Sunday, December 23, 2007

How Were You Taught To Learn Gemara?

1. How were you taught to learn Gemara? What style/ method was employed and which method do you find works best for you? (Please break it down from the style utilized in your highschool/ year in Israel/ college, if applicable, in addition to your own personal style.)

2. Say you were confronted with a page of Gemara today. What would be the first thing you would do with it? How would you approach the Gemara? Which commentaries, if any, would you utilize and why?

3. How ideally would you have wanted to have been taught Gemara? If you were to teach Gemara (to a highschool/ college audience who we can assume understands the vocabulary & has the appropriate skills, so you are not spending time skillbuilding), how would you teach it?


Moshe Y. Gluck said...

I think I'll be first.
1) The immersion method. This is after having learned most of three Sedorim of Mishnayos pretty well, and not until sixth grade. Immersion, in this case, doesn't mean Aramaic B'Aramaic, but having a Rebbe, and learning it in a classroom setting, with questions and answers from the class, etc. Sink or swim. It was more or less a classic Yeshivish education all the way through college (more B'chavrusa as time went on, until in BMG (college) there was no lecture to speak of). I am not knowledgeable enough in method taxonomy to be more specific, though I can answer more defined questions. Invaluable to getting Gemara-learning skills were the hundreds of pages of Gemara I learned over the years myself or with a Chavrusa, aside from the various schools' curriculum.
2) "Confronted" implies that I have an adversarial relationship with Gemara. I don't. When I open a Gemara, I read it. If necessary for understanding or if I'm learning for learning's sake (as opposed to looking something up) I'll look at Rashi, Tosfos, Maharshah, Rashash, etc. more or less in that order. Of course, every case could be different, and it depends what kind of Gemara I'm looking at.
3) I was taught Gemara pretty well. I think it would be worthwhile to add Darkei HaGemara to the curriculum (R' Yitzchok Kanpanton (various other spellings)) at the higher high school levels. The best way to learn Gemara is to learn lots of it. When you assume that a college level audience has the necessary vocabulary, you are assuming a lot - even very good learners come up to words they don't know, relatively often. I would try to cover as much Gemara, Rashi and Tosfos as my lecture as my audience could keep up with and still comprehend and retain the learning. They should have prepared B'Chavrusa everything before - the lecture should be confirmation that they learned correctly as opposed to teaching something new.

Now, why are you asking this?

Eliya said...

first translate all the words
second understand/reproduce the logic
third understand/predict the questions
fourth - find a contradiction.

Rashi rules pshat.

I would made him learn the whole shas in 1 year.

Halfnutcase said...

firstly I should add that I come by gemorah's reasoning pretty naturaly. (as such I tend to drive lots of people listening to me nuts when I rattle off a list of objections to something without giving what they feel is "clear resolution", and then rattle off a list of obections to my objections, and sometimes another list of objections to those objections, or perhaps present three opposing and complementary views of a subject without resolving them.) So I'm not sure I could explain your questions very well. For me, gemorah just happens.

But, I learned gemorah first in a chevrusa enviornment. Just me and someone else, when I was 12. (being the only kid of that age in the city to learn gemorah.) He learned the words with me, and we discussed the content. Actualy it was pretty fun.

When learning gemorah you basicaly have to make sure you follow the logic, which will help you figure out the punctuation.

oh, and just throwing gemorah after gemorah at someone doesn't really work. Those who did it I'm not usualy particularly impressed with their understanding of the gemorahs, and when they quote something at me I Frequently find serious objections to their claims about its text and meaning. Most people just do not get the shades of meaning and subtlety that are necessary for gemorah learning that way.

SuperRaizy said...

This doesn't answer your question directly but...
I went to one of the only yeshivah high schools that teach gemara to girls. And while I realize that this opinion will probably be wildly unpopular in the Jewish Blogosphere... I think it's a great idea. We picked it up just as easily as the boys did. I loved the logic, the structure, the obsessive attention to detail. Learning gemara exercises your mind like nothing else. And now that my son is learning gemara, I am even able to help him once in a while. I just don't see why we have to deny half of the Jewish population the joy of studying the world's greatest religious text.

Ezzie said...

