[Post I just read: JTA Archives are now digitized and on-line for free , at Michtavim]
The other day, a comment from a friend caused me to calculate just how much time rabbis spend in training for the halachic component of the rabbinate.
Without any particular goal in mind, while sitting on a plane, I did the math: Aside from pastoral, administrative, or communal training, aside from studies of Hebrew language, Chumash, Navi, Jewish History, homiletics and so on… how much time do rabbis spend on learning either law, or legal theory, in Talmud or Halachah classes?
Of course, the answer will vary by program. I understand that there are 1-year rabbinic training programs. I also know that certain yeshivot grant automatic ordination when their kollel students get married. And then, of course, there are ‘partial ordination’ programs in which students specialize in specific areas of law, for which they are tested and for which they receive certificates.
So I’ll take a student who follows a course of study with which I am familiar: Day school, followed by Modern Orthodox high school, followed by Yeshiva University, two years in Israel, and semichah studies at RIETS-Yeshiva University.
As a general rule, day schools have their students – sometimes boys and girls, sometimes just boys – begin to study mishnah and gemara in 5th or 6th grade. Let’s say it’s 6th grade. They generally spend 40 minutes each day for the first year, for which I’ll assume 180 curricular days. So that’s 120 hours.
For 7th and 8th grade it’s more intense, more like 90 minutes each day. Continuing with 180 days each year, that’s 540 more hours, for a total of 660 hours.
Then high school. As I recall, we spent 3.5 hours each day in gemara and halachah at MTA. Again, I’ll allow 180 days. Over a four year high school career, that’s 2520 more hours, for a total of 3180 hours by the time he graduates high school.
[Of course, I have not counted time spent on homework, or Sunday school, or outside chavrusa learning; that’s too hard to estimate. And I also haven’t counted summer learning experiences, formal or informal.]
Our student then goes off to Israel, where he studies for two years. For five days each week he studies gemara and halachah for at least 8 hours per day, and in certain yeshivot more like 10-12 hours per day. But let’s go with 8 hours per day during the week for 200 days each year, and then 6 hours on each Friday-Shabbos combination for 40 weeks. That’s really undercutting it, but it yields 1840 hours each year, 3680 total [again, minus summers], for a lifetime total of 6860 hours spent in studying gemara and halachah.
Not all of these studies are at the same level, of course; in 6th grade he’s getting an introduction. In 7th-8th he learns about Rashi and Tosafot on some level. In high school he studies Rishonim, and to a certain extent he is introduced to Acharonim. In Israel he may learn Acharonim in greater depth. But it’s 6860 hours, before he has even entered college.
At YU’s Mazer Yeshiva Program, he studies gemara and halachah for 4 hours each day as part of the curriculuum, and another 2 hours each night, and let’s assume 180 days per year. Again, we discount outside studies, Sundays, summers. But for 3 years in college, that yields another 3240 hours. Total of 10,100 hours lifetime.
Then he enters the semichah program, and he learns 8 hours each day, 180 days per year, for 3 years, for a total of 4320 hours. Again, this is undercounting because of summers and Sundays, and it undercounts the numbers per day, but it’ll have to do. Total of 14,420 hours lifetime, before receiving semichah.
By comparison – someone who attends a full daf yomi cycle, hearing 1 hour of shiur per day (as opposed to our 35 minutes here!), spends about 2707 hours. This is more than 5 times that number.
And it’s only the beginning; a rabbi who stops learning when he enters the rabbinate will soon find himself out of his depth.
That’s an awfully long time to spend on this, much more than I think necessary for a person who is not entering the rabbinate. For a non-rabbi, I think the time could be better spent on other parts of Torah.
Further, one could give educational classes and write articulate articles and give inspiring speeches without all of this study. It’s not particularly hard for an experienced student to tackle a new topic by reading a few existing articles, digesting and organizing the information and finding a good way to present it.
I've been told by Conservative and Reform colleagues that this time is unnecessary, that primary sources can be summed up by secondary and tertiary sources, later articles presenting a digest of learning and views.
But I do think this amount of time is necessary if one is to be serious about learning and teaching on a deep level, let alone answering halachic questions. Accepting someone's digest means sacrificing the possibility of personal investigation, and the depth of understanding that comes with that investigation. And it means that when new questions come up, one flounders for a way to address them. The time is necessary.
As I said, I don’t really have a goal or conclusion here. Just thoughts on a plane.