On the Teaching of Talmud: Toward a Methodological Basis for a Curriculum in Oral-Tradition Studies

by: Pinchas Hayman

From Religious Education 92:1 (1997), pp. 61-76.

Table of Contents

Abstract

Introduction

Study of Manuscripts, Printings and Commentaries

Tannaitic Sources

Amoraic Literature

Amoraic and Post-Amoraic Material

Glossary

References

Abstract
 
The teaching of Talmud, widely recognized as the most complex and challenging element in Jewish studies curricula, has become the object of manifold attempts at didactic intervention. In this article I argue, however, that didactic attempts can have only limited success since the crux of the problem is methodology, not didactics. Talmudic methodology is reviewed and summarized, and an innovative reshaping of Talmudic curricula is proposed based on four curricular stations ranging from simple study of Mishnah to study of the full Talmudic superstructure.
 
*A glossary of terms is appended at the end of the article.
 
For the last 1300 years, the Talmud has been the centerpiece of Jewish learning. It blends the study of Bible, law, ethics, philosophy, and history in a network of interpretive traditions, legal source texts, and popular legends. This variety of content is presented in a textual apparatus which records oral traditions composed over more than a millennium by hundreds of rabbinic scholars; in tens of academies in two countries; and in a range of dialects of Hebrew and Aramaic, according to a wide range of logical criteria and methodologies. Until the modern period, Jewish children and adults grew in and through this formidable literary colossus and were thus raised and nurtured with an appreciation for intellectual toil, literary analysis, and an uncompromising search for knowledge which, until most recently, were synonymous with Jewish identity itself. Formalized pedagogics and didactics were minimal in the learning of Talmud, but their absence was compensated for by an overarching investment of time and by the sheer quantity of source material being learned.
 
Paradoxically, the opening of world society and institutions of endangered-species status among large segments of the Jewish people. Jewish parents and educators hasten to prepare their charges for an open society in which knowledge is measured by its perceived material relevance and professional financial value. How can traditional Talmudic learning survive in this utilitarian educational environment?
 
Pedagogically, the challenge is daunting. On one hand, the majority of Jews, products of several generations of assimilation, are linguistically and textually unprepared for the study of Talmud in the original and are so culturally and spiritually detached from the Talmudic environment that questions of relevance overwhelm questions of substance and didactics. These students, who are not the target of this article, must be eased into Jewish learning through carefully constructed, value-oriented presentations which stress identity over all. On the other hand, those pupils whose families and social networks still support Talmud as a pivotal element in Jewish learning and who are somewhat prepared educationally for general textual study often find themselves in logical and methodological dissonance with the Talmudic text. The natural inclination of the student to apply to Talmud those learning skills acquired in other disciplines becomes a stumbling block before the blind, since the complexity and unique nature of Talmud set it apart from all other literature or subject matter taught today.
 
In his two seminal articles on the teaching of Talmud, Y. Katz details the curricular, professional, and pedagogic complexities involved. D. Zisenwine (1989) reported on one positive attempt to reconceptualize the place of talmudics in the social studies curriculum of selected high schools in the United States. Many academics, educators, and rabbis endeavor to find ever-more creative didactic solutions to the presentation of Talmud. Especially worthy of note are Y. Eisenberg’s manifold study texts on topics in Talmud, H. Efrati’s handbooks of specific talmudic chapters (1991), Y. A. Efrati’s Talmud L’Talmid (1957-67), and the Melton Jewish values curriculum Teaching Jewish Values by M. Rosenak et al. (1986). However, the required re-evaluation of talmudic pedagogics must be more far-reaching than any of those who have dealt with the problem have suggested. Eisenberg’s texts and Efrati’s workbooks present topics and talmudic selections methodically but ignore the methodological components of talmudic study discussed herein. The Melton curriculum, though competently presenting issues in Jewish values, is in English and is designed for an audience unable to learn original texts. Thus, it also does not deal with the issues treated here. Even Y. A. Efrati’s Talmud L’Talmid, widely utilized as it has been, approaches the problem as if it were merely an issue of how much one learns rather than how one learns at all. Flowcharts, sophisticated technologies, computer simulations and hypertext applications, even more-effective teachers, cannot solve today’s crisis in Talmud study because the crisis is not fundamentally didactic-it is methodological, and didactic creativity cannot adequately compensate for fundamental methodological misconceptions. One cannot make spontaneous generation more scientific with charts or computer applications, and one cannot make a misconception of Talmud more logical with sophisticated pyrotechnics. The problem in teaching Talmud today is in the very conception of what Talmud is, how it evolved, how it operates, and how it should be studied. No less a concern is a larger intellectual and spiritual issue which lurks behind any curriculum in Talmud: Why learn Talmud at all today, and why is it a learning skill by which Jews, from a traditional perspective, insist on measuring all other learning? In this article, the methodological basis for a curriculum in Talmud will be discussed. An actual curriculum framework and theoretical and value-orientational questions arising from the curriculum will be treated elsewhere.
 
