Thursday, May 29, 2008

Was This Yeshiva's Money Well Spent? What About The Student's Time? is reporting that Rabbi Leibel Kaplan, Rosh Yeshiva of Tomchei Tmimim Lubavitch Montreal gave monetary prizes to students to learned Gemara ba'al peh (by heart). The biggest prize went to Yehoshua Heshel Mishulovin, who was awarded a check for $4,000 for learning the entire tractate Bava Basra by heart, with Rashi and Tosfos.

Now, let me state up front that this is an impressive feat. Bava Basra has 175 pages. Just doing the Gemara by heart is very impressive. When you add the Rashi and Tosfos on top of it, it's almost superhuman.

The extraordinary magnitude of the feat aside, I have to ask the questions -- was the Yeshiva's money well spent? Was the student's time well spent?

I'm sure that the act of memorization must have taken him months. I'm sure he put a tremendous amount of effort into it. And I'm also sure that by memorizing it, he has become extremely well versed in the text of the Gemara, the Rashi and the Tosfos. But could his time have been spent better? Was it necessary for him to learn it by heart? Or could his time have been better put to use by learning it extremely well and moving on to another tractate and learning that very well too? Is there a point at which the extra effort of learning it by heart causes diminishing returns in the extra understanding of it that he gets from an extra review? I'm not a chinuch expert, but my guess would be that his time would have been better served by studying for a comprehensive test on the entire tractate (with Rashi and Tosfos) and then moving on to conquer another tractate.

The second question is whether or not the Yeshiva's money was well spent in this effort. I agree that yeshivos should encourage extra learning and if monetary prizes are a part of that strategy, then so be it. But you have to realize that when you devote $4000 to a prize to one student (no matter how impressive the accomplishment was) then you are advertising that you have "money to burn." $4,000 could probably be better spent in a way that would allow more student to learn Torah rather than awarding it to a one student who performs an impressive feat.

The Wolf


Anonymous said...

IIRC one had to know 200 blatt (or something like that) by heart to get into Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin.

Personally I hold like footnote #40 in Torah Study by R" DR' Leo Levy re: rewarding the "objectively" best students (no - remember Shabbat 10b - תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף י עמוד ב
ואמר רבא בר מחסיא אמר רב חמא בר גוריא אמר רב: לעולם אל ישנה אדם בנו בין הבנים, שבשביל משקל שני סלעים מילת שנתן יעקב ליוסף יותר משאר בניו - נתקנאו בו אחיו, ונתגלגל הדבר וירדו אבותינו למצרים.

Joel Rich

Sanegor said...

It in an outstanding achievement, and I am sure that in the process, boy got plenty of exposure to other massechtos. He'll go into life with a sense of accomplishment, plus Bava Basra is probably one of the most helpful masechta for business.

As far as money well spent, I'm sure it wasn't taken off a table of a starving child. It's just a small fraction of yearly costs to raise a child, and is a drop in a bucket - given the gasoline prices.

Come on, there are better things to whine about ...

jewinjerusalem said...

Yasher koach to this bachur. What are you complaining about. This is an amazing achievment. You aren't an ish chinuch, nor a talmid chacham. Keep your whining to yourself. I'll give you some advice Wolf: Give your own children some incentive to do the same. You'll be very happy with the results- both in this world and the next.

BrooklynWolf said...


Interesting point. I didn't even consider that angle.


It certainly is an outstanding achievement... I even acknowledged it as such in my post. And while I didn't think the yeshiva was taking it from starving children, I'm sure there is some better way to spend it. That's not to say that a reward isn't deserved, of course.


I encourage my children to learn. I don't know if learning Baba Basra by heart (when in the same span they could become familiar with all three of the Nezikin Mesechtas) is worth it.

You're entitled to think I'm wrong (I certainly could be), but you could be nicer about it (as Sanegor was).

The Wolf

Sanegor said...

Well, in almost any case of spending money, there was a better way to spend it. Especially when money is spent in public. A good way to look at it is as if this money only existed for this purpose.

the sabra said...

Or perhaps the money was donated by someone from OUTSIDE of the yeshiva for this express purpose.

Either way, how bout we try to make sure there is no ayin hora here.

Good shabbos.

Mike S. said...

I don't know about the money, but i am prety sure the time was well spent. I have noticeda big difference between scholars who had Shas at their finger tips (mostly European trained) and those who knew the ideas but had to look up the text every time

Sanegor said...

reb wolf

I don't know if you'll take it as a compliment, but this blog happens to be one of the few jewish-themed ones that don't make me throw up a little bit in my head.

halevai if every kid exiting the "system" would have a full massechta under his fingertips. Few remedies against militant ignorance are as effective as an immersion into Shas, especially so for a young and inquisitive mind.

BrooklynWolf said...


You mean it makes you want to throw up a lot? :)

I agree with your halevai. In an ideal world, we'd all know Shas by heart. But we don't live in an ideal world.

I'm not saying that what the kid did was bad... not by any stretch of the imagination. I just think that his time could have been used better. That doesn't mean to take anything away from his awesome feat.

The Wolf

aaron from L.,A. said...

Of course it was an important feat; haven't you read Fahrenheit 451?

Anonymous said...

I don't care so much about the money, but I am very opposed to the memorization. Learning, really learning, with true understanding, doesn't come from memorization. When I was a kid, I almost always refused to memorize things, but rather wanted to understand them, and even to "feel" them instead. I think the only think I forced myself to memorize was Az Yashir. Then, over the years, of course, all the daily tefilot were "memorized", but not as a conscious effort, just by virtue of repeating them every day.

And to add some controversy (isn't that why the internet was invented :-), it smacks a little bit of "brainwashing". And, kaveyochel, it sort of reminds me of the madrassas where the Muslim kids are forced to memorize the Koran.

the sabra said...

That's funny-I completely missed the part where it says he was forced to memorize the masechta.

Hmmm interesting.