Chavruta, also spelled chavrusa (Hebrew: חַבְרוּתָא, Arabic: حَوَارِيُّ, from the Aramaic for "friendship" or "companionship"), is a traditional Rabbinic approach to Talmudic study in which a pair of students independently learn, discuss, and debate a shared text. It is a primary learning method in yeshivas and kollels, where students often engage regular study partners of similar knowledge and ability. The traditional phrase is to learn b'chavruta (Hebrew: בְחַבְרוּתָא, "in chavruta"; i.e., in partnership); the word has come by metonymy to refer to the study partner as an individual, though it would more logically describe the pair. In Orthodox parlance, a chavruta always refers to two students, but Reform Judaism has expanded the idea of chavruta to include study groups of up to five individuals.
Chavruta-style learning is also popular in women's yeshivas which study Talmudic texts. More recently, it has been extended to telephone and internet Torah study partnerships.
Based on statements in the Mishnah and Gemara, chavruta learning was a key feature of yeshivas in the eras of the Tannaim and Amoraim. The Rabbis repeatedly urged their students to acquire a study partner; for example, Rabbi Yose ben Chalafta told his son Rabbi Abba that he was ignorant because he did not study with someone else. (See more quotes below.) The choice of chavrutas seems to have been based on friendship or social proximity; thus, chavrutas fulfilled a social as well as an educational need.
Unlike conventional classroom learning, in which a teacher lectures to the student and the student memorizes and repeats the information back in tests, and unlike an academic academy, where students do individual research, chavruta learning challenges the student to analyze and explain the material, point out the errors in his partner's reasoning, and question and sharpen each other's ideas, often arriving at entirely new insights into the meaning of the text.
A chavruta helps a student stay awake, keep his mind focused on the learning, sharpen his reasoning powers, develop his thoughts into words, and organize his thoughts into logical arguments. This type of learning also imparts precision and clarity into ideas that would otherwise remain vague. Having to listen to, analyze and respond to another's opinion also inculcates respect for others. It is considered poor manners to interrupt one's chavruta.
Chavruta learning takes place in the formalized structure of the yeshiva or kollel, as well as in Talmudic study that an individual does on his own at any time of day. Although a man skilled in learning can study on his own, the challenge of developing, articulating, and defending his ideas to a study partner makes having chavruta a desirable relationship.
In the yeshiva setting, students prepare for and review the shiur (lecture) with their chavrutas during morning, afternoon, and evening study sessions known as sedarim. On average, a yeshiva student spends ten hours per day learning in chavruta. Since having the right chavruta makes all the difference between having a good year and a bad year, class rebbis may switch chavrutas eight or nine times in a class of 20 boys until the partnerships work for both sides. If a chavruta gets stuck on a difficult point or needs further clarification, they can turn to the rabbis, lecturers, or a sho'el u'mashiv (literally, "ask and answer", a rabbi who is intimately familiar with the Talmudic text being studied) who are available to them in the study hall during sedarim. In women's yeshiva programs, teachers are on hand to guide the chavrutas.
Chavruta learning tends to be loud and animated, as the study partners read the Talmudic text and the commentaries aloud to each other and then analyze, question, debate, and defend their points of view to arrive at a mutual understanding of the text. In the heat of discussion, they may wave their hands or even shout at each other. Depending on the size of the yeshiva, dozens or even hundreds of chavrutas can be heard discussing and debating each other's opinions. One of the skills of chavruta learning is the ability to block out all other discussions in the study hall and focus on one's study partner alone.
In the yeshiva world, the brightest students are highly desirable as chavrutas. However, there are pros and cons to learning with chavrutas who are stronger, weaker, or equal in knowledge and ability to the student. A stronger chavruta will correct and fill in the student's knowledge and help him improve his learning techniques, acting more like a teacher. With a chavruta who is equal in knowledge and ability, the student is forced to prove his point with logic rather than by right of seniority, which improves his ability to think logically, analyze other people's opinions objectively, and accept criticism. With a weaker chavruta, who often worries over and questions each step, the student is forced to understand the material thoroughly, refine and organize his thoughts in a logical structure, present his viewpoint clearly, and be ready to justify each and every point. The stronger chavruta helps the student acquire a great deal of information, but the weaker chavruta helps the student learn how to learn. Yeshiva students are usually advised to have one of each of these three types of chavrutas in order to develop on all three levels.
Beth Medrash Govoha (the Lakewood Yeshiva) is known for its "tumult day" at the beginning of each z'man (semester), when thousands of students mingle outdoors with the goal of choosing a chavruta for the new term. A similar "tumult day" takes place among the hundreds of students at the main Brisk yeshiva in Jerusalem, and at the Mir in Jerusalem.
Chavrutas often develop into lasting friendships. The shared commitment to scholarship and intellectual growth creates a close bond between study partners which has been said to be closer than that of many married couples.
