Conference on Teaching Rabbinic Literature
Bridging Scholarship and Pedagogy
January 27-28, 2008
Concurrent Sessions A
Session A1: Teaching Halakha
Chair: Daniel Reifman (Midreshet Lindenbaum)
Rahel Berkovits (Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies)
The halakhic system assumes commandedness and personal obligation, and presents a guide for individual and communal practice and behavior. How can teachers of halakhic texts approach the material–and their students–in a manner that does justice to the texts in question and yet respects student autonomy, particularly in non-academic settings? By closely examining student responses to a halakha course on women and mitzvot at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, we will reflect on what an educator can learn from this data about the inevitable dilemmas she faces–in balancing intentional teaching towards an understanding of halakhic dynamics that can inform principled personal decision-making, with respecting and even affirming the individual autonomy of the students of a variety of Jewish backgrounds–and how that learning might affect teaching practice.
Nathaniel Helfgot (Yeshivat Chovevei Torah)
The teaching of halakhah plays a central role in most, if not all, Modern Orthodox schools, both in the US and in Israel. Anecdotal evidence, conversations with educators, and the minimal published literature on the pedagogy of this subject area point to some of the dilemmas facing educators. This presentation will outline some of the inherent structural, curricular, pedagogic, and conceptual challenges, and present a model for the teaching of hilkhot moadim (the laws of holiday observance) that has been used in a number of educational settings, as well as a discussion of the rationale for this approach as a response to those challenges.
Respondent: Jacob Cytryn (Brandeis University)
Session A2: Teaching Mishnah
Claudia Marbach (JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School)
Why would middle-school students want to learn Mishnah? Why would teachers want to teach it? In this paper, the presenter will present and analyze her method of teaching Torah She-ba’al Peh in a pluralistic middle school, based on topics that emphasize ethics and experiential learning. Through analyzing records of teaching practice, she will assess how effective this method is in achieving her three goals–that is, giving the students (a) a grounding in ethical behavior based on Jewish practice (b) the basic skills to continue the study of Mishnah and later Gemara (c) a sense of Judaism as a complex system that is the basis of our legal system today, and draw some conclusions related to the general teaching of rabbinics to this age group.
The Moral Mishnah
Judd Kruger Levingston (Perelman Jewish Day School)
When our students study Mishnah in our classrooms, how can we help them to uncover layers of moral discourse? This session will explore ways in which the study of Mishnah from different tractates can stimulate sophisticated moral thinking about ethical behavior, about the meaning and possibilities in human existence, about mystery in life, and about human dignity and existential concerns. Although Mishnah Avot includes numerous passages of moral instruction, the bias in this session favors passages of Mishnah that are grounded in ritual life, agricultural life, business transactions, legal issues and human relations.
Respondent: Avraham Walfish (Herzog College)
Chair: Jeffrey Spitzer (Gann Academy)
Session A3: Teaching Rabbis
Yehuda Kurtzer (Harvard University)
The difference between the academic history of the rabbinic period and the rabbis' own version of their history is well attested, and informs curricular choices in Jewish educational environments and the university classroom alike. The context of a class on the history of the rabbinic period in a rabbinical school, however, brings some of these differences to the fore. How are rabbinical students to both master an academic understanding of Jewish history, and also assimilate themselves to the chain of rabbinic Judaism that views its own history so differently? In this session, the presenter will discuss the unique pedagogical issues raised by teaching the history of the rabbinic period, using his own design and teaching of a course in a rabbinical school as the primary case study.
Aryeh Cohen (American Jewish University)
This presentation will describe the presenter’s experience teaching the Introduction to Mishnah and Tosefta course at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. He will describe and analyze the varied goals of the course, the tricky nature of combining skill and content goals, and the ways in which these goals have and have not been met, and will end with a note about “havrutolatry” in theory and practice.
Respondent: Susan P. Fendrick (Brandeis University)
Chair: Scott Bolton (Reuben Gittelman Hebrew Day School)
Session A4: Teaching in a Beit Midrash
Orit Kent (Brandeis University)
What are the central practices in hevruta interactions and how do participants engage in these practices in order to work with each other and the text? Study of the interaction among the three partners in hevruta–the two learners and the text itself--leads to the identification of six central practices. These practices are: listening, articulating, focusing, wondering, supporting, and challenging. It is the very tension that inheres in trying to strike some sort of balance between these practices that make these hevruta interactions so dynamic, so undetermined, so hard, and often, so engaging. In this presentation, participants will learn about this conceptual framework with video illustrations of hevruta interactions and analysis of the data, building upon the presenter’s previous research on hevruta learning. This analysis is based on the study of hevruta in a modern beit midrash.
