Summer 2014: Responses
Considering the incredible changes that have swept our community in recent years, perhaps the time has come for our gedolim to broadly reexamine the preferred goals of a yeshiva high school. There is a need for more yeshivos that not only cater to the brightest students but that also offer an adjusted though fully meaningful program for the less gifted and the less motivated. Students need opportunities to express their unique talents and to have certain ruchniyus needs met through ongoing conversations about the wide range of hashkafa issues most relevant to teenage bochurim.
There is a significant body of students who seem to fit into traditional yeshivas but do not seem to be thriving there, and they deserve our attention. Though some suggest that a dominant focus on Gemara is not appropriate for these students, there is no way to create the dynamic and vibrant Beis Medrash environment necessary to inspire students without intensive Gemara study. The solution includes an approach to Gemara itself that incorporates varying teaching methodologies, targeting a wider range of students with varying aptitudes and personalities.
Parents are the true consumers of high school chinuch and, by their choices and articulated objectives, it is they who are in the strongest position to initiate and influence a process of improvement in the schools. To exercise proper influence, parents must develop a keener appreciation for the needs of their children and for the method and criteria for choosing a yeshiva. To do so, they should keep in mind that there is no “best school,” only what is best for their child, and that the keys to evaluating a yeshiva are looking for success in imparting the “three C’s” – Clarity, Cumulative knowledge, and Creative analysis.
When considering the terms under which the mesorah for conducting a yeshiva may be flexible and when it is unchangeable depends, among other things, on the distinction between education and inspiration. While there is a timeless approach to teaching Torah, there is a mandate for each generation to present it to their students in the language to which they will respond. Steps can be taken to improve the education of students through the traditional teaching Gemara and to inspire them with the language of love, success and encouragement.
In the midst of astounding success in the rebuilding of Torah after World War II, a variety of significant and painful challenges have developed for the community. With a focus on producing the gedolei Torah so sorely needed by the Jewish community, yeshivas have trended towards elitism by celebrating only brilliance and accomplishment, with unfortunate results for far too many of their students. The time has come to re-envision the yeshiva high school system to meet the broader chinuch needs of the general student population.
While Gemara is properly the central limmud of a yehiva curriculum, today’s students seem to be getting less and less of an education in the other vital areas of Torah, such as Chumash, Navi, Halacha, Hashkafa and Tefilah. In order to provide our talmidim with the satisfaction and confidence they need to be successful bnai Torah throughout their lives, we need to take a fresh and more committed approach to each of these subjects, while continuing the current emphasis on traditional Gemara learning.
While the current yeshiva high school system is designed for those who can excel in serious learning and yiras shamayim, it is serving many who will not reach that level of intensity. To ensure that more of those students do not become alienated, but instead gain from the atmosphere and take its inspired commitment forward into their lives, yeshivos – both high school and post-high school – should consider expanding or altering their staffs by providing additional rebbeim whose primary responsibility would be the cultivation of the personal and religious development of the talmidim.