When Every Word Counts

By Rabbi Dovid Abenson. We are living in an era of great paradox; on the one hand we have burgeoning yeshivos and unprecedented Torah learning while on the other hand our children seem unhappier than ever.How can this be?

One of the most powerful ways to generate happiness is to give a child a sense of achievement. Torah was given to everyone, not just to those who do well on tests. In my own experience, and I have met with many at-risk teenagers all of whom told me, they find limud haTorah boring. When a child learns without clarity and understanding the learning becomes tedious and burdensome and not a joyous experience.

A great man once told me that the current generation’s lack of clarity in learning is an after-effect of the Holocaust. The immigrant rebbeim so prevalent in his time would transmit Torah in Yiddish to their talmidim. Since the American born students were not fluent in Yiddish, the rebbeim had to “over-express” themselves, explaining the same concept in many different ways, using many different and imprecise expressions. As a result, although their American-born students eventually picked up Yiddish and used it to transmit Torah to the next generation, the clarity of expression and exactness of definitions was compromised. As a consequence, three generations on since the Second World War, Talmidim have grown up on the American continent with imperfections in their understanding of Torah.

A distinguished Rav once told me that to this day whenever he hears the Hebrew word “terumah” he thinks of a window blind. Why? Because in Yiddish, “terumah” is translated as “upshaden” which prompts him to picture a window shade.

At least the distinguished Rav could appreciate that his comprehension was compromised by a language barrier. But what about the following example: a respected rebbi translated the phrase “v’huzak bo” in the mishnah in Bava Kama as “and he gets hurt by it.” The accurate translation – and accuracy in Gemara is absolutely essential – is “and he gets damaged by it.” For nearly fifty years, the rebbi in question has been mistranslating this phrase. Yes, he can get away with it in most cases; but “hurt” can also apply to feelings whereas “damage” is something physical. The distinction is huge.

Similarly, I once gave a presentation in which I emphasized the necessity for accuracy of translation, for example “mitzvah” being “good deed” rather than the more precise, “commandment.” A renowned Rabbi pointed out that, as a result of this common mistranslation, many Jews neglected Torah observance, thinking that as long as they did “good deeds” they were keeping the essentials of Torah.

My rebbi, Rav Mattisyahu Salomon, shlita, sent me an eighteen-year-old bochur with instructions that the bochur be sent back to his rebbi to ask him to translate the word “pattur” in a single English word. If the rebbi defined the term using more than one word, he was “over-expressing” himself, and the bochur’s problem lay with the rebbi and not him. The bochur came back to me the following week …and I’m pleased to report that he is still learning today.

We can enable every child, whatever his or her ability to find simcha in Torah learning and enjoy the chinuch experience by implementing the following suggestions:

1. All children should be periodically tested for accuracy and fluency.

2. Colloquial and exact translation must be differentiated. Texts should be

translated into a student’s mother tongue.

3. Teach methodical thinking. Don’t just feed information.

4. Children should not be pressured to absorb more than they are capable of at their specific age.

5. Concerning homework, I would like to quote my rebbi,Rav Mattisyahu Salomon, who advocates a no homework policy. “School should be the place to learn and the home should be a place of refuge and time with the family. “(With Hearts Full of Love, p. 79-83. published by Artscroll/Mesorah)

6. Medicating a student is wrong, and does not address the underlying causes or issues. From my experience, I have seen that children who are unfocused in class and labeled ADD/ADHD but may be reacting to other factors, such as sleep deprivation, too much junk food (white sugar, processed foods etc.), skipping breakfast, lack of exercise, underdeveloped skills which have not been diagnosed and lack of clarity on the part of rebbi/teacher.

7. The rebbi/teacher must be fully aware of the child’s home situation.

8. Educators must consider the possibility that an unsuccessful child might be a victim of some sort of abuse (physical, mental, emotional or sexual).

9) All educators in frum schools ie rebbis and principals should be required to enroll in a 3 – 6 months kiruv programme before starting classroom placements in order to learn how to transmit Torah teachings and values with simcha and positivity.

“Chanoch le’naar al pi darko” is a difficult ideal to achieve in a group classroom setting, but every child can benefit, if strategies from the suggestion list above are employed. With the support of the community, applying these principles could be a major step forward in restoring the simcha that limud Torah should generate in all our children.

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  1. chazal say ‘ad she’adaam mispallel… yispallell sheloh yikunsu ma’adanim l’soch mia’av’ . it’s a generation of pizza and ice cream.ganz pushut.

  2. As a generalization article, it is a fairly good generalization.

    Obviously, Chinuch can’t be generalized.

    Each student is a world unto himself.

    Generalizations are like compasses – they show you the general direction of the goal – but they do not show you methods/strategies that can be safely applied.

