Limmudei Kodesh (Judaic Studies)
The outlines presented below delineate the various Torah Studies programs at YUHSB. Students are placed in shiurim and tracks that are geared to the appropriate level for each of them, thus ensuring optimal educational success. In this division, each shiur and class adapts the objectives of the programs outlined earlier to its particular level, some going into greater depth and/or breadth than others. The students’ educational needs determine the extent of these adaptations, and the faculty and administration regularly assess and monitor the successful implementation of each segment of the program.
There are three major objectives that define all of our Torah Studies shiurim in helping to guide our students to a lifetime of learning. The first objective is to foster within the students a passionate love for and commitment to Torah study, accompanied by a conviction that he can attain Torah greatness. This is possible when a student feels a sense of confident mastery and ownership over the material, and thus the second objective is to develop methodological skills through a progression over the course of four years. Finally, skills alone are insufficient if not applied to a breadth of knowledge, and so the third objective is to expose the students to a critical mass of yedios, Torah concepts. When a student attains these objectives, he is drawn to the majesty that is learning, and he is able to see how Torah beautifully applies to all aspects of life.
Torah study is not limited, however, to the formal classroom shiurim. The warm rebbe-talmid relationships that are fostered, the special mishmar programs, the chagigos and shabbatonim all contribute to the nurturing of our students in a supportive learning environment. In addition, the cooperative chavrusa programs with older students in the Mazer Yeshiva Program and with the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and its kollelim and Beis Medrash provide both a resource for our high school students as well as superior role models for them to emulate. A host of yemei iyun programs together with special presentations to our students by the revered Roshei Yeshiva of RIETS help to complete an all-encompassing, living Torah environment for our students.
In our ongoing commitment to educational excellence, many of our rebbeim and teachers participate in staff development seminars lead by professors from Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Graduate Institute for Jewish Education. These programs are characterized by cutting edge pedagogic methodologies and stratagems. The close relationship that YUHSB shares with Yeshiva University ensures that our school environment is a true learning laboratory where the students are the ultimate beneficiaries.
The specific Masechta to be studied in any given year is chosen in consultation with the rabbinic faculties of MYP, RIETS, and YUHSB. In general, we follow a three-year cycle of Nashim, Nezikin, and Moed. Students at the high school, MYP and RIETS usually study the same tractate in a given year, thus facilitating the opportunity for our students to study with more advanced, older students, as well as promoting a broad sense of unity within the entire student body of the YU schools.
One of the goals of the Gemara program is to train students in the methodological skills necessary for proficiency in the classic style of learning over the four years of high school. Students in the younger grades learn how to read the lines of the Gemara, that is, the methodology of how to “make a laining.” Through a balanced development of vocabulary, grammar and syntax rules, the students progress towards mastery of learning Gemara independently. The focal point of this methodology is the Gemara itself, Rashi, and Tosafos. Eventually, they are taught how to “extract” the unspoken assumptions in the sugya, and then to develop the conceptual basis for each machlokes, havah amina and maskanah, and kushya and terutz in the Gemara. Specific methodologies include how to identify the “pivotal point” of each dichotomy, and how to use deduction and induction in the creation of a sevara. Gemara research skills are taught as well, with the use of additional rishonim and of classical acharonim, as appropriate. In addition, students are exposed to the breadth of Gemara through a bekius class, either as a part of their regular morning shiur, or as part of a session in the Beis Medrash. Depending upon the needs of the particular class, many rebbeim take advantage of technological advances to enhance their teaching and present their material in a way that best serves the students.
In addition, all classes learn Halakhah with their rebbeim, so that at the end of four years, students are exposed to laws related to tefillah, holidays and shabbos, kashrus, and life cycle events. Aside from learning the practical laws, students are also able to appreciate how the halakhah emanates from Talmudic thought. Finally, students in certain sections work in consultation with a rebbe/ advisor on an independent research project / paper in an area of Talmud. The enthusiasm and excitement generated by these projects have made them highly successful and memorable over the years.
