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Thursday, July 20, 2006

The foundations of learning

One of my biggest complaints regarding Jewish education today is the lack of foundation that kids are given in our basic texts. It seems like much of the learning revolves around teaching gemara beIyun (in depth) while the basic units of knowledge (mikra and mishna) remain missing.

It is not that I am against Iyun, but I often feel like when people think that they are learning iyun, they are really just grasping a particular course of understanding but end up missing the relevancy of that understanding to the greater structure of Torah. For one to understand the depth of the rishonim, one must truly have a strong knowledge and understanding of the basic texts that the rishonim had mastered. And that means knowing mikra, mishna, and bekius (breadth of knowledge) in gemara.

The problem becomes even bigger for baal-batim such as myself. It is often hard to find time to sit and learn. When you do find time, it is often hard to reach a high level of concentration and the quality of the learning is often poor. One of the solutions I have found to this problem is the pocket size kehati mishnayot. I am sure you have seen these little green booklets. They are nothing less than phenomenal. To learn one mishna with kehati for the first time takes an average of 3-5 minutes. If you have already done that particular mishna before, it usually takes 1-2 minutes, sometimes even less. Now since there are an exact average of 8 mishnayot per chapter - to learn one chapter per day takes about 30-40 minutes if you have never learned it before and about 10-20 minutes if you have already gone through it.

Now, the benefits are amazing and almost immediate. If a person does one chapter of mishna a day, then they finish the shas mishnayot in a year and a half, two chapters a day is a nine month cycle and 3 a day is a six month cycle. After you have been through the shas mishnayot once, then it takes you about the same time to do two mishnayot a day as it took you to do one the first time. After you finish the second cycle, then you can usually do three a day in about the same 30 minutes that you allocated to it before. And the great thing about mishnayot is that, unlike gemara, you can really spread the learning out throughout the day. One mishna here, a couple there, three on your lunch break. The results are incredible. You will also see a distinct improvement in your gemara learning since much of the time you spent before on getting the basic concepts of the gemara down are already known to you from the mishna.

I have put together a little chart of the mishnayot that anyone can print out and save. I find that it helps to check off the mishnayot that I have done in each cycle and that keeping track generally give one a sense of accomplishment and motivation to keep up the seder. Please let me know if you end up trying this. It really helped me and I would like to know if others feel the benefits of this 'system'.

Here is the chart (email me if you want it in pdf format since it is better quality):