with the dilemma being how to balance the two desiderata. Different personalities found their own balances in their own ways: רב חסדא ורב ששת כי פגעי בהדי הדדי, רב חסדא מרתען שיפוותיה ממתנייתא דרב ששת, ורב ששת מרתע כוליה גופיה מפלפוליה דרב (.חסדא. )עירובין סז
Whenever R. Hisda and R. Sheshet met each other, the lips of the former trembled at the latter’s extensive knowledge of
mishnayot, while the latter trembled all over his body at the former’s keen dialectics. (Eruvin 67a)
As a whole however, knowledge was favored over sharpness in thinking. In fourth century Babylonia, there emerged a question as to whom to appoint as head of one of the academies. On the one hand, was Rabbah who, while obviously well-versed in Tanaaitic literature, was renowned for his penetrating analysis. On the other side was R.Yosef who, while not as incisive a thinker, was an encyclopedia of Tannaitic literature. The Talmud records the following the resolution: שלחו להתם: סיני ועוקר הרים איזה מהם קודם? שלחו להו: סיני עדיף (.שהכל צריכין למרי חיטיא. )ברכות סד
They [the collegiates] sent there [to Palestine] to ask, As between ‘Sinai’ and an ‘uprooter of mountains’, which should have the preference? They sent answer: Sinai, because all require the owner of wheat. (Berakhot 64a)
One might posit three reasons to explain the primacy of knowledge over analysis. First is the need to preserve a heritage, particularly in an oral society in which written texts are rare if not non-existent. Logic is something which need not be preserved, for if valid, it should be replicable or extractable from the texts. Lost traditions, however, are difficult, and sometimes impossible, to reconstruct. In this light, one can understand the following account: ריש לקיש הוה מציין מערתא דרבנן, כי מטא למערתיה דרבי חייא איעלמא מיניה. חלש דעתיה, אמר: רבונו של עולם לא פלפלתי תורה כמותו? יצתה בת קול ואמרה לו: תורה כמותו פלפלת, תורה כמותו לא ריבצת. כי הוו מינצו רבי חנינא ורבי חייא, אמר ליה רבי חנינא לרבי חייא: בהדי דידי קא !מינצית? חס וחלילה, אי משתכחא תורה מישראל מהדרנא לה מפילפולי אמר ליה רבי חייא לרבי חנינא: בהדי דידי קא מינצית? דעבדי לתורה דלא ,תשתכח מישראל? מאי עבידנא, אזלינא ושדינא כיתנא, וגדילנא נישבי וציידנא טבי ומאכילנא בשרייהו ליתמי, ואריכנא מגילתא וכתבנא חמשה חומשי, וסליקנא למתא ומקרינא חמשה ינוקי בחמשה חומשי, ומתנינא
The Role of Lomdut in Jewish Education שיתא ינוקי שיתא סדרי, ואמרנא להו: עד דהדרנא ואתינא – אקרו אהדדי :ואתנו אהדדי, ועבדי לה לתורה דלא תשתכח מישראל. היינו דאמר רבי (:כמה גדולים מעשי חייא! )בבא מציעא פה
Resh Lakish was marking the burial vaults of the Rabbis. But when he came to the grave of R. Hiyya, it was hidden from him, whereat he experienced a sense of humiliation. ‘Sovereign of the Universe!’ he exclaimed, ‘did I not debate on the Torah as he did?’ Thereupon a Heavenly Voice cried out in reply: ‘You did indeed debate on the Torah as he did, but did not spread the Torah as he did.’ Whenever R. Hanina and R. Hiyya were in a dispute, R. Hanina said to R. Hiyya: ‘Would you dispute with me? If, Heaven forfend! the Torah were forgotten in Israel, I would restore it by my argumentative powers.’ To which R. Hiyya rejoined: ‘Would you dispute with me, who achieved that the Torah should not be forgotten in Israel? What did I do? I went and sowed flax, made nets [from the flax cords], trapped deers, whose flesh I gave to orphans, and prepared scrolls [from their skins], upon which I wrote the five books [of Moses]. Then I went to a town [which contained no teachers] and taught the five books to five children, and the six orders [of the Talmud] to six children. And I bade them: “Until I return, teach each other the Pentateuch and the Mishnah;” and thus I preserved the Torah from being forgotten in Israel.’ This is what Rabbi [meant when he] said, ‘How great are the works of Hiyya!’ (Bava Metzi’a 85b)
Second is the primacy of text over logic.9 In Talmudic discourse, logic plays a great role, but when confronted with a conflict between text and logic, the text prevails. The following Talmudic discussion highlights this issue: .רב יצחק בר יהודה הוה רגיל קמיה דרמי בר חמא, שבקיה ואזיל לרב ששת יומא חד פגע ביה, אמר ליה: אלקפטא נקטן ריחא אתי לה ליד, משום דאזלת לך לקמיה דרב ששת הוית לך כי רב ששת? א״ל: לאו מש״ה, מר כי בעינא מילתא פשיט לי מסברא, כי משכחנא מתניתא פרכא לה, רב ששת כי בעינא מילתא מיניה פשיט לי ממתניתא, דכי נמי משכחת מתניתא
