Friday, August 31, 2007

thinking skills - mah kashe l'Rashi (II)

Instead of my cherry picking an example of the value of asking "mah kashe l'Rashi" (see previous post), you can find even better examples randomly from the first Mishna of many masechtot:

1) Rashi on the first Mishna in Kiddushin: “isha nikneis – l’ba’alah”. If not to her husband, to whom would we think this woman is mekudeshet? Mah kashe l’Rashi that required this explanation?

2) First Rashi in Kesubos: “besulah niseis – takanas chachamim hi shetinasei b’revi’i b’shabbos…” Question: Mah kashe l’Rashi? Is the word “revi’i” ambiguous because it can refer to a date as well as a day (though its meaning is clear from the Mishna’s continuation and the dibur hamaschil is not the word revi’i), or is there some reason we would not have understood the Mishna to be a takanah (what else could it be)?

3) First Rashi in Gittin: “ha’mavi – kol chutz la’aretz kari medinas hayam bar m’Bavel”. Question: Mah kashe l’Rashi that prompted his defining medinas hayam as “everywhere” outside Eretz Yisrael – the continuation of the Mishna itself implies that not all places in chutz la’aretz are treated equally. Furthermore, what prompted the mention of Bavel here? Are these two questions related?

Every one of these issues is discussed by rishonim or achronim, but the question that prompted them is simple enough for anyone to ask. Many of the answers are beyond what a boy in mesivta could think of or even understand, but she’eilat chacham chatzi tshuvah! – before getting to answers you have to know how to ask the right questions. Instead of randomly "hocking" away, here is a methodology.

In the comments to the previous post on covering ground vs. learning some wrote that you can’t have iyun without bekiyus. I agree to a certain extent, but I argued that bekiyus can be done independently from a rebbe. The point I am trying to make here is that even without learning anything other than gemara and Rashi a person can ask (and at some point develop answers for) intelligent questions that allow for a deeper appreciation of any sugya.

But these type questions are not asked by R’ Chaim? But it’s not going to lead to asking a stirah in Rambam and coming up with a tzvei dinim sevara? You’re right. But tzvei dinim can’t replace reading Rashi. And when students say over tzvei dinim sevaras because they can parrot their rebbe and know every 2 rambams thrown at them must lead to some Brisker-type conceptual chiluk then iyun has become bekiyus for the sake of saying a shtickel torah, not real havanah.

I am wondering if there are other simple questions that can be re-used over and over and which pay dividends like this – something to watch out for. In writing this up I found that I like the “mah kashe l’Rashi” so much I’m thinking of posting other examples on a more regular basis – we’ll see…


  1. Anonymous3:26 PM

    If you meant to say that the Rebbeim in one of the schools you considered for your son don't even take the time to address such questions, then I withdraw (or at least limit the application of) my comment from the other post.

  2. Chaim,

    Two books that I highly recommend (especially given these two posts) are: Darchei ha'Gemara (or Darchei ha'Talmud) by R' Yitzchak Kanpanton (1360-1463), and the What's Bothering Rashi series by R' Avigdor Bonchek.

    As far as finding "a systematic approach to teaching textual skills in the context of gemara learning," I happen to know of an entire four-year method, designed by Rabbi Zucker, to turn someone who doesn't know how to read Gemara into a lamdan. I know, it sounds too good to be true, but Rabbi Zucker ran a whole high school built on this program and (from what I understand) currently implements the method (in part, if not in whole) as curriculum director of YU High School for Boys.

    Rabbi Zucker's essential chidush was to teach the skills in sequence, rather than taking the "mishmash" or "pot shot" approach. The "cutesy" way of describing the four years is as follows:

    Year 1: Learning the Lines: Students are taught, in a systematic fashion, to "map out" the text of Gemara and to be able to read and translate - not to understand and "think into" the text. Instead of making students memorize esoteric words, Rabbi Zucker focuses on basic vocabulary. By the end of the year, the student is able to open up any Gemara in Shas and translate it. It sounds unbelievable, but Rabbi Zucker has plenty of success stories.

    Year 2: Learning Between the Lines: Students learn to analyze that they read, and are taught a further development of "mapping the sugya" involving raising questions like, "What is bothering Rashi?"

    Year 3: Learning Behind the Lines: Students are introduced to sevara and are taught to seek out and formulate conceptual definitions.

    Year 4: Learning Beyond the Lines: Students are taught to "prepare a sugya" - to come up with overarching sevaros that unite different Gemaras and different sugyas. Essentially, they are taught to give shiur.

    Obviously, the "method" is much more detailed than that. After all, Rabbi Zucker designed a whole high school around it, as I mentioned. Also, Rabbi Zucker makes it clear that the "four years" are really more like "four levels." Not all students will be able to reach the fourth level, or even the third level. The point is that each skill is worked on in isolation, and each year's skill builds upon the previous year's skill.

    I own a set of four MP3 shiurim in which Rabbi Zucker expounds on his method at a teaching seminar. If you are interested, I'm sure we can arrange a way for you to borrow them from me (I'm back in yeshiva now). Just let me know via email.

  3. Anonymous3:51 PM

    Tiferes Dovid (Yesivas Chofetz Chaim) is a sefer worth looking into. It outlines a derech halimud predecated on asking (and answering) precisely these types of questions.

  4. Anonymous2:58 PM

    If one is looking for a systematic approach then the only sefer that will teach this is Darchei Hatalmud by Rabbi yitzchak kanpanton. if this sefer was taught there would be less problems in the world regarding learning. There are recorded shiurs on line on this sefer on kol hatorah.They also have shiurs in derech tevunot and higayon by the Ramchal that teach how to think systematically . i also have a blog called where i put up glossaries systematic rules and shiurs that show how to attack a sugya .