Apr 17 2015

More than Content

Published by under Center News

This post is by Orit Kent, who was director of the Beit Midrash Research Project.

“Does the Torah hold us or do we hold together the Torah?” asked Josh, my 7th grade student. This philosophical question arose out of intentional study of core skills and habits of mind for learning text in partnership. He was in a course created and taught by my colleague, Allison Cook, and me. Partnership learning, or havruta text study, highlights the notion that “learning depends not only on the content that is encountered but also on the nature of the encounter itself between text and learner.” (A Philosophy of Havruta, 41) It is in the encounter that the potential for dialogue and transformation exists.

A Philosophy of Havruta examines these encounters—between reader and text, and between readers themselves. In Jewish education, we have long focused on the content, and for good reason. It offers a portal into a rich culture, history and religious practice and seemingly infinite possibilities for learning. However, we have often overlooked the nature of the encounter with that content and thereby missed an important opportunity to help students fully harness and cultivate the potential of the text, of each other and of themselves. If we want Jewish learning to teach people new ideas and help them “be”, we must pay more attention to the encounters we create and the skills that are necessary for engaging in them. Continue Reading »

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Feb 23 2015

The Americanization of Tikkun Olam

Published by under Commentary,Research

By Jonathan Krasner

When President Barack Obama declared at the first White House reception for Jewish American Heritage Month, in 2010, that America must “uphold the principle of tikkun olam—ourobligation to repair the world,” he became 3833624039_6743128b63_qthe latest in a parade of prominent American politicians, celebrities and opinion-makers, including Bill Clinton, Cornell West and Madonna, to invoke the term. The Americanization of tikkun olam reflects its ubiquity in American Jewish life, where many religious and communal leaders identify it as a core Jewish value.

This is remarkable when one considers that prior to the 1980s most American Jews had never heard the term. Continue Reading »

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Jan 29 2015

Avoiding “Excellent Sheep” in Jewish Day Schools

This guest blog post is by Rabbi Noam Silverman, Ph.D., principal of Hebrew and Jewish studies at Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto, CA.

Have you ever wondered why so many Biblical characters were shepherds? The original Big Three: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Rebecca, and Rachel. All of Jacob’s sons. Moses and even King David. All shepherds. Not one farmer, weaver or innkeeper.

According to one traditional interpretation, the shepherd embodies important qualities that are also central to leadership, such as the ability to lead others and care for individual and communal needs. Working as shepherds helped our Biblical forefathers nurture the capacities to be leaders of people.

But this comparison is also troubling – because people aren’t sheep. Sheep are meek followers. Sheep do what others tell them to do. Sheep lack autonomy and creativity and fiery independence. Do we really want people to act like sheep? Continue Reading »

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Jan 06 2015

Seeing Jewish Studies Through Christian Students’ Writing

Published by under Center News

This blog post, by Shaul Kelner of Vanderbilt University, is part of our series from the Pedagogies of Engagement in Jewish Studies seminar.

Shaul adds: This blog post is written in memory of my teacher, Alan Nuccio a”h, whose Western Civ curriculum inspired and informed my thinking about teaching Jewish Civ.

The Zohar may seem an unlikely text to use for the first session of a 100-level Introduction to Jewish Studies class. I chose to open with it, however, for three reasons. First, it is a great equalizer–as foreign to students with K-12 Jewish day schooling as to those who never met a Jew before in their lives.

Second, for students comfortable that they know “what Judaism says,” encountering the Zohar helps them realize that pat answers won’t serve them well in a college class. Chances are, their prior experience has not introduced them to a Judaism that conceives of humans affecting the balance of spiritual flows in a ten-part Godhead. Better to keep an open mind and focus on understanding the text.

Third, it is a great text for teaching writing. Continue Reading »

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Nov 06 2014

Jewish Studies for What? A Collaborative Vision of Engagement

Published by under Projects

Lila Corwin Berman, of Temple University, and Noam Pianko, of the University of Washington, contribute this entry to our series from the Pedagogies of Engagement in Jewish Studies seminar.

In 1939, sociologist Robert Lynd published a polemical book called Knowledge for What? The book was a call to rethink why scholars studied what they did, and what their work had to do with the world in which they lived, and it came to mind as we thought about gathering a group of Jewish studies directors together.  We found ourselves asking, “Jewish studies for what?” Continue Reading »

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