Elie Holzer (Bar Ilan University)
The design and development of a beit midrash in which text study and hevruta learning are performed is a complex and multifaceted endeavor which deserves our attention both as educators and researchers. In this session, the presenter will articulate and map out important questions that should be addressed prior to and in the process of developing a beit midrash, and will address address various educational, philosophical and cultural rationales which underlie these questions. He will then discuss how some of these questions have been addressed in the particular context of DeLeT’s Beit Midrash for Teachers at the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University.
(Instead of presentations followed by a response and then discussion, both of the presentations in this session will provide opportunities for interaction. There will be no respondent for this session.)
Chair: Jane Kanarek (Hebrew College Rabbinical School)
Concurrent Sessions B
Dov Linzer (Yeshivat Chovevei Torah)
The issue of curricular “integration” is especially prominent in profession education. This session, about the (ongoing) process of curriculum development at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, will look at how YCT attempts to integrate a traditional Talmud- and halakha-based curriculum with rigorous professional, pastoral, and leadership training program, in the interest of producing integrated rabbis (both pulpit and non-pulpit). What are the necessary practical and intellectual pieces of Modern Orthodox rabbinic education and training? What integrative skills do accomplished rabbis need and demonstrate? What kind(s)–and which risks–of disintegration does the YCT curriculum attempt to avoid, and how? The focus of this session will be not on the individual educational components but on their integration, into a curriculum that trains rabbis how deal with a variety of lifecycle events and issues (e.g. death and dying, infertility, infidelity) that reflect pastoral, spiritual, and halakhic concerns, with attention to what have so far been the challenges of, learnings from, and unexpected outcomes of this integrated approach.
Respondent: Sharon Cohen Anisfeld (Hebrew College Rabbinical School)
Chair: Marjorie Lehman (Jewish Theological Seminary)
This presentation will examine the experience of introducing a curriculum for the study of rabbinic literature–specifically, Mishnah–for the first time at a Reform Jewish day school. What were the expectations of students, teachers, and families? What were the particular strengths and weaknesses of the students as they grappled with material? How did their previous work in Jewish studies prepare them for the study of rabbinic literature? Based on teaching journals and the responses of the students and families, the presentation will discuss the challenges and successes of this first attempt at bringing the study of Mishnah to students at the school.
Respondent: Jon A. Levisohn (Mandel Center, Brandeis University)
Chair: Claudia Marbach (JCDS, Boston's Jewish Community Day School)
Pinchas Hayman (Bonayich Educational Services)
In the context of the presenter’s work over the last five years, over twelve thousand students of widely variant backgrounds have participated in mishnah-learning utilizing shinun (repetition and memorization), in 150 primary schools in Israel and North America, including Community, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox institutions. This work has yielded powerful anecdotal evidence of cognitive capabilities largely ignored in contemporary Western education. This presentation will relate some of the most dramatic findings of this experimentation, and refer to relevant sources in rabbinic and scientific literature regarding memory learning. The presenter will also connect the cognitive processes underlying the shinun experience to the theory of developmental psychology and “attachment teaching” of Dr. Gordon Neufeld, and suggest why and how shinun offers transformative possibilities for modern Jewish educators of all movements.
Respondent: Moriah SimonHazani (University of Pennsylvania)
Chair: Deena Sigel (University of London)
David Kraemer (Jewish Theological Seminary)
“How could the Rabbis do that?” How often do those of us teaching rabbinic literature hear this question in one form or another from students? How could they have ignored the simple meaning of Scripture? How could they have insisted that the Mishnah means that? How could they have done…a hundred things that those of us familiar with rabbinic literature take for granted. This interactive session, based upon questions from students gleaned over the course of the last four months, will make the case that it is important for the teacher to recognize and “name” the strangeness of rabbinic method for our students, thereby opening the road to genuine cultural translation.
(Instead of a presentation followed by a response and then discussion, this session will provide opportunities for interaction. There will be no respondent for this session.)
