Learning the Talmud "bekhavruta" / "bekhavruse"

In addition to my monthly reading circles in four languages (Hebrew, Yiddish, Esperanto and Japanese) with like-minded people in Jerusalem, I started a few weeks ago a weekly reading session of the Talmud in the traditional Jewish manner (known as bekhavruta in Hebrew and bekhavruse in Yiddish) as a preparation for an intensive Talmud study at a haredi yeshiva in Jerusalem in my sabbatical in the next academic year.

Although both this traditional reading session of the Talmud and a conventional reading circle aim to learn (from) what is read, the former is distinguished from the latter in a number of significant ways: 1) the number of the participants is two; 2) you constantly question every wording as well as its supposedly hidden intention and argue about this with your partner; 3) you learn in order to implement what you learn in your daily Jewish life.

My haredi study partner is a good old friend of mine. Actually, I made friends with him since we first learned the Talmud together in this method for the first time about 15 years ago during one of my annual summer visits here (before I eventually moved here for good). Since then I also spent about four months in total at the same haredi yeshiva in Jerusalem where I am going to spend the next academic year, though not full-time. In these two experiences of learning the Talmud I was attracted neither to the language nor to the content, or to be more precise, I could understand neither of them.

I am still a baby in my level of proficiency in navigating "the sea of the Talmud", but compared to that really miserable state in the past, I seem to fare much better now. Although the language (i.e., Jewish Babylonian Aramaic) is still an obstacle, I can now follow discussions of the Jewish sages and even ask my own questions about them from time to time. In short, I can enjoy learning the Talmud now in this very lively manner. I can also feel that although the text was compiled about 1500 years ago, it reads like a living text in the traditional Jewish world. I have also noticed that this learning method requires a lot of concentration, as the reading of the text is not passive but highly active or maybe interactive. It also sharpens your mind.

This learning method is often said to be the most efficient one that we human beings have invented. But there is a seeming paradox here: How can two people learn without a teacher simply by arguing with each other? I myself have no clear answer to this question. But what I do know is that in this method you can always learn something new at each of the levels as you advance.

This weekly session is temporary, i.e., until I start my study at the above yeshiva. But I will probably find a partner to learn the Talmud and/or some other classical Jewish text bekhavruta / bekhavruse on a regular basis.