Tuesday, November 25, 2008

..a few more theses

Hello there peoples (...I don't know, sometimes I get the feeling like I need to say hello. ..I mean, if someone is reading it, they should be told 'hello', no? ..whatever..).

In order that it shouldn't pass from my mind as it came: I have two opinions about yeshiva reforms (in this context), one academic and one structural. One I pondered about many years ago, and one only a few years ago. One theologically reasonable and one a bit more questionable in a theological sense.

Firstly- it is my opinion that yeshivas are very much limiting themselves in regards to the diversity of classes that could be taught in such an institution, and that could be considered 'Torah' (or not far from it). Now, Yeshiva University and Stern College obviously have diverse classes, as well as the Jewish Theological Seminary (among others which are not quite worth mentioning in this context), but they are not 'yeshivot' in that sense, but rather Jewish Universities. I mean a place with 100 per cent religious studies; a place for a child and student of the West to go and find solace from the unG-dly elements which wish to contaminate their soul (Yeshivat Chovevei Torah is a good idea, but not really what I'm getting at here).

To-day, obviously, not much is taught in yeshivot outside of Talmud. If it is it's usually on a very 'fluffy' (if I may) level. But there is such a broad range of subjects that comprises 'Torah' in the most staunch sense. Aside from the Five Books of the Torah, the Prophets and the Holy Writings (and the myriads of ways they can be approached), there can also be Mishna 'for Mishna's sake' (outside the subjects of Talmud). The study of Tamlud itself can and should be greatly reformed in yeshivas in my opinion. But there is also the evolution of and differing opinions within the philosophical and ethical works of the Medieval Jewish scholars and those who followed them. Let us not forget the all-important subject of halakha- it itself has an infinitude of different venues one can take in it's study; one can study only the Rambam or only the Shulhan Arukh, or the latter with emphasis on different commentators (Mishna b'rurah and Yalkut Yosef for example), or an emphasis on their Talmudic basis. And then there is a subject which most would not consider part of a yeshiva curriculum, but I do; the study and analysis of all the millenia that comprise 'Jewish History', and the many lessons we must learn from it.

And yet till today, even us, the descendants of the Sepharadim (as well as the descendants of the Ashkenazim) choose to mimic the faulty academic system that existed in Eastern Europe before the destruction of those communities during the Second World War, instead of following in the ways of the Jews of Moorish Spain, who had in their institutions of learning a refreshing synthesis of Talmud and ethics, halakha and poetry, prayer and meditation.

Secondly- I also believe that yeshivot are harming themselves by not introducing a full credit system. By credit system I mean of course gaining college credits that are fully acceptable in a normal university. Now, while that aspect of the credit system does already exist in many places, what I am suggesting is being graded for these points by tests, proving ones retaining of knowledge in these subjects. Now, while there are many disadvantages to the 'test system', and many academic advantages to the system currently in force in yeshivot, still feel that only through testing and accrediting would the students be fully interested in the subject matter, and would it become a real class.

Of course I am not suggesting that every 'shiur' must be graded. Just the opposite; it should be stressed that the study in yeshiva is quite different than that of the University. We believe that just the very action of studying religious subjects itself is the fulfillment of a religious duty. And with grading, students might overlook this religious aspect. But grading must be, for without it the subjects would never be retained, or taken seriously enough. And even if one fails, they have still fulfilled their duty.


The Babysitter said...

lol, Hello!

Great points. First of all this is all under the assumption that your a guy learning Talmud. For girls it's much different...

But it is interesting learning Jewish stuff from an academic approach, very different from how it's taught in Yeshiva, and I think it can be changed a bit. I think there doesn't have to be so much stress on the translation of sources, that more important is what the source actually says. Otherwise it's just a Hebrew language class. The reason why they try to teach us how to translate the sources, is because they say we need the skills and once we have the skills then we can translate any source we want and can learning anything. But I see a fault in this, because after HS not many will sit and open a sefer to learn, so HS is basically all the torah knowledge a girl gets, so better to teach the material than how to read it.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

"lol, Hello!"- Ha. Took me a while to 'chap' why you're saying that! : P

umm, well, in a sense this is kind of similar to something I was saying to Rachel not long ago on her blog (about after school Hebrew Schools in non-Orthodox communities); if you get too technical, and concentrate on gaining 'skills'- you lose your audience, but if you concentrate too much on 'the meaning of it all'- it getts too 'fluffy'..

[Now, this is something I would normally say in two cryptic words, but I feel it's worth 'actually saying' for you. And that is that I feel girls' (Orthodox) institutions especially have a problem with being too 'fluffy'. An honest alalysis of the Judaic sources would not suggest women should refrain from studying Talmud (you know I used to say 'Gemara'?! ; )), especially in a halakhic context, and especially in a Western-style society. There are even a few women who feel that the lack of talmudic and halakhic knowledge among women is unfortunate, and should be imideately remedied ('drisha.org' for example).]

