Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Some thoughts on learning in YU

As some one who learned in YU for many years and was in the kollel I would like to share my thoughts on what I perceive as the weakness of YU.

YU does not give a person an opportunity just to sit and learn after college or semicha. I graduated college and wanted to learn for a few years before going out to work. The only way to do that was to join the Semicha program which I did. Why did I need to that? I did not want or need semicha and I had to do things in the program which were a waste of time for me.

The same thing applies to someone who wants to learn after semicha. The only real option is the kollel elyon which is small and only for 3 years.

This leads us to another point, how much does someone really know when they get semicha from YU. Many of the people who get semicha really started learning in their year in Israel at 18. After 1 or 2 years they came back and went to YU (college) splitting their time bewteen learning and college. Then comes another 3 years of learning in semicha with many people splitting their time and getting a Master's degree in Revel or Azrieli. The 4th year of semicha is spent doing shimush. If we add it all up it doesn't amount to that much. They certainly don't know shas. The semicha itself from YU lists off the areas in Halacha that the person learned and is בקי in. It lists hilchos nidda, eruvin, geirus, etc. What really happened is that the person heard a few shiurim on hilchos eruvin, nidda , etc. and took a test, to call them a בקי is a joke. To be a בקי in hilchos eruvin you have to learn gemara eruvin in depth with the Rishonim and then to learn the ש"וע, a process that takes a tremendous amount of time which no one in the YU semicha program has the time to do.

Let us look at 2 friends of mine, one went to the kollel elyon and then became a Rebbe, and 1 went to the Mir in Yerushalayim and is still learning in kollel 10+ years later. Who do you think had the chance to grow and become a bigger talmid chacham? It is very nice to be a rebbe, but it takes away from your own learning. The friend who learns in kollel at the Mir is a בקי in shas and ש"וע from his years in the Mir. He is now much better prepared to start giving shiurim. He is now starting to give shiurim and you can see his bekius in every shiur that he gives. The extra 10 years learning allowed him to grow tremendously in Torah and fulfill his potential while at YU you are forced to stop learning full time at a much earlier age.

I think that YU goes to 1 extreme and the RW yeshiva world goes to the other. YU doesn't allow anyone to sit and learn in kollel for 10 years even though for top guys this is the way to produce Gedolim. The RW yeshivas on the other hand want everyone to just sit in kollel for 10 years even if they aren't progressing and/or are not cut out for it. It is too bad that we can't find a happy medium.

I do not mean to bash YU here. I am a product of YU have many friends who are Rebbeim and have the greatest respect for the Roshei Yeshiva. I am just tyring to point out what I see as a weakness in the YU system.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think you adequately described one side of the coin, but the other system is far from perfect, you don’t need to idealize it.
Your average Mir guy does not know halacha - and is certainly not a baki in shulchan oruch - and has probably never sat in a shiur in shulchan Oruch. He should know more sugyas, especially the "yeshivasha mesechtas" when would he learn shas?
In many yeshivas guys stop going to shiur at the age of 20, 21. They sit with chevrusas and "throw around sevraras". This makes them conversant on many sugyas – but do they know them?
The YU guy who sat in shuir – even overviews of areas in shulchan oruch may have an advantage in Halacha Lemaysa.
I also believe that those who learn in order to teach learn more seriously and will enjoy a siyata dishmaya.
I don’t know where the next godol is coming from but I think there are numerous paths to get there.

bluke said...

I was really trying to address the top guys. The top guys in YU are pushed out into the world much earlier then the top guys in other places. My friend in the Mir (who was a top guy in YU) knows halacha cold as well.

I don't believe I idealized the other side. I am fully cognizant of the major problem, it doesn't address the average guy. The average guy who learns in a RW yeshiva for a few years and then starts working also knows very little. The difference is that he doesn't have semicha and isn't out there as a Rabbi or Rebbe answering questions.

I don't understand why you think that those who learn in order to teach are more serious. In my experience this is soley a factor of the person himself.

An MO Rabbi said...

Bluke-It seems that what concerns you is not that people can't sit and learn in YU but that there is no program for such people. Anyone can get a chavrusa, learn in the BM and attend a shiur. In fact, several people do. But they do not recieve the fringe benefits i.e. housing from the yeshiva. This makes perfect sense to me as there is a shortage of space for such housing, and YU must distribute it judiciously.
I'm not much of a psychoanalyst, but it seems to me that another aspect that might have disturbed you is the social issue. People who just learn i the BM, or even those who join the Chaver program are generally viewed as lightweight, or lacking seriousness. There is thus a great deal of unspoken pressure to join the semikha program, even if you do not intend to become a Rav or a mechanech.

An MO Rabbi said...

