International Gemara Program Inspires a Revolution

After a year of comprehensive study, students could choose from a range of impressive seforim sets. But the biggest reward of all: each boy could read an entire page of Gemara on their own. 

It was a smashing year of success in tens of Lubavitch schools! Just concluded this year’s “Gemara Bifnim”, a full-year study program that teaches students how to master a page of Gemara—bifnim

Igud Hamelamdim’s Gemara Bifnim, which has aimed to provide students with the skills to learn Gemara on their own, has seen immeasurable growth in the six years since its conception. Over 35 Chabad Mechanchim across the US and Canada have incorporated the program in their classrooms and as of this year, more than 500 Talmidim over 4,5000 minutes have delved into the texts of our heritage like never before. 

The innovative program, which encourages boys in the Chabad elementary system to polish their skills and gain independence in their Gemara learning, has made a large “dent” in the outlook of Chabad when it comes to learning and teaching Gemara. 

Though contests and programs for learning Mishnayos Ba’al Peh and acquiring reservoirs of general Gemara knowledge have been around for ages, a global initiative focusing on the skills of learning Gemara “inside,” was largely untouched. The Bifnim program was carefully designed through incorporating a strong understanding of what students need in order to master the art of learning Gemara independently. 

Much like the process of learning to ride a bike, requiring consistent effort and practice, the goal is for these skills to soon become “second nature,” says Rabbi Avrohom Bluming, director of Igud Hamelamdim. The importance of strengthening these skills is becoming more and more apparent to Mechanchim across the globe as they are the foundation of learning Torah and raising independent life-long learners. 

“Our goal is that Talmidim will begin to feel the enjoyment of learning independently, and will feel the tremendous power in the Gemara’s holy words, as Chazal say: ‘oisiyos machkimos – the text of the letters actually increase understanding.’” 

The program is composed of five core elements to maximize comprehension and retention. First, educationally enriching assessments and exercises are given as a means to guide the student in deciphering and analyzing the text. Chazarah is conducted daily, a rigorous review system that has the students constantly reviewing what they’ve learned. “Yegiah Points,” are awarded to students for their effort, an important part of encouraging educational growth. 

The final two elements focus on building consistent review habits. The Daily Chazara Phone System allows students to record themselves for 5 minutes each day, and Shabbos Chazara requires them to review the Gemara they’ve learned each week with their father or another adult.

Every three weeks, each class participating in the program takes a written test on all of the material covered. Boys are given a Gemara to look inside of, and questions focus on deciphering the Gemara’s back-and-forth analysis of the Mishna. For each question answered correctly, the boys earned points towards prizes at the end of the year. Additionally, exciting virtual raffles took place every few weeks for valuable gift certificates to various Judaica stores. The raffles are also viewed as an opportune time for us to infuse our participating students with inspirational messages related to Bifnim, says Rabbi Bluming.

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. “It’s fantastic,” shared Rabbi Mendy Chazan from Baltimore, “the program enhanced the boys’ chayus in learning and has them looking forward to learning more.”

Rabbi Menachem Weinbaum of United Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Crown Heights sings the praises of the program: “Gemara Bifnim has motivated my talmidim in an incredible way—with their thoughtful points and prize system. It has really given the boys an enjoyment in learning Gemara and specifically in doing chazarah. The tests have held the talmidim accountable and responsible for the learning.”

Rabbi Zalman Twersky of Chicago had another angle, “Besides empowering and inspiring our students, the program really prepares them for Mesivta.”

In the words of Rabbi Meir Perlstein, fifth-grade Rebbi in Morristown Cheder: “My students are discovering for themselves as the pshat comes alive right there within the holy words of Gemara and Rashi! It’s wonderful to see. Thank you for enabling them to learn Gemara the proper way!”

Rabbi Tom Yahel, a Rebbi at Kingston Pennsylvania who joined this year, remarked that he was pleasantly surprised to see the improvement of classroom learning as a result of the program. “Gemara Bifnim is not just an additional enhancement or extracurricular program. I was able to see tangible positive results from each of my students as a result of utilizing the tools of testing and review in my Gemara lessons.” 

To learn more about Gemara Bifnim or to find out how your school can get involved in this global initiative, click here. 

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