Jeremy Wieder ופרכא, מתניתא ומתניתא היא. אמר ליה: בעי מיני מילתא דאיפשיט לך כי מתניתא, בעא מיניה: בישל במקצת כלי, טעון מריקה ושטיפה או :אין טעון? א״ל: אינו טעון, מידי דהוה אהזאה. והא לא תנא הכי! א״ל מסתברא כבגד, מה בגד אינו טעון כיבוס אלא מקום הדם, אף כלי אינו ,טעון מריקה ושטיפה אלא במקום בישול. א״ל: מי דמי? דם לא מפעפע בישול מפעפע! ועוד, תניא: חומר בהזאה ממריקה ושטיפה, וחומר במריקה ושטיפה מבהזאה; חומר בהזאה, שהזאה ישנה בחטאות החיצונות ובחטאות הפנימיות וישנה לפני זריקה, מה שאין כן במריקה ושטיפה; חומר במריקה ,ושטיפה, שהמריקה ושטיפה נוהגת בין בקדשי קדשים בין בקדשים קלים !בישל במקצת הכלי – טעון מריקה ושטיפה כל הכלי, מה שאין כן בהזאה (:א״ל. אי תניא תניא. )זבחים צו
R. Isaac the son of R. Judah used to attend Rami b. Hama[‘s lectures]. He left him and attended R. Sheshet[‘s lectures]. One day he [Rami b. Hama] met him, and observed: The noble has taken us by the hand, and his scent has come into the hand! Because you have gone to R. Shesheth, you are like R. Sheshet! That was not the reason, he replied. Whenever I asked a question of you, you answered me from reason, [and] if I found a teaching [to the contrary], it refuted your answer. [But] when I ask a question of R. Sheshet, he answers it from a teaching, so that even if I find a teaching which refutes him, it is one teaching against another. Said he to him: Ask me a question, and I will answer you in accordance with a teaching. [Thereupon] he asked him: If one boiled [the sacrifice] in part of a vessel, does it require scouring and rinsing, or does it not require [them]? – It does not require them, he replied, by analogy with [the] spurting [of blood]. But it was not taught so, he protested? – It is logical that it is like a garment, he replied; just as a garment needs washing only in the place of the blood, so a vessel requires scouring and rinsing only in the place of boiling. How can you compare them, he objected: blood does not spread, whereas boiling spreads. Moreover, it was taught: [The] spurting [of blood] is more stringent than scouring and rinsing, and scouring and rinsing are more stringent than spurting. Spurting is more stringent, since [the law of] spurting operates in respect to outer sin-offerings and
The Role of Lomdut in Jewish Education
inner sin-offerings, and it operated before sprinkling, which is not so in the case of scouring and rinsing. Scouring and rinsing are more stringent, in that scouring and rinsing are required for most sacred sacrifices and for lesser sacrifices; [again] if one boiled [the flesh] in part of a vessel, the whole vessel requires scouring and rinsing, which is not so in the case of spurting! – If it was taught, it was taught, he replied. (Zevahim 96b)
Third, from a pedagogical perspective, large edifices require solid foundations to support them. To be able to build creatively on what one has learned requires a broad base of knowledge from which to draw. The student who lacks knowledge in one area may be confronted with problems that may easily be understood in light what is unknown to him. The first of these three considerations, it might be argued, is not particularly relevant in an era in which even Torah she-Be’al Peh is committed to writing. The preservation of traditions can be accomplished through the written word and does not depend upon human memory.10 The latter two, however, remain salient. One would expect that the system of education advocated by Hazal reflects these considerations. Indeed, the Mishnah advises: .בן חמש למקרא בן עשר למשנה בן חמש עשרה לגמרא
At the age of five, a child studies scripture, at ten the Mishnah and at fifteen the Talmud.
The early focus is on the ‘what,’ and only later moves to analysis of the data. Rav Yeshaya Horowitz, in his work on Shavu’ot, elaborates on this theme: הנער כשיתחיל ללמוד מקרא, לא יזוז עד גמר תורה נביאים כתובים היטב היטב, לא ידלג מפרשה לפרשה של שבוע, רק זה אחר זה, ולא יזוז משום פסוקים עד שידע הנער פירוש המלה עם הפעולה והחיבור, דהיינו ביאור הפסוק. וגם חלק גדול מחכמת הדקדוק טוב ללמוד בעודו נער, שאז כתובים על לוח לבו והם לזכרון תמיד. אחר כך משניות כולם מן שיתא סדרא שיהו
Jeremy Wieder שנונים בעל פה, ואחר כך התלמוד באורך ורוחב ופוסקים, ואז ׳מלאה הארץ (דעה׳ )ישעיה יא:ט
When a child begins to learn scripture, he should not alter his course of study until he has learned Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim very well. He should not skip in his study according to the weekly portions but rather learn sequentially, in order. He should not move on from studying any verse until he has understood the meaning of the words together with the action described and their context, that is, the meaning of the verse. It is also wise to learn a large portion of grammar while still young, as then it will be ‘written upon his heart’ and always in his memory. After scripture he should learn all of the six orders of the Mishnah by heart then the Talmud in its length and breadth with the proper Halakhic rulings and then “the land will be filled with knowledge” (Isaiah 11:9).
