“Burning Questions” Still Burning | Rabbi Dovid Abenson

In a recent article “Burning Questions” I responded to a father inquiring about a boy whose rebbi had no patience for questions in class. The student found himself confused about the material and distracted by his own questions. The same correspondent followed up with the following email.

Thank you for ‘answering’ my question. You suggested the student write down their questions but a) not all pupils are capable of this, b) the supposed lack of attention may anger the teacher and c) while writing the question, he becomes distracted from the class.
Your answer to my original question discusses what a good rebbi should be. But how should a pupil cope with a less than perfect rebbi?


Thank you for your email. As you correctly point out, a bad rebbi really can spell disaster for a student. With the best will in the world, and even making great efforts, a student can still struggle with his learning. It is the rebbi’s responsibility to ensure every child in his class understands what is being taught. That is the rebbi’s job. If he cannot do this he needs professional training. If there are no resources in your community for this, please contact me and I will be happy to help.

In the meantime, I would recommend that the student get extra help from a private rebbi who teaches him the material the night before. This way he will be well prepared for the class the next morning. There is much more of a chance that he will get something out of the rebbi’s class.

An alternative suggestion is for the student to record a few classes (this will probably need to be done with permission) so that he can better explain to his parents what issues he has with the rebbi. The parents are then in a better position to relay that information to the Menahel and play him the recording. If the Menahel sees the problems and can take care of them, great. Most likely the Menahel will claim there is nothing he can do to change the situation. If this happens, I believe it is the Menahel’s responsibility to provide the student a private rebbi at the school’s expense. Menahelim must ensure that the rebbeim teach effectively so that each and every child understands the material. If a rebbi says: ”what do you expect? There are 40 children in my class. It is impossible to teach all of them” that rebbi is not doing his job and should find a different career.

Many of the problems I see in the Jewish educational system today are the result of incorporating non-Jewish techniques and philosophies. They call it “mesorah” but this is definitely false advertising. “Homework”, “zero-tolerance”, “weekly written test”, “punishing a child by writing out passages from Chumash or Gemara because he did not have his finger on the place”, “teaching alef beis phonically” are all common examples. None of these have a source in our mesorah.

How did such a calamity happen to Jewish people? The answer is simple Rambam writes Mishneh Torah ( הלכות דעות ו:א )

דֶרֶךְ בְּרִיָּתוֹ שֶׁל אָדָם לִהְיוֹת נִמְשָׁךְ בְּדֵעוֹתָיו וּבְמַעֲשָׂיו אַחַר רֵעָיו וַחֲבֵרָיו וְנוֹהֵג כְּמִנְהַג אַנְשֵׁי מְדִינָתוֹ. לְפִיכָךְ צָרִיךְ אָדָם לְהִתְחַבֵּר לַצַּדִּיקִים וִלֵישֵׁב אֵצֵל הַחֲכָמִים תָּמִיד כִּדֵי שֵׁיִּלִמֹד מִמַּעֲשֵׂיהֵם. וִיִתִרַחֵק מִן הָרִשָׁעִים הַהוֹלְכִים בַּחשֶׁךְ כְּדֵי שֶׁלֹּא יִלְמֹד מִמַּעֲשֵׂיהֶם. הוּא שֶׁשְּׁלֹמֹה אוֹמֵר (משלי יג כ) “הוֹלֵךְ אֶת חֲכָמִים יֶחְכָּם וְרֹעֶה כְסִילִים יֵרוֹעַ”. וְאוֹמֵר אַשְׁרֵי הָאִישׁ וְגוֹ’

It is a natural tendency of man to be influenced in his ideas and conduct by his fellows and associates and to follow the usage of the people of his state. Because thereof, it is necessary for man to be in the company of the righteous, and to sit near the wise, in order to learn from their conduct, and to distance himself from the evil-doers who follow the path of darkness, in order not to learn from their conduct; for of such Solomon said: “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise; but the companion of fools shall smart for it” (Mishlei 13:20); and it is also said: “Happy is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the wicked, etc.” (Tehillim 1:1).

A brief glance at world events and we see a pervasive attitude. A liberal elite is running everything. They can tell you what to do and there is no recourse for complaint or disagreement. We see it in North America, Europe and Israel. Institutions say “we know best, if you disagree with us, we shut you down and make your life difficult.” For example the peaceful demonstrators of Freedom Convoy 2022 were thrown in prison, their bank accounts seized despite the fact that such action was unconstitutional. This approach is infiltrating the Jewish educational institutions. It is the opposite of Mesorah. It is an unwillingness to deviate from a set of principles or listen to counter arguments and it stems from non-Jewish sources.

One Menahel asked me recently, why do so many of our students need remediation? So many are being taken out of Hebrew classes to be taught one-to-one. The answer is that schools do not teach foundation skills. Without these skills a child will flounder. Remarkably, we often see a child who cannot concentrate in class for a minute but can spend hours sitting at a computer. Why? It’s simple. On the computer, they have the skills. In Torah learning they don’t. Foundation skills – as I have written about extensively – must be taught in order, moving on to the next skill only when the previous one is mastered. Using this approach, I have helped many thousands of students across the English speaking Torah world discover the true joy of Torah learning over the past three decades.

For years I have dreamed of writing a book, to bring back chazal’s views on education, our true mesorah of chinuch: what to teach and when.
בּרוך ה׳ my book “I Can”t Read and Learn”,
( published by Feldheim ) will soon be on the market ’בעזרת ה. There, I share insights, heartwarming inspirational stories, and practical step-by-step methods on how to learn a page of Chumash, Mishnah, or Gemara.

If you, or someone you know is struggling in learning, whether due to their own learning challenges or an incompitant rebbi who doesn’t know how to teach, you will finally have somewhere to turn: a book that will give chizuk, practical help, and hope. Meanwhile I hope the suggestions I have provided here will be of some use, and you will feel reassured that the problem lies not with your child, but in the system, that with Hashem’s help we can fix it over time.


Click HERE to view the virtual booklet or order a free physical copy HERE. To contact me or sponsor my seforim please contact my office at Tel. 15147393629
Cell/Whatsapp 15149935300 Email: [email protected] Rabbi Abenson is the founder and director of ShaarHatalmud, a unique yeshivah-based online program, which incorporates learning all Kodesh subjects, from Kriah up to learning Gemara, Rishonim, and Shulchan Aruch. He also conducts evaluations, remediation, and training, and consults with school principals to improve students’ underdeveloped skills.

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