By: Ya’akov Shallman
Every so often a wonderful article is written lamenting the challenges in our educational system. I recently chatted with a friend of mine who confirmed that not much has changed since my time spent in yeshiva nearly 25 years ago. Many boys today like so many years ago feel they are just passing the time and serving there yeshiva “sentence”. Our schools still struggle with acknowledging and solving what is missing for our boys’ education. Yeshivas tow a hard line of focusing on Jewish studies almost exclusively and frown upon thinking about work and commonly look down on subjects that don’t appear to be in the top 1% of talmudic and torah achievement – Chumash? Dikduk? Jewish history? They don’t have a warm and prominent place in many yeshivas.
As a parent with 5 boys and the prospect of high school / yeshiva around the corner, I think about this subject often and want to find the “best” ways of ensuring my boys can get a great chassidic, torah education
The Rebbe is emphatic that school is not primarily to gain knowledge or the “VOS” (its not just about acquiring information) the main objective of Jewish education is to imbue our kids with the “FAR VOS”, the why; the meaning and value of it all.
As parents, my wife and I strive to provide a set of values, meaning, and beliefs as the core identity for our kids. This is an ongoing process that certainly doesn’t stop at bar mitzva or at the doorstep of the yeshiva dorm when I drop off my kid, his luggage and an enormous check for tuition.
It’s hard to know what you want your kids to become by the age of 20 without outlining, well, what you want. Here are my top objectives and goals for my kids in yeshiva:
- A love forG-d, Yiddishkeit, Chassidus and the Rebbe.
- A sound base ofHebrew learning skills and knowledge so my kids can have learning as part of their lives until 120.
- Emotional confidence and comfort in problem solving.
- Preferably, a sound base of reading, writing, and mathematical skills to enable them to explore non shlichus opportunities after their years in yeshiva.
I find myself left wanting by many articles written by parents, teachers and rabbis alike – they often just don’t offer solutions for how we can try to improve our yeshivas. There tends to be a lot of “throwing up our hands” and little in the way of practical, concrete solutions.
In an effort to be part of the solution and move the needle even just an inch – here are 99 ideas to help improve our yeshiva education. My hope is that even one good idea can emerge and this can motivate others to turn this list into a 1,000 new ideas.
Short classes lasting between 2-6 weeks long to cover crucial topics and enable kids to have variety in their learning – kids will feel productive and will gain mastery of the information. We make too many assumptions about what our kids know and don’t know and what they appreciate. Let’s make sure they have a stronger base of knowledge and appreciation.
- Who are rishoinim and achronim (pnei yeshuah, shitah mikubetzes, shaagas Aryeh, etc) – history and goal of the seforim, major contributions.
- Cholov yisroel – all sources.
- Wearing hat/jacket/gartel – all sources.
- Beard – all sources.
- Mikva – all sources.
- Eiruv – all sources.
- Sleeping in a sukah – all sources.
- Emunah / Bitochon.
- Tumah /Tahara intro and overview (with source material or just as a general overview of information).
- Intro to different styles of learning Gemara – e.gBrisk,Rogachover etc.
- Amira l’akum
- Understanding the din of baal tosef and all about dinim d’rabonon, siyagim, minhagim etc.
- Teshuva- overview al PI chassidus.
- Simcha – overview al pi chassidus.
- Cooking on shabbos.
- 2 month intro to yiddish.
- Chassidus, Mussar & Kabbalah.
- 12 Pesukim b’iyun.
- Contemporary topics al pi torah: vegetarianism, drugs/ alcohol, war, morality, ethics and Halacha etc.
- Aseres hadibros.
- Sheva Mitzvos Bnei Noach.
Here are a list of classes that can be elective, seasonal or short classes providing basic knowledge and background around commonly obscure or unstudied topics.
- Hilchos bais habechira.
- Sta”m / Safrus.
- Shechita- animals.
- YouTube shiurim/ virtual library from other sources.
- Kidush hachodesh.
Empower our boys to ramp up their exposure, knowledge, confidence and sense of achievement by learning subjects that they can complete – enabling more students to expand to larger mesechtos from strength. Learning gemara is not sequential and these classes can be applied to any school, class, or student where it makes sense and will be most beneficial.
