Rabbi Gershon Avtzon: The Unique Gemara Curriculum in Lubavitcher Yeshivos



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    Rabbi Gershon Avtzon: The Unique Gemara Curriculum in Lubavitcher Yeshivos

    Question: I am a teacher at a non-Lubavitch Yeshiva. Recently, at a family simcha, I met a Lubavitcer bochur and we started talking about the Gemara learning cycle in Lubavitcher yeshivos. I noticed that there are some less “yeshivish” masechtos (talmudic tractates) in this eight-year cycle like Shabbos, Pesachim, etc. I’m curious as to what is the thought process behind the decision to learn these masechtos as part of the official learning curriculum, breaking from the practice in most other yeshivos? • Full Article

    By Rabbi Gershon Avtzon

    Question: I am a teacher at a non-Lubavitch Yeshiva. Recently, at a family simcha, I met a Lubavitcer bochur and we started talking about the Gemara learning cycle in Lubavitcher yeshivos. I noticed that there are some less “yeshivish” masechtos (talmudic tractates) in this eight-year cycle like Shabbos, Pesachim, etc. I’m curious as to what is the thought process behind the decision to learn these masechtos as part of the official learning curriculum, breaking from the practice in most other yeshivos?

    Answer: 

    Thank you for reaching out l. I get the feeling that you are asking with true sincerity and desire to understand. 

    The idea to include practical-halacha centered masechtos in the Tomchei T’mimim learning cycle is part of a more overarching campaign of the Rebbe: Fostering the recognition that knowing practical halacha is vital for the life of a frum Jew and that it is unfortunately neglected in many Yeshiva systems. Thankfully, recent decades have shown great improvement in this area in all circles of Jewish life .

    The following is a sampling of many letters of the Rebbe on this subject:

    “I Personally Mention At My Farbrengens”

    In 5715 (1955), Rabbi Moshe Vinarski, a non-Chabad rabbi who was acquainted with Chabad Chassidim, wrote to the Rebbe about the learning curriculum in schools and Yeshivos. It seems that he bemoaned the lack of knowledge of basic and practical halacha amongst Yeshiva students. The Rebbe responded:

    “Your observation parallels that of many of our great sages from previous generations that write about this issue. I personally,” continues the Rebbe, “mention at my farbrengens the need to include the masechtos of Seder Moed and Brachos into the Yeshiva cycle and curriculum.” (Igros, Vol. 11 p. 395; #3778)

    “Don’t Be Ashamed, This Was The Custom Of Many Gedolei Yisroel”

    Rabbi Chaim Zeritzky was a rabbi in Chadera, Eretz Yisrael). In 5716 (1956) he wrote a letter to the Rebbe in which he outlined the in-depth shiurim that he was giving in his area. The Rebbe responds by encouraging his teaching and then the Rebbe adds:

    “I’m certain that … you have shiurim on basic halachos that one needs to know in order to act like a frum yid every day. In most cases, it is specifically those that learn Torah in depth — Gemara, Poskinm, Rishonim — who are the most deficient in knowledge of basic halacha. Please do not feel embarrassed ch”v to learn and teach such basic and simple halachos, as this has been the custom of many Gedolei Yisroel.” (Igros, Vol. 12 p. 420; #4233)

    “It Is Shocking!”

    Rabbi Gershon Chein, a venerable Chassid from Eretz Yisroel, wrote a few letters to the Rebbe during the month of Teves 5715. In those letters, he does not mention about the 19 Kislev Farbrengen but, he does mention about the Torah classes that he is giving. The Rebbe responds (after pointing out the astonishing fact the Farbrengen on 19 Kislev was not mentioned in the letter): 

    “It is a shock to me that in the listing of your shiurim, you do mention a shiur on basic halachos – in which ignorance is totally shocking … If I had the strength and ability, I would institute this learning (of basic halachos) in educational systems of all age groups. It would begin with young children in kindergarten and include yeshivos and the Kollelim where married men learn.” (Igros, Vol. 10 p. 270; #3231). 

    This echoes a letter that the Rebbe wrote to Rabbi Shlomo Matusof, shliach to Morocco, earlier that year: “If I had the strength and ability, I would institute a basic halacha seder in all educational institutions — boys and girls — throughout the entire world.” (Ibid, p. 121; #3083)

    When “Homeschooling” Won’t Do

    In 5717 (1957), the Rebbe addressed a fundamental argument that was made against this campaign to include the learning of Halacha in the Yeshiva curriculum: If it is truly so important, why was it not done in the previous generations? 

    The Rebbe responded: “In the previous generations, it was not as important to include the learning of halacha in the educational system as the children were all getting this information from their homes. This, unfortunately, is not true today and thus, everything has to come from the educational systems.” (Igros, Vol. 14 p. 28; #4778).

    The Moshiach Connection

    We all know that in the times of Moshiach, as the Rambam writes, “The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G-d”. If so, does that mean that we will not be learning halacha in the time of Moshiach?

    The Alter Rebbe (Tanya, Igeres HaKodesh, Epistle 26) addresses this question and gives two answers: (1) Klal Yisroel will learn halacha once and being that no Torah will be forgotten, that one time will suffice. (2) People will know all the fundamentals of the revealed plane of the Torah from the internal aspect of the Torah,  and will therefore not need to occupy themselves with studying the revealed plane at all.” 

    ***

    If I had the strength and ability, I would institute this learning (of basic halachos) in educational systems of all age groups. It would begin with young children in kindergarten and include yeshivos and the Kollelim where married men learn.

     

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