The Right Way to Teach the Talmud

There is a right way to teach Talmud. All Yeshivas essentially teach Talmud the same way - select the Tractate to teach -- open it and start reading. That is not the right way.

Here is a link to a short article that I wrote a while back, "Teaching Mishnah, Midrash and Talmud at the University."

I outline some of the course methods I have used in university courses and I make some generalizations, such as:
...I do not use the traditional Yeshiva approach to designing a "syllabus", i.e., start on page 2A and learn as much as time permits in the tractate. I also do not emphasize the notion of the texts as part of "the Halakhah." This concept is a relatively modern construct, composed of many strata of texts, commentaries and codes. Some would argue it is a tool of those who foster rabbinic authority rather than a purely intellectual asset of our rabbinic heritage.
Please see my article for more details. /repost from 8/5/06/


Anonymous said...

What are your thoughts on students using Artscroll?

Tzvee said...

I don't recommend it. Artscroll is an edition - not a translation - it is a paraphrase. It makes no attempt to parse the Talmud into its components. It's not based on a critical text. The quality of the discussion is uneven, sometimes not comprehensible.

Above all, they act as if they are the first to render the Talmud into English - never citing a previous English edition or translation. I find that to be most troubling.

Also, I won't be surprised to hear when Artscroll starts to claim that its edition was produced through divine inspiration. That's the mentality behind it.

David said...

I plan to respond to your post on my blog when I have a little bit more time, hopefully tomorrow morning.

Drew_Kaplan said...

While I do agree that it is a "pedagogically deficient approach", one has to wonder what their goals are. Compared to your awesome article (btw, what do you think of the Sokoloff dictionary? Do you think you might include it in lieu of the Jastrow?) wherein you give a full picture of rabbinic literature, yeshivos are not usually interested in such things. Of course, this presents the students who are interested in such pursuits some frustrations.

Tzvee said...

The linear textual approach seems to me to be timid and lazy. If you cannot produce a syllabus for a course, does that mean you haven't prepared the course before teaching it? Does it mean you are one day ahead of the students? If there are no syllabi with increasing levels of complexity, how do you order your students' education? Isn't evaluating progress highly subjective? Instead of "pass/fail", don't you end up with "knows how to learn/doesn't know how to learn"?

As for the Sokoloff dictionary, I can't recommend it for students due to the cost. Jastow is online and free. S is over $200 for the 2 volumes.

David said...

>>[Y]eshivos are not usually interested in such things

Drew, care to be more specific?

kenneth greifer said...

I have never commented on a blog and I am not sure this will go through, but you mentioned a dictionary by someone named Sokoloff. I think it is on an internet site called the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon which has two Aramaic dictionaries in it. I don't know how to make a link to a site, so you just have to look at it yourself. You go into their data base and then to their lexicon.On the bottom left side of the main lexicon's screen it has a link to something called the JPA lexicon I think. The site said it is by Michael Sokoloff.