Today, no serious discipline can detach itself from the basic and applied research of higher learning. An astronomy teacher who teaches his pupils that the sun orbits the earth would hardly be licensed to teach science. Yet we continue to teach Talmud as if little has changed in centuries despite the fact that academic talmudic research over the past hundred years has demonstrated that talmudic study as is customary today is counter not only to the text history of the Talmud but also to the methodology of many early rabbinic scholars as well. (In particular, see S. Friedman, “Perek Ha’isha Raba, etc.” in H.Z. Dimitrovsky, Mekhkarim Um’sorot [1978, pages 275-321]).  Progress in talmudic instruction is further complicated by the fact that there is no organized academic field of talmudic didactics, and there are no societies or periodicals specifically designed to deal with the issue or any regular academic or professional gatherings devoted to the problem. Let us first survey the findings of academic talmudic research in order to clarify their relevance to the study and teaching of Talmud.
 
Modern talmudic research has focused, inter alia, on the following areas:

  1. study of manuscripts, printings and commentaries of the Talmud; texts in the Tosefta, beraitot and midreshei halakhah;
  2. clarification of the sources and layers of the Mishnah, and of the relationship between the Mishnah and parallel tannaitic texts in the Toseftaberaitotand midreshei halakhah;
  3. identification of the organization and extent of amoraic literature, and sorting of amoraic remarks by their lands, schools, and generations of origin; and
  4. identification and separation of the post-amoraic literature, and clarification of the impact of saboraic and gaonic process on the amoraic material.

What is the impact of each of these areas on the teaching of the Talmud?


1. Study of Manuscripts, Printings and Commentaries
1.1  The standard printed Talmud text utilized today is ultimately based on the first printing of the full Babylonian Talmud by Daniel Bomberg, a Venetian Christian of the early sixteenth century. This first printing was apparently based on eclectic use of the various manuscripts available at the time and has a very considerable number of corrupted readings which can be improved in light of manuscript variants, including orthography, word, sentence, or even paragraph variants. Clearly, accuracy of the text is a sine qua non for accurate study of the material itself. However, the chief benefit of manuscript awareness is” the realization that the textual fluidity is due to the fact that Talmud was not meant to be a written text at all, but an “oral tradition” transcribed, thus demanding modes of analysis specific to oral traditions.
1.2 The presence of the commentator Rashi (France,1040-1105) and tosafot on the talmudic page, with all due reverence for their special quality and status, is a result of the European origins of the printing of the Talmud and not of any inherent scholarly superiority over other schools. It is convincingly argued, for instance, that the methodological assumptions of Rashi’s school regarding the unitary composition and redaction of the Talmud by Rabina (Babylonia, c. 400-475) and Rav Ashi (Babylonia, c.335-427) were hardly universal. From the 1geret D’Rabeinu Shrira Gaon  (see B.M. Levine, 1972) it is evident that the text of the Talmud continued to accumulate long after Rav Ashi, in whose academy only hora’ah, or universal halakhic authority, comes to a close. Or, as argued by M.S. Feldblum (1968) and others, Maimondes (Spain and Egypt, 1135-1204) did not view post-amoraic material as binding, and he often bypasses conclusions of the anonymous narrative frame of the Talmud to decide in accordance with the named amoraic sources. It can be suggested that he is operating with a methodology very distinct from that of Rashi and his school. This variety of methodologies should enable us to consider options in our approach to the text as well. However, since Rashi and tosafot operate in accordance with a given methodology, the average student using the standard printing is predisposed to that approach and practically precluded from a view of the methodological options. As we shall see, this predisposition to Rashi’s approach has implications for the value-orientation of the student as well.
In light of the above, the standard (i.e., Vilna) printed text of the Talmud, though the basis of traditional Talmud learning in the modern period, cannot be accepted as the sole basis of our learning or teaching today. Even the generally correctly pointed and punctuated Steinsaltz edition, while explaining the Talmud in relatively elementary Hebrew, does virtually nothing to alleviate the logical and structural problems of the text as outlined below. The first step to more responsible talmudic didactics is the realization that alternative textual presentations of the Talmud may provide worthwhile options.

