Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Pluralism in Lakewood

Continuing on this week's topic of Lakewood Blogging, I would like to bring up the topic of Pluralism in the Lakewood Yeshiva.
(Agav Urcha, are their any bloggers in Lakewood proper? There are Chassidic Bloggers, both in Israel and the United States, but where are the frum, Litvish Bloggers? OK. Besides the obvious answer that they would not be waste time blogging.)

As most people who have spent time in Yeshiva would tell you, in every Yeshiva, sometime before the Zman (learning semester) begins the Yeshiva (or some combination of the administration/hanhala) picks a Masechta (tractate), which will be learned for that Zman. There is, as a rule, one Masechta and various politics determine what that Masechta is.

As a rule of all Yeshivot/s, everyone has to learn what the Yeshiva is learning. Even in a place like YU/RIETS, one cannot just choose to learn what they want. They have to be part of the Yeshiva and learn the official masechta. (Agav, I have friends who were almost thrown out of Yeshiva University's Mazer Yeshiva Program because they tried not going to Shiur; ah "The Shuffle"....)

However, whenever I speak to friends or family who are learning in Lakewood, I ask them what they are learning and every one says something different. This one is learning Eruvin, another is learning Hilchos Shabbos, a third is learning Temurah.
Although there is an official "Yeshiva Masechta" and supposedly 2/3 of the Yeshiva is learning that Masechta, anyone who wants to can join a group (chaburah) which is studying whatever he wants to study.

The official Yeshiva Masechta (tractate) is usually something Yeshivish (Now why is one masechta considered Yeshivish and another is not is a whole other story, which I may or may not get to blogging about, but an interest case of cannons and cannonization) and people who have been learning seriously for ten years (as many people who learn in Lakewood have) have probably studied the standard Yeshivish masechtahs and are ready to learn something else. Therefore, they will study whatever they want. And since Bais Medrash Gevoha has thousands of students, one can find a Chaburah studying whatever topic or Masechta they want.

Now what are the implications of this? Imagine, if you will, a University where people can choose whatever they would like to study every semester. Now in most colleges, people can choose a course of study, but are limited to what courses are being offered any given semester and what courses one needs to finish their degree. (I am aware of the differences between the two : 1) Everyone is either studying Gemara or halakha; no one is spending morning seder studying Machshava or Tanach 2) Choosing between different masechtahs is much more narrow than choosing between different college courses, but I still believe that the parallel holds.) One of the miraculous feats that this requires is having Gabbaim to arrange seating for every Chaburah (study group) near each other within the various Batei Medrashim (study halls) and the Gabbai Seforim (librarians) arranging the necessary books to be near those Chaburot before every Zman (semester).

But an implication that I have recently begun to wonder about is the implicit freedom and choice that such a system entails. How does it effect their Judaism if they can choose what they would like to learn with whom when?

In my experience, however, this system does not foster any creativity. Presumably because by the time Bachurim (single students) get to Lakewood, any creative impulses in learning have been suppressed. And this is not a culture of creative approaches to learning. (Hmm maybe I should Blog about the road to lakewood and the freezer....)

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