June 11, 2024
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How a Yeshiva Education Prepares Students for Law School

A 1985 article in Yeshiva College’s student newspaper boasts of the school’s success in preparing its graduates for law school. They reported to have achieved a 100% acceptance rate among students who applied to law school. More than a decade later, that same newspaper reported that close to one-third of Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) takers from Yeshiva College scored in the 95th percentile or above. What are the factors that contribute to the apparent correlation between the background and sort of educational system to which Orthodox Jewish students (like those in Yeshiva College) are exposed and the ability to succeed and thrive in law school?

A recently published study by Reuven Chaim Klein in “The Law Teacher,” published by The Association of Law Teachers, demonstrates how a yeshiva education prepares students for law school and a career as a lawyer. The researcher interviewed yeshiva-educated law professors for their take on this phenomenon and compared the results of those findings with the scholarly literature on the topic to date. Much of the existing scholarly literature focuses on the yeshiva’s focus on Talmud study, as well as the yeshiva’s use of the Socratic method and the chavrusa study models. To that end, this study sheds light on the various aspects of traditional yeshiva education that could be beneficial for those pursuing a legal career. The findings demonstrate that there is a broad consensus that a yeshiva education fosters critical thinking and analytical skills through its emphasis on Talmud study, which can be advantageous in comprehending complex legal concepts and arguments.

A traditional yeshiva education centers on the study of the Babylonian Talmud, along with the relevant commentaries, legal codes and halachic responsa. The pedagogical methods traditionally used in yeshivos also help prepare students for law school. Additionally, perhaps the prevailing school culture that encourages diligence and a work ethic makes that mode beneficial to future law students. For example, yeshiva students often study for nine–12 hours per day. These long hours could be a factor that is advantageous for future law students.

There is no consensus as to the best way to prepare students for entry into law school, and pre-law curricula vary widely. Even though admissions to law school in North America are largely based on grade point averages and scores on the LSAT, law school admissions officials also expect students who apply to have taken demanding analytical courses. It seems likely that Talmud study in a yeshiva fits that description. Yeshiva graduates with no other schooling credentials than a high school diploma and often a nominal Bachelors of Talmudic Law (BTL) granted by their yeshiva, are often accepted into the most prestigious law schools in North America. Professor Amiram Gonen of the Hebrew University stated “The fact that law schools are willing to admit graduates of important Lithuanian yeshivas speaks for itself.”

Klein marshals sources in the scholarly literature that point in the direction of a causal relationship between Talmud study and accruing the requisite skills necessary to succeed in law school. The Socratic Method is a learning process by which the learner is subjected to a series of questions that lead to certain logical conclusions. Through constant and persistent questioning, the learner begins to understand the ramifications of his/her own position and, ultimately, why it either is incorrect or can be soundly defended. This teaching method has long been associated with the academic study of law. The Talmud and its traditional commentaries make connections and draw conclusions. The process of questioning and analysis utilized in law school is shown to also be quite essential to the rabbinic learning ethos, which uses the same forms of dialectical analyses and argumentation.

One facet of yeshiva education that has recently caught scholarly attention is the modality of chavrusa learning. This traditional Rabbinic approach to Talmudic study, in which a pair of students autonomously learn, discuss and debate a shared text, is the predominant mode of study in Orthodox/haredi yeshivos. Students learn better when they expect to serve as a resource for others; students sharpen and practice their textual skills, and reading aloud aids in memory. This mode of study has advantages for peer collaboration and critical thinking. There are also benefits of argumentative interactions typified by chavrusa study because they involve greater intellectual, cognitive-linguistic and interactive work on the part of student participants. Students who find their views challenged would then reflect, explain and critically examine their opinions and creatively find counter-arguments. The scholarly literature does not explicitly link the mode of chavrusa study to success in law school, but suggesting such an association makes sense.

Studying with a chavrusa also teaches students how to debate and how to be able to argue both sides of an argument. Being able to argue both sides is important for lawyers who do not always get to choose which side of the argument they must defend. This is supported by the scholarly literature which sees chavrusa learning as conducive to reflective thinking in consideration of opposing views/arguments.

The data for this study comes from intensive interviews with those who have first-hand knowledge of this subject. The participants were rabbis with Talmudic training who also taught courses as members of the law school faculty. Interviewers were able to draw from these individuals’ dual experiences in their capacities as both former yeshiva students who attended (and excelled in) law school, and as law teachers who taught previous yeshiva students. All interviewees understood the phenomenon of students who experienced a traditional yeshiva education gaining acceptance to and succeeding in law school as resulting from a confluence of multiple factors. However, most of the rabbi-law professors interviewed were of the opinion that the study of Talmud as implemented in a traditional yeshiva setting is the central factor for the success of yeshiva students who later enroll in law school. This aligns with one of the chief objectives of law school, namely, to teach students “legal reasoning” – a term which corresponds to the goal of “to think like a lawyer”.

Another element of the yeshiva education that exposes students to how a legal system works is the way yeshiva students are trained to trace a given halacha through the legal works of the Mishnah (second century CE), Talmud (sixth century CE), Rambam (12th century), Tur(14th century) and Shulchan Aruch (16th century). This parallels the expectation that lawyers be able to trace legislative history from its original inception to its final applications.

This research paves the way for prospective studies aimed at exploring how students, within the framework of a traditional yeshiva education, might be effectively prepared to engage with and excel in other domains, such as the STEM subjects or the multifaceted arenas of social sciences and humanities.


Dr. Wallace Greene is the incoming principal of Yeshiva Keren HaTorah of Passaic-Clifton.

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