Learning bekiyut and iyun

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 9, 2012

What makes a great sage?  Breadth or depth? Loads of knowledge or penetrating insight? In the words of the Talmud, "What is preferable?  Sinai or oker harim?" Sinai means a scholar with an encyclopedic mind, as though he/she had been present at the giving of the Torah. An oker harim (one who uproots mountains) has a fiery and incisive mind (Talmud, Harayot 14a).

This is an age-old debate in Jewish education. Many schools and yeshivot try to accommodate both ideals through two study tracks. Bekiyut study is about covering ground and increasing your exposure to as much or the Talmud or Tanach (Bible) as possible. Iyun (in-depth analysis) focuses on one subject and seeks to understand it from many angles.

Now that we have Google and CD Roms, bekiyut learning may seem less essential. At some point though, quantity of knowledge becomes quality. Broad knowledge of the Jewish tradition is what makes profound insight possible. 

Last updated: 11:33am, February 9 2012