Step 3 & 4: Chazara and Recitation
Now that you’ve prepped the text and watched the shiur video, find some more time with chevruta to do chazara.
What is Chazara?
- The process of reviewing a text, in chevruta, to complete understanding and deep ownership
- A diagnostic process designed to help you understand what you thought you understood but really don’t, and where your gaps in understanding are
- The process of you becoming the text
How Does Chazara Work?
It’s all about chazara! This is where the magic happens. Chazara serves, first and foremost, to help you diagnose where the weak points in your understanding of the text are, and then to deepen your understanding of the text beyond where you even realized it could have been deepened! This is where the text’s molecules and your molecules come together. This is where you try to gain complete clarity of understanding (which, of course, will always be temporary and enhanced the next time you learn the text). Here’s where you come to own the text, and own the tradition! Without chazara, text study can actually reinforce a sense of powerlessness. If you don’t achieve absolute clarity on the meaning of the text and how each word means what it means—which can only happen through chazara—the teacher will remain the only one in true possession of a) the text, b) most of the “smart ideas” about what the text is saying, and c) the tradition itself.
- Read inside/outside: While looking at the text, the stronger chevruta (let’s call them chevruta a) goes first, reading out loud through the text, phrase by phrase, with proper phrasing and pronunciation, and translating both “inside” and “outside,” talking out any necessary explanatory or background information as if teaching the material to an uninitiated listener. Partner (b) should monitor and check very carefully and correct any mistakes immediately and be listening for any “rote” translations that are not actually deeply understood by chevruta (a). Switch roles: Now chevruta (b) does the same thing while chevruta (a) monitors and corrects. Note: At the end of this step, both (a) and (b) should understand every individual word, inside and outside, and as many details about each word and phrase as their Hebrew level will allow. See p. 6 of SVARA’s Bet Midrash Reference Guide, “What It Means to Own a Text.”
- Talk it out: Chevruta (a) should close their masechet and talk out the text, in English, from memory (without looking at the text at all), in a good, colloquial outside translation, but staying fairly close to the inside translation, moving through the text phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence, to make sure they’re not missing any nuance of the text’s “moves.” The translation should follow the original words of the text closely enough that your chevruta should be able to know, at every point, where you are in the text. Chevruta (b) should be careful to monitor whether they think chevruta (a) really gets it or may not, at every given point. If chevruta (b) suspects there may be a gap or misunderstanding in chevruta (a)’s understanding, they should ask for clarification from chevruta (a). Remember: You are responsible for your chevruta’s learning! And they are responsible for yours. Switch roles. Now chevruta (b) does the same thing, while chevruta (a) monitors.
- Recite from memory: Chevruta (a) then starts the memorization/internalization part of chazara, reciting the text out, in the original Hebrew/Aramaic (without translating), still without looking at the text. You are now producing the text, from within yourself, from your deep understanding of it. This is not a rote recitation. The text will be naturally emerging from inside of you, because you know every move the text makes and you understand how each move leads to the next and can reproduce it! As soon as a mistake is made, even the most minor mistake in pronunciation or forgotten prefix, chevruta (b) should correct you by simply saying correctly the word which was mispronounced or missed, and send you “Back to the top!” to begin reciting again, from the beginning. This “Back to the top!” step is very important in the internalization process. Student (a) is not finished until they can recite the entire section perfectly, and without error. Remember: memorization is primarily a means to an end (deep, integrated understanding), not an end in itself (the ability to rattle off a lot of words). Switch roles. Now chevruta (b) goes through the same process of recitation from memory with (a) monitoring.
Recitation is sharing, out loud, the text you’ve come to own—in the original, in perfect rendition of the original but voiced through you. Make a date with your chevruta to light your chanukah candles on zoom, and before you light, recite your text for one another.