2.Tannaitic Sources
Western literary tradition is primarily a written tradition, and quality written texts are expected to be orderly, sequential, lacking in redundancy, and generally of unitary authorship and style unless otherwise stated. Students trained in western textual traditions, when presented with Mishnah, encounter what appears to them to be an anachronistic and disorderly text because the Mishnah, as an eastern, oral literary tradition, conforms to spoken, not written, conventions. What are the characteristics of the Mishnah as an “oral text”?

2.1  The Mishnah is a composite text. Not only is there a variety of literary styles, but the material is collected according to varying criteria. Although usually organized by topic, the Mishnah contains many selections which are organized by formal mnemonic considerations. An excellent example of this phenomenon is chapter one of tractate Kiddushin of the Mishnah (numbers indicate paragraphs in the text, and translation is mine):

  1. A woman is acquired in three ways and acquires herself in two ways, etc.
  2. A Hebrew servant is acquired by money or document, etc.
  3. A Canaanite servant is acquired by money or document, etc.
  4. Large cattle are acquired by physical transmissions, etc.
  5. Secured property is acquired by money etc.
  6. Any item acquired by money, etc.
  7. Any commandment of the parent toward the child is incumbent on males, etc.
  8. Laying of hands on sacrifices, weaving, etc. …is incumbent on males etc.
  9. Any commandment connected to the Land of Israel is only observed in Israel.
  10. Anyone who observes one commandment, etc.

Of the ten mishnayot in the chapter, only the first deals with the topic of the tractate. The first six mishnayot are a code of transactional regulations for various types of acquisitions. The sixth mishnah of this code begins with the word “any,” thus commencing another series of mishnayot that are connected only by this characteristic (the eighth mishnah being a subset of the seventh). The two series are connected by the sixth mishnah, which belongs simultaneously to both. A western reader who attempts to apply his normative literary analysis to the text will encounter difficulty ill explaining this structure. Talmudic scholars, aware of the Mishnah’s oral nature, attribute this phenomenon to the fact that the editor(s)compiled the text from codices of various tannaitic schools, each redacted according to its own style and format which, in turn, may have been based on disparate pedagogical methods. The Mishnah, compiled from these earlier codices, is less a halakhic code than it is a reader, or anthology, of tannaitic teachings, in which literary context may be as telling as content. The student must learn how to recognize the source texts of the Mishnah, organizing his learning in consonance with them, while noting the context of their combination into the “supertext” of the final Mishnah.
2.2  The Mishnah is a layered text. It often juxtaposes an anonymous tanna kama, or first ruling, with those tannaim mentioned by name who argue with, interpret, or supplement the first speaker. Often it is possible to discern a number of historical periods in a mishnah structure simply by identification of the scholars mentioned by name. Sometimes the material in one layer is dependent on the material in another. Typically the various layers represent the period(s) before the destruction of the Temple, two Yavneh generations, the Usha generation, and that of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi (Galilee, died c. 220), respectively. These layers can be seen in the following example from the Mishnah, tractate Rosh Hashana 4:1 (line division, punctuation, and translation is mine):
 