Chair: Helen Plotkin (Swarthmore College)
Moshe Sokolow (Yeshiva University)
The pedagogy of parshanut ha-mikra must inevitably confront the question of why interpret scripture, and what the relationship ought to be between scriptural exegesis and the larger creative project of rabbinic literature. This session will consider these questions through an exploration of the view of Rabbi Hayyim Ibn Attar (1696-1743), known as the Or ha-Hayyim [ha-Kadosh]. In the Introduction to the Or ha-Hayyim, as well as in select portions of the commentary (for example, on Va-Yikra 13:37), he endeavors to resolve the dilemma of how to maintain the authority of the traditional meaning of the Torah text, on the one hand, while not discouraging or disparaging innovative, individual interpretation [hiddush], on the other. In so doing, he summons “the Jewish people who labor in Torah” to a great hermeneutic enterprise: to find the source in the Written Law for the normative conclusions of the Oral law. In other words, he provides a pedagogical mandate for Jewish Torah study that encourages us to treat Biblical exegesis as an extension of rabbinic literature and to confer upon both the “simultaneity of revelation” (to use Gershom Scholem’s phrase) enjoyed by the Written and Oral Laws. In clarifying the Or ha-Hayyim’s intentions, this presentation will place his remarks in the context of the attempt to uncover the nature of the authority of rabbinic literature to interpret Scripture and the criteria by which its interpretations are validated.
Respondent: Aryeh Klapper (Gann Academy)
Chair: Shai Cherry (American Jewish University)
David Stern (University of Pennsylvania)
This presentation will trace the history of the Talmud as a physical object, focusing specifically on the daf ha-gemara as printed in the Romm Vilna edition. Where did this page’s layout come from? How did it become the canonical Talmudic page? And how did it influence and help shape the study of Talmud? To answer the latter question, I will analyze Nathan Habavli’s famous description of a study session in the Geonic yeshiva, and Eliyahu Capsali’s description of the yeshiva of R. Judah Mintz in Seder Eliyahu Zuta (1523).
Jon A. Levisohn (Brandeis University)
Rabbinic literature is not a specific discipline or methodology but a set of texts, and not even a sharply defined set of texts but a loosely and variably defined one. The teaching of these texts occurs in various places, for various purposes, with various assumptions. So what can be said about the field of teaching rabbinic literature as a whole? Following Holtz (in Textual Knowledge, 2003) and Grossman (in The Making of a Teacher, 1991), this presentation will introduce the idea of “orientations” to the teaching of rabbinic literature, and will propose a set of ten specific orientations that encompass the field. The presentation will thus serve as a prologue to Concurrent Session C, in which individual papers will explore examples of the nuances and possibilities of five in these orientations.
Concurrent Sessions C
Session C1: The Contextual Orientation
Yaron Eliav (University of Michigan)
This paper will introduce the utility of archaeology for the study of talmudic literature. It will illustrate how the physical realm may contribute to the understanding of (or getting as close as possible to) the original meaning of rabbinic texts. It will then discuss the challenges confronting teachers who wish to integrate this dimension into their teaching of rabbinic material–what happens to the questions we ask and to the goals we set for our students, and what kind of tools do we use–and will offer various ways of overcoming those challenges.
Respondent: Marc Brettler (Brandeis University)
Chair: Lisa Karp Wurtele (Tehiyah Day School)
Session C2: The Literary Orientation
Avraham Walfish (Herzog College)
This paper will explore a teaching orientation to talmudic texts, primarily Mishnah and Talmud, that focuses on their literary qualities as sophisticated, well-constructed compositions. Based on the experiences of the presenter and other teachers, we will discuss the kinds of classroom dynamic that a literary orientation may foster. We will examine ways in which verbal cues embedded in the text may be deployed by the instructor to promote skills development, while serving as a point of departure for values-based analysis and discussion. We will discuss how literary orientation, which draws on academic methodologies without undermining the cohesiveness of the text, may serve as an ideologically non-threatening mode of integrating rabbinic and academic scholarship, and how adopting a literary orientation may help foster a classroom dynamic based on joint exploration by teacher and student, rather than frontal instruction.
Respondent: Reuven Cohn (Maimonides School)
Chair: Elliot Kaplowitz (Brandeis University Hillel)
Session C3: The Torah/Instruction Orientation
Jeffrey Schein (Siegel College)
This session compares and contrasts the teaching styles and grounding assumptions about teaching Jewish texts of two Siegal College professors. Each professor utilizes his own “canon” of rabbinical texts that trigger dialogue about Jewish learning in a course on philosophies of Jewish education. One begins with pedagogy in mind and uses Talmudic texts as a means to that end. The other begins with Talmud and utilizes the fact that the students are educators as a means to more effective learning of Talmud. This presentation will examine the ways that each instructor’s pedagogic content knowledge shapes their different pedagogic approaches.