Women's yeshivas which include Talmud study on the curriculum often schedule chavruta study sessions for their students. In Orthodox women's seminaries, students are paired with study partners of equal or greater strength to learn Halakha, Chumash, Jewish philosophy, or any other topic in Judaism. Although the latter set-up is often called "chavruta learning", it is not the same thing as what Orthodox men do and is better called "one-on-one" study.
Reform Judaism has expanded the idea of chavruta to include study groups of three, four or five individuals. It has also extended the material being studied beyond traditional texts to include modern scholarship and poetry. In Orthodox parlance, a chavruta is always two study partners; when more learn together, the group is called a chavurah (Hebrew: חַבוּרָה, study group).
International chavruta projects
- Online Chavrusa – connects study partners via Skype
- Israeli Chavruta Initiative – a project of Yeshivat Hesder Nahar-Deiah of Nahariya
- The Virtual Chavruta – provides tutors via videoconferencing
- WebYeshiva – founded in 2007, this service offers online yeshiva and chavruta learning
- JNet – this project of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch pairs men and women with Chabad volunteers for Jewish learning
- Partners in Torah – facilitates 13,000 weekly telephone study partnerships for both men and women on all Jewish subjects
Zionist ideologue A. D. Gordon used the term chavruta to refer to a communal society, such as the moshav, kibbutz, or worker's association, which acts as a self-educational link to the larger social-educational process. In Zionist thought, the chavruta is "a central tool in the struggle for the revival of the Jewish people, the revival of the individual, and the centrality of the idea of 'labor'. It is the highest expression of the Jewish person's extraordinary effort to recreate him or herself through 'labor', to be reconnected to nature, and to plant the many-branched tree of his or her nation in the land from which it was uprooted".
- "Just as a knife can be sharpened only on the side of another, so a disciple of a sage improves only through his chaver" (Rabbi Hama b. Hanina)
- "Make yourself a Rav and acquire for yourself a chaver" (Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachya)
- "Your chaver will make it [i.e., Torah study] solid in your hand. And do not rely on your own understanding" (Rabbi Nehorai)
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- ^ "Ladies' Chavruta Learning". Lubavitch Centre of Leeds. 2011. http://www.judaismlive.com/templates/articlecco_cdo/aid/642795/jewish/Chavruta.htm. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
- ^ Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Volumes 7–10. Yeshiva Rabbi Jacob Joseph School. 1984. p. 25. http://books.google.com/books?id=VgwmAQAAIAAJ&q=chavruta&dq=chavruta&hl=en&ei=n2wCTuutC5G3hAeZ_NGlDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CDoQ6AEwBDhQ.
- ^ "Adult Education Catalogue/Spring 2003". East Denver Orthodox Synagogue. 2003. http://www.clickdesign.com/CLIENTDEMOS/edos/classes.htm. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
- ^ "About Us". Online Chavrusa. http://onlinechavrusa.com/about. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
- ^ "About". Yeshivat Hesder Nahar-Deiah Nahariya. http://www.nahariya.co.il/Eng/Index.asp?ArticleID=155&CategoryID=84. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
- ^ "TorahTutors.org Introduces One-on-One, Text-Based Torah Study Tutoring Web Site". PR Web. 10 August 2010. http://www.prweb.com/releases/Torah-study/tutoring-web-site/prweb4372054.htm. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
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- ^ Bailey, Michael; Redden, Guy (2011). Mediating Faiths: Religion and socio-cultural change in the twenty-first century. Ashgate. p. 67. ISBN 0754667863. http://books.google.com/books?id=BmL6Ya5P998C&pg=PA67&dq=internet+chavruta&hl=en&ei=D8wDTrDDE4-YhQe_msH2DQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=internet%20chavruta&f=false.
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- ^ "About Partners in Torah". Partners in Torah. http://www.partnersintorah.org/about/. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
- ^ Amir, Yehoyada. "Towards a 'Life of Expansion': Education as religious deed in A. D. Gordon's philosophy" in Abiding Challenges: Research perspectives on Jewish education: Studies in memory of Mordechai Bar-Lev. Freund Publishing House, Ltd, 1999, pp. 49–50. ISBN 9652941379
- ^ "Search: Chavrusa Magazine". YU Torah Online. http://www.yutorah.org/search/. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
- ^ Sinclair, Dr. Julian (5 November 2008). "Chavruta". Jewish Chronicle. http://www.thejc.com/judaism/jewish-words/chavruta. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
- ^ Genesis Rabbah 69:2.
- ^ Avot 1:6.
- ^ Avot 4:14.
- "Question & Answer With Rabbi Ozer Bergman – Finding A Chavrusa"
- Chavruta book series
- "No Chavruta Left Behind" program by Kedma at the University of Maryland
- Kollel Chavruta program at Lincoln Square Synagogue
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