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Monday, July 24, 2006

The foundations of learning, Part II

Continued from here

Another area that often needs to be built up in Jewish education is the study of Tanach - more specifically the Nach part of it. Of course, many people review the parsha every week so I would say the majority of people have a pretty solid grasp of the Torah (although there is definitely room for improvement). Almost nobody really knows tanach and the amount of people who went through a yeshiva education and have still never gone through all of neviim and ketuvim is somewhat shocking to be honest.

There are a few challenges in the learning of Nach. First, the language is often fairly difficult, the day school Hebrew education is pretty much sufficient for most of the early neviim. The average person can get through Yehoshua, Shofrim, Shmuel, and Melachim without too much difficulty. However, when one gets to the later neviim, Yirmiyahu, Trei Asar (not to speak of Mishlei and Iyov), they are pretty much lost. I know many people who have tried to learn tanach and stopped quickly after they started. Part of the problem is that people try to learn Nach in much the same way they approach chumash and gemara - they learn it from the commentaries. Don't get me wrong, the commentaries on Nach are great - it is just that before you can appreciate their greatness, it helps to have gone through Nach and acquire the underlying language and comprehension skills. That is why I recommend going through Nach several times without any commentaries, trying to understand the pshat of the words.

There are several benefits to this approach. First, Hebrew skills improve dramatically. Second, the psukim quoted in gemara learning become less cryptic and are more accessible. Third, a person actually learns the stories in Nach and the general themes and treasures hidden there.

There is, however, a problem. Efficient learning needs a structure and there is really no good structure/seder to the learning of Nach. One approach is learning a chapter a day. The problem with this is that: a) the chapters are of non-Jewish origin and often cause you to stop at an arbitrary point b) the chapter length is very variable - sometimes it is too long and sometimes too short. This does not lend itself to the establishment of a proper seder.

Luckily, Rabbi Seth Kadish has provided us with a wonderful service. He has created outlines for all the books of Nach and divided each book into (pretty much) equal sub-parts based on the massoretic chapters. The system is divided into 12 separate month cycles so that one can finish the entire tanach every year. Each day's portion is about 30-50 pesukim and usually takes about 20 minutes to get through. I highly recommend starting this system since it does not take up much of the day while at the same time building fundamental skills of learning which will improve other areas as well.

The sheets for the system are available in PDF format here