Talmud Study at Ohr Somayach Yeshiva

One and a half week has passed since I started my Talmud study after about 12 years' absence at Ohr Somayach Yeshiva in Jerusalem. I spend about two hours every morning studying what I consider the most difficult book I have every studied with a rabbi and several other students. The ever growing general feeling is that it is a great privilege to be able to study the Talmud from someone who is part of the presumably unbroken chain of oral tradition. I also feel that it is probably impossible to study and understand it unless you are initiated to it in this traditional framework.

There are at least three factors that make the study of the Talmud very difficult and challenging. The first obstacle is its language, Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, which is far less known and described grammatically and lexically than, for example, Biblical Hebrew. But knowing the literal meaning of each of the words comprising a sentence does not guarantee you to understand it as it is written in a very cryptic style, so you have to supplement it with many missing words. Even overcoming this second obstacle does not guarantee you to understand it, which is always quite frustrating. But the most serious obstacle is its logic; it is often necessary to read the same passage many times.

What has impressed me in this traditional method of Talmud study is that you are required to understand what we study 100%; even understanding 90% is considered a compromise. The best way to check if you understand something 100% is to explain it to someone else using your own language. To attain this goal, our teacher explain the same passages at least seven times, and you are also required to review it alone or preferably bekhavruta/bekhavruse with someone else.

Even in our early stage of learning we are required to review what we were taught with someone else from the same group. I still do not understand why this method works. I and my study partner are more or less is the same low level, so we often find ourselves totally lost, unable to go beyond the literal meaning of what we study together. In this respect it is a great help to be able to continue to study the Talmud once a week bekhavruta/bekhavruse with a good old haredi friend of mine, who is far more advanced than I. We used to study other chapters, but since I started my Talmud study at the yeshiva, we simply make a weekly review of what I studied during the week.

In the meanwhile I enjoy my daily Talmud study. I hope I will be able to persevere until the end of the program in the middle of next July. I am already curious to see how I will feel when I reread the same passages I am struggling with now after the end of this nine-month program.