As a young yeshiva student, I first met the late Nehama Leibowitz in the beit midrash, where she taught advanced Bible students. Her style was unique, as she found ways to engage all of her students in active learning, and her method involved the analysis of texts using the wealth of gilyonot (study sheets) she had prepared from 1941 – 1971.
Those mimeographed gilyonot were a gold mine of information. But the information was not what Nehama sought from her students. Rather, these yellowed sheets presented a series of commentator texts, followed by a few questions. The most difficult of these questions were signaled with an “x” or at times “xx” — and via these gilyonot she would challenge her students to understand the perspective of the commentaries, and the difficulty in the Biblical text.
Among her many thousands of students was Dr. Moshe Sokolow. A master of Biblical texts and teaching in his own right, Dr. Sokolow was fortunate to have studied with Nehama for many years, to have mastered her technique, and much of her teaching. To Nehama, he was a talmid-chaver, a student and colleague.
The book is divided into fifty-four chapters, corresponding to the fifty-four parshiyot in the Torah. Unlike the original gilyonot, each parasha includes not only the texts in question, but also comments of Nehama, and the answers to the questions posed. Because of this, the chapters can be read and discussed, and yet it is not intended, as were the original gilyonot, to serve as a source of active discovery and investigation.
To Dr. Sokolow’s credit, many of the key lessons Nehama sought to teach are included in these chapters. From the distinction between peshat and drash to the Biblical use of stories, and the true differences between the ways that different commentators view the Biblical narrative, many of the greatest issues addressed during the thirty years which she composed her gilyonot are found in this book.
Nehama Leibowitz was the ultimate teacher, whose own epitaph reads simply “Morah.” With skill and admiration, Dr. Sokolow faithfully conveys many of her lessons and adds to her legacy.
Leonard A. Matanky, Ph.D., serves as associate superintendent of the Associated Talmud Torahs of Chicago, director of its Morris and Rose Goldman Computer Department for Jewish Studies, dean of Ida Crown Jewish Academy, and rabbi of Congregation K.I.N.S. of West Rogers Park (Chicago).