Painstaking efforts must be made to insure that the student learns to read the text meticulously and absorbs not only information, but develops the textual skills to be able to study on his own. Obviously, there is another consideration that underlies this approach and that is the tailoring of the curriculum to the intellectual faculties of children, which grow gradually over time. The overwhelming majority of younger students do not have the capacity to appreciate properly the logic and flow of Gemara and certainly lack the sophistication to truly comprehend זה וטחינתן הרים עקירת .בזהThe goal is to instill as large a database as possible in younger students, the girsa de-yankuta, while fostering the development of textual skills and to allow the more sophisticated processing to be done at a later age. Hence the Talmud states: אמר רב כהנא כד הוינא בר תמני סרי שנין והוה גמירנא ליה לכוליה הש״ס ?ולא הוה ידענא דאין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו עד השתא. מאי קמ״ל (.דליגמר איניש והדר ליסבר. )שבת סג
R. Kahana said: By the time I was eighteen years old I had studied the whole Shas, yet I did not know that a verse can-
The Role of Lomdut in Jewish Education
not depart from its plain meaning until to-day. What does he inform us? – That a man should study and subsequently understand. (Shabbat 63a)
iii. Contemporary education
In the contemporary period, it would seem then that the Torah curriculum should still be modeled upon that of Hazal. The earlier years of study should be dedicated primarily, if not solely, to the acquisition of a working knowledge of substantial tracts of Torah she-Bikhtav and Mishnah along with textual skills and, as the student enters his high school years, the emphasis should be shifted to the study of Gemara. The study of Gemara itself should also initially focus on the basic interpretations of texts along with the acquisition of textual skills and only later, as the student approaches full intellectual maturity and has acquired meaningful amounts of knowledge, should it shift to a more penetrating and thorough analysis of the concepts underlying the texts or whatever other form of lomdut would be chosen. Hazal comment in Masekhet Soferim: אשרי אדם שישים עמלו בהש״ס ולא שיהא דולג במקרא ובמשנה ויבוא להש״ס אלא על מנת שילמד מקרא ומשנה ויבוא להש״ס על זה נאמר ״הון .(עשיר קרית עזו, וכחומה נשגבה במשכיתו״ )משלי יח:יא
Praiseworthy is one who places all of his efforts in Shas. Not that he should quickly peruse scripture or Mishnah so that he begin to learn Shas, but rather to learn scripture and Mishnah well and only then learn Shas. On this it is written, “The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and as a high wall in his own conceit” (Mishlei 18:11).
The high-level study of Torah she-Be’al Peh is recognized as the ultimate goal, but at the same time, it must be preceded by the appropriate preparations. This ideal curriculum however, can realistically only be carried out to its final stages with more capable and interested students. Many, if not a majority, will probably never be ready for the most
advanced forms of Torah study, whether because of a lack of ability or absence of interest. A sense of this, perhaps in somewhat exaggerated form, is conveyed by the Midrash: ״אשר עוד בקשה נפשי ולא מצאתי אדם אחד מאלף מצאתי,״ בנוהג שבעולם אלף בני אדם נכנסין למקרא יוצאין מהן ק‘ למשנה, יוצאין מהן .עשרה לתלמוד, יוצא מהם אחד להוראה, הה״ד אדם אחד מאלף מצאתי ()קהלת רבה פרשה ז
“That which my soul seeks, I have not found; one man among a thousand, I have found.” Normally, one thousand people study scripture and out of them one hundred study Mishnah. Of those, ten study Talmud, and of those, only one goes on to teach the Law. As the verse says “one man among a thousand I have found.” (Kohelet Rabbah 7).
