Tuesday, July 26, 2016

what do we expect kids to walk out of yeshivah knowing?

A follow up post on education:

We spend thousands of dollars and invest hundreds of hours of classroom instruction in educating our kids. After 12 or more years, what do we expect them to know? What are we getting for our money?

My question assumes that, like E.D. Hirsch argued, there is certain “core knowledge” that is essential. It’s not enough for students to have some vague set of skills or good “midos” or hashkafos. They need to have real facts and information at their fingertips.

Here is what I consider the bare minimum, at least for girls:

1) Knowing all of chumash with rashi;

2) Familiarity with the text all of all nevi’im rishonim and basic content of nevi’im achronim;

3) Knowing orach chaim halachos as found in Chayei Adam or Kitzur;

4) Understanding basic principles of belief (this point needs a post of its own to define better).

That’s it.

Sounds simple, but I challenge you to test your average Beis Ya’akov graduate and see if she has mastered the items on my list.  My own kids have gone to what is considered a more academic B.Y., one which comparatively speaking does provide a decent education, and they complain to me that I’m being unfair when I expect them to know a pasuk and Rashi that they never learned in school.

(If you think boys education is any better, you're kidding yourself. A kid can walk out of 12th grade knowing 60-70 blatt gemara (in some cases, ha’levai that much) and the reid a rebbe said over to them for 4 years and that’s it – no knowledge of navi, chumash, hashkafa (outside of mussar shmuzen), and a smattering of Mishnah Berurah at best. Of course you have boys who become masmidim and excel – but those are the ones who are above average. What about the guy in the second level shiur in MTA, in DRS, in Chofetz Chaim, NIRC, or YFR?  What do they really know after 12 years of school?)

What is worse than girls not having learned this stuff in school is the fact that they never given the message that they have to learn it on their own, not because of the mitzvah of talmud Torah (which of course does not apply to girls), and not because they will do some kind of aveirah if they don't know a Rashi somewhere in Sefer VaYika (a very unlikely prospect), but simply because how can you live as a thinking Jew, a Jew who wants to connect with Torah = with G-d, if you don't even know chumash and Rashi? 

I should get back to posting on Torah only topics before I get myself too worked up or into hot water  : )


  1. I like your list, but, would prefer something more skills-based. Such as:
    1- Knowing how to learn Chumash and Nevi'im Rishonim with Rashi on their own
    2- Knowing the broad strokes of all of Tanakh
    3- Knowing practical halakhos as found in Chayei- + Chokhmas Adam or Qitzur. Not just Orach Chaim, also day-to-day fiscal laws, something about a kosher kitchen, etc...
    4- Basic beliefs & values
    and most of all
    5- Girls have to leave 12th grade wanting to continue learning. If you have that, they'll eventually catch up. If you don't, they won't use any of the skills anyway.

    Hashkafah and mussar are critical for both boys and girls. Otherwise, you don't get #5 or even a desire to observe to the same extent.

    Those kids who we call OTD don't really go off-the-derekh, as we do not give them a derekh to talk about them leaving it! (Halakhah, to be etymologically literal: the skill of walking, yes; a derekh to walk down, not so much...)

  2. http://rygb.blogspot.com/2016/07/divrei-chaim-what-do-we-expect-kids-to.html

  3. Reb Chaim, I am scared to hear what you expect from boys-

  4. It seems that בבלי, בלול מכל, has taken over completely. Dirshu is trying to change that with their halacha program for בין הזמנים. I still have no idea why yeshiva bachurim can't learn all if Tanach at least once. Kol hakavod for raising awareness of this.

    1. It's not only a new phenomenon - the Alter of Slabodka objected to Reb Yaakov Kaminetzky's somewhat diversified learning program when the latter was a bachur in the Yeshiva.

    2. I wouldn't generalize from direction the Alter made to one student. He himself could well have given the opposite advice to another. The Alter's skill was in knowing what was appropriate for the skills for each student. All you could know from the story is that the Alter believed that a Bavli-mainly curriculum was what's right for R' Yaakov, at that point in his life.

      This individualized guidance was also perceived by some students as overly controlling. (Eg the story with R Aharon Kotler's mail.) It aided many, and in particular many of the key gedolim who rebuilt the observant community after WWII. But it also drove others away.

