Isaac Kaplan

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

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Death of Quality

I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.
- Woody Allen

There's an ad for a yeshiva which I find very disturbing. The yeshiva claims that by the time the kids get out of there after 12th grade, they'll have finished shas 40 times. And before that, while in grade school, they'll have memorized Tanach and Shisha Sidrei Mishna. Sounds amazing, doesn't it?

This place rubs me the wrong way in so many ways I don't know where to begin.

First off, the way they hype the kids coming out knowing all this stuff just sounds like a "get rich quick" scheme. From the get-go, something smells fishy. If only Rav Eli Teitelbaum zt"l were still around to tell these guys off the same way he ripped the MLM and network marketing schemes.

And assuming that, in fact, the kids will go through shas 40 times in high school. One of two things is going on: a) the kids are killing themselves and are having absolutely no free time at all, or b) the quality of those 40 times is basically non-existent. And this place claims they're gonna have a strong secular studies department, too. Whoever these kids are, I feel for 'em, and hope they stay frum after all this.

But what really gets to me is the learning by rote and the sole focus on bekius. If you're finishing shas 10 times a year, good luck squeezing a Rashi into the mix, let alone a Tosfos. It's scary, in so many ways:

- 1) Are these kids going to learn how to learn, how to think in terms of lomdus? No. Suddenly, that's not important. I know some will say that once they get to Israel, they'll start learning b'iyun. And at that point, their knowledge of shas will be extremely helpful. But let's be realistic: in many ways, they'll be way, way behind their peers, and they may be screwed up for life.

It's one thing if a kid joked around in high school and didn't learn much. Perhaps once he gets to Israel or Yeshiva Gedola, he can get serious and start thinking in learning. At least he hasn't developed any bad habits in his approach to learning.

However, a kid who goes to this school will have to develop a totally new approach to learning: after 12 years of pure memorization by rote, he'll suddenly be faced with unfamiliar rishonim and acharonim, as well as the formidable challenge of making sense of a challenging sugya. That's a tall, tall order, especially for someone entrenched in a diametrically opposite approach to learning all his life.

- 2) Besides, is there any precedent for this derech halimud in our mesora? Many of the same people who trash YU for not following the mesora are suddenly clamoring to send their kids to a place whose derech halimud flies in the face of everything we were taught about R' Chaim, R' Akiva Eiger, and the K'tzos, for starters. (Not to mention that we'll be lucky if these kids even know the names of those acharonim when they step out of high school.)

This yeshiva claims that some of the gedolim in Eretz Yisroel support a similar yeshiva in Israel, but so what? What's appropriate for Eretz Yisroel may be totally inappropriate for America. (If anything, the precedents set by the likes of R' Shraga Feivel, R' Hutner, etc. have proven as much.) Have any American gedolim signed off on this place?

- 3) Also, a school like this can only thrive in an era of image-itis. The fact that people go for this, it just goes to show that it's all about results these days, all about the numbers. Not about quality, just quantity. These fathers just want to brag that their kids finished shas forty times. Never mind that they probably went through it the way Woody Allen "went" through War and Peace.

Many times in life, quality isn't sexy. Quantity is.

- 4) Finally, I also believe that part of the appeal behind this school is that the kids will be so busy memorizing that they won't have time to think. Many right-wingers are anti-thinking; after all, it makes a rebbi's job easier if he doesn't have to answer a kid's tough hashkafa questions!
Thinking has become evil. Drinking kool-aid is the way to go.

One of my favorite gedolim stories was in the JO eight years ago, in an article commemorating the twentieth yahrtzeit of R' Yitzchak Hutner, ZT"L. He was on a bus when he saw one of his talmiding sitting with a sefer, learning on the bus. Rav Hutner turned to the talmid and said, "nu, so when do you have time to think?"

If only we had more rabbonim like him around these days, we wouldn't have schools like this, schools that represent the many ways this generation has gone wrong.

6 Comments:

Anonymous big bro said...

Love the R' Hutner story. Bet the Hareidi rabbis would comment on that by saying, "Yeah, in those days the people were on a higher madreiga, so they didn't need to learn all the time. Nowadays, it's different....."

4:35 PM  
Anonymous Rinkley said...

big bro raises an interesting point as well. The Hareidim like to play the "time" game in both directions. You know, big bro, some of them claim they're on a HIGHER madraiga now because of all the learning. Can't win.

Ike- Don't know how long this school will last. I'll be surprised if it ever even gets off the ground.

6:52 PM  
Anonymous chaim said...

I think they'll end up changing it around to a regualr high school. The most important thing which is huge is that the kids will know tanach and mishnayos. Most people these days focus on gemara. There is some tanach in there, dont get me wrong, but that doesnt give you an education in tanach. I hold yeshivos should be more stressing on tanach and mishanayos and maybe start gemara in 6 or 7th grade instead of 5th grade. It's very important. This yeshiva is definitely good for what their promising for elementary school. I like their ideas for elementary.

12:09 AM  
Blogger baalbatish said...

It's called the Zilberman method. It's based on a system proposed by the Maharal which is based on a mishna in Avos. I understand that the kids love the system.

8:59 PM  
Blogger Chief said...

This method is very popular in Israel. There are dozens of Yeshivas that use this method. Charedi and Mizrachi.
I wish I would have a school like that where I live. I would give it a lot of consideration.

9:13 PM  
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