Tuesday, September 09, 2008

ותלמוד תורה כנגד כולם

This post has evolved. Originally, it was supposed to be about how I was sad I don't have the skills to learn gemara and how my high school failed me in not giving me those skills. Then, it was going to be about how I miss learning and how I sort of want to learn for the year even though halting my life for a year feels crazy. Then it was going to be about how there are no good learning opportunities for me, partially because I don't have gemara skills, mostly because I am female. Then it was going to be about how I am unsure about how I feel about taking a Torah class in an institution where I feel hashkafically uncomfortable.

So, now this post is about all of these things, which probably means it isn't really be about any of those things and totally lacks transitions.

My only real gemara learning (and you can decide whether or not it was actually real) happened in my senior year of high school. Until then, we had learned little snippets of gemara off photocopied source sheets. After that, in seminary, we learned little snippets of gemara off photocopied source sheets.

And I don't want to denigrate the learning I did in high school and seminary -- it was often intellectual and almost always text-based -- but it wasn't gemara. And a single year of gemara learning puts me on the level of a fifth grade boy, give or take. I think I would very much enjoy learning gemara in a different way than I have enjoyed the Torah learning I have done up until now and am sad I don't have the skills to do so.

Now, faced with a year of doing something I don't love (or, rather, doing something I love at a place I do not love), it occurred to me that this would be a perfect time to take a year off and learn.

After all, I spent four years at Columbia getting an excellent secular education, and, if all works out as planned, I will spend another five to seven years on my secular education. Shouldn't I devote my brain to some intensive Torah study as well?

But then again, as a woman who is post-college who does not have viable gemara skills, my learning options are severely limited. (I recognize that even if I did have gemara skills, my options would not be amazing and certainly there have been opportunities in the past five years that I have not taken advantage of. End disclaimer.)

It is unfortunate that I am not able to study Torah as intensely as I was able to study political science and creative writing. Shouldn't my Torah education be just as thorough?

Then again, shouldn't my lust for Torah knowledge be just as deep? I know that it is not. That I did not make as much time as I should have for learning when I was at Columbia, that much as there is something almost romantic to me about taking a year off to learn Torah, I probably will not do it even though I think nothing of spending five years on a degree that will only be semi-useful in the real world.

I have decided to take a Torah course this fall, which I am excited about. (That combined with a revived chavrusa with my sister -- if I can get my hands on the sefer I need -- is, if nothing else, a good Elul resolution.)

I am unsure, though, of how I feel about the institution where I am taking the class. Should I be frequenting an institution where I have to check out each teacher to make sure I will be comfortable in his or her class? Where the first reassurance a friend gave me about a teacher was "It's not apikorsut" because it was clear that that might be a concern?

And certainly I am not looking for an exact hashkafic match in a teacher or school. But I do not want to be learning Torah in an environment where I have to be constantly asking myself if everything taught is in line with my most basic beliefs -- not because that's not a worthy, though risky, pursuit but because that's really not the experience I am looking for right now.

That's all I've got for now.


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