Sour candies, sweet Torah: Optional extra Gemara class draws freshmen

BP Photo by Avi Marcus

Sigal Spitzer, Staff Writer

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It’s Thursday, Sept. 22, and Reb’ Noam Weissman, two seniors and eight freshman are shteiging  away – that is, learning with an eye toward spiritual growth – in the Beit Midrash, deep in study of Masechet Tanit.

Meeting Period 9 every Monday and Thursday, 10 Shalhevet students are participating in an extra Gemara class voluntarily, during what otherwise would be their time for P.E.  The class is offered to any freshman who wants to learn Gemara for an extra period, and to any upperclassmen who have last period free.

On a typical day, Mr. Weissman pulls out packages of sour candies at the beginning of class and gets ready for a heated conversation. Topics have included Agadah, the emotional significance of the Jewish laws, and metaphors comparing the Jewish nation to different aspects of the world.

“I feel comfortable sharing my opinion and ideas in this class,” said freshman Shana Chriki. “Because of the comfort and trust level, the class is always engaging in deep conversations.”

Class always ends with a fa’hair — an oral test on everything learned that day.  The class isn’t graded, so the test doesn’t actually count.

“It is the concept of learning,” Mr. Weissman said. “After high school, students go off to yeshiva and learn for the sake of learning.  But while still in high school, why not learn for the sake of learning?  Why not take a class while still in high school focusing on simply learning and not on grades?”

Most freshmen are receiving P.E. credits anyway by being on a sports team either at Shalhevet or outside of school.  For students who want to participate but do not take part in a sport, the school is making individual arrangements.

“The value of kids learning Gemarah at a high level trumps the P.E. requirement, given that the students are already doing conditioning at another time during the week, Rabbi Leubitz said.

Mr. Weissman, who this year is also Director of Judaic Curriculum, said the purpose of the optional Gemara class was to teach students that Jewish learning can be fun.  And while it may succeed partly because it isn’t graded, but Mr. Weissman still thinks grades are better most of the time.

“This method of learning for the sake of learning does not work for most of the school,” Mr. Weissman said.

Senior Josh Meisel helps co-teach the class and senior Ariella Joffe supplies the group with cracker jacks and vegetables. The class is scheduled to meet two times a week for the rest of the year.

“It is an extra opportunity to connect with Hashem,” said freshman Mati Hurwitz. “This specific class is a great class with great opportunities and its really fun.”

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