YBA has found the secret to instilling a love of
learning Torah in the hearts of their students: a return to the classical
formula of Hevruta study in the Beit Midrash
By Moshe Glanz, ARUTZ SHEVA NEWS (translation)
|YBA yeshiva high school students in the Beit Midrash|
In the ongoing discussions over the past several
years about how to make Gemara (Talmud) study more popular among yeshiva high
school students, the YBA educational network began developing two years ago a
new method of teaching Talmud, which has gained momentum in the past year. This
year the method was applied in 16 different Bnei Akiva yeshiva high schools
throughout the country, and the network plans on expanding the system to more schools
next year. The goal is to double the number of participating students from 800
to 1,500, with the assistance of the Religious Education Department of the Ministry
Not like Math and English
On of the initiators of the change was Rabbi Meir
Toiber, Rosh Yeshiva of YBA Netiv Meir in Jerusalem. In an interview with B’sheva,
Rabbi Toiber explained that the decision for the change was made after a gradual
decline in the total number of hours dedicated to Gemara study in yeshiva high
schools over the past 15 years for various reasons. As a result, the Beit
Midrash (study hall) was hardly being used for the purpose of independent
learning. "We realized that in order to instill the love of Torah in our students
we would need to turn the situation around 180 degrees."
What was the method of study before the change?
"The students perceived the Morning Seder (study
session) in the Beit Midrash as preparation time for the class in Talmud that
followed, in which the teacher would cover everything they needed to know anyway.
This created a feeling that Talmud was just like any other subject. We finally
came to the conclusion that the reason why our students were lacking motivation
to study Talmud," he says. "was that they felt the same, whether
studying for a Talmud lesson, a math lesson or an English lesson. But if we look
deeply into the concept of Torah study, we understand that the Talmudic
competence is acquired not only from hearing a lecture, but through struggling
to understand a passage in the text through the give-and-take of independent
study with a hevruta (study partner)."
|The Talmud consists of the Mishna, Gemara and commentaries|
Rabbi Yehuda Felix, who until six months ago, was the
head of Education Department at Yeshivot Bnei Akiva educational network,
properly understood the need to change the equation. , and together with Rabbi
Toiber and the financial backing of YBA benefactor, Mr. Benjamin Landy, it was
decided to change the Morning Seder both literally and figuratively. "This
is a significant change;" Rabbi Toiber states. "it is not just about
learning in an hour and a half. We moved the Talmud lesson to before the Morning
Seder so that everything learned in the classroom becomes preparation for the
Seder session itself, where students sit with their study partners and actively
acquire the skills for learning Talmud." According to Rabbi Toiber, this
self-instruction experience leads to a love of Torah because it provides the
natural connection to the Torah that was so lacking before.
The results were not long in coming. A few months
after some of the yeshiva high schools decided to adopt and began implementing the
system, the initiators realized that they had caught a wave. "I had students
tell me happily: ‘Before Talmud was just another subject for me; now I
understand that what I am doing is learning to learn Torah.’” That proves to me
that this is a big change," Rabbi Toiber says enthusiastically. "Just recently, I went into the Beit
Midrash of one of our yeshiva high schools to look for a certain teacher, and I
saw dozens of boys sitting and learning with their hevruta partners. I looked
to my right and to my left and couldn’t find their rabbi. When I approached the
students and asked them where he was, they replied: ‘He is in reserve duty [in
Rabbi Toiber could not resist and asked: “So why are
you sitting and learning in the Beit Midrash instead of playing ball outside?”
The students did not understand the question. "It's an amazing
thing," he continues smiling. "This shows that the change worked. The
students understood that they acquired Torah by sitting and learning with their
hevruta. This should not to be taken as a given – these are fruits that we had not
seen before. At the end of the year we visited all the Yeshivot and met with
students, teachers and yeshiva heads. They filled out feedback sheets, and we discovered
a huge surge in love of learning Torah. All the measures of attention, attachment
and motivation were well above anything we had ever seen before."
Does not contradict matriculation
It is no secret that in Bnei Akiva yeshiva high
schools there is tension between the desire to study Torah and the connection
to the real world. But according to Rabbi Toiber, the struggle between
different forces only proves that Torah study must receive greater expression.
"Over the years the students have come to expect and demand high achievement
levels in both general and Judaic studies matriculation scores. This “wanting
it all” demands that we provide enrichment in both directions," he
explains. "Ultimately, the ideal of the yeshiva is that Torah should
influence every aspect of life - everything," he says. "Our concept
is: be a military man, be a lawyer, be a farmer, merchant or be anything you
want; but on one condition: that you stay connected to the Torah. The connection
to Torah must not be just intellectual; it must be a spiritual link. It is
clear to me that students should learn for matriculation tests, but all
subjects must be wrapped up in the connection to Torah."
Following the success of the initiative, YBA wants
to expand to an even higher level. "We want to eventually include another
measure of success – we hope to have our students writing term papers on the Talmudic
issues they dealt with during the year."
When learning Torah becomes achievement oriented,
don’t you lose something of the value of learning Torah for its own sake?
"First of all, that’s a great question. And you’re
right, that is a difficult challenge," says Rabbi Toiber. "But it is
important to emphasize that we are not talking here about just a positive
learning experience." According to him, the bottom line must be that the
students master in depth the Talmud they were studying during the year.
"When we ask the students what is the conclusion of a Talmudic passage
they learned, they need to know the answer, and not just that they enjoyed
studying it. That’s not how you raise Talmidei Chachamim. We need to work
simultaneously on both aspects, so that on the one hand they will learn the proper
tools of Torah study with their hevruta that will serve them later in life, and
on the other hand to professionally measure their scholastic achievement."
How do you intend to move the process forward in
the years ahead?
"We are moving forward in two ways: first by
training our Talmud teachers to use this method effectively. We are already doing
this and we will do even more next year. Secondly, this year we included 16
Bnei Akiva yeshiva high schools, and by expanding next year to 22 schools, the
number of students participating in the initiative will double. Thus, gradually
we believe, we will succeed in bringing back the sounds of Talmud study to all
the yeshiva high schools in the Bnei Akiva network." Rabbi Toiber
explains, "Our goal is to increase Torah and glorify it."