Isaac Kaplan

"Is it any wonder I've got too much time on my hands?"

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Rabbeim: Shtick vs. Substance, pt. 1

In my years as a student, I can say that for the most part, my rabbeim have fallen into one of two categories: the shticky type and the substance type. For the sake of clarity, I'll offer descriptions of my definition of each category:

Rabbi A walks into the door of the classroom, and gives a few kids a high-five as a greeting. Before beginning shiur, Rabbi A will discuss last night's Yankee game with the kids, and throws in a couple of jokes. And even when Rabbi gets down to business and starts dicsussing the gemara, there are plenty of jokes and pop-culture references thrown in for effect. The rebbi may even throw in little jokes and quips on handouts and tests. Many kids out there think Rabbi A is cool, and he is always willing to shmooze it up with them, whether it's a hashkafic shailah or Harry Potter. Others find the shtick to be superficial and annoying, and complain that the rebbi only likes the cool kids.

Rabbi B walks into the classroom, may throw in a joke or a quick anecdote before starting shiur, but then it's right down to business. However, like Rabbi A, Rabbi B also has a sense of humor. He'll throw in the occasional joke, but Rabbi B won't try to come off as being cool or with-it. Many of the smart kids will appreciate Rabbi B, as his intelligence and vast knowledge are clearly apparent. When the talmidim think of Rabbi B, substance is what comes to mind. Rabbi B is a warm guy and also enjoys shmoozing with the guys, but you get the sense that he's sort of aloof, in a way. There's a stronger feeling of authority when you talk to Rabbi B than when you talk to Rabbi A. And Rabbi B either never heard of Harry Potter or will act like he doesn't know. And, as you might expect, Rabbi B has a different group of followers than Rabbi A.

Even with regard to roshei yeshiva and shul rabbis, I've seen the two types, so the classroom situation that I presented is not unique.

The obvious question is, which mehalech is better?

To which there's an obvious answer: it depends on the kid! The pasuk says "chanoch l'naar al pi darko," which means that each kid has his own way of learning, his way that he'll find more appealing, and thus each kid has a different rebbi that'll turn him on.

What I would like to discuss then, is, is it possible to reach a happy medium? If so, how much shtick and how much substance? Also, will shtick or substance appeal to more people? And with the two mehalchim in mind, why do some rabbeim draw huge followings, while others have but a small group of loyalists?

This one's complicated. We'll start breaking it down in part 2.


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