Friday, December 20, 2013

דער פֿאַרהער (the test)

In thinking the past summer about ways that we might further upgrade the rigor of our high school Gemara program, Rabbi Noam Stein, our Talmud Department Chair, had the following idea:  Given that almost all of our boys and girls spend a year learning in yeshiva or seminary following graduation, and given that through our Torah MiTzion program we are fortunate to have bachurei yeshiva here in school with us every day, why not try to create an experience more like a typical Israeli yeshiva than a typical American yeshiva high school while our students are still here with us for those students who want it and those students who are capable of it?

And so our new Beit Midrash program was born.  A select group of students who passed proficiency exams were exempted from our more standard Gemara classes and instead have been spending each morning preparing pieces of Gemara in our Beit Midrash together with one of the Torah MiTzion bachurim (2 students to one bachur).  Much like they do in traditional yeshivot, once the boys completed their preparation, they would gather together with the bachurim to hear a shiur, given completely in Hebrew, on the material they had prepared from Rabbi Maimon, our Rosh Kollel.

As midterms approached, Rabbis Stein and Maimon had another challenge: on the one hand, they wanted to preserve the "yeshiva feeling" of the program and yeshivot don't exactly give midterms.  On the other hand, it was important for us to assess the progress of our students over the first half of the year, especially in an experimental program such as this one.

And so the farher was (re)born.  Following the model quite common in the yeshivot of Europe, Rabbi Stein suggested that the boys get an oral exam on the material they learned but not with review sheets, or questions in advance, or even a test created by their own teacher.  A better assessment of whether they truly knew their stuff would come from bringing "outsiders" familiar with the material but unfamiliar with what exactly the boys had learned to fire questions at them and see how they could respond.  Therefore, a few weeks ago, Rabbi Stein reached out to me and to Rabbi Joel Finkelstein of the Anshei Sphard Beth El Emeth Congregation and asked us if we'd come in to farher the boys on the sections of Bava Metzia they had been learning.

Of course, we both jumped at the opportunity and for an hour and a half this past Wednesday we took turns asking the boys to read, translate, punctuate, tell us about Rashi, read us a Tosafos, explain the underlying concepts and the flow of arguments in the Gemara they had learned.

I'm thrilled to report they did an excellent job, that their enthusiasm for they way in which they are learning is incredible, and, as such, the program to date seems like a real success.

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