Respondent: Benjamin Samuels (Congregation Shaarei Tefillah)
Chair: Elyse Winick (Koach, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism)
Session C4: The Cultural Studies Orientation
Gidon Rothstein (HAFTR)
Academic scholarship can serve the endeavor of teaching rabbinic texts by providing selections of texts that address questions of interest to students. Using a variety of examples, the presenter will argue that what we teach is less important than finding what students are willing to learn, and that Jewish students of almost all types are naturally interested in learning about the world of the Rabbis, for reasons that range from the religious to antiquarian curiosity in their distant forebears. The presenter will discuss ways that academic articles and works of fiction can provide comfortable points of entry into what otherwise might seem a completely foreign culture, strengthening students’ anthropologist-like immersion in that culture.
Respondent: Beth Berkowitz (Jewish Theological Seminary)
Chair: Mara Benjamin (Yale University)
Session C5: The Halakhic/Legal Orientation
Daniel Reifman (Midreshet Lindenbaum)
One of the greatest challenges for students of Talmud or halakha is acclimating to a system of logic that seems utterly foreign to their own. This paper proposes that, and demonstrates how, teachers can help students overcome this difficulty by approaching Talmud through the lens of legal theory, and outlines a semiotic model of legal theory, analyzing the way legal texts generate meaning by comparing law to other sign systems such as language. Through investigating and recounting his own experiences teaching halakha to advanced students of Jewish text in two settings, the presenter illustrates and analyzes how pedagogic use of the central tenet of semiotics–that the relationship between text and meaning is necessarily contextual–can better help students understand the nature of Talmudic hermeneutics and of the halakhic process as a whole.
Respondent: Elie Holzer (Bar Ilan University)
Chair: Barry Wimpfheimer (Northwestern University)
Concurrent Sessions D
Session D1: Teaching Talmud
Aryeh Klapper (Gann Academy)
Are troubling traditional texts best taught through apologetics and/or reinterpretation, leaving them as is, or reconstructing alternative positions? How do students react to having their moral instincts presented as minority voices in Jewish tradition? We will explore these questions by analyzing written and oral student reactions to multiple analyses of the rabbinic discussions of the Mishnaic rule that Gentiles are liable when their ox gores an ox belonging to a Jew, but Jews are not liable when their ox gores an ox belonging to a Gentile.
Michael Chernick (HUC-JIR)
One of the major challenges in the teaching of rabbinic literature–one noted by several of the presenters at this conference–is how to make a connection between that literature and the student. In the case of the Talmud, the major sources of potential disconnect between the learner and the text are (1) the differing concerns and culture of the contemporary student compared to the concerns and culture of the Rabbis and (2) the differing culturally determined modes of discourse used to discuss those concerns. In this session, the presenter will argue that three modern approaches to the Talmud–the "Brisker derekh," the historical-critical method, and Jacob Neusner's approach to rabbinic literature–provide complementary frameworks for the construction of bridges between students/learners and the Talmud, and will then explore the pedagogic possibilities of combining them within one course.
Respondent: Lawrence Kaplan (McGill University)
Chair: Lisa Schlaff (SAR High School)
Session D2: Preparing Compelling Learning Sessions
Carl Perkins (Temple Aliyah)
Determining the content and form of an interactive dvar torah/study session in the congregational setting requires not only a thorough understanding of the themes of the weekly or holiday reading and how they have been explored in rabbinic literature, but also an awareness of and a sensitivity toward the calendar (Jewish and secular), current events (within the community as well as nationally and internationally), and what is happening in the darshan’s own heart and mind. The context (a service at which “newcomers” as well as “regulars” of all ages are present, together with families celebrating key lifecycle transitions) presents its own unique pedagogic challenges. This presentation will attempt to unpack the process by which one rabbi comes to determine what he is going to say, which texts he will use, and how he will use them. He will explore and analyze the initial flashes of insight in which he comes to “know” just what he plans to do and which texts (and what approach to them) will “work” (and what is meant by “working”), and will explore how this relates to what happens during the actual study sessions that take place.
Elyse Winick (KOACH, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism)
For the past five years, KOACH has crafted an annual KOACH Shabbat, sending study materials and rabbinical students to some forty college campuses throughout North America. Each year the program has a defined theme and study guides designed for both rabbinical students and peer-led study. The texts are aligned to lead to particular conclusions; the study guides are developed to support those ends. How much direction is created by the text itself and how much lies in the hand of the individual teacher? To what extent can the distant hand of a curriculum developer control outcomes?
Respondent: Elyse Goldstein (Kolel: the Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning)
Chair: George Nudell (Congregation Beth Israel)
Session D3: Studying Teachers of Rabbinic Literature
Karen G. Reiss Medwed (University of Pennsylvania)
How and why does content knowledge matter in teaching Talmud? What kinds and forms of content knowledge do teachers of Talmud and rabbinics need? What kinds of subject-specific pedagogy does this content knowledge suggest? And how should we address teachers’ knowledge needs in our teacher preparation and teacher development programs? This presentation will explore these questions using data from in-depth interviews of teachers of rabbinic literature in liberal day schools at the high school level.