Older students without the requisite preparations can be taught to ‘talk the talk’ of lomdut much as a parrot can be trained to speak, but a serious appreciation of the possibilities within the texts and of their relationship to the texts will always elude them. This ideal, as should be obvious to any contemporary observer, is far from the reality of Modern Orthodox yeshivot.11 The study of Torah she-Bikhtav begins around the age of six, of Mishnah around the age of nine and of Gemara between the age of ten and twelve. Before the student has completed more than a small fraction of Tanakh, he begins the study of Mishnah (with a simultaneous reduction in the attention paid to the former). Before the student has studied more than a small portion of even one order of the Mishnah, attention is focused on the study of Gemara. This is enigmatic, since my own experience teaching eleven, twelve, and thirteen year-olds over the past six years indicates that it is the rare student who can achieve a genuine appreciation for the flow and analysis of mishnayot, not to speak of Gemara. The problem in its general form is not a new one. The Maharal of Prague waged a long campaign, with little success, against what he perceived as a system of education whose focus and priorities were misaligned. He was greatly disturbed by two issues: first, that
The Role of Lomdut in Jewish Education
,students never established a proper foundation of basic knowledge and that they were being taught material which was unsuitable for :their age. In his Gur Aryeh he writes ועתה בדור הפחות הזה עניותא בתר עניותא אזלא, סרו מן הדרך הישר מיד שיבא הנער להשקיד בתורה עד שיזקין הם נוהגים כמו אדם הסכל אשר יראה אומן אחד בונה חומה חופר יסוד עמוק לחומה עד שיהיה קיום לחומה והסכל חושב כי דבר זה מעשה הבל כי למה יחפור מתחת לארץ ואין צריך לו רק יעמיד החומה על קרקע שוה ואין צריך ליסוד החומה וגורם בזה שהחומה קודם שתבנה ראשון ראשון מתרוסס, וכך בארצות אלו כאשר היה בדורות הראשנים נתנו גבולים ועתים לחנך נער על פי דרכו: בן חמש למקרא בן עשר למשנה בן ט״ו לתלמוד, והכל כדי לתת לנער משא כאשר יוכל שאת לפי טבעו ומה שהוא לפי טבעו מקבל הנער… וכן סדרו והגבילו חכמים את הנער לפי טבעו בן ה‘ למקרא, ודבר זה יקבל הנער לפי טבעו ויגדל את שכלו גם כן ומה שלמד קבל אותו קבל חזק עד שיגדל יותר, ואז יתחיל המשנה דבר שהוא לפי ערכו וכבר התחיל ליסד הבית בלמדו במקרא עיקרי הדינים על דרך הבנה מה והוא לו יסוד למשנה. וכאשר כלה מלאכת הקודש במשנה שהיא היסוד הגדול ועמוד ברזל לכל התורה כאשר יקרב אל התלמוד, אז יוכל לבנות מגדל ראשו בשמים לא יפול צרור ארצה והכל על היסוד הקיים הוא המשנה שהיא לו יסוד מוסד ואחר כך אם יקרב ידו לקרב לישא וליתן במלחמתה של תורה אז ידיו רב לו… אך הטפשים בארצות אלו דרכיהם הפך זה…ויש שמעתיקין אותו אל הגמרא מיד, יצפצף הנער בקול דברים בלבד ותמונת הפשט לא ידע להבין אף דבר מה ממנו ולא דמסיק ממנו דמסיק תעלא מבי כרבא רק כדמסיק זבוב מאבן שיש. וכאשר יגדל הנער ואז יתגבר קצת שכלו מעתיק אותו אל למוד התוס‘ ובסכלות דעתו כי למוד הגמרא וההלכה הוא הועיל לו. והאנשים האלו הכו בסנורים אין זה רק כי שכל הנער גדל מעצמו, אבל שיהיה מוסיף בשכלו מה שהלעיטו דבר שאין ראוי לו, ואינו לפי ערך שכלו זה אי אפשר ואין ספק שאם היה הולך בלא תורה והתחיל ללמוד בזמן מועט יגיע מה שעסק זה מהתחלתו ואז יעסוק בתוספות ומי יתן והיה לו העיקר ולא יבקש תוספות…)גור אריה פרשת ואתחנן, ’ושננתם לבניך‘(
,And now in this lowly generation, poverty leading to poverty they have strayed from the straight path. Immediately from ,when a child comes to delve in Torah until he becomes elderly they act as a fool who sees an artisan dig a deep foundation
before erecting a wall so that it will have support; the fool thinks that this is an act of vanity, since why would somebody dig below the ground when it is unnecessary? He should just erect the wall on level ground without any foundation – the causes the wall to begin to crumble even before it is completed. In these lands in former generations, there where limits and times to educate a child according to his path: at age five he begins learning Scripture, at ten, Mishnah and at fifteen, Talmud. All this to give the child a burden that he can bear according to his nature; whatever is according to his nature, he retains… With this in mind, the sages organized the child’s study according to his nature: at age five he should start learning Scripture. This he will retain according to his nature and it will expand his mind as well. And that which he learns, he will learn well so that he grows. Then he should begin to learn Mishnah, that which is appropriate for his age. He has already begun to lay the foundations in studying Scripture with and understanding of the basics of the Laws – this is the foundation for the Mishnah. When he has completed the holy work of studying Mishnah, which is the great foundation and iron pillar for the entire Torah as he approaches the Talmud, he can begin to build a tower with its apex in Heaven, and nothing will fall down below. All this is build on the existing foundation of the Mishnah, which is his basic foundation. Then if he can bring himself to delve into matters within the ‘battle of Torah,’ then “his hands are sufficient for him…” However, the fools in these lands have adopted the opposite approach…There are those who bring a child immediately to Talmud study. The child will merely repeat the words but will not understand the meaning of those words, not anything, and does not even learn from it “what a fox extracts from a[n unsown but] plowed field” (cf. Yoma 43b) but rather like what a fly extracts from marble. When the child gets older and has a more mature mind, they instruct him directly to study Tosafot, as if in the foolishness of his mind,
The Role of Lomdut in Jewish Education
