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I Would No Longer be a Gadol ha-Dor

An interesting post from the continuing discussion at Lookjed about Talmud instruction, especially the final paragraph.

If I may, I repeat here an anecdote that I heard twenty years ago when I had the privilege of spending a year on the Melton Senior Educators’ Program at Hebrew U.

One of our activities on the program was to visit a wide variety of educational institutions throughout the country. One such visit took us to a large boys’ Yeshiva in Meah She’arim. Interestingly enough, although the school had a full administrative staff, it also had a school “ideologue”, who served as the guardian of the school’s ideology. What impressed many of us was that, aside from being an experienced teacher and, of course, a dedicated member of the Me’ah She’arim community, he was also widely read in educational philosophies outside, not only of the chareidi world, but of the Jewish educational world as well. He saw it as his responsibility to his school and his students to be well versed in a broad spectrum of educational philosophy and practices.

We asked him what his most difficult problem was, and he said: “Gemora.” The community at large, parents and educators alike, were constantly asking him to begin the study of gemora in earlier and earlier grades and to assign more and more of student time to its exclusive study.

He said, “I happened to meet once with HaGaon HaRav Yaakov Kaminetsky, and I told him of this difficulty I was having, and he said to me: ‘I did not open a gemora until I was fifteen years old.’ I said to him, ‘If you could give me a note to that effect . . . if I could produce a note from a gadol hador to that effect, it would be of tremendous help to me in trying to convince the community that we should not be starting gemora at such an early age.’ HaRav Kaminetsky put his arm around my shoulder and said: ‘If I gave you such a note, I would not longer be a gadol hador.'”

Update: In a personal correspondence with a reader of this blog, Rabbi Nathan Kamenetsky noted that his father started learning gemara several years earlier than 15, and “at 11 he knew 25 blatt by heart,” as discussed in Making of a Godol.

4 Responses to “I Would No Longer be a Gadol ha-Dor”

  1. 1
    Jeff:

    Ah, another thing we have in common – SEP 1995-96.
    Jeff

  2. 2
    Danny Steinmetz:

    Great story. So even the gedolim are captive of the myths about gedolim. No wonder Nosson Kamenetzky’s book had to be banned.

  3. 3
    Zohar:

    This is great. Thanks. It reminds me of a scene in the movie “The Emerald Forest” in which the father is trying to convince the Indian chief to send a group on a dangerous mission mission in enemy territory that no one wants to go on. The chief eventually replied: “If I forced them to go, I would no longer be chief.”

  4. 4
    S.:

    That’s a terrible story. First, it is beyond credible to suggest that RYK ever said that he began learning Gemara at 15, much less that this is actually the case. Secondly, at the end it also portrays him in a very cowardly light – taken literally. Assuming some version of the exchange even happened, it sounds like he was politely disagreeing with the man, and also getting a subtle dig at the kanoyim at the same time.

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