Saturday, November 19, 2011

Amateur Scholarship?

Last week an acquaintance of mine, a yungerman at the local kollel, gave me a couple of pamphlets he had written, one on tznius and one on ahavas Hashem. He said that each was the result of several month’s work. I read them over Shabbos. If I had to sum up my impression in one word, it would be “amateur.”

I don’t know exactly where this person ranks on the “talmin chachom” scale, but he’s been in yeshiva for many years, gives shiurim… were he in a secular university, he’d have to be at the very least a PhD candidate. Yet the content of the pamphlets was a string of assertions and logical leaps. Granted, I think that the intended audience is high-schoolers, so I wasn’t expecting sophisticated arguments. On the other hand, I also wasn’t expecting the bulk of the content to rely on nebulous, undefined concepts and non-sequiturs.

I can only hope that these works are not representative of the general quality of “learning” in kollelim.

So now I have a decision to make. My instinct is to fisk the pamphlets and point out to him where he’s wrong.* If nothing else, it would lead to some interesting conversations. On the other hand, he told me that the pamphlets were “well received.” Is some interesting conversation worth criticizing his work? Not that I’m anybody who’s opinion he needs to be concerned with, but having your work criticized is never pleasant, no matter what the source.

*I wouldn’t presume to try to show that he’s halchicly wrong, or that other sources argue with his conclusions. I have no doubt that his command of the material is far better than my own. What I would point out is where the logic fails (or is non-existent) and where he is factually wrong.


  1. FWIW, I'd be interested in hearing about any such conversations.

  2. He gave them to you to read. What's the problem with giving him honest criticism on his theses? That's the spirit of scholarship, secular or religious (you don't have to tell him that his "scholarship" is amateurish.)

  3. I agree that you should give him constructive criticism. It could help him improve in the future.

    While I can't speak for everyone who learns in kollel, my husband learned for many years and really does have a level of knowledge of the subject about equal to that of a PhD candidate and can do proper research. I am planning on getting a PhD in economics and even when I finish the program, I doubt that I will know more Economics than my husband knows Torah.

    Of course, kollel-level knowledge of Torah is about as useful as getting a PhD in Greek Mythology and leads to fewer employment opportunities.

    I'll stick with the Economics.