Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Why do you go to a shiur?

A couple of weeks ago I spoke to a group of Jewish and non-Jewish college students about Jewish life in North America, and as part of this I explained what our kollel does in Toronto. As part of the discussion, I was asked why adults come to classes.

I find this an interesting question, particularly because I believe that people learn more and gain stronger skills when they work with a chavrusa (study partner), as opposed to attending a shiur. I came up with several reasons for attending a class, including:
  • It's a communal experience, bonding with friends;
  • It's a way to publicly demonstrate religious commitment;
  • It's a way to support the existence of such classes, which benefit the community as a whole;
  • It's an opportunity to be in a safe Jewish environment, with people who share your background and ideas.
What else? Why do you go to shiur, as opposed to learning with a chavrusa?


  1. vs. a chavrusa - hopefully the magid shiur has more knowledge/better skills

    in general - it's cheaper than a movie?

    Joel Rich

  2. Not sure that everyone can learn with a chevruta - either they can't find someone who's right for them or they don't have the study skills or confidence to do it.

  3. less commitment -- if you don't show up to a shiur it still goes on, if you don't show up to a chavruta you've let him down

  4. You're asking why go to a shiur rather than learn on one's own or study with a chavruta [as opposed to why go to shiurim bichlal, which is a separate question altogether]?

    A shiur takes less effort. You go to a shiur, are entertained, and exposed to opinions that hopefully are challenging. A good shiur challenges what you already know or believe. If you come out of a shiur thinking things you previously thought were wrong, that's a GREAT shiur.

    A chavruta or self study is rarely challenging in that way.

    As for Joel Rich's comments, a shul survey recently asked if you would want to be set up with a chavruta at a lower, equal, or higher level than yourself. Not a single respondent answered at lower level. People don't want to tutor.

    I like Russell's comment too - although I'd note that in smaller shiurim, not being able to continue with a shiur is an obstacle to even starting. Especially open ended shiurim without an exit strategy.

    I don't know why the chavruta model became so popular. Probably for anachronistic historical reasons. I never learn be-chavruta. Either alone (when I want to accomplish something) or in a shiur (when I want to be challenged, or entertained). The only exception is a chavruta style to teach something, but that's like tutoring.

    1. Hi Melech,
      Thanks; a few thoughts:
      1. I find that I am always challenged when learning with another person; my own pov is too narrow.
      2. You know what the gemara says about people who learn alone...

    2. What researches from state health departments and the CDC say about people who don't study alone:

      The researchers wrote that “chavrusa study, with its prolonged, face-to-face contact,” probably resulted in high exposures to the virus, and these “overcame vaccine-induced protection in individual students.”


  5. Going to a shiur also has an element of doing something "mainstream" (a concept I have been exploring all summer), instead of learning b'chevrusa at a home or even in the corner of a beis midrash.

    It touches on all of the elements listed above and also is part of our mesorah of transmission.

    I can attest, that attending a shiur is a great way to feel comfortable if you are lacking in skillz. I have, so far, been attending daf yomi shiurim since the siyum and the comfort level is much less than learning gemara with another person.

  6. As of a few days ago I'm in the position of doing all three: I attend a shiur once a week, I have three different chavrusos (two in person and one over the phone), and I've just started delivering a Daf Yomi shiur.

    My view of tutoring is, I guess, different than that of most of the respondents to the survey that Melech mentioned: two out of my three chavrusos are, I'd venture to say, on a lower level of learning than I am, and I don't mind it. On the other hand, it is true that the shiur I attend is easier on me because I don't have to prepare for it.

    Ultimately, I think my reasons for going to that shiur are (a) the getting together with friends (similar to your first bullet point), and (b) the fact that maggid shiur is quite entertaining, and often points out details I never knew.

    1. "(b) the fact that maggid shiur is quite entertaining,"

      That's something that I think magidei shiurim should keep in mind, that they are providing entertainment, and have to compete with other forms of entertainment. As opposed to relying on the religious obligation of people to attend.

    2. Indeed, I agree that the entertainment factor is significant. People can find edification in many places, and what keeps them coming back to a particular source is the cumulative experience, not only the knowledge conveyed. And, it can help people learn.

  7. I go to my rabbi's shiurim because I want to learn his take on whatever he is teaching --no matter how well I have learned something he will always show me a new angle or how it fits into the big picture in a way I didn't appreciate before. But in general I try to spend most of my time learning b'chavrusa because it is active instead of passive, goes at exactly the right pace (by definition) and two heads are definitely better than one.

    As to the "level of learning" of your chavrusa, I think that is only an issue in a minority of cases. For example, one person might have more general knowledge while one is quicker or more creative etc.

    1. I particularly like the point you made at the end here. There are many ways chavrusos can teach other. (ומתלמידי יותר מכולם, anyone?)