By Meir M.
I am a bochur in 770, and recently a very peculiar thought entered my mind. After 9 years in yeshiva, what have I come out with? What did I accomplish? Which seforim can I hold in my hand and say, “Here, this is what I mastered the last 9 years.”
Now, I know that a lot of bochurim have this question. In fact, this is probably the most cliché question that bochurim ask. But for me it’s different, because I am someone who utilized most of time learning, in seder and out of seder. I enjoy learning. Yet I feel that I have nothing tangible.
The more bochurim I speak with regarding this issue, the more I am convinced that what I am thinking is true, or at least that the issue is real and must be dealt with by the hanhala of all the yeshivas:
When a bochur comes to mesivta / yeshiva ketana, the first time he is learning Gemara seriously, or perhaps the first time he is learning Gemara at all, one would think that he would be taught to start with the basics.
First, teach him how to learn Gemara and Rashi. Learn how to learn a piece of Gemara by yourself. For most human beings this is a big task that, ideally, should take about 2 or 3 years with 5 or 6 hours a day to master. Think about it. You spent 8 years in school learning how to learn Chumash and Mishnayos with a full-time teacher, yet when you’re learning gemara seriously for the first time in your life, you aren’t spending most of the time learning how to learn the basic Gemara and Rashi. Instead, you are spending most of your day with what we call “iyun.”
Now let’s be honest: If you are a bochur in yeshiva, ask yourself this question. What in the world does it mean to learn Gemara b’iyun?
For most bochurim it means that you have 5 (!) hours a day to cover 4 lines of Gemara, because that’s all the maggid shiur is covering in shiur. So you spend the first hour schmoozing, the next hour getting a cup of coffee or snack, the next 5 minutes learning the 4 lines of Gemara, then you take a peek at the Tosfos which you have no idea what he’s saying because no one (that’s right, no one) ever taught you how to learn Tosfos, and 10 minutes later you give up and assume the magid shiur will cover the tosfos in shiur.
Then you go to shiur. The shiur usually lasts about an hour. You assume that the maggid shiur will go over the Gemara quickly and then spend the rest of the time explaining the Tosfos, the Rosh, the Ritva, and all the other important Rishonim and perhaps even Achronim.
But in reality, most maggidei shiurim (I’ve been to few yeshivas) instead spend the first few minutes going over the basic Gemara, Rashi and Tosfos, and then spend the rest of the shiur on their own chidushim. (I’m not sure why they think their personal understanding of the Gemara is more important for the bochur than the Rashba or Ritva’s understanding…)
At years end, the bochur leaves yeshiva knowing 13 or 14 daf of Gemara Rashi Tosfos, a rishon here and an achron there, and 43 shiurim of his maggid shiur’s chidushim!
In other words, the whole system is backwards, and I, as well as countless other bochurim who I spoke to, think that the solution is easy and simple:
Instead of spending the majority of the day on iyun, without goals and structures of what you are supposed to be learning, and only one and a half hours given to girsa, simply switch it around. Every day bochurim should spend 4 hours on girsa. Teach the bochur how to learn Gemara, how to learn Rashi, and how to learn Tosfos.
At the end of the year, every bochur should know the whole mesechta by heart, Gemara Rashi and Tosfos. This is something that most bochurim are shayech to, I guarantee it. And at the end of the year, every bochur can feel accomplished, and he can tell his parents and friends proudly that he mastered the entire mesechta of that year!
As for iyun, perhaps we should only spend no more than 2 hours a day on it, and have it more structured. The magid shiur can make copies of specific mefarshim and the bochurim can learn those mefarshim, and the magid shiur will go over those mifarshim, inside, for those bochurim that had a hard time on it. And for all the genius bochurim who are way beyond that, there can perhaps be an optional shiur once or twice a week, explaining the Gemara on a deeper level.
Take the yeshiva in Moscow as empirical evidence. They have this same system of learning the whole mesechta by heart, with no focus at all on iyun, and the bachurim there waste much less time every day and they come out of yeshiva feeling good about themselves and feeling good about learning Torah in general. They learned the whole mesechta, gemare Rashi Tosfos, BY HEART!
Further evidence can be found in the concept of smicha. 99 percent of bochurim who go through the system eventually do smicha. But the learning quality difference between smicha and the last 7 years in yeshiva is huge! Why is that? Because there is a structure in semicha. You have to learn every Michaber, Rama, Shach, Taz, and most of the Pri Migadims. And the shiurim aren’t the magid shiur’s chidushim, rather he spends time explaining the mefarshim.
At the end of the year, the smicha candidate can pull out 3 large seforim and say to himself, “Look, I finished all this in one year, and I know the material like the back of my hand.”
But most bochurim in yeshiva cannot say that. It’s really no wonder why so many bochurim lose their enthusiasm when it comes to learning. The simply don’t feel accomplished.
I decided to write this article for COLlive, because I realized that at the end of my bochur years, I feel I came out with nothing. It is upsetting and frustrating beyond words. We deserve better and I don’t want to see my children learning in a non-productive system.
A final point for bochurim: If hanhala won’t fix this issue, and you feel that you are wasting your time during iyun, take matters into your own hands. Make a goal to finish the mesechta and know it. Learn girsa, and learn it well, Gemara Rashi Tosfos. I promise you, you will feel much more accomplished and you will love learning much more than you did in the past.
Bochurim (and former bochurim), please share your thoughts and write the truth. If you feel that what I am saying is true for you, then write it, and let the hanhala all over the world know (trust me, they check this website every day,) that this has to stop and that they have to face reality and stop living in a world that few others live in.