Rabbi Yitzchok Etshalom
Talmud Torah 2:5
5. 25 children study with one teacher. If there were more than 25
but no more than 40, we place another [adult] with him to help
him in their studies. If there were more than 40, we give them
Q1: What is the reasoning behind the 25/40 breakdown?
YE (Yitz Etshalom ): We have to first examine
the value of the classroom experience, as opposed to the tutorial
(or home schooling) on one hand, and the lecture hall on the
other. I believe that part of R. Yehoshua ben Gamla's goal (see
archives at 2:1) in establishing the educational system described
by R was to create not just a place for transmitting information,
but also an environment which was conducive to educational,
social and spiritual growth. I am sure that much of this is
eisegetical and anachronistic (my reading 1995 educational goals
into much older material), but it seems that having a group of
children, roughly the same age and sex studying with a teacher in
one room created a rhythm of learning, an environment of learning
that transcended the information. I recall the Batei Midrash at
Kerem B'Yavne, YU and Har Etzion and easily remember the aura of
Torah which was more than the page of Gemara or the Halakha in
the Rambam being discussed at a particular table.
When we have less than 10 students, it often lacks a certain
dynamic - I know that if a few of my students are absent on a
given night, the spark of excitement is dimmer in the room. I
have always found that 18-25 students is the optimum number for
creating that "juice". Conversely, too many students (as any
major metropolitan area public school teacher can attest) makes
the learning unruly - where you either resort to quiet individual
work or to a lecture. I realize that there are wonderful creative
teachers who know how to energize a group of 50 - and techniques
such as cooperative learning etc. - yet that is not the norm and
is beyond the ability of most teachers to consistently pull off
By the way, there is a *Mahloqet Rishonim* (dispute among the
early commentaries) about the number breakdown. Whereas R
maintains that until 25, there is one teacher (meaning, even if
there are less than 25, the city council is forced to hire a
teacher); if there are more than 25, we hire the "T.A." -and if
there are more than 40, we hire a second teacher. Rosh (R.
Asher) has a different understanding (Bava Bathra 2:7). He
maintains that unless there are 25 children, the town cannot be
forced to hire a teacher - from 25-40 there is one teacher; from
41-49 we add the "T.A" and from 50 and up we already have two
teachers (separate rooms?).
Q2: What does the second adult do (in case there are more than
25, but less than 41 students)?
YE: According to Rashi (Bava Bathra 21a s.v. Reish Dukhna), he
listens to the lesson, along with the children, and then reviews
it with them. Other commentaries, including Ri Migash, Ramah and
Rabbenu Gershom, (all on the *sugya* (section of Talmud) in Bava
Bathra) seem to indicate that he is there to assist in the
teaching (Ramah adds that he is not an expert, but if he doesn't
know how to answer/teach something, the master teacher is right
there to help).
Q3: JF (Jeff Fox): If one
teacher is needed for 25 students, then why do you need two for
41? You should only need 2 teachers once the total number of
students would be double the amount needed for one teacher - 50.
JF: Perhaps R was worried about a teacher becoming a cult
figure. When a person becomes the sole educator for many, many
students there is a great danger that the students may see in
their teacher more than there really is, as students will often
do. Adding the teacher's assistant at 40 may be related along
the same lines.
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