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When a couple of men learn together as chavrusas, who reads? Does one always read while the other always listen? Does one read on day 1 while the other reads on day 2? Do they split the reading in half within the same session?

What are the advantages of each method? What is commonly done in today's study halls?

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I have had chavrusas that did any of the following four methods:

1) Switch off days

  • advantage: Balances out in the long run. Doesn't break up the "flow" of seder to switch turns. If you build review time into seder, it very naturally allows the person who didn't read it the first time to be the one to lead the review the next day.

  • disadvantage: One person is stuck trying to pay attention to someone else for several consecutive hours. Many don't have the attention span to make it through kiddush - morning seder is a lot harder.

2) Switch off at each new commentary

  • advantage: Switches back and forth in a somewhat intuitive way throughout seder.

  • disadvantage: Somewhat breaks up the "momentum" when you have to remember to relinquish the reigns at the end of a turn. Doesn't lend itself as naturally to "sharing" review.

3) Let your chavrusa read everything always

  • advantage: Makes your chavrusa happy. Builds up your ability to think and process without reading.

  • disadvantage: Means you will be doing a lot of listening.

4) Have no system and don't care

  • advantage: You don't have to keep track of whose turn it is.

  • disadvantage: If you are a stickler for balance or even-handedness, you'll be either frustrated or preoccupied with trying to make sure it is being distributed fairly.

I personally preferred the fourth method, since I really don't care who reads. I least liked the 2nd method, because it just felt too policed and over-complicated. My personal experience has been that most people do the 1st method.

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I myself do, and have seen commonly, switching off at different times throughout one study session.

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  • 3
    +1, this seems to be by far the most common method I've seen. An exception is where there's some specific reason for one person to read more (e.g., a novice who needs more practice reading, or an expert whose partner can't read well, or someone who may be distracted or fall asleep if he doesn't read, or someone whose partner has a sore throat). – msh210 Nov 4 '15 at 17:58
  • @msh210 very good point. All true, and end up being judged on a case by case basis. The basic reality is it simply depends on the Chevrutas preference. – andrewmh20 Nov 4 '15 at 17:59
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My and most practices that I have seen tend to alternate based on "sugya" (discussion topic). That's one method.

Another common method I have seen is that one reads the Gemarah while another reads Rash"i or some other commentary.

The above assumes, of course, that both students are (close to) equally competent in all these parts. In such cases, they may alternate these roles, as well. Sometimes, one is more competent in Gemarah but, perhaps can't read Rash"i script. (This may sound puzzling, but reality is that a number of students relied so much on Art Scroll or other English translations that they never mastered this skill.)

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Often, with an old Chavrusashaft (partnership), certain patterns settle in. In many cases it ends up being one of them is always the one saying while the other will only speak up when he has something to say, or when he wants to repeat something to get it clear.

It is advisable, in my opinion at least, that even when you aren't the one reading out loud, you should be saying it to yourself. This avoids the issue of nodding along and fooling yourself until you regain consciousness. There is a benefit of saying the words of Torah. Chazal tell us that in that way you retain it. However, there are opinions that, as in other Mitzvos, your Chavrusa is Motzei you with the recital.

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When learning with beginners - or those trying to master something they are mostly unfamiliar with - I usually read a section and then my Chavrusa will read it back to me.

Some prefer to struggle and not have me prompt them while they are reading it back, unless/until they err. Others prefer that I prompt them along.

When learning with my sons, I let them do all the reading, and help them along if they get stuck, or add commentaries when appropriate.

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One method not mentioned in any of the answers so far is where each person reads everything.

The way it works is something like this:

  • Choose a defined section to study.
  • Each person reads the entire section to himself. This can be done while sitting together, but some might find it easier to physically separate for this part.
  • Get back together.
  • If there were specific words or lines that one of the partners had trouble reading or translating, each one brings that up in the beginning and the partner clarifies (assuming he is able to).
  • Now that both partners have a reasonable grasp of the simple meaning of the material, begin to discuss it aloud with each other. You can walk through the steps of the text (e.g. the Talmud's question, the Talmud's answer, the Talmud's proof, etc.) You can point out certain parts where you thought of two possible ways to interpret the passage, or you can point out difficulties you raised while reading the text.
  • Throughout the process refer back to the text as needed. Over the course of the discussion you should touch upon the entirety of the textual section being studied. In this manner it should be easy to see if/where the partners interpreted things differently and the partners can debate any disagreements.
  • When you finish the section pick another section and repeat the process.

The advantages of this method are that nobody is forced to listen to someone reading, each partner reads the entirety of every text studied, and each partner is free to form their own "first impressions" of the sugya unencumbered by someone else's ideas.

Obviously, different types of study will be more or less suited to this style.

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