Stud­ies in the Week­ly Parashah, Based on the Lessons of Nehama Leibowitz

  • Review
By – January 11, 2012
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).

Discussion Questions