Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education

Pursuing Fluency and Interpretation in the Tanakh Classroom

The Second Conversation: Interpretive Authority in the Bible Classroom by Ziva R. Hassenfeld. 2024, Brandeis University Press.

Cover of The Second Conversation

About the Book
In The Second Conversation, university professor Ziva R. Hassenfeld returns to the middle school classroom to study her own 7th grade Bible class. The book explores dilemmas of practice she encountered around interpretive authority in the classroom. She analyzes the questions that came up in her teaching within the context of the most influential religious education scholarship, literacy scholarship, sociocultural theory and literary theory. She highlights the importance of two conversations about interpretive rules within the classroom, the first about the text’s meaning, and the second about competing conventions for determining its meaning. Instructors of any type of literature will benefit from Hassenfeld’s study, which offers rich ideas about when and how teachers enforce a classroom’s way of reading or follow a student’s line of inquiry toward more flexible interpretation.

Order The Second Conversation here.


About the Study

Dr. Ziva R. Hassenfeld’s research has clearly documented the differences between teacher-centered and student-centered discussions in the Tanakh classroom. This project unpacked the complexities of placing students’ voices in the center by exploring such questions as:

  • How can teachers make equal room for all students’ textual questions?

  • What should teachers do with “off the wall” comments?

  • How can teachers establish interpretive norms without silencing students?

  • How can teachers help students use textual evidence without being overly directive?

  • Can students develop a collective "point of doubt" in text discussion without teacher guidance?

  • How can teachers know when students are ready for text discussion, i.e., have reached a level of fluency and comprehension of the Hebrew biblical text?

While this work was informed by educational theories of Lev Vygotsky, Gordon Wells, Gunther Kress, Sophir Haroutunian-Gordon and Maren Aukerman, aspects of it are unique to Tanakh, such as the complexity of the Hebrew text, and how Hebrew language skills and religious identity shape students’ stances toward the Biblical texts.