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Studying the Torah in pairs


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Tishrei 29, 5772
I would like to get more information about what the Jewish tradition says on the importance of studying and discussing problems in couples, especially, as far as this arrangement of the Tora study helps to understand the topic better once you have someone by your side who can give an impulse to your thinking and reasoning. Thank you and shalom.
Shalom Andy, The Talmud (Yvamot 62b), tells of that in the yeshiva of R. Akiva there were 12,000 pairs of students. This seemingly unusual way of counting is understood based on the age-old Jewish tradition of studying Torah in pairs. Although Prof. Shaul Shtampfer found that in the famed “all-star” Volozhin Yeshiva of a little more than a century ago, many of those geniuses learnt on their own, anyone who has experienced the internationally accepted yeshiva custom of learning in the aforementioned chevruta style will clearly see the advantage of “Two (heads) are better than one” (Kohelet 4, 9). As the rabbis explain (Kohelet Rabba, ibid), this is not only true in marriage, but similarly in learning, as well. The mishna in Avot (ch. 1) recounts the generations of the tannaic rabbinical tradition (about 2,000 years ago), by mentioning the head of the Sanhedrin, as well as his partner. Most of the most important rabbis in the mishna and gmara have a steady partner who usually comes to disagree, like R. Yehoshua-R. Eliezer; R. Akiva-R. Yishmael; Rava-Abaye; Rav-Shmuel; R. Huna-R. Chisda. The amora R. Yochanan mourned the loss of Reish Lakish his study partner so much because all those who tried to take his place attempted to prove his theories, while Reish Lakish tried to argue and disprove R. Yochanan’s explanations (Baba Metzia 84a). The mishna in Avot (1, 6), “have a rabbi and acquire a friend”, is often explained that this type of idealistic and learned study partner is a positive ethical influence, not to mention a social pleasure. Rav Kook adds (Olat Re’iya, p. 330) that like in the physical world such as chemistry, where the interaction of different chemicals, or the harmonizing of different musical notes adds much more richness and beauty than simple monolithic materials or sounds, so too in the intellectual and spiritual world, as well. Wishing you success in finding that successful “match”! With Love of Israel, Rav Ari Shvat
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