his previous Talmud study had benefited him. These people have been stricken with blindness. A child’s mind develops naturally and his mind will not expand by teaching him studies that are inappropriate for his nature and present age. There is no doubt that had he gone on without studying Torah and only began to study later that he would have reached the same level and still want to study Tosafot. It would be far better if he studied the basics and not search after Tosafot…(Gur Aryeh, Va-Ethanan, s.v. ve-shinantam le-vanekha)
Many after the Maharal complained bitterly about the problems in education, but also to no avail. As things stand, the emphasis on the early study of Gemara is misplaced. Emphasizing or introducing lomdut into the curriculum at an early stage simply exacerbates the problem by distracting students from the focus appropriate to the first stages of studying Gemara, regardless of age and by confronting students with material which they are not yet ready to handle. As students advance through their high schools years, with the concurrent intellectual maturation, they reach a stage where they are intellectually capable of appreciating the subtleties of lomdut. Even at that juncture, however, most have still not completely mastered the skill of reading texts, particularly the texts of those Rishonim, which are the basic building blocks of most contemporary forms of lomdut. It is quite easy to get a student to recite a hakirah, but to coax out from him a reading of a Milhamot is quite another story. As the latter is a pre-requisite for the creative exercise of the former, it hardly makes sense to spend much precious time even at this stage in the exercise of lomdut. When the discussion turns toward adult education, some of the above considerations and concerns remain pertinent. Certainly by that point in their lives most people have reached full intellectual maturity and have developed more sophisticated thinking skills.12 Yet, the question of the background and knowledge of the participants very much remains an issue. Many adults have received a weak yeshiva education and in some cases little at all and even those who
have had a relatively stronger education, are products of a system which has not provided them with the solid foundations spoken of earlier. The adult yeshiva product who is thoroughly familiar with even a moderate range of knowledge of both Mikra and Mishnah and possesses skills and wide exposure to Shas represents a very small percentage of the population. While the basic study of Gemara might sometimes be deemed appropriate and beneficial for the larger community, it is very difficult to see the productivity of lomdut in many circumstances.13 In addition, many considerations restrict severely the time which most adults can dedicate to the study of Torah. In light of this constraint, an evaluation of the goals of the study of Torah ought to weigh heavily in the prioritization of what should be studied and how it should be taught. The commandment of Talmud Torah functions simultaneously on two levels – study of Torah lishmah, for its own sake and study for practical benefits, primarily performance, ( ולמדתם אותם ושמרתם לעשותםDeut.5:1). The former consideration will be satisfied regardless of subject or approach. The consideration of performance of the commandments, however, militates in favor of topics that have practical halakhic implications and a methodology, which while meticulous and encouraging of thinking, should tend to not get bogged down in the excessively theoretical.
iv. A push for lomdut?
Wherein, then, lies the powerful push in general for the study of Gemara, and for some, the involvement in lomdut? First, there is a sense that one should pursue the ultimate goal in the study of Torah as soon as possible, that is to say the in-depth analysis of Torah sheBe’al Peh. The Talmud notes: א״ר יוחנן: לא כרת הקב״ה ברית עם ישראל אלא בשביל דברים שבעל פה, שנאמר: )שמות ל״ד( כי על פי הדברים האלה כרתי אתך ברית ואת (:ישראל. )גיטין ס
R. Yohanan said: God made a covenant with Israel only for the sake of that which was transmitted orally, as it says, For
The Role of Lomdut in Jewish Education
by the mouth of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel. (Gittin 60b)
Furthermore: תנו רבנן: העוסקין במקרא – מדה ואינה מדה, במשנה – מדה ונוטלין עליה (.שכר, בתלמוד – אין לך מדה גדולה מזו )בבא מציעא לג
Our Rabbis taught: They who occupy themselves with the Bible [alone] are but of indifferent merit; with Mishnah, are indeed meritorious, and are rewarded for it; with Gemara – there can be nothing more meritorious; yet run always to the Mishnah more than to the Gemara. (Bava Metzi’a 33a)
Unquestionably, a deeper understanding of Torah she-Be’al Peh remains the Everest of traditional Torah learning. However, not everyone is capable of reaching the lofty summit and no one can scale the peak without climbing the mountain below. The inexperienced climber who rushes towards the peak is destined to plummet into a crevasse, or to suffocate due to a rapid depletion of oxygen in the air. The Talmud continues in the above passage: ולעולם הוי רץ למשנה יותר מן התלמוד. הא גופא קשיא, אמרת: בתלמוד אין לך מדה גדולה מזו, והדר אמרת: ולעולם הוי רץ למשנה יותר מן ,התלמוד! )בבא מציעא שם:( אמר רבי יוחנן בימי רבי נשנית משנה זו שבקו כולא עלמא מתניתין ואזלו בתר תלמודא. הדר דרש להו: ולעולם .הוי רץ למשנה יותר מן התלמוד
run always to the Mishnah more than to the Gemara!’…Now, this is self-contradictory. You say, ‘with Gemara – there can be nothing more meritorious;’ and then you say, ‘Yet run always to the Mishnah more than to the Gemara!’ – Said R. Johanan: This teaching was taught in the days of Rabbi; thereupon everyone forsook the Mishnah and went to the Gemara; hence he subsequently taught them, ‘Yet run always to the Mishnah more than to the Gemara.’
