By: Dr. Norman Linzer  | 

“A Relentless Search for Conceptual Understanding” (Vol. 58, Issue 12)

When we entered the Semicha program in 1955, two innovations were introduced: instead of oral “bechinot” there were to be written exams, and instead of studying the gemara text, the Rav decided to learn “Even Haezer” for two years, and “Yoreh Deah” for the third.

The shiurim were models of clarity of thought, precision of expression, impatience with ignorance, and a relentless search for conceptual understanding. To this day I recall some incidents and “divrei torah.” The sharpest memory was the Rav’sn explanation of the central concept of “tesha chanuot” -- the nine stores selling kosher and one selling non-kosher. One of the boys asked him a question. The Rav stopped and said, “If you are correct, then I haven't learned the correct 'pshat' for the last twenty years.” He returned the next week with another explanation.

The Rav gave twenty shiurim on the laws of “shechita.” As a diligent student, I took copious notes. Some of my classmates asked me to duplicate the notes to assist them in reviewing the shiurim and preparing for the tests. I mimeographed the notes and made numerous copies. One day the Rav walked into the Beis Midrash where we were studying for the test on “shechita”, looking for a ride to the airport. He walked over to my table, picked up a copy of the notes, looked at them for the minute, and didn’t say a word. The next week, when he came into class, he began by threatening to throw out the person who was mimeographing the notes. Needless to say I didn’t volunteer to leave, but the mimeographing stopped. By their own admission, these classmates attribute their getting semicha to those notes. At Wurzweiler, we require every student to read and study the Rav’s “Lonely Man of Faith” in the Jewish Social Philosophy class. Over 3000 students have been fortunate to grapple with the concept of man’s duality as portrayed in the two Adams and to apply this typology to social work and other aspects of the human condition. The Rav taught me how to analyze text, and with his perspective on Torah and Maddah, influenced my continuing intellectual struggle to reconcile Judaic thought with social work and sociology.

Dr. Linzer is the Samual J.and Jean Sable Professor of Jewish Family Social Work Wurzweiler School of Social Work.