Michael Gillis (Hebrew University)
The paper will present portraits of three teachers of Talmud in a community high school. The particular focus is on the ways their own learning backgrounds affect their teaching and, in turn, on how the experience of teaching in this particular context comes to modify how the Talmud is presented in the classroom. As the three teachers are quite distinct in their background and experience, this research shows the plurality of possibilities in the development of pedagogical content knowledge in the teaching of Talmud.
Respondent: Alex Sinclair (Shalom Hartman Institute)
Chair: Benjamin Mann (Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan)
Session D4: Teaching Adults
Marcie Lenk (Harvard University)
What can adult students teach us, the instructors, about what they need for a successful learning experience? What particular challenges come with learning–and thus with teaching–rabbinic history and literature? Without exams or papers, feedback from students is haphazard or takes the form of class evaluations, which does not give the instructor a clear sense of what students have actually learned, or what remains difficult, confusing or frustrating to them. This session looks at a one-semester Me’ah course, examining student feedback derived from email exchanges between student and instructor, solicited throughout the semester, as well as data from the instructor’s teaching journal, revealing the particular needs and difficulties of this group of adult learners of rabbinics and suggesting some implications for pedagogy.
Jeffrey Rubenstein (New York University)
The study of rabbinic sage-stories has undergone a Kuhnian paradigm shift during the last thirty years, from “historical” approaches that seek to reconstruct the lives and deeds of the rabbis to literary approaches that attempt to discern the lessons that the storytellers communicate. This session will explore the important pedagogical implications this methodological shift has for adult education and other popular educational settings.
Respondent: Judith Kates (Hebrew College Rabbinical School)
Chair: Elana Stein (Columbia University)
Session D5: Teaching Midrash
Deena Sigel (University of London)
This session is an outgrowth of the presenter’s empirical research in the area of midrash pedagogy, investigating children's understandings of midrash. The study included four fifth-grade classes – two in Israel, one in England and one in the United States. We will cover some of the problems encountered when there is a lack of pedagogy of midrash as a discrete subject. We will also follow one student as she participates in a midrash mini-course, and use her reflections to illustrate the religious and pedagogical issues that are raised when midrash is presented to young students, as well as the depth of thinking of which children are capable when they engage with religious texts. The session will also propose a model for teaching midrash meaningfully in elementary school.
Alvan Kaunfer (Temple Emanu-El)
This presentation will focus on theoretical and practical considerations in teaching midrash to children. After exploring a rationale for such teaching, we will examine how children’s thinking relates to midrashic style and methods, and will look at an example lesson which focuses on students both creating midrash and analyzing a traditional midrash.
Respondent: Joel A. Alter (JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School)
Chair: Chaim Galfand (Perelman Jewish Day School)
Plenary 3: How Goals Affect Pedagogy in Teaching Rabbinic Literature
Dvora Weisberg (HUC-JIR)
Teaching Talmud to rabbinic and education students requires identifying goals related to their future roles as educators and teachers themselves. The presenter will discuss her own process of identifying particular objectives for this cohort and how that identification shapes her decisions regarding selection of material, teaching practices, and assessment.
Elliot Goldberg (Chicagoland Jewish High School)
While the teaching of Talmud is a standard component in the curriculum of the contemporary college preparatory Jewish high school, no standard exists that defines what that curriculum should contain and how it should be taught. In other disciplines, there are high levels of consensus. The uniformity of Algebra II/Trigonometry courses does not exist for 11th grade Talmud classes. Assuming that having a clear vision about why Talmud is included in the curriculum of a school is essential to developing a coherent curriculum, this presentation will focus upon how the content of that vision has direct implications for how Talmud should be taught in that school, using concrete examples from the Chicagoland Jewish High School. An underlying premise of this discussion is that there are multiple plausibility structures to support the inclusion of Talmud in a curriculum, and each merits its own pedagogy.
Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert (Stanford University)
One of the great challenges of teaching Talmud in a university context is that one teaches students who do not necessarily accept the talmudic premise of halakhic commitment, entailing a constant effort to translate its culture of halakhically-involved debate. As with any project of translation, this involves an ongoing negotiation between remaining faithful to the cultural universe of the Talmud while conveying its vision through other texts of various disciplines (philosophy, literature, cultural anthropology, and religion). Differently put, the pedagogic difficulty lies in conveying the stakes of the talmudic debates for the ancient Rabbis without getting lost in what can appear as excessive devotion to detail, yet without erasing the details. Examination of one example of an extended discussion from Masekhet Eruvin will serve to illustrate the presenter’s reflections on what is entailed in a “cultural translation” of the halakhic debates of the Talmud, before extrapolating to the general importance of this didactic approach.