In summary, the Gemara be-iyyun curriculum at YUHSB is carefully crafted to provide our students with the textual and methodological skills necessary for self study as well as the analytic and conceptual skills necessary for penetrating the depths of Talmudic and halachic discourse. The bekius program focuses on covering ground and exposure to a wide array of Talmudic topics; several Shiurim complete an entire Masechta during the course of the year. Through the combination of the iyyun and the bekius Shiurim, talmidim gain insight into both the depth and breadth of Shas. Each Shiur is of course geared to the level and the needs of that particular group of students and the specific Shiur curriculum is meticulously designed to reach each talmid in accordance with his ability in order to instill a love of Torah and an appreciation for learning in every student at every level. In addition to learning from our own outstanding and accomplished Rebbeim— all talmidei chachomim, mechanchim and role models of note—our students have the unparalleled opportunity to benefit from the tutelage and camaraderie of members of the RIETS Beis Medrash and its Kollelim, as well as from consistent exposure to Yeshiva University’s esteemed and world renowned Roshei Yeshiva, who visit and interact with the High School on a regular basis, and in whom they can see true Torah greatness.
The richness of Torah SheBikhsav is taught in shiurim of Chumash and in shiurim of Nakh. The methodological skills in which students are guided involve seven areas, as follows:
Reading – translation, textual skills, particularly the use of the ta’amei hamikra in understanding the peshat of the pasuk.
Analysis – understanding themes, literary patterns, conceptual frameworks, particularly using parshanut hamikra to guide us.
Rashi – extracting the unspoken question behind the commentary, that is “what’s bothering Rashi?” and understanding the lesson which the commentary seeks to teach.
Targumim – understanding how to extract the hidden ideas that unfold when the targum deviates from the peshat.
Parshanut – learning to appreciate the unique style and approach of each of the classical meforshim.
Halakhah – investigating to see how halakhah ultimately derives from the text.
Hashkafah / Relevance – learning the great lessons from Torah and seeing how they speak to us today, throughout our lives.
Many students participate in a chavrusa program in these shiurim with older students from the RIETS programs, under the supervision of the regular rebbe.
Students learn Jewish History in the twelfth grade. The course is designed to develop Jewish literacy by an investigation of major Jewish literary works within the context of their historical period. The time line for the course spans the ancient and classical periods through the modern era. Thus, for example, students will study the formation of the mishnah, the writings that reflect the Rabbanite – Karaite schism, and the letters of Rav Shamshon Rephael Hirsch, zt”l amongst many others. The objectives of this course consist of the following:
Understanding our heritage and the great, classical works as they fit into the world around them.
Analysis of major trends in Jewish history and in the contemporaneous world history.
Seeing the yad HaShem as the divine force of the fabric of historical development.
Critical thinking and research skills as applied to the social sciences.
Applying the lessons of history to appreciate and understand how we fit into the greater world community.
Primary and secondary texts are read and analyzed as a tool to achieve the above objectives.
Jewish History education continues outside the classroom through extra-curricular and in-school programming that enables our students to “live” the history through consistent exposure to the ideas, people, and thoughts of Jewish history.
Beis Medrash Katan (BMK)
The Beis Medrash Katan program is designed to afford qualified students an exceptionally intensive learning experience, thereby transitioning them into the world of Beis Medrash learning in which they will continue to thrive in Eretz Yisrael, in Yeshiva University and/or in other mekomos ha-Torah thereafter. These boys are exposed to the very best of the traditional “yeshiva atmosphere” and study at a level not often made available to high school students.
At present, the 12th Graders in the BMK learn in the YU Beis Medrash, where they spend most of their morning preparing for Shiur under the close guidance of Rabbi Tanchum Cohen, one of YUHSB’s outstanding young Rebbeim. Rabbi Cohen delivers his advanced level Shiur following the morning iyun Seder, much as at YU and at leading yeshivos in Eretz Yisrael and elsewhere. Some BMK students have Shiur with Rabbi Michael Hecht, a beloved and distinguished long-time YUHSB Rebbe. In addition, the boys in the BMK program are required to spend several nights a week learning at a night Seder, held in local community Batei Medrash (particularly at Congregation Beth Abraham in Bergenfield, NJ, under the direct supervision of Rabbi Cohen) as well as at an extended night Seder in YU’s new Glueck Beis Medrash under the supervision of two shoalim u-meishivim provided by the high school, both members of the prestigious Kollel Elyon at RIETS. These talmidim also dedicate a portion of their time to independent and group study of mikra and machshavah. On occasion, the BMK has organized missions to communities where the talmidim have functioned as mentors to middle-school students.
A form of this intensive and advanced learning program is now available to talmidim in Grades 9-11 as well. Several Shiurim on those levels are offered an afternoon Seder which is spent learning in the YU Beis Medrash (alongside the 12th grade BMK boys) with RIETS students, under the supportive supervision of their own Rebbeim. In addition, several of those Shiurim have adopted a graduated model of the iyun Seder be-chavrusa in a Beis Medrash followed by an iyun Shiur, and those talmidim too commit to a night Seder program.