    3. See R'Shash on Bava Basra 8a
      משמע לאפשר שיהיו בעלי משנה
      או בעלי גמרא ולא בעלי מקרא, וכן כשהשיבו
      ריב״ע ללא קרא שאלהו שוב אולי שנית, וללא
      כאותן ששופכין בוז על מקצת גלולי זמנינו בש״ס
      ופוסקים ואין להם יל כ״כ כמקרא

      Seems that even in the time of the Tannaim people may have spent more time on Mishna or Gemara and less on TaNaCh.

  5. According to Dr Stampfer (HaYeshiva haLita’it Behit-havatah, pg 213 ) this is what Volozhiner Yeshiva reported to the government as their curriculum in 1858. Translation mine:

    First Year:

    Tanakh: chumash and nevi’im rishonim according to Rashi and [Mendelsohn’s] Biur
    Mishnah: [the orders of] Zera’im, Moed and Nashim
    Gemara: Mesechtos Berakhos, Shabbos, Pesachim and Eiruvin with the [commentary of the] Rosh
    Laws: Shulchan Arukh Orach Chaim
    Hebrew Grammar: the first two sections of Studies in the Hebrew Language by [Yehudah Leib] Ben Zev
    Languages: Russian and German reading, and the beginning of grammar
    Arithmetic: the four basic operators [addition, subtraction, multiplication division]

    Second Year:

    Tanakh: Nevi’im acharonim and Kesuvim according to Rashi and the Biur
    Mishnah: Neziqim and Qodshim, with Biur
    Gemara: Mesechtos Chulin, Niddah, Yevamos, Kesuvos, Gitin, Qiddushin with the Rosh
    Laws: Shulchan Arukh Yoreh Dei’ah and Even haEizer
    Hebrew Grammar: Completing Studies in the Hebrew Language
    Languages: Completion of Russian and German grammar, and writing
    Arithmetic: fractions and decimals

    1. That might be what they had to say to the gov to satisfy them. But acc to the yeshiva,gemara encompasses that all.

      There are differences in gaining factual knowledge and thinking skills from school. I think R chaim is just speaking of coming out of school with basic factual knowledge, ie Judaism

      R chaim what makes you thinking of all this?? Aren't your kids out of school?

    2. That might be what they had to say to the gov to satisfy them. But acc to the yeshiva,gemara encompasses that all.

      There are differences in gaining factual knowledge and thinking skills from school. I think R chaim is just speaking of coming out of school with basic factual knowledge, ie Judaism

      R chaim what makes you thinking of all this?? Aren't your kids out of school?

    3. One might claim the secular studies were padding to satisfy the government. But why would the Czar's education ministry care if they spent their limudei qodesh time on Shas or also learned Nakh, Mishnayos and 3/4 of SA. And all of that in 2 years? Also, what's with the Biur -- would the Russians care whether they learned with Ramban or Mendelsohn? No, I think this fit the school's actual aspirations.

      As opposed to how yeshivos today may wish to remember those of 150 years ago.

    4. I can just picture in 100 years someone finding my son's yeshiva transcript, good enough to be accepted for a college degree, and see all those courses and think what a broad education his yeshiva offered. The truth is that it was gemara all day all the time. The official record does not reflect reality. Who knows what really went on in Volozhin.

  6. Someone asked Rav Ruderman zt"l why the yeshivos don't teach nach. Replied the Rosh Yeshiva: in Lita, by the time they were bar mitzvah every bochur knew tanach. I can testify that my father זצוק"ל, a Sloboker talmid, could almost always finish any posuk in tanach if you gave him the beginning of posuk.

    Don't forget there were no distractions for children, no iPhones, no internet, just "Braishis barah Elo-him, in der anfang hat der Obershter bashafen..." repeated ad infinitum in cheder.

    I don't know if this is still true, but Telshe [at least in Cleveland] had classes in Tanach and Chayai Adam every day in high school. And of course, Rebbetzin Ausband would give advanced shiurim to kollel yungeleit in Tanach.

    1. I'm with the Amazing Law: I think this business that focusing on shas meant exclusively Shas to the total exclusion of everything else (except maybe a 15 min Hilkhos LH "mussar" seder) is a rewriting of history to justify today's trends.