Respondent: Jay Harris (Harvard University)
Moderator: Susan P. Fendrick (Brandeis University)
Plenary 4: The Uses and Abuses of Academic Scholarship on Rabbinic Literature
Jenny Labendz (Jewish Theological Seminary)
Whereas a traditional introductory Talmud course focuses on text reading skills and on the mastery of a particular slice of the Babylonian Talmud, the presenter’s course, "Introduction to the World of the Rabbis," focuses instead on cultural anthropology and on encounters with a range of rabbinic texts and ideas. Using examples from this course, this session will address how and to what effect the goals of scholarship and the methods and manner of reading in academia can contribute to introductory Talmud classes.
Barry Wimpfheimer (Northwestern University)
The popular phenomenon of Daf Yomi and the academic “Wissenschaft” study of Talmud are polar opposites along the continuum of the teaching and learning of rabbinic literature. This presentation will explore the ways in which both of these rubrics lose sight of the features of the Bavli that have made it the central vocational Jewish study text for the last millennium. It will employ the academic theoretical language of discourse analysis to discuss the Bavli as a foundational text that has both triggered and sustained a distinctive and nuanced generations-long intellectual conversation.
Respondent: Aaron Panken (HUC-JIR)
Respondent: Ethan Tucker (Mechon Hadar)
Moderator: Gail Zaiman Dorph (Mandel Foundation)
Concurrent Sessions E
Jeffrey Spitzer (Gann Academy)
Through analysis of student work on the sugyot on excommunication and on human dignity in Bavli Berakhot, chapter 3, we will assess how ninth-grade students learn to make judgments about editorial intention and the meaning of the Talmud. We will explore the ways in which pedagogy that asks students to confront editorial choices in manipulating and recontextualizing source materials, and helps students appreciate the complexity and multivocality of the talmudic text, is especially well suited to the needs of a pluralistic day school.
Respondent: Lisa Schlaff (SAR High School)
Chair: Jethro Berkman (Temple Aliyah)
Jack Bieler (Kemp Mill Synagogue, Silver Spring, MD)
Talmudic discussions reflecting how Jewish law views the property and lives of non-Jews, and interactions between Jews and non-Jews, may be troubling for students and teachers alike. What effect does teaching this material have upon teachers and students? What kinds of questions and conversations ensue? And what conclusions can we draw about how such texts might be approached in the contexts of day schools and adult education programs? This session will explore these questions, drawing upon the presenter's experience teaching certain of these texts in various settings.
Respondent: Solomon Schimmel (Hebrew College)
Chair: Joshua Moss (American Hebrew Academy)
Steven Fraade (Yale University)
What is the nature of the relationship between law (halakha) and narrative (aggada) in Jewish culture from the Bible to the present? By looking at rabbinic texts (with some biblical backdrops and modern reverberations) that exemplify or problematize the relationship between these two aspects of rabbinic dialectical creativity, we will ask about the implications for the teaching of classical rabbinic texts–including pedagogic challenges, tensions, possibilities, and responsibilities–in a way that is sensitive to their combination rather than isolation.
Respondent: Gail Labovitz (American Jewish University)
Chair: Avraham Walfish (Herzog College)
Michael Satlow (Brown University)
How do undergraduate students learn a historical narrative of Judaism in late antiquity? How do we, as teachers, assess our success at conveying to them not simply a specific history, but a broader set of critical skills that they should be able to apply to new data? In his survey class on early Jewish history in spring, 2007, the presenter conducted an experiment in which the class's primary assignment was to work as a group (and in sub-groups) to build a "wiki" (a collaborative website) on early Jewish history. This experiment had three goals: (1) to seek to discover how students moved from passively learning a narrative of this period of Jewish history to actively applying what they learned; (2) to assessing the effectiveness of incorporating more active learning in such a class; and (3) to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the wiki as an educational tool. The presenter's paper will report on what he learned from this experiment and propose some pedagogic implications for the use of wikis in educational settings as well as how students make sense of historical narrative.
Respondent: Shaye J. D. Cohen (Harvard University)
Chair: Shawn Fields-Meyer (Milken Community High School)
Dov Lerea (Abraham Joshua Heschel School, NY)
In addition to the many competencies, sensibilities and skills required of teachers, teaching requires both challenging and following the thinking of one’s students. In this session, the presenter will present data from a case-study setting in which he followed the thinking of three students as they attempted to make sense of a Mishnah text. The presentation is dedicated to providing and analyzing a thick description of the interactions between teacher, students and text. The analysis will generate suggestions about the implications of such interactions for the teacher’s pedagogic decision-making.
