Sunday, February 12, 2006

Priorities in Learning

A post I read on another blog was discussing his frum pet peeves. One of this person's was "When people vocally espouse the belief that learning the Parsha is more important than learning Gemara." I do believe that for certain people learning gemara is more important than learning the parsha, but I do not believe that this is so as a blanket statement. More specifically, for baalei teshuva, people that are not frum from birth, yeshivas should emphasize a hierarchy of learning. Essentially, it shouldn't be the case that I know people that can lain a blatt (page) of gemara, but cannot properly recite Kiddush/Havdalah for their families.

For kids that are FFB (frum from birth), the parsha and the tefilos are taught in elementary/middle school. During the middle/high school years, the emphasis switches to mishnayos and then to gemara, an emphasis which is in place throughout the high school and post-high school yeshiva years. I do not mean to knock learning gemara. Everyone should learn gemara, as it is our way to be a link in the chain that is the Jewish mesorah. But, I believe that this is only true once BT's are well-versed in other areas of Judaism.

If one does not know how to read Hebrew without trouble, he should not be focusing all of his studies on gemara. If one does not know all of the main tefilos shegura v'piv (fluently, essentially), he should not be focusing all of his studies on gemara. If one does not know how to lead bentching, lead davening, recite the Kiddush or havdalah, he should not be focusing all of his studies on gemara. This is precisely how it is easy to spot baalei teshuva while they daven....they simply don't know the prayers. I was recently at a wedding and this, what appeared to be, chassidish man was honored with a bracha under the chupah. He had a bekashe, gartel, black hat, long beard, etc....only problem was that the bracha of Sos Tasis took him about 60 seconds to say. That shouldn't be the case. I'd rather these people know how to say tefilos, know how to blend in with the rest of the frum community then know what the terms "V'raminu" and "Svira Lay" mean.

So, regarding the parsha thing, I believe that learning the parsha, for someone that did not grow up in a day school environment, is much more important than learning gemara. How can one really have a conversation at a Shabbos table without knowing the basic stories of the bible?! I propose that at all BT yeshivas a BT course be taught, where all of the aforementioned things are taught. I am not suggesting that one neglect all of other studies....rather a course to be taught that should help BT's integrate into the rest of the frum community...instead of sticking out for not knowing how to daven, recite Kiddush, etc.


Anonymous peninah said...

Maybe I am naive, but I really can't understand why one type of learning would be considered more "choshuv" than another type of learning. Why do we have to make distinctions like this? The same way that there are people who consider learning (in general) more important than Ben Adam L'chavero mitzvos (especially their wives and families). It just makes me mad. If you are taking time out of your day to learn, then whatever you are learning, as long as it is L'shma, should be ok.

I do agree with what you are saying here though. Good points. Niceley articulated.

7:57 PM, February 12, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...


I think for someone that has never learned before, talmudic concepts are WAY down on the list of priorities. How about learning about Adam and Eve first? So too, learning about Adam and Eve may not be as beneficial for a Talmud Chacham as detailed talmudic concepts. Kol haKavod to anyone that takes time aside to learn...whatever it is you may be learning. That being said, I believe one should realize where one lies on the Adam and Eve/talmudic concepts continuum and learn accordingly.

10:32 PM, February 12, 2006

Anonymous Greg said...

First off, proper blogging protocol would be to link to the post that you are quoting. I can show you how to do this if you like.

I would second my esteemed wife's comment, and add that learning means different things to different people. For some it is a means to identify culturally, for others it hold religious significance, for others it is a means to some ends (And sometimes it's more than one). Someone not knowing Hebrew shouldn't necessarily affect some folks reasons for learning.

1:27 AM, February 13, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...


I edited the post and linked to the aforementioned post. Sorry about that.

Lack of hebrew knowledge should not affect people's reasons for learning - I am not speaking to the reasons people learn. It just shouldn't be that any yeshiva (I know because I went to one) pushes fluency in gemara before they push fluency in tefillah or fluency in a simple Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (an example of a basic hebrew sefer). If you would see the product of such a yeshiva - someone that could hock you up about a gemara in Kesubos, but struggle with the Kiddush for his family - I think you would agree.

I think the goal of BT yeshivas should be do teach skills necessary in order to integrate its talmidim in to the mainstream frum community. By pushing the wrong priorities, they are isolating their talmidim from the mainstream rather than integrating.

