New learning framework for the frum baalebos
by Jonathan Rosenblum
London Jewish Tribune
March 11, 2004
Developing learning frameworks for baalebatim would not seem to be one of the burning issues facing the Torah world today. It does not, at first glance, compare in urgency, for instance, with at-risk teens or with the plight of kollel scholars in Eretz Yisrael unable to feed their families.
Yet the truth is that the ongoing Torah learning of those who have left the yeshiva or kollel setting is one of the prime determinants of the quality of any Torah community. When the father of the house has a regular learning seder, the effects of that learning permeate the home and are felt by every single member of the family. And when he does not, all the messages about the importance of Torah learning conveyed to the children fall into the realm of, "Do as I say, not as I do." Inevitably, the children will come to suspect that their parents do not really value Torah learning to the degree they claim.
In a community, such as ours, in which Torah learning is at the pinnacle of our values, those who do not have a daily learning seder often come to view themselves as having failed in some fundamental way. That sense of failure is destructive enough on its own terms. But sometimes it can lead to something far worse – a defensive cynicism or feelings of resentment directed at those who devote themselves to Torah learning.
That does not mean that establishing a regular learning program is easy for a frum baalebos. Fortunate indeed is the working man who finds himself living in close proximity to a former study partner from yeshiva days, or who is able to find another suitable study partner, with a compatible schedule.
For those who can’t, the traditional solution has been the daf hayomi shiur. Without question, the proliferation of daf hayomi shiurim, from the crack of dawn until late at night, is one of the glories of today’s Torah world. Due to the wonders of modern technology, those without a readyily available daf hayomi shiur can often access for the price of a local telephone call shiurim by world renowned maggidei shiurim on any daf in Shas. Those shiurim can be stopped and reviewed at any point as often as one desires. In some cases, it is even possible to send in queries on the daf and receive real time responses. A vast array of supplemental material is available for those who have committed themselves to learning the daf with tens of thousands of other Jews around the globe.
The daf hayomi, however, is not for everyone. Many find the pace of the typical shiur – usually an hour or less – daunting. Those without an advanced background in Talmud learning can find themselves overwhelmed by the effort to absorb so much complicated material, even with the aid of such invaluable tools as the ArtScroll Gemara. They become frustrated by the feeling that what they learn is going in one ear and out the other. And someone who did learn for many years in yeshiva and kollel, unless he is himself the maggid shiur, may find listening to a rapidly moving shiur too passive for his taste or fret that his own learning skills are atrophying.
The daf hayomi shiur’s place within the Torah community is assured. Yet there still remains a need for other frameworks to ensure that no shomer mitzvah is deprived of the sense of elevation (and elation) that can only come from wrestling with Torah texts on a regular basis. Fortunately, more and more such learning models, capable of being transported from one place to another, are being developed.
Let me just offer one example awaiting its own local franchisees. A little more than two years ago, Rabbi Yitzchak Berkowitz, one of the leading young poskim in Eretz Yisrael, opened a night-time kollel in Hilchos Bein Adam L’Chaveiro in Jerusalem. All the original members were avreichim still learning full-time. When the first two-year study cycle was completed, the original members of the kollel went out an established their own night-time kollelim. Today, there are eight such kollelim in Eretz Yisrael, with over a hundred avreichim learning nightly.
Although the program was initially developed for those in full-time learning, it quickly became obvious to Rabbi Paysach Freedman, the executive director of Linas HaTzedek – The Center for Jewish Values, that the learning program based on the materials developed by Rabbi Berkowitz had the potential to expand far beyond a network of night-time kollelim for avreichim.
To date, booklets of learning materials, beginning with the Gemara and proceeding to Tur/Shulchan Aruch and modern poskim, have been prepared on 42 separate topics such as: the Law of the Land, Using Secular Courts, Employer-Employee Relations, Brokerage, Copyright, Honoring One’s Parents. Programs for baalebatim, based on these materials, already exist in seven different locales in North America. Individuals or pairs of chavrusos can also follow the learning program.
The advantage of these well-organized learning modules is that they can be learned at different degrees of depth, and at any pace, depending on how often the chavrusas or chabura can meet. Each unit includes contemporary halachic questions based on the material learned. Like the laws of lashon hara, the dinim of bein adam l'chaveiro have immediate day-to-day application to our lives, and that itself can provide a major impetus to someone who needs a bit of a push before committing himself to undertake a major learning project.
(It should be emphasized that the study of hilchos bein adam l’chaveiro is not designed as a mussar vaad or to improve one’s middos – though the latter will hopefully be one by-product of the learning – but as a program for learning the relevant halachos, just as in any other area of halacha that a Jew is required to know and do.)
Another obvious use of well-organized materials for learning of hilchos bein adam l’chaveiro is in kiruv. Jews who have not made any commitment to a Torah life are much more likely to be enticed to break their teeth learning topics whose relevance is obvious to them than, let’s say, hilchos Shabbos. Few other topics offer such an opportunity to expose those with little background to the sheer intellectual excitement of Torah learning and the relevance of the Talmud to all manner of contemporary ethical dilemmas as the study of hilchos bein adam l’chaveiro.
Last summer, Torah Umesorah used material prepared by the Center for Jewish Values for its summer SEED programs in cities across North America, and is planning to do so again this year.
The program developed by the Center of Jewish Values is but one example of how learning materials developed in one place can be adapted for use by others around the globe to in order that Torah should grow and be glorified. We hope from time to time to report on other such initiatives designed to ensure that the departure from yeshiva does not mark the end of growth in ruchnios but rather the beginning of a new stage.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics, World Jewry
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