"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Vital "extracurricular" skills and knowledge for Yeshivah students

Vital “extracurricular” skills and
knowledge for Yeshivah students 

Rabbi Y. Oliver

What do we learn in Yeshivah? Nigleh and Chassidus, and that’s it, right? Well, in a letter to the administration of the Lubavitcher Yeshivah, Tomchei Temimim, the Previous Rebbe points out other skills and fields of study that are generally regarded as extracurricular and are commonly neglected. He instructs the administration to incorporate these in the Yeshivah curriculum for students from a young age.
1. Study of Tanach: There is inherent value in knowing and absorbing the holiness of the Written Torah, which was given at Sinai and passed down through all its writers, as explained in the words of Chazal. Apart from this, the teachers need to inspire their students with the desire to know the spiritual, G–dly wealth found in the stories and writings of Tanach, such that with time the students will aspire to study these stories and derive the spirit of purity and holiness found within them.

2. Loshon HaKodesh. At the very least, the students should acquire a superficial knowledge of Hebrew grammar. This will facilitate their understanding of many concepts in Torah, and they will be more particular in pronouncing the words of the prayers and in the Torah reading. This will also enable them to compose an advanced letter in Loshon HaKodesh, and one without errors.

3. Reading with the cantillation [“trop”]: In order to know how to review the Torah portion of the week according to the method of reading shnayim mikra ve’echad targum [the custom to review the weekly Torah portion and read each verse twice, and then the translation of Onkelos once—see Berachos 8a, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 72:11]. It is proper to sing the cantillation while reading the verse using the traditional musical notes. This also has the benefit of accustoming one to letters of Torah, which ties in with the shul and praying with a Minyan. It may also benefit one’s livelihood [for people are employed to read from the Torah in shul].

4. Jewish history: At the very least, the students should have a superficial knowledge of Jewish history and in particular of the wisdom and greatness that lies within it, for from the Jewish heroes and the numerous challenges and self-sacrifice that they underwent in the past, we can derive lessons for the present.

5. Clear handwriting: Aside from the inherent necessity and benefit that lies therein, it will also bring respect for Torah scholars [when laypeople see their neat handwriting].

Igros Kodesh Admur HaRayatz, Vol. 6, p. 152.
The Rebbe specifically encouraged that this letter be publicized, as one chossid records:
The administration of the Yeshivah were admitted to the Rebbe [for Yechidus]. Among other things, the Rebbe said that the letters of the Rebbe, his father-in-law to the students [of Chabad Yeshivos] concerning the study of Tanach, grammar, cantillation, and Jewish history should be publicized. After several days, the Rebbe inquired whether anything had been done in this regard.

Sichos Kodesh 5725, Vol 1, page 534.
Note that exactly how and to what extent to incorporate teaching these skills or areas of knowledge is not prescribed. From limited personal experience, I can testify that in one Yeshivah that I attended, an hour a week was allocated to study Nach. I know of another Yeshivah in which a particular teacher delivers a lecture on Jewish history from time to time. As for learning Hebrew grammar, I do not know of any Yeshivah where it is studied in a classroom format, but I have observed many cases in which it was taught one-on-one. I have not observed trop or neat handwriting being formally taught to Yeshivah students.

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