In those days as well, there was a rush for the glory, but R. Judah
the Prince recognized the dangers involved and tried to reverse the tide.14 One could also argue that the focus on lomdut helps stimulate interest in learning and helps make the end product more appealing for the student. Indeed, listening to a lecture focused on lomdut, one often walks away with a sense of great of intellectual and emotional satisfaction on seeing how everything has fit together so neatly. There is a magical quality to the hakirah which lines up so many different disputes so nicely around one issue.15 The beautiful impression, however, generally ignores the subtleties of the underlying issues. As the Talmud observes: (:אם יאמר לך אדם לא יגעתי ומצאתי – אל תאמן. )מגלה ו
If a man says to you…I have not laboured but still have found, do not believe him. (Megilah 6a)
To appreciate lomdut properly, one has to have painstakingly worked through the shittot and issues and to have recognized alternative solutions. Once one is properly engaged in those exercises and understands the other possibilities, and recognizes that each position can only be asserted with a certain degree of probability, the beautiful radiance of the lomdut may evaporate rapidly. Superficial analysis of shittot to produce a hakirah is hardly the ultimate goal in the study of Torah.16 Unquestionably, captivating the imagination of young students in a highly stimulative and sensory culture is difficult, but an approach needs to involve more than smoke and mirrors. Honing textual skills and building large databases of knowledge are tedious and sometimes boring processes, certainly in comparison to conceptual analysis, but nonetheless they need to be the focal point of education for most students. Alternative teaching methods or subject materials may be necessary to motivate many students, but skipping steps in the developmental process is ill advised.17 Many of these considerations pertain as well to the discussion of adult-education. Yet others have argued that in a world which adult Jews are well-educated and in which students are receiving a sophisticated
The Role of Lomdut in Jewish Education
secular education, there is a need for analogous sophistication and creativity in Torah so as not to lower the standing of Torah, תהא ולא 81.שלהם בטלה כשיחה שלנו שלמה תורהThe justification falls short on two counts. A realistic assessment undermines this evaluation of contemporary culture and society. Most of the activities that professionals engage in and most of the academics pursued by students (dare we say even, regrettably, on the collegiate level) hardly qualify as sophisticated. In the broader culture in which education, ideas and academic pursuits have been enslaved in the name of unfettered economic progress, there is less and less intellectual sophistication or creativity of which to speak. Furthermore, this approach presupposes that the only creative and intellectually challenging approach to Torah study is lomdut. The presentation of the questions raised by Tosafot or Rashba and the elucidation of the obvious premises in the questions and answers can be quite complicated and challenging without the involvement of conceptual analysis. Creativity in Torah study is not limited to the newly discovered; independent origination of an observation previously made qualifies as well, as Hazal observe: ויתן ה‘ אלי את שני לוחות )דברים ט: י(. ר‘ יהושע בן לוי אמר עליהם ועליהם, כל ככל, דברים הדברים )שם( מצוה כל מצוה )שם ח: א(, מקרא משנה תלמוד תוספת הגדה ואפילו מה שתלמיד ותיק עתיד לומר לפני רבו כלן נאמרו למשה בסיני, שנאמר יש דבר שיאמר ראה זה חדש הוא חבירו (משיב עליו כבר היה לעולמים )קהלת א: י(. )ויקרא רבה פרשה כב
“And Hashem gave me the two tablets” (Deut. 9; 10). R. Yehoshu’a the son of Levi said…scripture, Mishnah, Talmud, Tosefta, Aggadah and even that which a senior student will say in front of his master were all revealed to Moshe at Sinai, as it says, “Is there a thing whereof it may be said, See this is new?” Its friend responds, “it has already been in the ages before us.” (Eccles. 1; 10) (Va-Yikra Rabbah, sec. 22)
.…אמר רבי יהושע בן חנניה: מימי לא נצחני אדם חוץ מאשה תינוק ותינוקת תינוק מאי היא? פעם אחת הייתי מהלך בדרך, וראיתי תינוק יושב על פרשת דרכים. ואמרתי לו: באיזה דרך נלך לעיר? אמר לי: זו קצרה וארוכה וזו ארוכה וקצרה. והלכתי בקצרה וארוכה, כיון שהגעתי לעיר מצאתי שמקיפין אותה גנות ופרדיסין, חזרתי לאחורי. אמרתי לו: בני, הלא אמרת לי קצרה? – אמר לי: ולא אמרתי לך ארוכה! – נשקתיו על ראשו, ואמרתי .לו: אשריכם ישראל שכולכם חכמים גדולים אתם, מגדולכם ועד קטנכם (:)עירובין נג
R. Joshua b. Hananiah remarked: No one has ever had the better of me except a woman, a little boy and a little girl…What was the incident with the little boy? I was once on a journey when I noticed a little boy sitting at a cross-road. ‘By what road’, I asked him, ‘do we go to the town?’ – ‘This one’, he replied: ‘is short but long and that one is long but short’. I proceeded along the ‘short but long’ road. When I approached the town I discovered that it was hedged in by gardens and orchards. Turning back I said to him, ‘My son, did you not tell me that this road was short?’ – ‘And’, he replied: ‘did I not also tell you: But long?’ I kissed him upon his head and said to him, ‘Happy are you, O Israel, all of you are wise, both young and old’. (Eruvin 53a)
