Jul 28 2014

Claiming the mantle of “theology”

Mara Benjamin, associate professor of religion at St. Olaf College, contributes this entry to our series from the Pedagogies of Engagement in Jewish Studies seminar.

As the only participant who teaches Jewish studies in a Christian context, I was a bit of an odd fit in the Mandel Center’s Pedagogies of Engagement seminar this past year. St. Olaf College, which is affiliated with the ELCA, takes theological education seriously: it requires all students to take a first-year course on the Bible (defined as Hebrew Bible and New Testament) and a later course in theology, with a focus on “Christian theology, understood as critical and normative reflection on Christian teachings.” These requirements pose some obvious challenges for me. Continue Reading »

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Jul 24 2014

Better Teacher Training and Support Lead to Better Teachers

Renee Rubin Ross, program officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation and former Mandel Center post-doctoral fellow, contributes today’s guest post.

Through the Jim Joseph Foundation’s investments in Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC), The Jewish Theological Seminary, Yeshiva University, the Day School Leadership for Teaching (DeLeT) program, and the Jewish New Teacher Project, the Foundation has invested millions of dollars in educator training and support. The rationale behind this is straightforward: more well-trained and supported teachers and educators will lead to more effective and compelling learning experiences for young Jews, the central goal of the Foundation.

Strengthening teacher training and support has a number of elements, as two presentations at last month’s annual conference of the Network for Research in Jewish Education (NJRE) suggest. Continue Reading »

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Jul 21 2014

Are Jewish Studies Professors Jewish Educators?

Published by under Center News

This guest post is by Benjamin M. Jacobs, who was a fellow of the Pedagogies of Engagement in Jewish Studies project. For another, complementary perspective on Jewish studies and Jewish education from this blog, see “An Underutilized Resource in Jewish Education?

This is the first in an occasional series of posts by fellows of the Pedagogies of Engagement in Jewish Studies project.

When Aaron W. Hughes, a professor of Jewish studies at the University of Rochester, declared that “Jewish Studies Is Too Jewish,” a hullabaloo among Jewish studies professors ensued.

Some objected that Jewish studies has by now long been established in the academy as a scholarly, dispassionate, scientific pursuit on a par with all other disciplines and area studies, and has earned its rightful place on university campuses.

Others say that Jewish studies may be in some respects parochial, but then again, so are African-American studies, East Asian studies, and women’s studies, not to mention astrophysics, English literature, and constitutional law. What of it? Moreover, many Jewish studies professors go to great lengths to teach their subjects in a comparative frame, and many Jewish studies programs are paradigms of inter-disciplinarity, so all the better.

Unlike Hughes, I am not at all concerned with whether Jewish studies is “too Jewish.” Like many of my Jewish studies colleagues referenced above, I simply do not see this as a problem for Jewish studies, universities, or Jews. But rather than simply rejecting Hughes, I think there’s something worth talking about here. I am interested in when, how, why, and by whom Jewish studies professors might be considered Jewish educators. Continue Reading »

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Jul 01 2014

Looking Ahead: The Center’s Learning Agenda

Published by under Center News,Commentary

Today, Jon A. Levisohn, the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Professor of Jewish Educational Thought at Brandeis, becomes the Mandel Center’s second director. Founding director Sharon Feiman-Nemser will continue at the center as senior scholar and continue to teach at Brandeis. In honor of the occasion we offer these thoughts from Jon about the Center’s future direction.

What is the biggest challenge facing Jewish education today? And how can we address that challenge and contribute to a thriving, vibrant Jewish community? We’ve been thinking about these strategic questions over the last eighteen months or so. We believe callout As we planned for our leadership transition, we knew that we wanted to take advantage of this moment to clarify what we want the Center to be and do.

Our answer to the first question, about the biggest challenge facing Jewish education, is this: We believe that Jewish educators, policy makers, lay leaders, and curriculum and program designers are flying blind.

What does this mean?

Continue Reading »

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Jun 25 2014

New Video of Middle Schoolers Learning Torah Through Partnership

Published by under Center News

How do learners become empowered to engage in meaningful Torah study with their peers? How can we turn seemingly incidental moments of discovery and connection into intentional design and instruction?

We explored these questions through an eight session course for seventh graders in a supplemental school, using a pedagogy of partnership. We documented the learning and teaching as part of a design research project sponsored by the Mandel Center’s Beit Midrash Research Project. This work builds on scholarship dealing with text learning, group learning and classroom discourse in order to understand how to induct learners into the dispositions and practices of meaningful text learning with others.

These videos provide two ways of learning about the seventh graders’ experiences.

The first (above) provides a brief overview of the pedagogy of partnership and students’ experiences studying Torah through havruta.

The second video (below) gives a fuller account of the seventh graders’ experiences learning Torah through partnership and will let you get further inside their challenges, discussions of text, and reflections on learning.

As you watch, consider:

  • What educational values and goals are reflected in the work that students are doing in these videos?
  • What beliefs about teaching and learning text undergird this pedagogy of partnership? Beliefs about students? about text? and the nature of learning?
  • What are students learning—intellectually, socially, ethically, and spiritually?
  • How can the pedagogy of partnership support 21st century learning goals such as cooperation, communication, creativity and critical thinking?

Full version:


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