But listen friend, while it is naturally my inclination to 'bash' all things 'yeshivish', I must say in this situation that the 'translating word-for-word method' is an old one, and is the reason all our anscestors knew Hebrew in all those foreign countries. ..though I would admit it doesn't work today and should unquestioabaly be discontinued. ALTHOUGH, it is true what you quote 'them' as saying, the best thing is to train self sufficient academics and theologians, and NOT people who 'go to classes (the archtypical 'balabus' in the Lithuanian model). Again, like I said about the girls school, it's 'fluffy' and does not lead to 'free thinking' (something sorely missing where you and I live). So it IS important to know Hebrew.

Another thing: The Ashkenazim (I know, I bash them like, 24/7! If you've stayed on unil now I supposed you just became numb to it!) in recent centuries were against the idea of language learning (even and even especially Hebrew), as a backlsh to the 'maskilim'.

I believe it important to teach Hebrew AND aramaic in SEPERATE classes and not try to teach the language while reading the Torah in it. I mean, like, the Torah supposes you already know Hebrew! Besides, there are a plethera of nuances in biblical Hebrew for someone who can pick up on them (one known example is almost all the names in the Torah are descritions of the people).

What can I say? At times strife causes a sickness in the heart of a people. The outcomes are obviously not necisarily ideal.

[I heard that Yaakov Kaminetzki once said "They (the 'maskilim' took the Torah from us, took Hebrew from us and took 'Eretz Yisrael' from us- what do we have left?!" (probably the most 'Modern Orthodox' thing he ever said!).]

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

Thanks for reading by the way!

The Babysitter said...

You're welcome for reading!


I actually recently learned the difference between the Gemara and the Talmud! (In my Jewish class)

Well there are other ways to learn hebrew. In Elem school we always had lists of words that we learned, and we had a whole subject dedicated to learning Hebrew. Where we were given short stories and poems in Hebrew and we learned to translate them word for word. There it makes sense, cause the focus is the Hebrew and words, the story isn't as much the focus. But by Learning stuff from the Torah, I think it's more important to focus on the content. That the Hebrew can come from the other subject.

Also, I don't think we learned stuff in a fluffy way, we went deep into a lot of stuff and everything. I actually enjoyed it.

"I believe it important to teach Hebrew AND aramaic in SEPERATE classes and not try to teach the language while reading the Torah in it."

ahh exactly what I just said above, very cool that I said the same thing without reading what you wrote!

I'm afraid to ask, but who were the Maskilim?

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...


Ha- looks like I forgot to close my parethesies in my comment there..

The Maskilim ('Enlightened', or 'Educated' Ones) were sort of an Eastern European response to the Reform movement in Western Europe. It mainly consisted of the idea that the Jews were a legitimate people, and had a right to hold on to their culture, and even cultivate their sorely lacking secular literature while not having to be religious or live in a ghetto to 'prove' they're Jewish.

Ultimately 'Haskalah' took many different forms there. It sort of branched off into seclar Zionism, 'Hebraism' (if there's such a term), Yiddishism, and even influenced a sort of Eastern European modern orthodoxy that concentrated on 'Alyiah'. (Many of the yeshiva people in Eastern Europe were known to be 'closet Maskilim' who were just in yeshiva because Jews weren't allowed into University in Poland at the time, and they needed a place to grow intelectually).

I suppose they were, to a lagre extent, userped by the popularity of communism among Jews, though our modern Jewish world (especially in Israel) has been directly affected by the Haskalah and other movements and differences of opinion Eastern European Jews had among themselves. (It's important to note, for example, that the Jews had their own political parties and political system in Poland. All that was simply carried over to Israel, and we're stil living with it).

The Babysitter said...

ha I knew you were going to answer back with a whole long history lesson! (that's why I was afraid to ask). But yea, I thought it had something to do with enlightenment.

Interesting info, I remember learning some of that...

So how did the Maskilim take Eretz Yisroel away?

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

"ha I knew you were going to answer back with a whole long history lesson! (that's why I was afraid to ask)."- Haha. Come on, you gotta know Jewish history at least!

The Maskilim "took Israel away" from the Utra Orthodox by making it their own ideal. In other words because the maskilim made Hebrew and Education and a stress on Tanach and Israel some of their main focuses of concern, the more religios group frowned upon those ares, even though some off them were very 'Jewish' in essence. I see this statement of 'Reb Yaakov' as somewhat admiting the weakness of the Ultra Orthodox/Haredi position on these things- that they just 'hold that way' as a result of a backlash of influence.

The Babysitter said...

I learned Jewish History in HS, and learning some now, and yea it's not so bad...as long as it's not too much at a time.

ahh I see now, interesting.

So your saying that Reb Yaakov would have felt what the Maskilim were doing in Israel with education and Tanach would be a good thing?

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

"..what the Maskilim were doing in Israel"- In Israel? First of all the Maskilim were, strictly speaking, a purely European group. But "no", I don't think he was commending the Maskilim as much as he was 'sadly reflecting' (I think there's a word for that) about the loss his community was enduring by not 'being able' to embrace those unquestionabaly 'Jewish' ideals out of 'political' concers.

It's sort of similar to when Rehav'am (son of "sh'lomo hamelekh") stopped the citizens of Israel (i.e. the northern kingdom)from making pilgramage to Jeruslem out of political concers (even though they admited it was a legitimate religious duty). etc..

The Babysitter said...

ok, so I was getting mixed up from your previous comment, but now I got it.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

It seems I had a very unhealthy relationship with apostrophes in 2008.