Bluke-It seems that what concerns you is not that people can't sit and learn in YU but that there is no program for such people. Anyone can get a chavrusa, learn in the BM and attend a shiur. In fact, several people do. But they do not recieve the fringe benefits i.e. housing from the yeshiva. This makes perfect sense to me as there is a shortage of space for such housing, and YU must distribute it judiciously.
I'm not much of a psychoanalyst, but it seems to me that another aspect that might have disturbed you is the social issue. People who just learn i the BM, or even those who join the Chaver program are generally viewed as lightweight, or lacking seriousness. There is thus a great deal of unspoken pressure to join the semikha program, even if you do not intend to become a Rav or a mechanech.

bluke said...

Now that you put it that way I guess I agree with you on some level.

My problem with YU is that they seemingly don't see any value in someone just sitting and learning not towards something (semicha or chaver) while I believe that this is tremendously valuable and should be pushed. It is not so simple to do what you suggest, just show up in the Beis Medrash and go to a shiur (in fact, I don't even know if they will let you in the building without a YU id). You will feel uncomfortable and therefore very few people will do it. However, if YU allowed people to just sit and learn and do what they want, I think they would get more people taking this option up leading to more people leraning torah for more time.

Anonymous said...

"in fact, I don't even know if they will let you in the building without a YU id)."

i think someone on hirhurim done explained that this adds to the stature of YU:)

I think you are right on all accounts. That the guys start learning at an older age, and they are in "professional" programs. I think that's the biggest weakness - the notion that learning can be modeled on a professional degree program.

"In many yeshivas guys stop going to shiur at the age of 20, 21"

The shiurim in YU are mainly at the high school level in other yeshivas, for the reason that bluke mentioned - that the guys are typically starting off learning seriously at an older age, and combining it with other studies.

You just don't get the same total hours over the years.

One advantage YU has is that the graduates have better research tools and skills than products of UO yeshivas. But they have poorer reading skills, are less rigorous, etc. than the typical yeshiva guys. It's very striking to me that the UO yeshiva guy is a more rigorous reader, and thinker, than the YU guy - and this is probably the product of NOT being forcefed shiurim as adults but ...."throw around sevaros" as you put it. That does have its points, not least of which is that it makes them less dependent on authority and more independent thinkers.

bluke said...

I disagree with you a number of points that you made.
1. that the shiurim are at a high school level. The shiurim that I attended in YU (mostly R' Shachter) were at a high level. I currently attend shiurim in a RW night kollel and the shiurim are not at a higher level then YU.
2. the UO yeshiva guy is a more rigorous reader, and thinker, than the YU guy I have learned b'chavrusa with the products of various UO yeshivas, I have not found their thinking to be more rigorous or their reading skills to be that great. It all depends on the person. In fact, I think that YU person is more questioning of authority and therefore more willing to approach the text critically.

The problem with throwing around sevaros is that you may be missing a major point, e.g. that your sevara is against a gemara in (pick your obscure masechta) or is just wrong. A Rebbe helps you with that. There is a fine line between a good shiur that makes you think and one that spoonfeeds you the information.

I do agree with your comment about "professional programs", this to my mind is the main weakness of YU.

Anonymous said...

What can I say? I've listened to many hours of shiurim at yu online, and I disagree. I see smicha level and beyond shiurim in which no preparation was required, the r"y spends 45 mins of an 1 1/2 hr shiur explaining rashi/tosfos etc.
I dont know what a RW night kollel is.
It always depends on the guy, but no, I meant that they land up *dependent* on authority b/c they never developed the skills as thoroughly.
"A Rebbe helps you with that."
If youre looking at the sugya properly and the seforim on the sugya you shouldnt be missing things.

bluke said...

A RW night kollel is a kollel where the Rosh Kollel is a big talmid chacham from Ponovezh and most of the guys are learning in kollel in the Mir during the day. Myself and 1 other YU guy are learning there as well and do not find the shiurim to be over our heads or above the level that we experienced in YU.

Anonymous said...

OK.
I'm just basing my remarks on listening to ..by now, roughly 80-90 hours of shiurim at the YU website, many of which are smicha and postsmicha oriented.

Shmuel said...

Good post, good comments.
1. Why doesn't YU fix this glaring problem?
2. How does YU have the audacity to force smicha candidates into some graduate program (at Revel, Azrieli, etc.) simultaneously? That really does eat away a lot of precious Torah time. I don't get that at all. Is it for "well-roundedness" sake? How about a little Torah well-roundedness?

bluke said...

You are not forced to go to graduate school. Anyone who wants can learn in the kollel in the afternoon (which is what I did). Grad school is an alternative instead of learning in the afternoons.