Torah education has many conflicting goals that create the need for a balancing act. Producing an educated laity while stimulating the unidentifiable future rabbinic leadership; filling the student’s mind with Torah knowledge while teaching critical analysis; transmitting skills acquired through hard work while developing a love of learning to last a lifetime are dichotomies that sometimes pull and push educators in opposite directions. A strategy which addresses one issue may be glaringly lacking with respect to another. Approaches which present students with material that they are not genuinely capable of appreciating, or which skip over necessary stages, may appear to the eye to be in the category of derekh ketzarah,
The Role of Lomdut in Jewish Education
but in fact are actually derakhim arukim. The Maharal, in belittling the accomplishments of students who were educated improperly, opines intuitively: ואין ספק שאם היה הולך בלא תורה והתחיל ללמוד – בזמן מועט יגיע (למה שעסק זה מהתחלתו. )גור אריה שם A method which finds a way to focus on what is difficult and tedious, but essential, appears as a derekh arukah, but ultimately is the shortest path to the gates of Torah.
I would like to express gratitude to those whose aid was very helpful in my work on this paper: To Dr. Judith Bleich and Rabbi Ari Berman (as well as other participants in the Forum) for their insights and suggestions; to my students whose insightful comments and questions have helped me refine some of the definitions; to Professor Moshe Bernstein for the many insights he has, in the course of numerous discussions, given me in and for many corrections and helpful suggestions made while editing the paper; and, ,אחרון אחרון חביבהto my wife for all of her assistance in editing and filling in gaps in some of my arguments. 1. The ‘Brisker Derekh’ was met by much opposition in Volozhin when it was first introduced. While it has gained widespread acceptance over the past century (cf. R.Hanoch Eigus’ introduction to his Marheshet), there is still much to be criticized. Forcing ideas into the text, ignoring more obvious answers (e.g., ‘balebatish’) when they legitimately and simply solve the problem and ignoring scholarly methods (already utilized by earlier sages) of analyzing the text (e.g., ‘girsah’ changes) are among the valid objections which could be raised against much which passes for Brisker lomdut today. In fairness, those who are not skilled in a method will likely produce poor results, but these criticisms can often be leveled, if to a lesser degree, even at those who ply their trade with greater skill.
2. The reader may find the precise distinction hard to follow. In a certain sense, referring to the Brisker derekh as ‘the conceptual approach’ is misleading. One would assume from the term that other approaches ignore abstract conceptualization. This is obviously not the case. Any serious discussion of civil or ritual laws requires at times probing of underlying abstract concepts. The Talmud itself occasionally
engages in (pardon the anachronism) Brisker lomdut, e.g., the “heftza / gavra” distinction between oaths and vows. The difference is emphasis and focus; abstract ideas or texts. Unfortunately, it is easier to paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart and say ‘I can’t describe it exactly, but I know it when I see it.’ I should note here that throughout the paper I refer to the student(s) in the masculine gender. This is done primarily for convenience and should not be taken to mean that I believe that the curriculum should be different for men and women. Since the teaching of Torah she-Be’al Peh to women, in accordance with the position of the Rav ,זצ״לis generally accepted in the Modern Orthodox community, I believe that the discussion pertains to men and women equally. Certain aspects of the discussion, however, may be pertinent to many advanced yeshiva students, due to the unfortunate contemporary phenomenon of so many students waiting to begin serious learning until they study in Israeli yeshivot after high school. The discussion of solid foundations as a pre-requisite to meaningful lomdut, may very well pertain to many older students. The study of Mishnah, given the typical absence of explanation for the laws, may in fact lend itself to conceptual analysis more easily than Gemara. One can only imagine the multiplicity of possibilities for many mishnayot had the Amora’im not suggested a scriptural decree (gezerat ha-katuv) as the basis of a law or disputed law, or confined it to a narrow set of circumstances. Contemporarily, Mishnah is used primarily with younger students as an introduction to the basics of Torah she-Be’al Peh and for basic knowledge, but is usually relegated to the back burner once the study of Gemara has begun. Partially due to the difficulties encountered by so many students in the study of Gemara, many Modern Orthodox schools have reduced the amount of time dedicated to the study of Torah she-Be’al Peh. Serious consideration should be given to increasing the hours and emphasizing Mishnah more than Gemara. The flexibility of Mishnah with respect to conceptual analysis along with the ease of its language (certainly relative to Gemara) might prove for many students to be more fruitful than an equivalent time spent on Gemara. I leave for another place and time the larger issue of whether such an enterprise might be considered productive and intellectually honest in any context. An initial observation would be that Scripture, as well as the interpretation of aggadah (when understood in its proper context – see Rambam, Perush ha-Mishnayot, Sanhedrin 10:1), does not lend itself to any of the contemporary forms of lomdut. Within the rubric of ‘basic information,’ I also include the textual skills necessary for the reading of texts. In theory Torah she-Be’al Peh requires no textual skills, as it should have no texts. Historically speaking however, it has had formal texts (written or orally transmitted) for at least 1800 years. As a result, textual skills have become a sine qua non of any serious learning. All translations from the Talmud are adapted from the Soncino Talmud in English. Translations of all other materials were prepared by the editor. “Text” here refers not necessarily to a formalized text which has been written
