Sunday, 17 December 2017

Book Review: Vagueness Vanquished

Vagueness Vanquished: A Strategic Approach to Learning Gemara by Rabbi Peretz Segal is a 100 page handbook detailing the author's methodology for learning Talmud.

Rav Segal  gives his method the acronym StructaPoP, which has 3 phases:
  1. Structure- structural analysis of the text
  2. Power Questioning- to identify the problems or ambiguities within the text
  3. Paradigm Shift- finding a new model for understanding the sugia
After introducing the general methodology in Chapter 1, the following 3 chapters takes us a level deeper, with how to apply it to Mishna, Gemara, and Rishonim, respectively.

I had the privilege of attending Rav Segal's classes for the better part of a year in 2003-4. The book does a good job of presenting his technique and includes a moderate dose of his wry sense of humor. I even found a new idea to adapt to my current learning: for each textual section, go back and formulate and write down a title summarizing the topic of the section. This helps me keep track of the big picture and the flow of the meta-narrative.

I recall my move from Ohr Samayach to Har Etzion in 2004. At first, immersion into the Brisker methodology was a bit of a culture shock. The style of classes, their focus and even the vocabulary were completely different. Looking back, Rav Segal's methodology has a lot to say about 1) Structure and 2) Power Questioning, but not much about 3) Paradigm Shift, except that there should be one. What sort of new paradigm should we look for? How can we find it?  In the10 out of 100  pages dedicated to Paradigm Shift in the handbook, these questions are barely addressed. If anything, one would expect this to be the largest section! Structural analysis is fundamental, as is asking good questions, but at the end of the day, it is one's final explanation of the sugya that is the result of one's learning.

The Gush's Brisker Methodology, on the other hand, is all about the Paradigm Shift. The Brisker Derech focuses on developing a library of models for explaining the sugiot of the Talmud. So, to sum up, Rav Segal's shiur gave me a great basis from which to continue in the Gush, but the difference in emphasis took me a while to process.

Bottom line, I highly recommend Vagueness Vanquished as an introduction to Talmud learning methodology. It's an easy read and the tools for approaching texts are fundamental for the aspiring lamdan.

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