Burning Questions | Rabbi Dovid Abenson

I would like to share this recent question I received from my reader.

Dear Rabbi Abenson,

Gut voch. What would you recommend to a boy who sits in class and has a question on the subject matter, but he is not allowed to ask questions until after the lesson? The mind of the boy is now troubled with the question he has and could a) stop him from grasping what the teacher is saying and b) disturb his concentration.

Furthermore, what does a boy do if he is ‘lumbered’ with a Rebbe who is not clear in his explanation either because that’s his way, or did not prepare properly, or is failing to cover the subject from different perspectives, leaving the student under-understanding the lesson?
Kol tuv & regards


This is my response:

Dear A.L.

Thank you for your questions.

The United Nations is an intergovernmental organization aiming to maintain international peace and security, and develop friendly relations among 193 nations. How is it possible to achieve international cooperation, and be a center for harmonizing the actions of nations if they do not speak the same language? Does it just come? Are they told that the longer they stay there they will eventually pick up all the languages like our students are taught in Yeshiva? “You will pick up Yiddish/Ivrit in six months just by listening to a shiur”. The United Nations cannot wait that long. The nations must understand each other right away and with crystal clarity. How do they accomplish such a feat? Are they so brilliant? The answer is very simple. All delegates are instructed to put on earphones, by turning a dial, all proceedings can be heard in the delegate’s native language. Without the simultaneous translations, the members would be wasting their time and misunderstandings could have disastrous consequences.

It is ironic therefore that during a shiur, where Torah knowledge is being imparted to young, impressionable students, these students often have to suffer, because the shiur is given over in ways that are not clear, using language the students do not understand. It’s a crisis. I have written articles extensively regarding this crisis over the years. The good news is that Feldheim publishers have accepted my manuscript “I Can’t Read and Learn”. They saw the importance of raising awareness of this problem which is affecting every Jewish home throughout the world. The book discusses how the crisis developed and methodology and strategies on how to solve the problems. With Hashem’s help, it will be a tremendous aid for parents and schools.

In the meantime, Mr. L. I would be happy to send you free of charge my book “Struggling with Hebrew Reading and Frustrated in Torah Learning” which is also helpful. You can give it out to your son’s school or yeshiva.

Both these books tackle the issues you raise in much more depth but in the meantime, I will address your questions briefly. You asked what a boy should do if he is distracted in his learning by a question he wishes to ask, but the classroom procedures prevent him from being able to ask it right away.

The student should write down his question during the shiur even though he may risk losing track of the shiur. Although the shiur is important, it is the development of his own thought processes which is more central to his future success in learning. The ability to think is a tool that remains for the rest of one’s life. The contents of the shiur may be forgotten mere moments after the shiur is over.

Once the shiur is finished, the student should take his questions to the rebbi. He should never feel shy to ask, even if he feels his questions are silly, as it is written in Pirkei Avos: וְלֹא הַבַּיְשָׁן לָמֵד, A person who is [too] shy [to ask questions] will never learn,. . . (2:5). At that time, when the student is with the rebbi, he should explain that it is sometimes hard to focus on shiur while he has questions and would the rebbi permit him to ask questions during the shiur. A good rebbe would allow it, indeed encourage it. Questions allow for true engagement with the material and greater clarity.

Regarding your second question, what does a boy do if he is ‘lumbered’ with a Rebbe who is not clear? This is a major problem. A rebbi must be clear. In addition, he needs patience. The Mishnah says of an overly strict rebbi: if he is too strict וְלֹא הַקַּפְּדָן מְלַמֵּד and a teacher who is too strict cannot teach (Pirkei Avos 2:5).

One of the best ways for a rebbi to develop patience and clarity is to train for 6 months in a Baal Teshuva yeshiva. I personally believe this should be essential for all mechanchim. They will be forced to explain things clearly and accurately and in their mother tongue. As it is well known that most rebbes and Roshei Yeshiva are not trained in teaching. They learn as they go along. The above method will help them tremendously. After 6 months they should be watched by professionals either in the class or on live video in order to point out what needs to still be addressed. They should not feel insulted or belittled going through these courses. בֶּן זוֹמָא אוֹמֵר, אֵיזֶהוּ חָכָם, הַלּוֹמֵד מִכָּל אָדָם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (תהלים קיט) מִכָּל מְלַמְּדַי הִשְׂכַּלְתִּי כִּי עֵדְוֹתֶיךָ שִׂיחָה לִּי. Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from every man, as it is said: “From all who taught me have, I gained understanding” (Psalms 119:99). (4:1). If such training is not possible they should at least read a Kiruv manual such as my book “First Steps to Kiruv”, a Targum/Feldheim Publication which can now be bought through Menuchapublishers.com

Rebbeim who lack clarity should be avoided where possible. If the student cannot go to another shiur, he should politely raise his hand whenever he’s not clear and ask for clarification. This forces the rebbi himself to become clearer in his own head in order to explain the material. Sometimes this requires repetition and persistence. If the situation doesn’t improve I would recommend asking the Menahel for a private rebbi to teach him instead and get out of the shiur as much as possible. Since the parents are paying fees for their child to learn they should at least partially sponsor this additional help if their hired rebbi cannot do the job. Menahelim needs to take responsibility if a rebbi consistently fails to make himself clear.

Unfortunately, there is very little accountability for the rebbeim who give shiurim. They rarely get training, oversight, or consequences if they fail to teach properly. Most of the time the institution blames the parents. A parent who advocates for his child is quickly labelled as troublesome or dysfunctional. Just today I heard from the parents of a 9-year-old boy who was kicked out of the school and is now starting a non-Jewish school. It pains me dearly. The father wants me to evaluate him. I am happy to evaluate the boy but at the same time, it would be great if simultaneously the Menahel would evaluate the rebbi. In many cases, this would eradicate the problems.


For more information please contact

Rabbi Dovid Abenson

Evaluations / Upgrading / Training

Tel. 15147393629

Cell/Whatsapp 15149935300

Email: [email protected]

Website: HYPERLINK “http://shaarhatalmud.com/”ShaarHatalmud.com

.Reserve your copy of Rabbi Abenson’s new Sefer coming out soon HERE.

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