an actual email correspondence

Subject: Re: school assignment


Hey ima,

thanks so much… It’s really quite simple. You can simply email me a short description of this teacher, and his or her qualities that really spoke to you (essentially all those ideas that I wrote you about in the last email). If you want, I could it break it down into an  interview format:

1. Description of teacher (subject, years taught)

2. What made this teacher different than other teacher?

3. How did you and other students relate to this teacher?

4. How did this teacher inspire you? What do you feel you gained from the experience of being taught by this individual?

Thanks again for all your help,




I’m going to write about my Gemara teacher, Rabbi Jay Miller, ob”m. He just passed away this summer, so I’ve been thinking about him a lot.

He was not your typical teacher, and many students, especially the women, were actually scared of him.  He was teaching at both the men and women’s programs of what was HaMivtar at the time; I think it was actually called Shapell’s then, but it was under Rabbi Brovender.  He and Rabbi Miller had started the yeshiva as a shoot from very right-wingYeshivat Itri, as bizarre as that sounds.

Anyway, Rabbi Miller was, simply put, going to find the best in people and not suffer any fools.  If you would have just come in to observe him, you would never get what he was doing.  I don’t know why I wasn’t put off by his mannerisms; he was a chain-smoker; he yelled at people if they had the wrong answer; and he clearly didn’t have patience for anyone.  He would never have put up with waiting until someone could collect their thoughts.  In fact, there were a number of times when he would yell at someone who hadn’t said anything at all.

So why did I think he was great?  Because he didn’t put up with nonsense.  We were all there because we chose to be there.  We were all older, mostly post-college or at least post-one year out of high school.  This was before the gap year phenomenon.  It was also before people were crazy about making sure that male teachers who taught girls were married themselves.  Most of the girls were baffled by him, if not completely put-off.  There were just a few of us who were his fans, I think.

How and why did he work this way?  This was what was so brilliant.  He did the same thing with the boys, by the way.  Once, there was a boy who was told, “Stop thinking that.”  And sure enough, later on, he was asked what he was thinking, and he admitted that his thought process was incorrect and was leading him to the wrong conclusions.  Rabbi Miller was asked, after that, why he was so insistent at not letting this poor guy think what he was thinking.  That’s when he explained his whole philosophy of teaching and his strange pedagogy.  Before every shiur, he would go through every single possible pshat in the Gemara, right or even (in this case, especially) wrong.  He knew that people are very prone to remembering wrong pshat, and so he would try to prevent the wrong directions being expressed during class.  How did he know what this kid was thinking?  He knew every one of his talmidim so well that he could read their body language and know where they were, even if they didn’t!

I must admit that I had exactly the opposite experience once with Rabbi Miller.  During shiur once, he said to me, “you’re right!”  And he stopped what he was saying and changed his approach to his shiur!  What was I thinking?  I must admit that at most, I couldn’t follow where he was going, and I didn’t see his logic.  I guess he realized that, not that I was right so much as he was not clear enough and thus there must be a different way.  So the claim was that I knew what he didn’t, but in his genius, he just took it 5 steps ahead and stopped what he was doing in order not to get to that “wrong” place.

Bottom line:  he put so much into every single class; I couldn’t imagine ever being able to do that.  But what I tried to learn from him was to give real attention to every single one of my students, to take them very seriously and try to figure out how they are thinking and how to respond to them individually.

I don’t know if I succeeded like he did, but I know that I owe him a lot.

Hope this is what you can use, even if it isn’t exactly what you asked for!




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