    An article covering Chinuch strategies cannot possibly be expected to be a practical guide for Rebbis, or even a guide for Chinuch in general, as what is right for one student can be absolutely devastatingly wrong for the next. We have seen this time and time again.

    For example regarding “medicating a child is WRONG”: medicating some students can as a last resort, be essential and actually life-saving. For others it can be likewise be devastating to give it!! etc etc.

    Another example: “ALL children should be periodically tested”, is a generalization. We all know kids who have suffered tremendous damage from the scare and pressure of an upcoming test!! Are tests good as a generalization? Of course. Are they good for ALL kids? Definitely not.

    But to the uninitiated, looking for a very rough direction, the above article is definitely a good start and a springboard for discussion.

  3. maybe what the author meant was that for EDUCATORS to twist parents arms to medicate their child or else suffer the consequences is wrong. medication is a last resort and a decision that should be made by their parents and under the advice of a DOCTOR!! the educators should definitely NEVER have the last say!! And as for tests, it can be done in a way thats not threatening to the child ie non formal setting etc.. im a big fan of R’ Abenson

  4. Most of the information in this article is well known. I once had a chavrusa in BMG who could not read the words of the gemarah. He was 23 years old. But he know every K’tzos and R’ Boruch Ber.

    What I found very informative was the explanation for the explosive use of “shprach” in America after the war. Try talking to some people in learning, and with their hands flying back and forth (and sometimes near the mouth), they can’t get a coherent word out. It’s all about the “shprach”.

    I never understood how this came about. I always blamed it on the need to sound more yeshivish than the next guy (which comes from lack of self esteem). In other words, I always blamed it on the gavra.

    But thanks to Rabbi Abenson for enlightening us. It came from the language barrier. In other words, blame it on the cheftza (of language).

  5. To No 4: “Maybe what the author meant…” this is RIDICULOUS!!
    The author clearly wrote and I quote “Medicating a student is WRONG”. Period.

    He did NOT write what you imagine he wrote !!!! Wake up and smell the coffee – kids are getting blasted constantly !

    And then again he writes and I quote: “ALL children should be periodically tested”.
    He did NOT write what you imagined he wrote – he did NOT say anything about not in a threatening manner – some kids simply cant take testing, period, and yes, many of us have seen the results of this, as No 3 so correctly points out.

  6. Long article. I disagree with most of it. I speak to boys who’ve left yeshiva. They tell me it was the “too many rules” that they couldn’t handle. Either way, Rebbes/teachers are not Malachim. The Avg rebbe/teacher will NOT connect w/ everyone in the classroom. If they get 80% they’re amazing. Its the other 20% that’s the problem.

  7. Well said. Yeshiva is for learning religious and academic skills. Home is a place for families to share their love of each other in a safe and secure environment. This is where parents instruct children on human and social behavior, forming a bond of trust, commitment, and love.

  8. i agree on the article firstly, ” all children should be tested on acurecy and fluency” meaning that if they were reading properly then they wouldnt be falling behind, and they would enjoy school atmosphere better. And yes the techer should look deeper into the child and also see why they are falling behind.
    secondly, i have been though school and am sry to say a lot of the teaching is done to memorize and thats where it also start since lots of kids cant memorize all the information.
    medicating kids is another issue, i beleive its compleately wrong and i have heard of kids that were on medication and they suffer tremendoesly now, n what you think it makes the kids feel better that they are medication when they are already having it hard….

    There a story where a child was asked by techer to take ritlen, back and forth finaly techer came up with a great idea, to ask the boy to make him a coffe every day and in exchange will give him a “candy” after a few days the techer called parents to say wow ur child has really improved and is doing much better…
    end goes like this…..(boy told parents) the boy had been smart and put the ritlen in the techers coffee everyday instead….

  9. to # 9

    I disagree with your first point on why boys leave yeshiva.

    Just bec. they tell you a reason why they left yeshiva does’t mean that that is the real truth or the underlying reason for them reason for them leaving.

    It would be naive to think so.

    If you would dig deeper you will find a better reason!

  10. Rabbi Abenson hits a home run with this peice.

    Unfortunately we can comment on how general it is or how we can find exceptions.
    But we keep doing the same thing while expecting different results.

    My friends it’s getting worse.

    One more thing, anybody who says that the Rabbi can only reach the 80% is himself from the 80%.
    Anyone can reach the 80% that’s not a challenge.
    If you can’t be challenged “Get out of the kitchen”!!!

