I Would No Longer be a Gadol ha-Dor
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.