Friday, April 08, 2005

Opposed to Learning Tanach?

I was composing a reply to one of the commenters and when I noticed it had grown to a page long, I felt it qualified as a full-fledged post. Not that this issue really matters much to me, but I figure I might as well put it on the main page instead of in a comment. I admit that it's more of a theory based on cursory anecdotal evidence and personal observation than anything very solid or substantial, but I still think it's correct.

I had written that one of the things I've heard chareidim argue against doing was learning tanach. Anonymous replied:
"charedim are not opposed to learning tanach.
again, i really wonder about you, because even when I agree with your point, the sociological detail is all wrong."
Ok, so let me elaborate. They're not opposed to it in the sense of it being assur (like the other issues I delineated). But they're not at all comfortable with yeshiva bochurim doing it. In fact, one year I set up a chavrusa with a friend to learn tanach, and whenever I met any chareidi acquaintance (I was still pretty much in that world back then), and they would inevitably ask me, "So what are you learning now?", and I answered "Tanach", the response was almost always the same: They would at first chuckle politely, then say to me, "Seriously. What are you really learning?" When I would insist that that's what I was currently studying, they'd respond with a disapproving tone, "But that's not real learning!" Some would even give me the classic rejoinder, "You should ask your rebbe about that."

Putting that aside, what I really meant in my comment was that they're not at all big fans of learning tanach in any serious way that doesn't gloss over all the less than pleasant accounts throughout it. Most chareidi people's view of the figures in tanach are like their idealized view of their favorite tzadik: Sits and learns all day, davens a long shemone esrei, does lots of hidden chesed that no one finds out about, and never speaks loshon hara. And I'm not even talking about the prominent figures. That's how they think all of Jewish society was back then. Wonderfully, magically, super-frum. It's the "The Midrash Says" and Olomeinu version that never developed further. The parts where the neviim are critical of the populace are portrayed as them yelling at the bums and reshaim (i.e. MO, Reform, Zionists) who are ruining it for the rest of the authentically frum world (i.e. chareidim, gedolim).

Of course once you open up a tanach and find out what it actually says, it's a bit difficult to maintain that fantasy for very long. Which is why they are not for learning it seriously or without a sufficiently indoctrinated person to guide you in looking at it the way they want it to be viewed. Of course, it's hard to spin stories like Pilegesh B'givah in any way that makes the "Yidden" come out looking frum by anyone's definition, which is why bottom line, they are pretty much against learning it at all.

I admit that it's hard to point to anything concrete that supports this conclusively, but it's a sentiment that I'm sure many people can confirm. And the simple fact is that everyone knows, and chareidim even admit it, most yeshiva guys coming out of the chareidi schools are abysmally ignorant of tanach. Ever have that experience where a chareidi person will hear a modern Israeli name and react with a "What kind of name is that? Is it even Jewish?" and informing them that yes, it's Jewish and it's actually a name of one of the Neviim?

I always get funny looks when I tell them that.


Anonymous said...

they don't teach tanach in yeshiva because the yeshiva system is modeled on volozhin, which was a finishing school (people came there already learned).

they don't teach b'kius in gemara in yeshiva either, and most people walk out very ignorant about halacha l'ma'ase. Do you think that is because they want to discourage people learning halacha l'ma'ase? Don't want people having b'kius in gemara?

The basic pedagogical idea in the yeshiva system is that they teach how to learn, and the idea is that if you have the basic skills, you will then learn on your own. They don't teach tanach, but the expectation is that one learn it on one's own. Many don't...but many people who are serious do. There are many prominent roshei yeshiva know tanach very well. There a quite a few, especially old-timers, who know it more or less by heart. How do you think that happens if they are trying to discourage learning tanach?

It is true that many do not view it as serious study and are too casual about it, but the question you were asked wasn't meant to discourage learning tanach, it was a question about why you were (as it sounds from the story) *only* learning tanach. The prioritization of mikra over the rest of learning is not the recommendation of SA.

Knowing tanach is considered a positive, not a negative.
In the US, there are still quite some numbers who do teach themselves tanach and know it well. In E"Y, presumably because they have the language and learn tanach more easily at a young age, it is rare for a charedi talmid chochom not to know tanach thoroughly.
This idea "Which is why they are not for learning it seriously or without a sufficiently indoctrinated person to guide you in looking at it the way they want it to be viewed" is off-the wall. There is no conspiracy to get people not to know tanach. Most yeshiva guys land up ignorant of tanach, but the ignorance is the result of misapplied pedagogy.