The Role of Lomdut in Jewish Education
down, but rather to received “traditions” whose form may be somewhat more fluid. (Although it is clear from many Talmudic passages that even before texts were actually recorded, their content was already formalized). For the limitations of written preservation of oral traditions see Hiddushei Rabbeinu Kraskes, Gittin 60b s.v. ha keitzad. It is my impression that the structural distance between the ideal and reality in the haredi world may be even greater than in the Modern Orthodox world, but I do not feel comfortable addressing the issue about which my knowledge is limited and more second-hand. This, it should be added, is probably a generous characterization of the general population. Without any intent of negative evaluation or judgment, contact with the general population of many (although certainly not all) Modern Orthodox communities, or any other adult communities clearly indicates that while a majority may be capable of understanding most conceptual analyses, the kind of intellectual sophistication which instinctively demands conceptual analysis is the province of a minority. I believe that some of the push for Brisker lomdut stems the belief that it is the ideal form of learning, rather than from any instinctive gravitation towards it. One might well suggest in light of these arguments that the basic study-text for adult education should be the Shulhan Arukh, which would produce maximum efficiency in a pragmatic sense. The suggestion falls short because in order to develop a serious appreciation for Halakhah and the halakhic process, one needs to be able to follow its development from the Mishnah through the Shulhan Arukh. Furthermore, to study the Shulhan Arukh without the original sources leads to a superficial understanding of the law and often, God forbid, to mistaken extrapolation. Within this episode, one sees perhaps a prelude to the Lithuanian system of education that aims at finding the one or two potential gedolim and which therefore tailors the curriculum around this goal. In America, this approach has been tragic on several fronts: 1) The number of casualties who have had little success in Gemara as taught and who have been turned off from learning or lost interest in it is frighteningly large. ( כי רבים חללים הפילה ועצומים כל הרוגיהProv. 7:26). 2) The system, at least in Modern Orthodox circles, has rarely seen one of its products reach the level of a gadol ba-Torah. 3) It is unclear if any gedolim who have come from this system were produced because of, or in spite of it. A serious system modeled upon that of Hazal combined with careful tracking would probably be more efficacious in producing the desired product. The nuts-and-bolts of learning, Tanakh and mishnayot, might be described as a derekh arukah she-hi ketzarah. One of my brightest students commented (not complained) to me on the difference between his shi’ur in the previous year (which focused on lomdut and fitting the pieces together perfectly) and my shi’ur, that the latter was “interesting” whereas the former was “awesome.” Two personal anecdotes, illustrative and perhaps representative, are worthy of men-
tion. The first involved a student in the Beit Midrash who engaged the author in a discussion about a topic in one of the published collections of the Rav ’s lectures. The student used the fancy catchwords of lomdut over and over, but clearly had the not the slightest understanding of what he was talking about. Lomdut and its terminology provided a way in which he could ‘talk in learning’ without actually engaging in ‘learning.’ The student is obviously a poor exemplar for a lamdan, but what he chose to try to fake is fascinating. The second occurred when a student (a bright, interested and serious one who had been heavily exposed to Brisker lomdut in his summer learning program) suggested making a hakirah (which I assume he had heard as being a major hakirah in our masekhta) which was indeed a classic hakirah, but could not explain why it mattered one way or the other. (Does the obligation to pay for damages one’s animal causes stem from the fact that he was careless in guarding it, or from the fact that his property did damage [with the proviso that he did not watch in properly]?) Regardless of one’s inclination towards conceptual analysis, it seems to me that lamdanim have always started with disputes between earlier Torah scholars or fundamental problems in individual opinions before creating pilpullim or hakirot. (R. Hayyim’s novellae on the Rambam usually begin with an apparent contradiction between two passages which is then resolved with his classic conceptual analysis.) 17. Hazal often note that aggadah is “( ”מושכת את הלבcf. Hagigah 14a), or that “אין אדם ( .”לומד תורה אלא במקום שלבו חפץAvodah Zarah 19a). An individual’s personal preference for a specific subject as well as his ability to deal with its difficulties usually determine whether he will succeed in its study. The success rate in hinnukh would probably be much greater if there were an alternative curriculum that emphasized Torah she-Bikhtav and mishnayot (or something similar in nature) for the student who lacks the interest or ability to succeed in Gemara. 18. Cf. Bava Batra 116a.