- Smaller Masechtos- Megillah, Nazir, Sukka, Chaggigah, Sotah.
- Teach how to develop a pilpul – Encourage bochurim to take on research projects.
- Teach around a subject instead of a mesechta.
- Start with the Halacha and work backwards to the gemaras.
- Skype other roshei yeshiva’s lectures.
- Master a chapter of gemara – with rashi and toisfos.
- Master laws of carrying on Shabbos- – with all gemaras / sugyos.
- Master cooking on Shabbos with all Gemaras / sugyos.
- Master melacha on yom tov- with all Gemaras / Sugyos.
- Use iPads for Talmud classes from other teachers around the world.
- Kitzur Shulchan Aruch- Built into the curriculum that is it completed in its entirety before Shiur Gimmel Zal.
- For both Mesivta & Zal, Likkutei Sichos B’Iyun, with all the Mareh Mekomos, in an interactive shiur /lecture setting – not merely one person reading and translating, or merely following along with the original recording (there’s a value there as well, but that is not what this is).
- For Mesivta: Chelek Aleph through Daled B’Iyun – 1 hour built into the daily curriculum. This will establish fundamentals in Chasidus and fundamentals in the Rebbe’s Torah, specifically Likkutei Sichos.
- For Zal: Intelligently designed curriculum, surveying a broad range of topics and learning methodologies so the bochurim can a) master the material and b) internalize the Rebbe’s nuanced, classical and revolutionary approach to Torah.
- Mastery of first 12 perakim of tanya – with Shais Taub Map and including insights from Jacobson, Paltiel and Freidman.
- Skype class with other mashpim.
- Tzimtzum – Alter Rebbe vs. Gra.
- Discuss likkutei diburim/ read on your own.
- Public speaking class on delivering a sicha.
- Write an essay on a sicha or maamor- 5-10 essays / year.
- Shaar yichud v’emuna with Yoel Kahan insights and curriculum.
- Manis Friedman lectures / quizzes / curriculum.
- Majeski history tapes/ curriculum / quizzes.
- Iggros on topics/ subjects in class.
- Yossi Jacobson Tanya shiurim.
- Yossi Paltiel Tanya Shiurim.
- Bechira Chofshis – different opinions and Chabad position.
- Hashgacha Protis acc. to the Besh”t.
- Ahavas Hashem
- Yiras Hashem
- Chassid/ Rebbe relationship with insights from Immanuel Schochet and Manis Friedman.
- Videos of rebbe’s farbrengen.
- Rotate other mashpiim to farbreng.
- Rotate shluchim to farbreng.
- Have each kid farbreng for 15-30 min on something on the parsha.
- Create communal farbrengens for yomad’pagrah.
- Create list of 2 week to 30 day hachlatos – group and individual- track and keep lists for each student to view achievements.
Improved General Curriculum:
- JLI courses.
- Jewish history -BaisHamikdosh era, Halachic history and chassidic history in an organized fashion, covering specific periods and characters. Students are often left with massive gaps (or more honestly lack of any historical knowledge). Such study will “complete the picture,” by solidifying Torah study and yiddishkeit. As one example, imagine having historical background to the all the Rishonim and Acharonim, and feeling the context of their work. In addition, these courses will certainly encourage further Torah study, research and generate great interest by broadening the student’s Jewish understanding.
- Master 613 mitzvos.
- Rambam- one chapter.
- 11 month school years broken up every 90 days for 1-3 week breaks. Makes learning easier, more consistent and productive.
- Lashon Hakodesh classes. The students’ needs strong lifetime Torah skills…this will happen with lots of learning, practice, and being taught the actual language…professionally, and well.
- Classes on how to learn Meforshim – merely being able to read and understand basic Hebrew does not suffice.
- My Prayer / read discuss.
- Learn Ohr Hatifilah in class.
- Discuss hisboninos.
- Laibel Wolf/ Ginzburg – meditation.
- Pirush hamilos.
- History of the siddur and customs.
- Customs and letters on saying tehillim –Kuntres Ma’alos amiras tehilim.