Questions are a bit too broad...

but let's try.

1) Depends when. 5th grade was taught the setup and structure. 6th grade was taught key words and more structure. 7th grade was taking what was learned previously and applying it to "sugyos". 8th grade was a whole short mesechta with many sugyot. High school was taking sugyot and going deep into them, including and focusing on questions and difficulties within, analysis of concepts, and as the years went by slowly expanding those to beyond the sugyos they were in. Post-HS was a bit of a step back IMHO, as the focus was more broad but a quick analysis would take apart most of what was said. A couple Rabbeim were exceptions to this, but as a general rule that was the case.

1b) Depends what I'm looking for. I *enjoyed* the analysis most, because what's the point in the rest if you can so easily shred it... but that doesn't necessarily mean best.

2) Close it? :P (Kidding.) Impossible to understand pshat without Rashi. Tosfos is often key, unless way off topic. Beyond that, it really depends on your focus. I enjoy the P'nai Yehoshua and Granat for their analytics, but they're not the most important to learn.

To me the most important thing to understand first is structure. Without it, you can know all the information and all the words and still completely miss the point of what's going on. Understanding where the questions start/end, where the 'proofs' and logic begin to those questions, the difference in types of questions and answers and why some are stronger than others... even where a comma would go! - those are most important.

3) I don't think that the assumption that HSers have the skills/vocab is a good one. When we got to HS, those of us from Cleveland were shocked that there were just a few kids from a couple of schools who could actually read a Gemara on their own... and that was in an extremely bright, learned class. A friend [later valedictorian] remarked a while later that we were simply way ahead of everyone in what we'd been taught in elementary school. When we got to Israel, we were further shocked, and that's POST high school. This was true across the board, though of the people with a stronger yeshiva background there were some who knew.

Therefore, I have to go with:
1) Structure
2) Structure
3) Basic common vocab
4) Structure
5) Analytics
6) Thinking outside the box/page
7) Broader understanding of how discussions interconnect, how sugyos connect
8) Repeat

Anonymous said...

Gemara is the ultimate pseudo-intellectual discipline. Virtually anyone can learn and understand it, so it allows ordinary minded folks to feel like academics or scholars. Why strain yourself trying to understand physics when you can learn gemara.

Anonymous said...


Virtually anyone can learn to read. Does that mean that literature and history (both of which largely involve reading, and both of which are fairly accessible to laymen, at least on a simple level) are only pseudo-intellectual? That would come as a shock to my university history tutors.

I've done more formal study of physics than I have Gemara. The fact that they involve different methods of analysis does not make either one better than the other. Each presents its own challenges.

Halfnutcase said...

anon, physics is a peice of cake and the easiest thing I have ever studied.

Gemorah? not quite so much. (personaly I enjoy both, but lets get real. physics is math, and math is always easy and straight foward.)

Anonymous said...

"anon, physics is a peice of cake and the easiest thing I have ever studied."

LOL. Youre one of the dumbest posters in the jewish blog-world. Youre quite eager to share your ‘expertise’ on everything from economics to psychology (and now gemara), yet its clear you really have no clue what youre talking about.

Semgirl said...

Simple, open up the Yated Neeman to the letters to editor section, put an Art Scroll gemarra on top of it, read the notes on the bottom of every page, along with engish side, and quickly close it, and pretend to be reading the newspaper, when anyone walks by..

Matt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt said...


I don't know if you've read my guide entitled "How to Review Shiur," but if you read it, I think you get a glimpse of the learning style I've been taught.

(The easiest way to access it is to google the words "how to review shiur," and you'll see it at the top of the list.)

Anonymous said...

I have not yet encountered any particularly effective or empowering method of learning gemara (or 'learning how to learn'). I am beginning to think that there is no actual "method". You need to sit down, learn with a teacher or study partner whom you truly connect to, focus on material you enjoy or even love, and come gradually, every day and every hour, to slowly comprehend a new point, a new dot, a new foothold, until you have enough for your brain to begin linking all the pieces together.

