New York - Learning Torah On Tisha B'Av if You Don't Enjoy It: A Halachic Analysis
New York - It may seem like a bizarre question, but it has relevance to the upcoming Tisha B’Av holiday. Do your children like to learn Torah? If they don’t like learning - then they may learn Torah on Tisha B’Av according to the Biur Halacha’s explanation of the TaZ (OC 554:1). The only thing is that a Rebbe would not be permitted to teach them – since the Rebbe enjoys learning himself.
If the child does enjoy learning, however, then he would be forbidden to learn on Tisha B’Av as well – even if he were to be learning by himself.
Not everyone, of course agrees with this explanation, of course. The Magen Avrohom and Bach both hold that all Jewish children like to learn, and that the prohibition of learning Torah on this day applies equally to children. The Biur Halacha explains that even according to the TaZ’s opinion – the permission would only apply to children younger than twelve. The Biur Halacha holds that all twelve year old children and up do have a pleasure in studying Torah.
This halachic debate between the TaZ (and the Eliyahu Rabbah) versus his father-in-law, the Bach (and Mogen Avrohom) seems fascinating. How could it be that they approach the issue so differently? Also, what are the factors that would cause a child to like learning or hate learning? And, perhaps more pertinent, is there something that we can do about it?
Let’s first analyze the TaZ’s position. Notwithstanding the wording of the TaZ itself, it is clear that he cannot mean that no child has joy learning Torah. We see many children that obviously do enjoy it. Rav Moshe Feinstein too (Igros Moshe YD 1:224) understands the TaZ in such a manner. It must be, therefore, that the intent of the TaZ is that, at least in his time and place, the majority of children did not enjoy learning. In the Bach’s world, however, the opposite seemed to be the case. What perhaps were those differences?
Perhaps it can be suggested that the differences were in the approach to teaching that existed in the particular times and places where each of these Achronim lived.
We know that there is a general Yetzer HaRah that all people have against thinking – against using our brains. However, when we do use our minds, and we do so with success – then we actually do enjoy thinking. When we do not meet with success – we generally continue to dislike the thinking process.
Let’s take, for example, Sudoku puzzles and crossword puzzles. Airport shops generally sell these puzzle books. Yet we never find booklets that give us Algebra or Geometry puzzles. Why is this so?
The answer, of course, is that these books would not be popular. They would not sell. If they would sell – there is no question that the Airport shops would be marketing them. So what is it about Sudoku and crossword puzzles that make them sell?
The answer is that both of these types of puzzles have mini-successes built into them. These successes make people feel good about solving them – they make them feel good about the thinking processes involved. Indeed, they build on each success. In Sudoku, once one number is solved it helps solve the other numbers. Then one feels good about having solved a whole row or column, or even a box. The same is true with the crossword puzzles.
This, of course, is not to suggest that we should change our time-tested methods of instruction to become more like Sudoku – chas veShalom. No – this was merely an exploration of what makes people want to learn. It is an attempt to isolate what the exact factors are that cause children to want to learn and what are the factors that cause them to dislike learning.
One can suggest that when a Rebbe is aware that a child needs mini- bite size successes in his learning – the child likes to think. When a Rebbe just lectures straight and does not have an interactive session with his students – then they do not experience the pleasurable part of thinking. They will therefore hate learning.
There are also other issues that contribute to whether a child likes learning or dislikes it. One young man observed that a Rebbe would often call a student a negative nickname “Hobbit-bobbit” because he would also read secular books. When a Rebbe calls a student a nick-name it creates a feeling of negativity. The student associates the negativity with the Rebbe, and hence with the learning. This is not something that would have a positive effect on the student or the other students in the class either.
It would also behoove the Rebbe to begin each lesson with some positive motivitating device. This could be in the form of an intriguing question or story, or any association of the material to be presented with something contemporary or catchy. Often it may be difficult to come up with something, but this should be part of the Rebbe’s preparation.
Another thing that can be done is to create some change in the instruction. Sitting in the same spot the entire time may not be so conducive to capturing the child’s attention. Knowing when to stand up at key times may be an art form in and of itself.
No one is immune from the lure of what exists in modern times, from iPods to Cell phones to an entire host of new technologies – there is no question that the distractions do take away our children from the love of learning that existed in the times of the Mogen Avrohom and the Bach.
What we must do then, and what we can learn from these halachos of Tisha B’Av is to figure out the factors that in the past contributed to the love that the Talmidim of the past had for learning. There were clearly times in our history where we made mistakes and did not perfect these teaching methods. But there were also times when we did. We must look for it. Isolate it. And replicate it. For the sake of our children.
The author can be reached at email@example.com
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