The Zionist Conspiracy
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Talmud Study and "At Risk" Teens
Clearly, there are many reasons why teens (and others) rebel against their community's norms.
I believe that one reason why some teens from observant Jewish families rebel is the antiquated Jewish studies curriculum.
With a dual curriculum, it's not atypical for high school students to spend six days a week in school, with some school days lasting more than 12 hours.
Further, in boys' yeshivas, there is an overwhelming focus on Talmud study, specifically gemara study.
Some kids like to learn gemara and are able to learn gemara. Some don't really like it, but are able to learn and do so because that's what is being taught and tested. Others are intelligent but find gemara extremely boring and abstract. Then there are those who try to learn gemara, but lack the intellectual acumen.
In a typical class, it's probably fair to say that more than half of the kids do not fall into the category of those who like to, and can, learn gemara.
So hours upon hours of Jewish study are devoted almost exclusively to an area of study that most are not best suited for.
Sages and rabbinic leaders throughout history spent lots of time studying Tenach, Jewish thought and halacha, but little attention is paid to those things in most boys schools.
Bottom line: If you don't love learning gemara, you better get used to it anyway, because it's the only game in town.
In the adult world, Torah study is certainly meritorious and an essential part of life, but there are lots of options for study beyond gemara. Furthermore, one can be a respected member of the community even if he is not a great Talmudic scholar.
But for kids, if you can't learn gemara, you're going to be a failure when it comes to the "Hebrew" part of your curriculum.
It cannot be good for the psyche of many Orthodox Jewish kids to know that whatever their intentions, and regardless of how sincerely they may pray or act charitably toward others, if gemara is not their strength, they are a failure.
Will yeshivas ever learn that while gemara is vital and may be the best area of focus for the elite, many of their "weaker" students would have great enthusiasm for, and success studying other things, and that devotion of 95 percent of the Hebrew curriculum to gemara is inconsistent with the concept of chanoch l'naar al pi darcho - to educate each child according to his own way?