Dec 01 2016

The Teaching of Rabbinics Starts Sooner Than You May Think. What Should We do About it?

By Elliot Goldberg

Virtually all of my colleagues who teach in Early Childhood (EC) or Early Elementary (EE) settings tell me that rabbinics is not a part of the curriculum that they teach.

This is not a surprise. It is a common assumption in Jewish schools that rabbinics is a discipline for the upper grades. In reflecting about the place of rabbinics in their curriculum, educators are likely to identify the starting point as the time in which a book from the rabbinic canon is placed in front of students and/or when students take a course that is named after a rabbinic text.

There is a certain logic to this assumption. Because we encounter the rabbis – and their stories, thoughts, ideas, and values – through texts, we equate the discipline of rabbinics with the study of rabbinic literature. Because rabbinic literature is often complex and, due to its language and logical structure, can be challenging to learn, we wait until students have acquired the appropriate skills and intellectual maturity before we engage them in the study of rabbinic texts.

But the notion that educational experiences must have a text at their center in order for students to be learning rabbinics is not accurate, and it is one that the field of Jewish education should work to change. Continue Reading »

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Nov 18 2016

Rabbis teaching Rabbinics: What’s Happening There?

Published by under Center News

By Jon Kelsen

Over the past couple of years, I have taught second-year rabbinical students at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah the pedagogy of teaching Talmud and other rabbinic texts. This experience has prompted me to ask whether there is any difference between training rabbis and non-rabbis to teach rabbinic texts. What distinct dynamics are present, of which my students should be made aware, when a rabbi teaches a rabbinic text?

In order to explore this question, and as part of a broader theoretical and empirical study of Talmud pedagogy, I recently conducted interviews with several American Talmud and rabbinics educators (of different denominational affiliations) who have taught in rabbinical schools. I asked, “What is different about teaching Talmud pedagogy to future rabbis, as opposed to non-rabbis?” Their responses, presented below, provide useful self-reporting of how they conceptualize their teaching practice in the context of rabbinical school. Continue Reading »

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Oct 07 2016

A Collaboration of the Field and the Academy

By Charlotte Abramson and Rabbi Sheryl Katzman

Building on 13 years of experience designing standards-based curriculum in TaNaKH, the Jewish Day School Standards and Benchmarks Project (now the Legacy Heritage Instructional Leadership Institute) of the William Davidson School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, launched the Rabbinics Initiative to develop a compendium of standards and benchmarks for the teaching and learning of rabbinics. We began the process at our February 2014 advisory board meeting entitled A Collaboration of the Academy and the Field.

We brought together teachers, scholars and the leadership of the day school associations. Practitioners shared experience from the classroom and their knowledge of children. They represented schools from grades K-12 and a broad spectrum of religious affiliations. By design, they pushed the group to see the faces of diverse learners. Scholars from the fields of Jewish education and rabbinic literature supported the work and ensured that we remained authentic to the disciplines of rabbinics and education.

Inviting Jewish education scholars created a bridge between the field and the academy that had immediate impact on the work of developing standards and benchmarks for Jewish Day Schools.  Inspired by their participation in the Rabbinics Initiative, the Davidson School and the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University launched a partnership to develop a research project, Students’ Understanding of Rabbinics. The project brought the experiences of students to the forefront of our deliberation in new and invaluable ways during the writing and initial implementation phases of our work. During the initial writing phase, the voices of the students represented in the study helped us develop criteria to select which standards to develop. Those voices reminded the pilot schools to place student at the center when selecting standards to guide the development of their curriculum.

We had some trepidation about sharing this research with our schools. Continue Reading »

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Sep 30 2016

New Report Gives First Look at How Students Understand Rabbinics

Published by under Center News

Volumes of TalmudWe know almost nothing about what students have learned, what they understand, or how they think when they study rabbinic literature. There is, therefore, no empirical basis for educators or researchers to articulate educational goals in this subject. The Students’ Understanding of Rabbinics project, a partnership between the Mandel Center and the Davidson School at Jewish Theological Seminary, was launched to develop a knowledge base for the field of rabbinics education in general, and to support the ongoing development of standards and benchmarks in rabbinics, as part of the Jewish Day School Standards and Benchmarks Project at the Davidson School.

The exploratory first phase is complete, and Dr. Beth Cousens’s report is now available. Continue Reading »

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Sep 16 2016

Who’s Afraid of Assimilation?

Published by under Commentary

Antique postcard of a family celebrating Rosh HashanahIn Jewish education and policy circles, the typical attitude to assimilation is clear: it’s a bad thing. In fact, it’s often taken to be the thing that Jewish education is supposed to help us avoid. In other words, the assumption is that educating Jewish students “Jewishly” (setting aside what that might mean, for the moment) is counter-assimilatory.

Conversations about assimilation often use one of two metaphors. The first is a biological one: assimilation is a disease and education is the inoculation against that disease, or at least provides the healthy nutrients to strengthen the body against it. Stuart Charmé calls this a “drink-your-milk” model of Jewish education. The second metaphor is martial: assimilation is an assault and education is a defense against that assault. For example, Seymour Fox once asked whether Jewish education was succeeding as a “bulwark against assimilation.”

But what do we actually mean, when we use these metaphors? What’s the disease, exactly, and what’s the organism that is being threatened? What’s the assault, and what’s the fortified position? Both metaphors rely on dramatic oppositions between in and out, between Jewish and other – distinctions that no longer hold, regarding practices and ideas, and even regarding community. They assume a zero-sum model of identity and culture that is utterly alien to the lived experiences of contemporary Jews. Continue Reading »

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