Parents don’t raise kids in a bubble and we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. So many parents have something to contribute with ideas, creativity, insight, inspiration, teaching, knowledge and support. We are a large extended community with so much talent and ability if we just communicate more.
- Message boards for fathers and for mothers per class or school or age to discuss how to handle challenges that arise, share good ideas for both educating and parenting.
- Foster better accountability and communication between teachers and parents with WhatsApp groups or blog.
- Parent exchange across the globe to share ideas and find volunteers to help within each yeshiva.
- National conference for parents.
- Tutor board – Skype and in person.
Courses on Jewish Academics:
- How to understand the foundational talmudic logic rules and framework on how the gemara thinks and doesn’t think.
- Early on (5thand 6thgrade) a basic flow chart should be introduced. In Mesivta and Zal several courses of the specifics of each generation, and how specifically their work is pertinent to each other and to today.
- There should be a basic intro helping familiarize every student with what every sefer is. Hebrewbooks.org should be your best friend when leaving Zal. All these Sefarim shouldn’t be random.
- Using Sha’alos-U’Teshuvos would be a strong tool for the rules of Jewish academics, the breakdown of thoughts, the implication and power struggle between the opinions.
- Class on the 13 Midos Hatorah to understand the rules and hierarchy of talmudic rules.
- Pirkei Avos B’Iyun(starting in Mesivta).
- Chumash B’Iyun, with meforshim (irrelevant to Chitas). To establish true mastery and appreciation for the topics that are given so little attention, yet meant to be readily understood. Kol Menachem Gutnick Chumash by Chaim Miller would be perfect for Mesivta.
- Nevi’im and Kesuvim B’Iyun.
- Halacha B’Iyun – well before the “Smicha Year.”
- Mesivtas and Zals can be more creative with Torah study that is NOT strictly in a sefer.
Consider teaching a subject in chasidus, halacha, gemara, history…anything. But it doesn’t have to be from one book. Create one class as a conversation, debate or something to think about critically or meaningfully. Chasidus is so rich with incredible details (both academic and practical) but when taught as a series of facts, the student can get lost. MAKE room for conversation. Talk about why, how, maybe etc.
- Mandatory reading:
Starting in Mesivta the following books should be mandatory for every student to read. This will help for: academic advancement, broadening of the mind, generating openness to greater issues with-in Judaism and with historical knowledge. Each book serves a unique purpose, and ought to specifically be read during these formative years.
In alphabetical order:
- All for the Boss by Ruchoma Shain
- Biblical Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
- Abraham J. Twerski (students pick a volume that speaks to them).
- Jewish Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
- Judaism in a Nutshell: Israel by Shimon Apisdorf
- Mashiach by Rabbi Dr. J Immanuel Schochet
- My Prayer by Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mindel
- Mystical Concepts in Chassidism by Rabbi Dr. J Immanuel Schochet
- Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism by Dennis Prager and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
- Rabbi SchneurZalman of Liadi by Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mindel
- Rebbe by Joseph Telushkin
- The Silver Era by Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkof
- The Committed Life by Esther Jungreis
- The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Jewish History and Culture by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
- The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Judaism by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
- The Essential Talmud by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
- The Great Maggid by Rabbi Dr. J Immanuel Schochet
- The Lonely Man of Faith by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
- The Philosophy of Chabad by Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mindel
- The Sanctity of the Synagogue by Baruch Litvin
- Think Jewish- Zalman Posner
- To Be a Jew by HayimDonin
- Tools for Tosafos by Haim Perlmutter
- Toward a Meaningful Life by Rabbi Simon Jacobson
- Turning Judaism Outwards by Rabbi Chaim Miller
- Who is a Jew? by Rabbi Dr. J Immanuel Schochet
- Why The Jews? The Reason for Anti-Semitism by Dennis Prager and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We don’t need to reinvent the yeshiva system – we just need to try doing things a little differently and implement improvements. If we will visualize the concrete outcomes that are most important for our children – – to be a CHaYaL – we can easily work backwards to try new methods to achieve this end.
If you would like to be part of the discussion for improving the education of your son – send your email address to join the group at firstname.lastname@example.org