Wednesday, February 21, 2007

"Feelings...Felt And Shared By Many"

(Picture by Nathan Lee)

Litvak commenting on Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - Gemara :

Firstly, I wish to congratulate CE on the fine and important posting and ASJ for hosting and posting it.

I think that such feelings as expressed by CE are felt and shared by many, though expressed openly in such a way by few.

Now, a few comments.

1) "There's no question that Gemara is the primary limud haTorah."

While of course it's important, I am not sure what that means. What if someone would learn Gemara and never Chumash ?

It is of said of Moreinu HaGR"A that he, bisof yomov (toward the end of his mortal life), spent most of his time learning Chumash.

2) I think that while in many things you instinctively and reflexively take a Hassidic point of view, however, here, for some reason, you are thinking like a Litvak, and that is somewhat surprising (the Alter Rebbe was a Litvak too).

3) I think the principle of 'ein odom lomeid Torah ela bimkom shelibo chofetz' (a person does not learn Torah, only in a place [subject area] where his heart desires), something the Gemara itself tells us (BT, AZ, daf 19 or thereabouts) must be stressed strongly to deal with this problem of loss of desire in learning. I recall hearing that the Chofetz Chaim was asked what should someone do if he lost interest in what he was learning and the response was to switch to something else he was interested in. And the Chofetz Chaim was not a Chossid.

As an interesting aside, a number of years ago in Brooklyn there was a symposim on derech halimud. R. Hershel Schachter and R. Yisroel Reisman were two of the speakers. I liked what R. Hershel Schachter said. One of the things he mentioned was learning bimkom shelibo chofetz. However, I was very upset when another speaker there said, subtly but significantly taking issue, that 'one should transform whatever one if learning into a mokom shelibo chofetz.' I think that was/is a terrible distortion of what Chazal taught and that he was migaleh ponim baTorah shelo kihalocho, Rachmono litzlon.

See also what Rabbeinu HaGR"A wrote about the proper way to learn - in sefer Even Shleima and elsewhere. He says that first one should fill up his belly of Mikra, Mishnah, Gemara, etc. and only then be oseik in pilpul chaveirim. But if he switches the sequence he will lose even the Torah he learnt before. The fact is that most Litvaks today do not follow the GRA unfortunately - whether in minhogim or things like this. Claims that they are following his ways are not accurate for the most part (though there are some laudable exceptions). The GR"A was very concerned about things like this. Many people, esp. Hassidim perhaps, unfortunately lump together the GR"A with the Litvak in the Yeshiva down the block. That is usually a big mistake. The GR"A was involved in so many different aspects of Torah, whether Halocho, Mikro, Kabboloh, Gemara.....He was so far from the stereotypical Litvak that you Hassidim like to conjure up and put down.

4) One can learn Gemara quickly, alot of ground, even without Rashi, certainly without Tosfos. The Maharal advocated a similar style of learning, as did other great gedolim, but many foolish midgets ignored them, leading us into the mess we are in today.

The Zilberman chadorim in Eretz Yisroel are a laudable attempt to fix things.

5) Rav AY Kook z"l, who was from an interesting background, having a Litvish father and a Hassidic (Lubavitch) mother, who learned in Volozhin and was a talmid muvhak of the Netziv, also dealt with some of these issues. He wrote a great peirush on Aggodoh called Eyn Ayah. Are you familiar with it ? A few pieces have been translated into English, but there's much more in loshon kodesh. Unfortunately, it only covers a few mesechtos - four volumes have appeared.

6) One also should realize that Gemara really means taking the Torah of the past and relating it to present conditions with debates and comparisons and contrasts. When we study Gemara today as a dry, static text, it's as if the Gemara has become another layer of Mishna. Gemara is basically debates and discussion they had in the ancient academies using the Mishna as a basis and jumping-off point. In our days real Gemara would be debates and discussion we have on the basis of the Gemara, not the Gemara itself, which has become a basically static text.

I have written much and there is more to say, but the matter is very important. I hope my words help.


At February 21, 2007 at 8:50:00 PM EST, Blogger A Talmid said...

When Reb Yisroel Salanter was asked what one with limited time should learn he answered Musar because then one will realize that he has more time to learn. From personal experience I can testify to this. I got a very long way to go but learning Musar defianatly made me find more time to learn.

At February 22, 2007 at 1:49:00 AM EST, Anonymous Litvak said...

I looked up the gemara again, it's in Talmud Bavli AZ 19a.

The gemara there relates a story of two talmidim sitting in front of Rebbi when they finished one sefer of Tanach. R. Shimon son of Rebbi said to bring Tehillim to learn next, while Levi wanted to learn Mishlei. The gemara relates this to the discussion of taking subject preference into account when learning.

Anyway, as an aside, as I once heard a Reb Schneur quip, see, then they learned Tanach. These were great gedolim, great Mishnaic and Talmudic figures, who figured in great halachic debates, yet they were involved in learning things like Tehillim (not just saying, chanting or 'davening' it) and Mishlei.


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