A holy war (Ha'aretz)
By Yair Sheleg
While the Israeli public focused on the war in Iraq, ongoing terror attacks and the economic crisis, those prominent in religious Zionism, or at least its rabbinic elite, have been agog over a different subject entirely: a new Talmud-study curriculum designed for the national-religious school system. The reactions? A free-for-all.
The "Revadim" ("Layers" in English) program is a method in which Talmudic tests are examined through a prism that differentiates between the various layers inherent in the text. A world war of sorts has erupted over the teaching method to the point that one of the critics of the curriculum proclaimed it worse and more dangerous than any act of terrorism.
Lest there be any doubt, the program is not the brainchild of secular Education Ministry officials. Nor was it spawned in a Conservative or Reform seminary. In fact, Revadim was devised in the very core of the national-religious establishment: the Department of Talmud at Bar-Ilan University.
The biography of the program's originator and designer, Rabbi Dr. Pinchas Hayman, 51, seems kosher. He was raised in an assimilated Jewish family in California and as a teenager became Orthodox. Hayman earned a bachelor's degree at the University of California in Los Angeles, in classical languages and philosophy. He then came to Israel, where he studied for two years at Jerusalem's Yeshivat Hakotel, in the Old City's Jewish Quarter.
Hayman then returned to the U.S., studying for the rabbinate at Yeshiva University, the flagship institution of Modern Orthodoxy in the United States. He also completed a master's and a doctorate in Talmud and Semitic languages at YU. Hayman then worked as a rabbi in Canada for seven years before immigrating to Israel in 1987. After living for several years in Ra'anana, he settled in Elkana, in western Samaria.
Four years ago, as a lecturer in the Department of Talmud at Bar-Ilan, Hayman established the "Program for Advanced Methodologies for the Teaching of Mishna and Talmud," which was intended to be an application-oriented research institute. The decision was prompted by the continuing crisis in the attitudes of national-religious youth to Talmud study. Numerous studies carried out by the Education Ministry's Religious Education Authority (which is responsible for curricular development in the national-religious sector), as well as those by independent scholars, indicated that for many religious young people, Talmud - a subject to which many hours are devoted each school day - is the most hated subject.
In order to adapt the method to the didactics of Israel's educational system, especially at the elementary-school level, Hayman has even "colored" the different layers in the text with different colors. He states that even before he had a chance to propose the method to the educational establishment, schools that had heard about it were asking to use it, as a means of contending with the crisis of Talmudic instruction. "I am not only talking about elementary schools, but religious high schools as well, such as the Bar-Ilan school in Netanya, and the technological high school on the Bar-Ilan University campus. Even a few yeshiva high schools, including the yeshiva in Kiryat Shmuel and yeshivas in Ra'anana and Tiberias, expressed interest in implementing the program," says Hayman.
[Rabbi Moshe] Bleicher [head of the Shavei Hebron Yeshiva] went so far as to assert that the dangers of the program were even worse that those of terrorist attacks: "All of the killing and the attacks initiated by all the terrorists from the outside against the Jewish People are nothing compared to the danger that is liable to develop from this act of terrorism being perpetrated from within our ranks. The terrorists kill and strike at our bodies, but here they are killing the Torah and the soul of the nation." Bleicher was unwilling to be interviewed for this article, and said that he had no interest in disclosing details of the debate to "an audience that in any event will not learn Talmud, not with Revadim, not without it."
Stratigraphic, historical-critical analysis of the Talmud is an extremely difficult but very important approach, and I commend Dr. Hayman for teaching it.