Respondent: Shawn SimonHazani (Perelman Jewish Day School)
Chair: Neal Scheindlin (Milken Community High School)
Avital Campbell Hochstein (Shalom Hartman Institute, Jerusalem)
There are two central goals in the teaching of Talmud: (1) teaching Talmud as one of our central classical texts, i.e., bringing students to consider the Talmud a text containing wisdom that can be insightful regarding their lives, a text which continues to innovate when revisited, a text that relates to the great essential questions of life and to its everyday challenges; and (2) bringing students to a level of literacy with this central text, i.e., bringing them to want and to have the tools to do so. These goals have implications for curriculum and for the practice of teaching. This presentation will discuss these goals and describe learning in a Bet Midrash setting and how it relates to the goals above, with specific reference to the Jewish Studies Bet Midrash at the Shalom Hartman Institute's new Midrasha LeBanot Girls' High School in Jerusalem.
Respondent: Bradley Solmsen (Brandeis University)
Chair: Robin Nafshi (Rimon: Collaborative Jewish Learning in MetroWest)
Concurrent Sessions F
Session F1: Teaching Rabbinic Literature in Jewish Day Schools: A Roundtable
Ruth Satinover Fagen (Abraham Joshua Heschel School)
Yair Altshuler (Maimonides School)
Jack Nahmod (Beth Tfiloh Dahan High School)
In this discussion session over lunch, three educational leaders from a diverse set of Jewish day schools will share perspectives based on their experiences at their own institutions. Topics will include the organization of a curriculum in rabbinic literature, the assessment of student learning in this area, and what constitutes good and generative learning experiences for their students. These areas of focus will serve as windows into the larger question of how we might conceive of the goals of teaching rabbinic literature in Jewish day schools.
Moderator: Susan M. Kardos (Combined Jewish Philanthropies)
Sarra Lev (Reconstructionist Rabbinical College)
This presentation examines the conflicts and balances in teaching rabbinic texts and contemporary ethical principles in the education of rabbis. It examines two challenges: (1) what to do when looking for ethical guidance and wisdom from texts which are sometimes, by the standards in the given context (in this case, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College), unethical; and (2) how to make ethical leaders of our students through our teaching of these texts. The presenter will examine the responses of several students to these questions, and reflect upon selected instances where these problems have arisen in her teaching.
Jonah Steinberg (Hebrew College Rabbinical School)
Rabbinical students come to the study of classical sources spiritually motivated, seeking practical relevance and personal connection to tradition through Talmudic study. Teachers of future rabbis are answerable not only for intellectual standards but also for the future of Talmudic conversation as a factor in the continuing life of Judaism. In this presentation, I draw upon the experience of introducing rabbinical students to Talmudic study in four rabbinical schools, and upon the responses of students, to reflect upon curricular and pedagogical choices that arise from considering that spiritual development is at stake in the very same classrooms where we cultivate technical and analytical skills.
Respondent: Marjorie Lehman (Jewish Theological Seminary)
Chair: Ethan Linden (Camp Ramah of New England)
Shari L. Lowin (Stonehill College)
Shai Cherry (American Jewish University)
Ruth Langer (Boston College)
In this discussion session over lunch, three educators with experience teaching non-Jewish religiously-affiliated audiences will explore the particular dynamics of teaching rabbinic literature in these settings. Topics will include the preconceptions that students bring to the study of rabbinic literature, the comparative study of rabbinic literature alongside other literatures, and how these particular environments have influenced the presenters' pedagogy. Most fundamentally, the session will explore the question of what we can learn about teaching rabbinic literature, or perhaps about rabbinic literature itself, from the experience of teaching in these particular settings.
Moderator: Evyatar Marienberg (Jewish Theological Seminary)
Michael Paley (UJA-Federation of NY)
Through reflection on several examples from his own 20 years of teaching, the presenter will explore the parameters of enabling adults to enter Jewish learning "space" with their own areas of expertise, and will take up the following questions: In what sense does rabbinic literature need to be "made relevant," and in what sense does that phrase misrepresent what rabbinic literature is and the range of topics that it addresses? How might we think about the capacities of highly educated and highly accomplished adult Jewish learners in a way that breaks down the dichotomy between what it means to be generally-educated and Jewishly-educated? Why do adult Jewish learners often feel like beginners well into their learning, and how can teachers instead teach them rabbinic texts in content areas they already know well in ways that validate the experience and expertise they bring to their Jewish learning, and bridge narrative and law, and life and Torah?