– When the holy day of Rosh Hashanah fell on the Shabbat, they would sound the Shofar in the temple but not in the rest of the country
– When the Temple was destroyed Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai decreed that they should sound the Shofar wherever there is a court
– R. Elazar said Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai only decreed so in Yavneh. They said to him: [the decree is relevant] in Yavneh and in any other site of the court.
In this source, the three segments are of different periods and presented in chronological sequence, and each deals with a halakhic problem stemming from the previous period, namely: What is the halakhah after the destruction of Jerusalem, and what is the halakhah after the destruction of Yavneh? In this mishnah, it would appear that the anonymous layer is earlier than the named layers, although the later editing glosses (“would,” “should” etc.) have adapted it to the final literary context.
In other sources, other layering combinations are displayed, in which the anonymous layer is later than the named layer (for instance, see tractate Yebamot 15:1-2).
What is the significance of historical layers? Why is some material taught anonymously and some by name? What motivated the inclusion of later layers? This layered accumulation of material teaches us about the gradual development of tannaitic halakhah, as generation after generation seeks to apply the teachings of its masters as best it can. Awareness of these layers and their significance helps the student uncover the dynamic logic of the tannaim as they apply a system of priorized values to new circumstances.
 
2.3 As neglected as the composite or layered nature of the Mishnah text is its relationship to parallel tannaitic materials in the Tosefta, beraitot, and midreshei halakhah. Topics, discussions, and specific tannaitic remarks found in the Mishnah also appear in different form in a number of other extant tannaitic materials, and these “parallel” sources may shed light on the original and complete meaning of the Mishnah itself. In addition, several parallel tannaitic texts may each present material and/or opinions entirely unrepresented in the others, such that the combination of texts presents a more complete picture of a given topic than would be apparent in anyone source. Another phenomenon of parallel tannaitic texts is the dichotomy between the variant literary styles of halakhot and midrash. In the former, law (whether in statutory or case law format) is generally presented in a topical arrangement, independent of any reference to sources in the written tradition of the Torah. In the latter, the tannaitic remarks are in reference to the verses as the source, or support, of legislation, and are thus presented as linear commentaries on the written tradition. Within the midrashic literature itself, the approaches of Rabbis Akiva and Ishmael (Yavneh, c.135) demand separate treatment: the exclusive logic of Rabbi Ishmael and the inclusive logic of Rabbi Akiva led to variant halakhic methodologies and conclusions. Comparison of their two approaches with the Mishnah clarifies according to which school our Mishnah has been composed in.
 
It stands to reason that understanding of the Mishnah would be deepened considerably by regular comparison to the relevant parallel selections of the Tosefta, beraitot, and midreshei halakha. Nevertheless, not only do students of the Mishnah today lack a textbook that systematically brings all parallel materials together synoptically, but they are seldom taught to consider parallel materials at all. It is evident from amoraic literature, for instance, that study of these parallel sources was fundamental to their method. Mishnayot are regularly analyzed through comparison to beraitot to such an extent that the Talmud may ask why a given beraita is not quoted, and it will respond that the amora in question did not know it! Study of the parallel tannaitic materials by students will not only provide them with familiarity with the raw materials of the amoraic discussions, it will provide critical preparation for understanding of the logical process and text-comparative methodology of the amoraim.
 
2.4 Lastly, but of no mean significance, is the proper understanding of the relationship between the written and oral traditions in halakhic and aggadic contexts. With regard to halakhic tannaitic material, careful separation of the simple meaning of the verse from the legislation of the oral tradition based on the verse trains the pupil to define the exact boundary between text and interpretation. In addition, it is important to define which oral-tradition segments are deemed Sinaitic and which are the products of the homiletic and/or legislative method utilized by the tannaim and amoraim. This distinction was critical to Maimonides, for instance, who codified it as the second introductory principle to his Sefer HaMitzvot. Aggadic material, on the other hand, presupposes a strict distinction between p’shat, (simple meaning), and drash (homiletic meaning), each operating according to its own criteria and for its own purpose. As explained by Maimonides in his introduction to the last chapter of tractate Sanhedrin, mixing of the two genres creates confusion which can undermine the veracity of the written tradition itself.
 
