Asking Questions

One of the most exciting ways in which children begin to respond over time is through asking questions of the text. Often they begin by wondering out loud, wondering why a certain character acted a certain way or how God was able to create the world. Sometimes these questions are more than wondering; they are challenges (“How could God have made all those people die if God is supposed to be good?!”). These questions may be more literary, about the text; or they may be more theological, about the view of God raised by the text. From the beginning, I encourage children to ask questions.

Once they begin to ask questions, the children are not only responding to the text but are really interacting with it. When they do, they are practicing a good literacy skill – asking questions as you read (or hear) a text – but also are engaging in a very Jewish way of reading Torah.

I am often asked how I answer the harder questions, whether they are questions about God or about whether the stories in the Torah are “real.” I often respond only with, “That’s a great question.” Sometimes, I turn it back to the child who asked, “What do you think?” or ask if another student would like to try to answer. If the question is one that comes up in traditional commentaries or Jewish thought, I might say, “Many adults ask that question, too.”

Part of my message to the students is that questions are worth asking even when we don’t get an answer right away. Not all questions have simple answers. Some questions are the kind that we keep thinking about. Questions are valid ways of thinking in their own right. This, too, seems to me to be a very Jewish approach.