Stephen Hazan Arnoff (14th Street Y of The Educational Alliance)
How might texts of popular art and culture–exemplified here by the comedy of Lenny Bruce and Sarah Silverman, fiction by Philip Roth, and The Wizard of Oz–be engaged as foils, supplements, and even remedies for the challenges of adult Jewish learning of traditional texts? Such juxtapositions of content can offer a compelling platform for encountering the great ideas of the tradition, sharpening the intellectual experience of study, and engaging the dilemmas through which contemporary life turns. This talk explores the pedagogical methods, motivations, and results of combining rabbinic texts and texts of popular culture.
Respondent: Vivie Mayer (Reconstructionist Rabbinical College)
Chair: Joel A. Alter (JCDS, Boston's Jewish Community Day School)
Concurrent Sessions G
Jane Kanarek (Hebrew College Rabbinical School)
In the course of investigating her own teaching in an intermediate level Talmud class at the Northwoods Kollel of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, the presenter discovered that the idea of “slowing down" recurred in her own language and the language of the students. But what does slowing down mean, in the study of Talmud, and what practices or stances are encompassed by the phrase? In this session, the presenter examines the methods and practices through which she encourages students to slow down–that is, what is her pedagogy of slowing down?–and asks what can be learned from her own teaching, and from her students’ experience, about how slowing down contributes to the learning process and even to religious identity formation.
Respondent: Rahel Berkovits (Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies)
Chair: Ethan Tucker (Mechon Hadar)
Reuven Kimelman (Brandeis University)
There are three questions around which the teaching of the ’Amidah ought to be organized: what are readers of the liturgical text apprised of, how are they apprised, and why. This what, how, and why correspond in literary criticism to the historiographic function, the aesthetic factor, and the ideological principle. But these are not merely distinct questions or distinct methodologies, among which teachers of the liturgical text can pick and choose. Instead, the argument of this presentation is that historical issues, aesthetic or literary considerations, and ideological factors converge to illuminate its meaning, and thus that each require pedagogic attention when teaching the ’Amidah.
Respondent: Dov Lerea (Abraham Joshua Heschel School)
Chair: Michael Satlow (Brown University)
Charlotte Abramson (Jewish Theological Seminary)
How do we determine the goals for teaching rabbinic literature in the day school? Which skills and kinds of knowledge define student mastery of the discipline? How can schools clarify their goals for the teaching of rabbinic literature? How might rabbinics standards improve the teaching and learning of rabbinics in the day school? In this session, participants will be introduced to the TaNaKH standards in the Standards and Benchmarks Project and the rationale for standards-based curriculum design, as a springboard for discussing the potential for developing standards for the teaching and learning of rabbinic literature. Participants will have an opportunity to unpack what they understand to be the discipline of rabbinic literature, and how their understanding of the discipline can serve as a basis for generating overarching learning outcomes or standards for the teaching and learning of rabbinic literature.
(Instead of a presentation followed by a response and then discussion, this session will provide opportunities for interaction. There will be no respondent for this session.)
Chair: Solomon Schimmel (Hebrew College)
David Starr (Hebrew College)
We set multiple goals for rabbinics teaching in Me'ah: cognitive, skill-building, and affective, to name three. How do these interact with one another? And what is the relationship between how we teach–our methods-–and the ends we try to achieve? This paper will pursue these questions through an analysis of interviews of Me'ah instructors in which they were asked to reflect on their teaching experiences. In particular, the paper will argue that the idea of making the strange familiar and the familiar strange is a central theme in that reflection.
Respondent: Michael Balinsky (Florence Melton Adult Mini-School)
Chair: Alieza Salzberg (Matan / Bar Ilan University)
Aaron Panken (HUC-JIR)
This session will investigate uses of a passage from the Talmud Yerushalmi that provokes critical questions about the boundaries and definitions of a rabbi's (and other Jewish professionals’) roles in Jewish communal life. We will first analyze the various uses professors and students make of rabbinic texts in seminary and professional development settings. Then, through studying this particular passage, this session will pivot around a number of fulcrums: first, studying the text will engender questions about the act of interpretation itself; second, the study will discuss the text's authentic application to contemporary life; third, it will question the particular claim that this text (and texts in general) have on the life of a student; and, finally, it will consider the use of a given text as an historically limited document versus as a document that has the potential to speak to and influence communities beyond its own time.
(Instead of a presentation followed by a response and then discussion, this session will provide opportunities for interaction. There will be no respondent for this session.)
Chair: Michael Gillis (Hebrew University)