Anonymous said...

In addition, I think that your view of tanach is also black and white. The truth lies inbetween the ignorant charedi understanding of the society described and your picture of the populace.

The Hedyot said...

I agree with many of your points. It's not they are truly against it. It definitely is more of a result of not focusing on something that they don't consider a priority. (A trend I might explore some other time.) And the way you understood the incident I related was a totally accurate assesment. As I said in the post it wasn't what I was really talking about anyway.

However your points that there are RY and old-timers who know tanach well proves nothing about today's society. Those people didn't grow up in today's society. And the implication of your statement that there are prominent RY who don't know tanach speaks volumes about the issue.

I still maintain though that they are not big fans of it because many of the stories do not jive well with their fairytale picture of what an ideal Jewish society would be like.

In any case, bringing this all back to how it got started, we both agree that it isn't done in chareidi society very much, and as with all things that are the way they are in that society, people view the way things are as "the way things are supposed to be", the "right way". As a result you will hear people argue against changing "the way it is". And that was what my original point with this minor issue was. You will hear people argue against learning tanach.

The Hedyot said...

I think that your view of tanach is also black and white.

Of course it is! And where do you think I got that view from?

Mis-nagid said...

It's amazing how little chumash frum people learn. Ask a frum person: where does one of the Torah's authors explictly quote an earlier work? (You may want to rephrase it to avoid spluttering on the questionees part.)

LostSpirit said...

I am not sure from what Chasidic yeshiva u guys come from, but I learnt in one of the big name Chasidic yeshivas, and yes they where explicitly against buchrim learning Tanach. Full stop. Yes it was assur in the same unspoken way that touching yourself was assur!!!

And about chumash is also true, I do not think any boy from a Chasidic school or yeshiva will know much about the chumash north of shlishe or revih

The Rabbi's Kid said...

I think you have to deal specifically with the shitah of Rabbenu Tam that learning Bavli includes Tenach.

Truth is, there are many many items lacking in Yeshiva education (mussar, halchah lemaaseh, midrash, machshava/haskafah, history), though most would argue that since Gemara is the most important and most difficult, that is what should be focused on, and the rest you can do yourself.


bluke said...

In Berachos (28b) R' Eliezer was sick and was asked by his talmidim for some advice on how to live their lives. One of the things he told them is מנעו בניכם מן ההגיון. Rashi has 1 pshat that this means don't let them learn so much תנ"ך because it will attract them. Rashi seems to be saying that they will focus too much on תנ"ך and neglect תורה שבע"פ. This is an interesting point, that a person should concentrate on תורה שבע"פ and not תורה שבכתב. This would seem to provide some justification for the Charedi view. For more on this see here

SholomBare said...

My brother and I were sent to Lubavticher Yeshiva @ Bedford & Dean but for my sister our Dad chose Yeshiva of Crown Heights. Her Jewish education by far surpasses the mediocre bull shit they fed us for 12 years.
I helped myself to Gedion Society Kings James version recently and perused it and discovered something. After Malachi starts Matthew and there is a very fine line between the two. It's almost like the next parsha. That's why I believe Navi is ignored for the most part in European based yeshivot

Mirty said...

Even in the Modern Orthodox community where I grew up, there was the idea that learning Tanach was for women; Gemarah was for men. The Rabbi taught a Chumash class for the ladies of the shul, but wouldn't insult the men with such a thing. (But my father liked to listen in on the Chumash class when it met at our house, and said it was much more interesting than the Shiur for the men.)

Avrum said...

Some reason on why Tanach is suspect:

1. Much of the life led by Tanach "Gedolim" cannot be considered proper. Yaakov used some underhand tactics, Moshe married a shikse and David forced sex on a married woman.
2. Tanach is considered sacred by Christians. It isn't exclusively Jewish.
3. Still worse, secular Israelis make much of Tanach, which makes it even more suspect.

rivka said...

silly chareidim. all that stuff makes tanach so much fun. (I'm serious-- I love it). Just don't get me started on Biblical criticism, cause its quite a conflict for me, and I don't know what I'll end up believing, but I don't think it'll be Torah-given-to-moshe-at-sinai. or even close. ach. cause the next question is what is the basis of halacha.