4:52 AM, February 13, 2006

Blogger Opinions said...

I think Chumash and halacha should be fundamentals before spending too much time on gemora. The only rationale for pushing gemora at an early stage is to give someone exposure to the intellectual challenges of jewish learning. It is amazing how some people are thrown righ into gemaora without knowing basic everyday halacha.

10:19 AM, February 13, 2006

Blogger Jack Davidov said...

I am going to take this opportunity to defend my stance. First, I want to clarify what I was talking about - often times, ba'al habatim expect yeshiva bachurim to be full of wisdom on the parsha, when they have, in fact, spent most of their time learning the intracacies of Bava Basra, or about the laws of Gittin or Kiddushin (a couple of examples). The ba'al habais will often throw his hands up - "What are they teaching these kids these days!" while having no appreciation at all for the intensity and time consuming nature of Gamara study.

You did bring up some other issues, some of which I agree with, some of which I do not agree with:

- Is Chumash fundamental? Of course it is, it is a pre-requisite. If you take any course in college without the pre-requisites, you will end up failing the course. Should you spend 90% of your (very limited) learning time reviewing pre-requisites? Obviously, there is a time and place for Chumash study but not as the primary area.

- Do ba'alei t'shuva struggle with Hebrew fluency and Tefilla? Many do. Yet, I look at it a different way. Many ba'alei t'shuvah struggle with understanding the meaning behind what they are saying. Many FFBs don't really think about what Kiddush or Havdalah means as they say it. It's a bit of a difference in perspective, not fluency. It makes it harder for them when they want to know what they are saying.

- When someone is first introduced to Torah, should he jump into Gamara? Of course not, that is not what I am saying. Obviously, there are more fundamental things to start with. Learning how to read Hebrew and daven properly obviously take precedence.

For the most part, I really don't think that we are disagreeing on anything here. We may have just mis-communicated. Sorry for any previous ambiguity...

3:49 PM, February 13, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...


There was some miscommunication, as my post was not in direct response to was only what sparked my post.

I believe that for someone new to frumkeit, someone that is not familiar with the stories of the Torah, or with the basic halachos on how to lives ones' life, these things take 100% priority.

4:00 PM, February 13, 2006

Blogger Jack Davidov said...

Personally, I went to a yeshiva where Chumash was pushed in addition to Gamara. My Chumash Rebbe fundamentally affected the way that I view Torah and the way that I view the world. This one shiur was absolutely essential to my growth. However, I was never taught that Chumash was the final goal of my learning, and I went to a very "Tzioni" yeshiva in Israel. My Chumash Rebbe was my Gamara Rebbe the following year.

I struggled with Hebrew when I first went to yeshiva and I would probably fit into picture you are painting (minus the black hat and gartel - which I would have been kicked out of yeshiva for). However, much of my problem was that I refused to just "read" the Hebrew when I davened. I really wanted to understand what I was saying. So, I stuttered and I stammered and basically made a fool of myself whenever a was shaliach tzibbur. Yet, for me it was a stage that I had to pass through - it was growing pains. Do I still stammer? Sometimes. I guess that I'm not done growing yet.

4:59 PM, February 13, 2006

Blogger Jack Davidov said...

Check out my latest post which also uses yours as a springboard - The Proper Path for a Ba'al T'shuvah.

6:50 PM, February 13, 2006

Blogger Jewboy said...

I think Alanlaz has some valid points here. Jack, I completely relate to what you were saying about baal habatim not understanding what yeshiva guys are learning during the week. The situation you described happened to me several times. After that I often tried to have a little vort ready in case someone asked me what I knew about the parsha. I still don't always do that; I guess I'm such a big vort on the parsha guy.

6:57 PM, February 13, 2006

Blogger Jewboy said...

I meant I'm NOT such a big vort on the parsha guy.

9:48 PM, February 13, 2006

Blogger Jack Davidov said...

When I was a bachur, I didn't even know that Parsha books existed. I thought that people came up with a lot of these insights on their own.

I have a problem memorizing things, so now I often just read a vort that I like out of a Parsha Sefer. I would like to be able to say them by memory, but I have a really hard time unless I review them a thousand times. I'm trying to work on it and to take one night a week to devote to Parsha studies (and commiting a vort to memory).

2:18 PM, February 15, 2006


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