Friday, September 09, 2005

On Being Bored with Gemara

My oldest son (S1) is currently starting his third year of learning Gemara in yeshiva. The first year (as is traditional, I suppose) was spent learning Eilu Metziyos. Last year, he did a perek in Bava Kamma. He went back to school this week, only to find out that he's going to be learning another perek in Bava Kamma this year.

I haven't had a chance to talk with S1 about this, but I've been informed by my wife that he is bored with Gemara. It just doesn't hold much interest for him.

Now, I know he doesn't really have a problem with learning in general. He will easily learn Nach or Chumash on his own and is currently learning Mishnayos with me (Moed) for his Bar Mitzvah without complaint (sometimes he even comes and asks me to learn it with him).

I'm wondering if maybe he's just bored with the topic of civil law. I know, personally, that of all the areas of halacha, that is the last one I'd voluntarily approach. Knowing who is liable when someone's ox gores another ox is not terribly interesting to me. (Yes, I understand that it's not just limited to oxen per se; but the whole idea of civil law just never interested me, even at the secular level).

During my first four years of learning Gemara in yeshiva (way back in the day), we covered Eilu Metziyos first, but then went on to learn Makkos, Kiddushin and Gittin (in that order). I must admit that I was certainly exposed to a wider variety of study than my son is currently being exposed to. If I had to learn Nezikin (and when I say Nezikin, I mean Bava Kamma, Bava Metziya and Bava Basra -- not Sanhedrin, Makkos, etc.) for the first three or four years straight, I probably never would have picked up a Gemara again in my life.

I could always bring this up with the yeshiva, but they're not going to change their curriculum once the year has started. I suppose I could always try to learn something else on the side with my son, but he's got quite enough on his plate for the coming year - I don't really think that he can handle an additional Gemara seder on top of everything else he has.

I'm going to speak with S1 over Shabbos and see if this is really the case or if there is some other problem here.

However, I'm kind of curious... is this now the norm? As I mentioned, when I was younger I covered a broader set of topics in my first years exposed to Gemara. I know that yeshivas often gravitate toward the more "yeshivish" tractates and don't learn others at all (except maybe in a b'kius setting). Is this still the case? Do yeshivos still tend to focus on Nezikin moreso than other topics, or is this just a fluke on the part of my sons' school?

The Wolf



i only fell in love with gemarah after learning son'head'ren

Lone Bochur said...

It is a self-perpetuating problem. The rabbeim are most/only comfortable going in-depth in these masechtas as a byproduct of their own education.

MCAryeh said...

Sanhedrin remains my favorite also. I actually never wanted to look at a gemara again after learning some of the babas. By the third daf of shnayim oktzin, I really didn't care who got the tallit. Everyone is supposed to have their chelek of gemera. Mine is not in the babas. Those with very technical or legal minds often love it, though.

BrooklynWolf said...

This is all very interesting, because Sanhedrin was also one of my favorites as well. Nazir (?!?) was also very interesting to me as well.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

Sanhedrin, Pesachim, Nedarim

tuesdaywishes said...

Looks like you're going to have a long year. You really should not only 'chazar' his Gemara with him, but try to make it seem like you enjoy it. I'll bet that when he gets to high school he will have very little time spent on other Limudei Kodesh, so if he thinks Gemara isn't for him...

Ben Avuyah said...

Gemara is boring to most kids becuase it is case law that is no longer relevant.

You don't see any kids sitting down to read legal decisions of the peoples court, do you ?

Wouldn't it be nice to let him follow his intrests rathing than pushing him into the standard mold?

I eventually liked gemara, not becuase of interest, but becuase I loved the logical "shtuch", you know, go brain against brain with your chavrusah and beat him into an intellectual corner.

BrooklynWolf said...

I don't know if that's necessarily universally true Ben. I enjoyed Makkos in seventh grade, even though it had none of the chapters (witnesses lying in court, exile to an Ir Miklat or lashes) had any practical application to my life at the time.

I'm sure that your observation may be true for some, but it's certainly not true for all. Some people enjoy theoretical discussions.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

"Gemara is boring to most kids becuase it is case law that is no longer relevant."

Ben, this statement may apply to some gemorah but it is, overall, not true.

Some number of years ago, I'm told, there was an attempt made in many yeshivos to change the order of gemoros first learned. Many menahalim felt that Aleh Metzius was a bit heavy to hit a new gemorah learner with and felt that Talmud study aught to start with, well, the beginning of Talmud - like some perek in Berachos (certainly, something more practical for the average 10-11 year old). Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt"zl was consulted about this and he was firm that the first gemorah a child should learn was Aleh Metzius. According to the reports, he said that the first lessons that a child should have drumed into his head is that there are some things that belong to him and some things that don't (Aleh Metzius is about what type of lost objects must be returned or can be kept by the finder).

Now, I have never heard that he commented on what should follow Aleh Metzius, but he was emphatic about maintaining Aleh Metzius as the first gemorah.

PsychoToddler said...

There's some kind of cycle that they follow. Last year, my son learned gittin. I think the year before it was makos. The year before was babba kamah.

That's when I started Babba Kama, and 3 years later I'm still working on it. It's a bit dry.

heccy said...

This brings back horrible memories. I went to a orthodox school for russian immigrants and i guess they thought we were retarded because we went over eilu metzius EACH YEAR. Of course this was only once we hit high school. I did go to Chaim Berlin for the 8th grade. They were doing Kiddushin and I had never done any gemara work at all so I was always the slow kid in class.
So the same 2 dafs we learned every year was a nice change of pace. though i still get nervous tics when i spill sesame seeds on the floor.

btaryag said...

I totally understand why your son may not be interested in one particular aspect of Shas. Being that you probably won't be able to change what they teach at the school, I would suggest the following. Either you or a private Rebbi should find a short masechta that your son likes, and learn it with him in his free time. This would cause your son to see that he enjoys learning, and he therefore won't get the feeling that learning (gemora) is not for him. It would be benficial to finish the mesechta as this would give him a feeling of accomplishment and that will encourage him to learn more. I realize that this may not be a good idea, especially since you learn mo'ed with him, and I assume that already takes up some of his free time. I guess you should see what your kis says about this idea. Hatzlocho!