The Rosh HaKollel Who Couldn’t Read Hebrew – Part 1 | Rabbi Dovid Abenson

I was once visiting a well-established, out-of-town community, and after addressing the audience about the importance of foundation skills in Torah learning, a gentleman approached me. He confided in me that he really could not read Hebrew very well. He dreads being called up to recite the Haftara. I was somewhat taken aback even though this is my field. Unlike most of my clients, this gentleman was not a ba’al teshuvah, a yeshivah drop-out, nor was he a struggling bachur. He was the Rosh HaKollel! Somehow he was able to side-step this handicap in the Beis HaMedrash because a sufficient amount of learning consists of talking “outside” the text, rather than learning “inside”.

In another instance, a woman called me about her husband. He learned three sedarim a day with chavrusos, yet on Shabbos he would never so much as open a sefer. I suggested to the wife that perhaps her husband had a problem with reading and translating texts. She was perplexed. He is in Kollel! How could it be that he is unable to read properly? The evaluation revealed exactly what I suspected. We addressed his learning issues and now that he has the skills to learn independently, he has no hesitation in opening up sefarim on Shabbos.

From my mentor in Eretz Yisroel I heard about a Rosh HaYeshiva who is reluctant to evaluate students in his yeshiva for kriah problems because he himself has difficulties reading Hebrew. It would appear that learning difficulties are not just plaguing the “problem” kids. They are plaguing the really “successful” ones too. Of course, there is so much in the Torah learning world that is going right, but if we are seeing learning difficulties at all levels, we need to ask ourselves what went wrong and how can we fix it?
How Do They “Get Away With It”?

Shloimy L.* was a bochur who could write out a shiur and get excellent marks on his Gemara tests yet he could not read and translate the Gemara correctly, nor even a pasuk in Chumash. How could this be? He had a sharp mind and was able to get a sense of what the pasuk means, without accurately knowing the translation of each and every word. Bright learners can get very far with this method when teachers do not emphasize textual skills. Thus Shloimy’s high marks obfuscated his real lack of skills. Until we worked on his foundation skills necessary for success in learning, he was completely unable to learn independently.

Thirty-five year-old Yitzchok B. approached me for help with his kriah . He told me he was baffled since he would get 100% throughout his yeshiva life in Gemara tests. “I have a very good head and I could remember everything since the weekly test was just to answer the questions and were not text-based so I passed with flying colors.”

Many yeshivas and seminaries today only want the “metzuyanim”, the perfect students. Acceptance to a school is determined by performance in an oral test where a student is asked to say over something — a shtickle Torah or a Tosfos. One who can fluently recite his piece will make a very good impression on the Rosh HaYeshiva. Most likely he will be accepted into the yeshiva. But this type of testing cannot determine if the student has mastered the concrete foundation skills essential to higher learning. The result being that students in yeshivos abound, for whom basic kriah, translation or comprehension skills remain seriously impaired.

A client of mine, Moishy*, confided in me that he got accepted into his yeshiva because he read and translated the gemara correctly. But, he admitted, he had gone over the gemara “600” hundred times with a private rebbe beforehand! Dedicated, yes, but is he a metzuyan?

Very few yeshivas check their talmidims’ foundation skills. Can he open up a random page from any Masechta and read, translate and comprehend the Sugya?

For those children whose underdeveloped skills are more apparent, the situation is even worse. They are labeled “problem” kids and the yeshivos do not want them. If the foundation skills necessary for learning were adequately addressed earlier on, both types of students could be successful in learning.


Rabbi Dovid Abenson can be contacted 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 all the way up to learning Gemara, Rishonim and Shulchan Oruch. He also conducts evaluations, remediation and training, and consults with school principals to improve students’ underdeveloped skills.

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