Sadly, the composite codes, layers, parallel sources, and verse references of the Mishnah are rarely presented today. Pedagogically, asking a student to proceed from such a cursory study of Mishnah directly into the talmudic text is similar to asking a student who barely adds and subtracts to proceed directly to calculus. When this methodologically primitive situation is combined with the sociological factors mitigating against Talmud study, it is no wonder that students commence Talmud study with disorientation, boredom, and general helplessness, requiring ongoing spoon-feeding by their teachers in the form of marathon frontal lectures. M. Bar Lev has found in Israeli yeshiva (talmudic) high schools, in which Talmud alone is studied for twenty-five weekly hours for six years (!), that well over half of these students are unable to learn Talmud on their own after graduation.
 
When learned in light of its composite codices, layers, parallel tannaitic and original verse references, Mishnah texts can become multidimensional experiences, as time period, people, and circumstances become relevant elements in their development and transmission. Students trained in this manner are challenged to see mishnaic texts as dynamic, logical expressions of value-applications under the changing circumstances of life, thus engendering virtually automatic relevance to the texts. Learning Mishnah becomes an intellectually enabling, not disabling, experience. Didactically, learning may then be extrapolated to the immediate life situations of the students.

3. Amoraic Literature
 
3.1 Amoraic Literature Babylonian Talmud is replete with the names and apodictic remarks of hundreds of amoraim. These scholars represent seven generations of well over a dozen major academies in Israel and Babylonia in the years 220-475 CE. In each academy, the teaching of Torah developed in much the same layered way as the Mishnah. Sugyot, units of analysis and discussion, developed ill each academy by the stringing together of the remarks of teachers in their chronological sequence. These local sugyot are textual units unto themselves, operating according to the style and method of the academies which produced them. Significantly, amoraic remarks are regularly presented in Hebrew like the tannaitic sources, despite the Aramaic-language environment of the academies which produced them. From a literary point of view, then, amoraic material bears a number of similarities to Mishnah.
A survey of the Babylonian Talmud demonstrates how carefully these multigenerational units were preserved. The generational sequence of a sugya from Sura or Pumbedita is virtually always preserved, even when it has been integrated as a whole into a larger sugya context. The Talmud as it appears today is substantially a composite of these multigenerational sequences set in a wide-ranging, anonymous, and Aramaic narrative frame.
Proper study of amoraic teachings is predicated on their initial isolation from the anonymous narrative frame and on proper sorting of the teachings into their original contexts before attempting to relate to them as a superstructural whole. Amoraic remarks in any given sugya are sorted-first by country of origin, then by academy of origin, then by generation. After understanding each academy’s unit, its topic, and its content, the various units can be compared, contrasted, and integrated by the student independently. Often, when studying the talmudic sugya, one can discern the history of the Talmud’s own integrative process: A sugya may begin in Nehardea or Sura in the first amoraic generation, then be treated in Pumbedita in the second and third generations, only to find its way through Mehoza in the fourth generation back to the academy of Rav Ashi in Mata Mehasia by the sixth generation. In our printed texts, these many units appear as one, integrated by the anonymous narration.
The complexity of amoraic sources poses serious educational questions. Suffice it to say that a student, initially confused by premature passage from Mishnah to Talmud, may well be entirely confounded by the talmudic sugya if he is unprepared to recognize and treat its various amoraic building blocks in this manner. However, sensitivity to the units of the various amoraic academies as separate pieces enables coherent reading of the sugya by displaying the separate source materials from which the editor(s) of the sugya created the final text we see today. What’s more, proper study of the layered nature of the amoraic sugya reveals the ongoing, dynamic halakhic development we witnessed in study of the Mishnah.
3.2  As discussed above regarding the value of the study of parallel tannaitic texts, so may be said with reference to parallel amoraic texts. When comparing the “amoraic inventory” of the Babylonian and Israeli Talmudim, it becomes apparent that both contain remarks from Babylonian and Israeli amoraim. It is clear that each talmudic corpus presents the amoraic material developed in its own country. However, it is astonishing just how much Israeli amoraic material is found in the Babylonian Talmud without parallel in the Talmud of the land of Israel, while Babylonian amoraic material is found in the Talmud of the west without parallel in the Babylonian. Thus, the two Talmudim are parallel but independent sources, complementing while not completing each other. Comparative study of the amoraic material in the two Talmudim is of obvious curricular value.
What’s more, the two Talmudim, even when taken together, still present only a partial record of amoraic teaching. Dozens of amoraic opinions are referred to in the text, though never actually presented. Since even the study of all extant amoraic remarks in the two Talmudim is, perforce, an incomplete survey of the relevant material, how impoverished is the study of Talmud which even neglects elements which are extant!