  11. I’ve benefited myself from Rabbi Abensons unique and fresh approach. Previously switched off by dogmatic educational approaches to my Gemorah learning , it became of core of my daily seder through his skilful approach

  12. To 11 MMHC who said – Just bec. they tell you a reason why they left yeshiva does’t mean that that is the real truth –
    Hello – if you cant believe them, then why accept this article that said – I have met with many at-risk teenagers all of whom told me, they find limud haTorah boring.
    You said WE CANT BELIEVE THEM, so you are saying YOU YOURSELF DONT BELIEVE ABENSON !!!!!!!!!!!!
    So you do believe it – you dont believe it – you do – you dont ??

    ANSWER : Every kid who goes off has his own history – stop these articles that just make general accusations on the rebbis – some rebbis dont know their job – as in all professions, but the vast majority are bringing up fantastic next generations so stop this silly slamming match that such articles promote.

  13. Reb Dovid is a breath of fresh air. I cannot agree more with all that he has written. If only the Yeshivos and Bais Yaakov`s implemented 50% of his suggestions we would already be better off.

  14. Once again Rabbi Abenson you have hit the nail on the head, if only those narrow minded individuals would open up to your ideas and suggestions as opposed to putting on blinkers and pretending that the problem isn’t there which unfortunately is all too common.

    Rabbi Abenson is on a mission to infuse in this generation a sense of fun and enjoyment in learning, as well as returning to the original learning methods of the greatest of previous generations.

    This is something that is sorely needed, especially in this generation where flat and boring rabbeim have squashed any possible enjoyment that the student could have in their learning by making Torah a subject that must be studied and certain standards maintained by the status quo.

    Through his methods, the ability to be mechadesh and bring into the world of Torah new, possibly unheard of and exciting ideas is not lost, through this method we still have a hope of having a R’ Moshe Feinstein or R’ Yosef Sholom Elyashiv emerge from this shaky generation where real and honestly true Judaism remains highly at risk.

  15. It’s not what or how kids are taught at all that turns them off. It’s that they need to feel a somebody and be loved for whom they are. Stop thrashing about learning. It’s not the learning. Generations ago so many frum tailors , blacksmiths, farmers etc couldn’t learn at all and maybe were hit left right and centre by their rebbis, but they stayed frum. why? Because they felt a someone – they were good farmers etc and they felt respected as a someone and felt loved. That is what’s missing today. Everyone is looked down on today if hey are not learning in the status symbol yeshivas. It isn’t that rebbis don’t get it today.

  16. I agree to his whole article and to unfortunately corruption is the word for our Yeshiva system … Guess what:
    I was in it… and still somewhat in it…
    If there were a better word for “Agree” I would write it.
    P.S. I’m sorry to say their is no agreeing for this one. You just got to except it. This is what it is. ….And will stay like that if we don’t take action…

    – aGREE-Agree

  17. to #23
    Gosh. It’s sad I need to agree. but I found a better word for “AGREE”

    agree 64 results
    agree (verb)
    accede, accept, acquiesce, affirm, approve, assent, bless, capitulate, concur, conform, consent, contract, cooperate, empathize, endorse, pledge, promise, sanction, stipulate, welcome.
    BE WELL.

    – aGREE-Agree #2

  18. Bez says:
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    NOVEMBER 14, 2012 AT 5:55 AM
    I too fell out the system and am quite far from the yeshiva world that I was brought up in. I have read all the comments above and see something amazing that I think is a solution to the argument. Lets face it – this article is music to us guys who went off and messed up and are angry at ourselves for a wrecked life. This Abnson rabbi comes along and sweetens these guys lives up saying Blame the rebbis, the system etc. Sure all he guys above love to hear this as he has given them the exemption certificate saying your choice to abandon the frum way is not a choice you ever have to feel guilty about – just blame he rebbis – the sick system !! And that is why all the comments above from the guys that went off are AGREE AGREE and rabb abenson gas hit the mark. For them he is a angel.

    I can tell you that even though I am off he derech, I don’t think a benson is correct at all. Every repair guy or builder always blames the previous worker who did everything the wrong way and that’s why you have problems, so too this article, and rabbi abenson will always have a great crowd of followers as he makes off the derech guys feel better -”blame others, not yourself” seems his calming mantra. But not me. I never went off due to rebbis teaching wrong or not accurate. I went off simply by lacking love. I have many qualities that ii can be respected for. But no, my parents judged me by learning only which I wasn’t good at. Rabbi abenson too puts most of his emphasis on the learning and how to do it his way. But he is misguided and I tell you this from he outside: learning is not the everything of being frum – being a good person is first – one good rebbi once old me NOACH ISH TZADDIK – for him to become a tzadik, or for anyone to, one must become a wholesome and healthy ISH. that’s my message , concentrate on being warm and loving to others , help them become a psycologically healthy ISH, be a good example of a frum person who loves his yiddishkeit even if you can’t do the learn thing too much, and your kids will follow your way automatically as you will have been a loving and perfect model of a life wanting to be emulated. Sorry r abenson, but I lived it.

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