Halfnutcase said...

anon, can you exsplain maslows kolberg's stages of morality? all three, with the total of six subtypes?

can you explain to me piaget's cognitive theory of development, from sensory motor to the formal and even post formal thought?

can you explain to someone whay a CS is, and how you make it a CS and apply it? Do you know what reinforcement scheduals are and how the effect behavior? can you explain social learning and how it conributes to atrisk behavior?

do you know what gesselschaft is? Do you know who durkheim is, or perhaps compte and what he did?

Or, even, can you list me the five theorys of deviance and explain, in simple understandable terms anome theory?

Or lets try something else, can you list me even one of the sociological theories of love? Can you, perhaps, tell me what it means by a "his marriage?"

Or perhaps can you list me the stages of sociological development, and their common characteristics?

Or perhaps can you list me the criteria for evaluating a catagorical syllogism, and perhaps also explain to me what an ad hominim toquoque is? Or perhaps ad baculum?

or perhaps lets try another subject. Can you explain to me why it is that hanging a wet towel in a room works as an air conditioner, or tell me a way that you can preserve meat when the power goes out, with only water and why it works? can you explain to me the basics of kinetics? can you tell me what a hydronium ion is, and how it works, and further which of the equalibrium constants you use to evaluate the PH of a certain molality of carbonic acid, and further tell me why it is that refrigeration keeps the fiz in a soda bottle?

Can you do any of these things anonymous? do you understand any of them?

can you explain to me what "black body radiation" is and how it works, and how you calculate it? Do you know what plank's constant is?

and perhaps, when you were studying physics did you have to study every night? I didn't study at all and made basicaly perfect grades on my papers with only insignificant mistakes.

can you, perhaps, relate to me exactly why egypt retreated from the levant in the early 12th century, and perhaps explain to me what the levant is, and what egypts name for its self is, and under what conditions it applies? Can you explain to me, for instance, who the first empire builder was, and what he did and how he did it?


Anonymous said...

"anon, can you exsplain maslows kolberg's stages of morality. ."

LOL again. Your posts are embarrassing to read. Like a bragging eight year old. Well, to be honest, I may not be familiar with a single item on your list. Trying to impress people with broad knowledge is for striver stupids, who went to crappy colleges and have shitty jobs. Although I have never met you, based on your incredible insecurity, I am quite certain that this is the case with you. Let me guess- you went to YU and work for a jewish agency. Am I close? Put it this way, there is no way in hell you went to Princeton and are working for a prestigious think tank.

Chana said...

Anon & Halfnutcase,

Stop it, please. Or take it elsewhere. This is utterly stupid, and I don't want to have to take the time to delete all of your comments.

Halfnutcase said...

yes chana.

I'm sorry. :(

G said...

The best Rebbaim/Maggidei Shiur I've had all had one thing in common: They were able to take the sugya and bring it 'off the page' and into real time, I always found it that much easier to understand things 'inside' w/ that method.

--People would be amazed at what can be gained by simply learning the Mishnayos before learning the corresponding Gemara.

"Which commentaries, if any, would you utilize and why?"

--That is very much dependant on the type of sugya being learned (iyun, halacha l'maisa, aggadata etc.)

As an aside, I am pleasantly surprised that nobody has mentioned using an Arstcroll Gemara. Perhaps all is not lost.

e-kvetcher said...


clever pic!

Halfnutcase said...

oh, I would point out that the artscroll mishna can be a usefull help tool, without literaly giving you the answers.

last time I was in yeshiva my artscroll was the one of the most popular books there. I NEVER came back to see it still at my table. It was always somewhere.

Moshe Y. Gluck said...


heartOfire said...

In Israel now there is a rabbi who is teaching in the mehalech of logic. There are basic questions you have to ask yourself on every step of the gemoro. One being "what is the Hanocha (assumtion) of this statement? Being that before the gemoro states something it has a basis to say that, so you the reader has to figure that out. I'm telling you this is one of the ways that you, me and every person can get into the workings of the gemoro and even you could be zoche to ask Tosafot's question before even looking at it. Using these mihalchim can bring you joy when learning. something I'm sure most of us are lacking.From ffb's to bt's.Obviously there is alot more to this, but it realy is basic and easy to learn. Everyone who has learned this way has seen improvement and joy.

Anonymous said...