Reflections on Undergraduate Torah Studies Education at Yeshiva
I was asked to share some reflections regarding the quality and variety of undergraduate Torah studies offerings at Yeshiva.
Fundamentally, our yeshiva believes in the principle of חנוך לנער על פי דרכו גם כי יזקין לא יסור ממנה (Mishlei 22:6). Each student should be educated based on his individual inclinations in order to ensure the future viability of his educational experience.
Accordingly, we have sought at Yeshiva to create a broad diversity of programs, classes and course schedules to accommodate the multifarious needs of our student population. Some programs emphasize Talmud study, while others highlight a variety of assorted topics, including halakha, philosophy, Bible, Jewish History and Hebrew language. For each student, we strive to create the learning environment most conducive to his learning growth and happiness.
We have built each program to be excellent in its own right. Certainly there should be no stigma associated with any program. The only stigma to fear is that of not being true to oneself. I believe that each student should proudly pursue the learning option that provides him with the strongest passion and sense of accomplishment.
What are the major goals that we seek to achieve for you? There are three major objectives in plotting out the Torah education for our students: (1) to increase your skills in deciphering texts and thinking analytically; (2) to provide you with Jewish literacy in Torah texts, concepts and laws; and (3) to inspire and impassion you to build upon your skills and knowledge base so that you will be able to live committed and intellectually fulfilling lives as Torah Jews.
For many students, a key ingredient towards advancing these goals is the Rebbe-Talmid relationship. Therefore, we seek to hire Rebbeim who are not only erudite scholars but also caring people of fine character. Indeed, students often develop close relationships with their Rebbeim and continue to draw inspiration from them for many years following graduation. I believe that our faculty of Rebbeim is the best faculty of Rebbeim, both qualitatively and quantitatively, of any yeshiva in the world. The Rebbeim and other fantastic faculty members also represent a diverse stream of philosophical views, as is true in any academic institution. Exposure to different worldviews enhances a student’s ability to articulate his own weltanschauung, through healthy dialogue and critical discernment.
Another key ingredient is the “dibuk chaverim,” the steady and healthy interaction that the students enjoy with each other so that they can grow and mature together, and forge meaningful bonds that will endure for a lifetime. The opportunity to be in an environment with fellow students who seek to make Torah study a vital component of their college experience provides a steady source of reinforcement and the opportunity for collaborative and healthy discussion with peers regarding goals and aspirations.
Of course, the precise forum in which the educational goals are best realized varies based on each student and his inclinations. For example, within the MYP program, there are, broadly speaking, “blatt” shiurim” which focus upon the textual nuances of each Talmudic “sugya,” “halakha shiurim” which focus upon the Jewish law ramifications of the text, “information shiurim” which seek to impart the essential knowledge that is important for students to derive from a particular Talmudic tractate, and “conceptual shiurim” which draw the students into the classical Brisker learning dialectic in which different understandings of Talmudic concepts are deciphered, distilled and delineated. Each style of shiur is taught on several different levels, in order to address the different skills sets of the students.
Recently, we have introduced a number of new shiurim, including a shiur designed specifically for first-year students, as well as a shiur devoted to the cultivation of basic reading skills and understanding of Talmudic methodologies. For students searching for a more academically oriented approach towards Talmudic learning, we have designed independent learning programs under the tutelage of our Rebbeim. For students able to study in a more “informal” chaburah oriented environment, we have created several options as well within the beis midrash.
This past year, we brought in a new vibrant Rebbe, renowned for his warmth and ability to connect with students, to join the exceptional roster of BMP Rebbeim. We developed an IBC “first year Rebbe” program, and have created special “honors” courses with more rigorous academic requirements within IBC. We created multiple tracks in JSS/Mechinah in acknowledgment of the diverse populations of wonderful students who are appropriate for that program. We created a new track for students who want to learn Torah for a full day at YU before beginning college studies the following year. We have expanded the cadre of full-time Mashgichim who are often present on campus during the night-time hours and on Shabbos. All of these initiatives are fueled by our desire to respond to the needs of our far-ranging student body in order to provide our students with the best possible Torah education in satisfaction of our pedagogical goals.
Do all of these efforts ensure success for each student? There is probably no formula that is completely foolproof. Even with top-caliber faculty and programming, some students may still experience difficulty finding the perfect niche. In part, this is part of the growing-up process of college-age life, as each student discovers through trial and error his unique path in life. But it is equally true that those of us in an administrative capacity benefit tremendously from the constructive feedback that we regularly receive from students.
In this sense, articles authored by students, whether expressing satisfaction or sharing frustration, are welcome contributions to the challenging but vital task of creating successful frameworks for student success here at yeshiva. I also encourage students to register their sentiments directly to me and other members of the administration so that we can continue to work on your behalf lehagdil Torah u’lehadirah.