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In my first two columns, I conveyed the importance of using visual teaching aides to help talmidim with all learning profiles learn more effectively and retain the information more clearly. The visual stimuli that I wrote about last week are helpful in introducing new topics and attracting the interest of all talmidim.
But nowhere is the visual presentation of learning more important than in the area of teaching gemorah - primarily in the first few years of its introduction. It is during these middle-school grades that talmidim are introduced to so many different challenges at the same time.
Baruch Hashem, the majority of our talmidim make this adjustment quite well. However, many need additional assistance to master this new limud. The reason is quite simple. Once the talmidim transition from Mishnah to Gemorah, the talmidim, who are in the early phases of adolescence, are at once:
Beginning to read without nekudos (punctuation)
Learning a new language (Aramaic),
(and perhaps most challenging,) Using deductive reasoning to follow the track of the gemorah.
Even for those talmidim who can master the new language and the new reading skills they now need, many find following the line of sevarah (reasoning) very challenging. (The first submission in this series will be on teaching hascholas gemorah, by Rabbi Chaim Levinger s'hlita, who serves as the eighth-grade rebbi in Yeshiva Derech HaTorah, Brookyln New York. His article will appear in the Succos issue)
Im Timza Lomar ("If You Will Say")
Take the thirteen lines of gemorah in Bava Metziah 24a, in Perek Eilu Mitzius, the classical gemorah taught in beginner or second year gemorah shiurim throughout the Yeshiva world. The gemorah lists a series of five interlinked questions regarding a statement of Rabi Shimon ben Elazar.
Rabi Shimon mentioned that one who finds an object in a place frequented by many people may keep it because the owner who lost it would not expect to ever retrieve that article from such a well-traveled location.
The gemorah then poses the five questions, of which I will list the first three:
1) Was Rabi Shimon stating his halacha regarding a city where a majority of the people were non-Jews; but in a city with mostly Jews he would not permit the finder to keep it?
2) And, if Rabi Shimon would maintain that the finder could keep it even in a city that has a majority of Jews, do the Rabbonon (a term often used in Gemarah for a 'majority' of chachamim who disagree with a 'single' talmid chacham) agree with him?
3) And, if the Rabonon disagree with Rabi Shimon, would their disagreement extend to all cities or only cities populated by a majority of Jews? (Please see the gemorah for the other two "Im Timza Lomar" questions and the gemorah's resolution)
Finding This Difficult?
If you are finding it difficult to clearly follow the thread of the gemorah by reading these words without visual aides, it may be comforting to know that you are not alone. Many adults find this challenging.
All the more so for the beginner talmid who is just getting acclimated to Aramaic, with no nekudos - often at the same time that his school day has significantly been extended by minyan in the morning and a later dismissal in the afternoon. Having taught an eighth-grade 'beis-shiur' (the weaker class) for ten out of the fifteen years that I had the zechus to serve as a melamed, I had a firsthand view of the frustration and 'yiush-shelo-mida'as' (pun intended) in the eyes of many dozens of bright boys who felt that they were unable to follow the logical flow of the gemorah.
Introducing my Talmidim to Logical Flow Charts
The first time in the school year that I would encounter a gemorah of this nature, I would utilize various techniques for training them to commit multi-step logical sequences to paper. One of the methods I would employ would be to have my talmidim jointly write a script for a group of people who were doing follow-up phone calls for the Yeshiva's Annual Dinner. (A script is a visual chart of a conversation - and all possible ways the dialogue will flow. It is usually given to all customer-service employees or telemarketers to help them decide what to say to the customer in a variety of possible scenarios.
One boy would come up to the board and begin the chart with a 'hello', and get input from his classmates as to the next possible steps of the conversations. He would note the first question that a Dinner phone squad member would ask: "Did you receive our invitation in the mail?" I would ask my talmidim what they would suggest the caller say if the response was yes (Ask the next question - "Will you be attending?), and if he or she said no (Can I send you an invitation in the mail," or "Can I take your reservation over the phone").
My talmidim loved the exercise - and were trained in mapping thoughts and logical sequences on paper. Having acquired this skill early in the year, we were able to map out the sevarah of the gemarah each time we encountered a multi-step shaklah v'taryah (give and-take of the gemarah).
By mapping out the flow of the gemorah, talmidim (and adults) have a much better chance of grasping the beautiful and timeless shaklah v'taryah of our great chachamim. They, too, can recite with cheshek the precious words of, "Vos fregt Abaye, un, "Vos enferet Rava" - once they are given the tools to succeed.
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