Friday, April 16, 2004

Lumdos & The Real World

It has become a habit as of late for Brisker Lumdus to be the whipping boy of every disgruntled Orthodox pseudo-intellectual. Now, though personally ambivalent about Brisk and Brisker lomdus (and with enough material to spend several weeks just blogging about Brisk) but I do feel that the criticism is often excessive and unfair.

With that preamble, I would like to spend a moment speaking about an aspect of the learning style of Yeshivos, and in particular Brisker Lumdus, that is often missed.

Lomdus, when done well, encourages its practitioners to think abstractly in their learning and come to the proper understanding of the Halakhic concept and its relationship with other Halakhic categories.

Rabbi Soloveitchik, the Rav, famously in Halakhic Man argued for the parallel between abstract Halakhic categories and Platonic ideal forms.

Now, I have to objections to people who choose to learn this way and have thought through all of the alternatives and have chosen that this is the best way to learn.

However, many students are being taught Lumdus when they know of no other types of learning and are encouraged to privilege the abstract over the practical.

Now most of life for most people does not consist of learning in a Bais ha-Medrash. It consists of (in no particular order) relationships, school, work, family, spouses, children, politics, leisure, and hundreds of small items with which we fill our days.

Now, what does this have to do with Brisker Lomdus?

Which is exactly my point. If one is going to spend somewhere between two and ten years seriously learning either full time or for a significant portion of one’s day shouldn’t that learning have a relationship to the rest of one’s life? I do not mean, that people should be learning Halakha, what they should do practically. Rather they should learn tools for integrating learning into their lives, into their experiences. When one experiences something monumental, like purchasing a house for the first time or making or losing a friend, one should be able to integrate it into the learning that one has been doing (and I don’t just mean saying a bracha). But a way of integrating one’s Judaism into one’s life.

Brisker lomdus discourages this integration by encouraging Halakha to be abstract, far removed from the mundane vagaries of our lived petty existence.

One could conceivably envision a Derech ha-Limmud (learning style) that would encourage ones learning to be integrated into one’s life and existence. One that one could use for the rest of one’s life to use one’s past and current learning to illuminate one’s struggles and challenges and find support from one’s learning for all aspects of one’s life.

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