4. Amoraic and Post-Amoraic Material
4.1  As described above, the Talmud is characterized by a wide-ranging, anonymous narrative framework which presents, interprets, analyzes, and compares the amoraic units of the Talmud. This narrative frame is variously referred to by scholars through the ages as stama (“anonymous”), stama d’sugyatalmuda, or stama d’talmuda, and possibly more than any other component, it is responsible for the unique logical quality most students identify with the Talmud as a whole.
Traditional rabbinic scholars related extensively to the origin of this anonymous frame (see S. Friedman 1977, above). Modern researchers are in disagreement whether all the stama is of post-amoraic origin (saboraic or gaonic), as argued by Halivni (1969), Atlas (1943), and others, or only generally so, as argued by Albeck (1969), Weiss (1954), Feldblum (1969), and others. Postmodern trends in textual analysis raise other issues. A. Cohen (1995) contends that separation of historical layers is of little significance” when viewing the Talmud from a totally literary perspective. D. Hartman, in his A Living Covenant (1985), takes a similar, though philosophically thematic track, openly disclaiming any historical textual approach. It is this author’s contention, however, that any study, be it literary, philosophical, or otherwise, is of limited import if it has not taken into account the implications of a methodologically sound historical analysis. However, academic arguments aside, it is evident that since a very substantial percentage of the Talmud is stama, there is great didactic importance to the special treatment of stama as distinct from amoraic material.

Since the Talmud is usually taught as a single literary whole, few students recognize that the stama has a nature and method very distinct from, and very often in dissonance with, the amoraic material it is treating. Amoraic material is usually in Hebrew and carries the name of its author, while stama is usually in Aramaic and is, of course, anonymous. Amoraic material is terse and usually interested in direct halakhic decision making, while stama is expansive, analytical, and given to extension of halakhic decisions or principles beyond the boundaries of their original context. Amoraic material is usually deducing halakhah from a given tannaitic or earlier amoraicn source, while stama is often inducing a given halakhic norm or concept back into the sources. In addition, stama material often works in set argumentational patterns as logical exercises in legal thinking. When seen in the context of a mixed amoraic-stama sugya, and assumed to be intended literally and halakhically, these patterns seem a contextual, forced, artificial, almost incredible. However, when isolated and taught for what they are-speculative logical exercises, these patterns become intelligible, even stimulating in their own right.

4.2  Stama material in the sugya can serve either as a narrative frame for amoraic sugyot or as totally independent stama sugyot. Amoraic sugyot, as described above, are always based on amoraic units, either in the form of a single academy sequence or in the composite of several sequences connected one to the other. In any event, an amoraic sugya presents amoraic remarks in generational, chronological sequence, while the stama material contained within it operates within this amoraic sugya structure. In an amoraic sugya, the stama does one or more of three defined tasks: First, it can introduce elements of the sugya by clarifying the interpretive or conceptual problem in the source(s) on which the sugya is based. Second, it can explain amoraic remarks. Third, in its most expansive function, the stama can expand upon, analyze, or even critique the assumptions, elements, or halakhic thrust of the amoraic sugya. However, in stama sugyot-that is, in sugyot whose composition is dated to the post-amoraic period, the amoraic remarks are not in academy groupings or generational sequences because they are operating within a stama structure which utilizes them as needed in the course of its analysis. Thus, amoraic and stama sugyot have very different characters and methodologies and therefore demand different treatment by the student and teacher.
Because tannaitic and amoraic material share language and identifiable layered structures, and because they both concentrate on direct, actual legislation, the transition from tannaitic to amoraic material is relatively smooth for the learner. However, amoraic and stama systems, because they are so disparate in form and method, create a combined text which is significantly more complex than either of the tannaitic or amoraic systems alone or the two earlier systems together. Various approaches to talmudic didactics, because they are either unaware of or purposefully silent about these complexities, are generally helpless in bridging the gap between the amoraic and stama components of the talmudic system. Talmudic discourse often appears illogical to students because amoraic and stama materials are, in effect, working at cross purposes, and the student is caught in the “seam” between the two. Even more troubling is that by a teacher’s attempt to make this complex and composite text appear unitary in authorship and method, the student is dulled to his own sense of what is logical and what is not and further encouraged to jettison his mind in favor of his master’s.
Awareness of the four categories of modern talmudic research outlined above, when taken together, raises fundamental doubts about the way Talmud is taught today. At each of the critical curricular stations-Mishnah learning, parallel tannaitic sources, amoraic sources, and the talmudic superstructural sugya, students are not taught the methodological skills necessary for meaningful interaction with the text. Didactic techniques such as better charts and/or computer aids cannot compensate on their own. First, the fundamental methodologies must be corrected, and only afterwards can creative didactics make their valuable contribution.
In summary, that the methodological goals of my approach are threefold:

