Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Learning Chumash In Volozhin

The Netziv zt"l
(Picture courtesy of

Excerpt from "Discovering the Netziv and his Ha'amaik Davar":

What do we know about the Netziv's approach to students and his manner of teaching daily the weekly Torah portions? Fortunately, we have a window into that aspect of the Netziv's life from Bar-Ilan:

One of the unique features of the Volozhin Yeshiva was "learning Chumash." In no other known yeshiva was Chumash regularly studied. How do you explain that mature students, already adept in Torah and the learning of Gemorah, would spend time studying Chumash? Isn't that only a subject to be taught to young children?! Could there be a youngman who has reached the age of maturity who is learned in Torah studies but does not yet know Chumash? Nevertheless, in Volozhin a different attitude prevailed. My father used to say, 'Neither mature yeshiva scholars nor young students today know Chumash, Prophets, or the Writings. How will they ever learn if at some point in their lives they don't seriously devote themselves to it? When the time comes that these young students and mature scholars become rabbis in Israel and have to prepare Derashot, or sermons, they will surely need to search in Prophets and Writings for texts. But they will never learn or be well-versed in Chumash!

Meir Berlin added these details:

The schedule of each day at the yeshiva began with "teaching Chumash." Immediately after prayers the brightest students would gather alongside one of the tables, and my father, z"l, would learn the weekly portion with them. Even on the Sabbath they would gather in this way. The learning of Chumash at Volozhin was completely different from the usual way the subject was taught. It is possible to understand my father's method of teaching Chumash by observing his approach in the Ha'amaik Davar along with his notes in the Harhev Davar. Yet even that hardly does it justice, because the most exalted description used in print still cannot convey a fraction of the joy a student would experience in having heard my father teaching Chumash in person. He put so much enthusiasm into every single letter of the written Torah, such immense love and feeling into his explanation of its verses according to the Oral Torah, one cannot adequately describe it.


At February 14, 2007 at 11:09:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow - gevald!
I actually just bought a Ha'amaik Davar after being so impressed with the the Torah Temimah's biography of his uncle.
I wish there was still a Yeshiva in the Volozhiner model... I agree with so much of what the Netziv says! What happened to his derech??

At February 14, 2007 at 11:16:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Have you started learning Ha'amaik Davar as well? What are your thoughts on this commentary?

At February 14, 2007 at 11:26:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it true that the Netziv speaks somewhere about evolution (of species) saying that it doesn't necessarily contradicts Toyro? I've heard about it somewhere, however I didn't verify it.

Just to note - in yeshiva Derech haMelch Chumash shiurim are regularly given with classical pirushim like Ramban and Oyr haChaim.

At February 14, 2007 at 12:07:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dont you build from wood, the base material; the table, the chair,furniture etc?
Or do you create a chair from an existing table?

Which of this evolutions make sense?

Is the Knowledge, Wisdom what we know is really a wisdom, hidden or not? Or it is a total Ignorance and Foolness, which we have but can not see and know?

At February 14, 2007 at 2:18:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for the link to the interesting article, which I don't recall seeing previously. I noticed one mistake there though. I don't think the Netziv was a descendant of the GR"A. Maybe spiritually to a degree, but not in the standard physical way.

The Netziv was a great man. Haamek Dovor is a great work.

It should be noted that there is a great new edition of it that is in the process of coming out, by R. Cooperman from Eretz Yisroel. Bereishis came out a while ago and Shemos just followed. The large and clear osios are a mechaye compared to the old print and there are extensive notes on the text. There was also a different improved edition that came out a few years ago, but I believe it just improved the osios, without the notes this newest edition has.

CE - The Netziv's derech has unfortunately been overshadowed by the Brisker derech and similar derochim in much of the Litvish Yeshiva world. The way of the Netziv is more low key and not as dramatic as the Brisker way and that can mislead some people to think that it is for 'simpletons' and not for big 'lomdim'. Of course that's a big mistake. The real mevinim, however, know the greatness of the Netziv and hold highly of him.

Yes, there are some Litvaks that learn chumash in depth. Even ones that don't learn the Netziv, sometimes learn Ramban, in particular. However, I agree that there is room for improvement. We should also distinguish between young bochurim and mature scholars. I think the latter tend to have a more mature and holistic approach (though not all do, unfortunately).

Yes, there is some deep spirituality in the Litvish world, though not as much as there could be. We are not all a bunch of baalei gaavah who learn shelo lishmo as we are sometimes stereotyped by Chassidim, including some of the ASJ blog community.

At February 14, 2007 at 2:55:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Brisker" limud was very strongly criticized by the litvishe world itself when it was introduced for being over synthetic. Strangely it became very popular.

At February 15, 2007 at 10:29:00 AM EST, Blogger A Talmid said...

I was told the Netziv has great-grandchildren that are Breslovers. They are the Berlin family that put out the little brown Likutei Mohoran.

At February 15, 2007 at 10:37:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chumash wasn't the only thing they learned in Volozhin, just ask CN Bialik, Ahem!

At February 15, 2007 at 1:14:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A talmid: I've heard that their family comes from Berditchev.

At February 15, 2007 at 2:20:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

a yid -
i also heard same thing.I met one of the Berlins in Uman and he said they were grandchildren of Rabbi Chaim Berlin son of the Netziv. there is also a mekubal in Israel Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Shapiro who is a great grandson of Netziv he has the same name .Netziv had ason in law Shapiro.

At February 17, 2007 at 11:31:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rabbi Raphael Shapiro was a son in law of Nitziv his granson was Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Shapiro RY of Ber Yakov died in the past year. his son is the mekubal R. Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Shapiro.

At February 19, 2007 at 10:12:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim Teaches Ramban and Rambam and other Meforshim On Chumash as Yedios Klalos about Nevuah and Emunah also in the Beis Medrash Of Ner Yisroel Rav Frand Shiur has a Navi-Chumash Seder so lets calm down on the criticism.


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