      BTW, Telzh ran a mechinah that had secular studies. Kelm had a short-lived gymnasia. I would take both off the table for a discussion of typical.

      Or perhaps we should be discussing the breadth of variety that one would need to restore to really rebuild the Torah world that was murdered in Eastern Europe.

  7. >>>R chaim what makes you thinking of all this?? Aren't your kids out of school?

    2 are, 1 in still in H.S. (of the girls). It's only after the 2 finished that I really could look back and ask myself what did they really get from all those years if they don't know even all of chumash and rashi.

  8. I obviously don't really know about the girl, but I've seen your posts through his yeshiva years and could see YOU really thought him well. Chinuch begins at home.

  9. Excellent post, even more thought-provoking than your always strong posts. I would add "Tefila (what it is, what our tefilos mean, and how to do it)" and "recite and describe the 39 melachos of Shabbos," though they may be included in your Halacha section.

    I also feel teaching Ivris b'Ivris (or Ivrit B'Ivrit) will also strengthen their knowledge and their ability to learn more. Even a bit less than full immersion will expose them to more Hebrew words, which will give them more tools to learn Torah and other seforim.

    Re Basic principles of belief I feel that Rambam's principles alone are not sufficient for at least two reasons. 1) Questioning students will not be satisfied by some of his explanations. 2)There are other important shitos in Rishonim on some of these principles that will shock someone who was only exposed to the Rambam's formulation.

    For boys, I feel the following changes will greatly strengthen their overall abilities and especially their Gemara skills
    1) have them lein chumash with trop from maybe 5th grade, to familiarize themselves with Tanach
    2) teach Targum with the Chumash! Gemara is Aramaic and this will give them more language skills. (Plus Prof Haym Soloveitchik's new thesis of Ashkenaz includes an insight that someone pointed out to him that they must have been fluent in Aramaic and that's why Rashi so often says "kitargumo," because they understood the Targum). I feel it is worthwhile to push off starting Gemara by even two years which will be more than balanced out by their stronger Aramaic skills.
    3) Basic Jewish History, including Rambam's Shalsheles Hakabbalah, knowing which major Tanaim were in which generation; same for Amoraim but including if they were in Eretz Yisrael or Bavel; and similar for Rishonim and Achronim - generally when (who was contemporaries/student with whom, and geographic location) and also Gedolei Achronim.
    4) Basics of the Jewish Calendar. This can be as simple as teaching the Luach - the months, dates of holidays, associated mitzvos and korbanos; general Haftaros and when they are changed.

    1. A few things:
      1) I am kicking myself for not thinking of including tefilah like you did. That is a good one.
      2) I am a big believer in ivrit b'ivrit too, but the schools can't pull it off because they can't find teachers who can do it.
      3) I wrote hashkafa topics need another post because I agree that ikkarim are not sufficient. I don't know how to do it properly because one would have to create a textbook to do a survey of shitos.

  10. When I was in Rav Ilson's yeshiva, at each Shabbos meal the D'var Torah was a talmid getting up and reading a ramban al hatorah. We may not have had inspirational vertlach, but I am thankful that I know how to learn a ramban today (unfortunately I can't say that I know them all)

  11. In order for any of this to become a reality two fundamental things are necessary: 1) schools need to be honest with parents (regardless of background in learning) and say that Chinuch (including the acquiring / practice of text-based skills) cannot simply occur in school - with all the day schools and yeshivot try to pack in, there is simply not enough time - regardless of how much one is paying in tuition - this is a sobering reality check for the many for whom educating a child Jewishly means writing a tuition check - we simply cannot expect kids to become life-long learners as adults without encouragement and opportunity at home - and, excepting the rare masmid, a year in Israel may well not change that; 2) talented educators and administration across a given region getting together and deciding on the type of "global curriculum" you suggest - each school might use different media, time allotment, class time v. independent study, etc. to achieve the goals, but groups of schools (at least within a region) must get on board together; the rationale for #2: if Day School "A" decides to delay Gemara study for a year or two in the hopes of developing better mastery of tefillah/chumash/nach/mishnah/etc., but all of the high schools to which Day School "A" is a feeder presume 3 or more years of Gemara education prior to entry, one will have a significant mismatch of expected skills.