  1. 1. to train the pupil to study the texts in a manner consistent with their actual text history;
  2. 2. to train the pupil to trace and understand the creative process of halakhah as portrayed in the texts;
  3. 3. to encourage and train the pupil to independent study and creative thought as a part and parcel of his interaction with the texts.

Implementation of the proposed approach should be done by means of teacher retraining toward methodologically sound study and by a new, fully graded and detailed curriculum for the teaching of oral tradition, accompanied by learning materials for the third through twelfth grades in Israel and around the world. Such a curriculum and such materials are now under development by this author and will be the subject of our next study.
The theoretical and value-orientational considerations of the methodology discussed herein will also be treated thoroughly elsewhere. At this point, suffice it to say that the present and proposed methods of instruction have very disparate implications with reference to the child’s development of Jewish identity and Jewish values in general and the child’s understanding of halakhah in specific. The customary method of teaching Talmud represents the Mishnah and Talmud as western literary units composed and sealed by specific individuals at specific times, while the pedagogical approach to Talmud proposed here clears the way to appreciation of the development of Jewish legal thought and thus enables the student to be an active participant in the process. The Talmud shiur (“lesson”) becomes not only an intellectual challenge but a practical training ground for Jewish life skills and thought.
Pinchas Hayman is a lecturer in Talmudics and Education at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

A Glossary of Terms Used in the Article

 

Term                                         Definition

amoraim (amoraic)        Scholars of the Babylonian talmudic academies 220-475  CE.
beraita, beraitot            Tannaitic sources not included in the Mishnah, quoted in talmudic discussions.
gaonim (gaonic)            Heads of the Babylonian academies 640-1000 CE.
Kiddushin                    Talmud tractate dealing with holiness code.
midrash                        rabbinic biblical exegesis.
midreshei halakhah        Talmudic commentaries on the books of Exodus-Deuteronomy, which center on the halakhic implications of the verses.
Mishnah                       Collections of tannaitic sources edited by RabbiYehudah Hanasi (died c. 220 CE), which became the basis of talmudic discussions and form the authoritative code of Jewish law.
mishnayot                     Individual paragraphs of the Mishnah.
 
saboraim (saboraic)      Scholars of the Babylonian talmudic academies 475-640 CE.
tanna kama                   Lit. “first teacher,” referring to the anonymous opinion brought first in mishnayot.
tannaim (tannaitic)         Scholars of the rabbinic academies in Israel during the period of the Mishnah, c. 0-220 CE.
tosafot                          Talmudic commentaries of Rashi’s pupils and other Franco-German scholars.
Tosefta                         Collection of tannaitic sources compiled by Rabbis Hiyya and Hoshaya (c. 230 CE, Israel) as a supplement to the Mishnah.
Usha (generation)         First seat of the Sanhedrin in the Galilee after the destruction of Judea, 135 CE. The Usha generation is the first generation of scholars in this location.
Yavneh (generation)      Seat of the Sanhedrin 70-135 CE. The Yavneh generation is the first generation of rabbis after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in
70 CE.
Yebamot                      Talmud tractate dealing with family law.
 
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