Learning about Learning

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

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Learning to Read Talmud: What it Looks Like and How it Happens

This post is by Jane L. Kanarek and Marjorie Lehman, editors of Learning to Read Talmud: What it Looks Like and How it Happens, which emerged from the Learning to Read Talmud project. It is excerpted from Ancient Jew Review.

downloadWe are witnessing an intensification of interest in the study of Talmudic literature in North America, not only in the larger Jewish community but also within the academy. Yet, study of what it means to learn to read Talmud – how teachers teach and how students learn to read – lags far behind this growing interest. Recognizing this gap, we gathered together a group of devoted academics who teach Talmud in universities and seminaries and, under the sponsorship of the Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University, embarked on a collaborative effort to study what it means to teach our students to read Talmud. Our book, Learning to Read Talmud: What It Looks Like and How It Happens, presents a series of eight focused classroom studies written by professors of talmudic literature who were asked to respond to two questions:

1. What does it mean to read Talmud in your particular classroom?

2. What does this reading look like when it happens?

Grounded in the scholarship of both rabbinic literature and practitioner inquiry, Learning to Read Talmud is a rare undertaking that uniquely bridges the worlds of academic Talmud and the study of pedagogy. It contributes to the growing field of the scholarship of teaching and learning. While most academics spend an enormous amount of time teaching, our institutions do not always recognize that teaching should be—and often is—an academic endeavor that involves critical study and analysis. Much as we write about the Talmud itself, we pay far less attention to the significance and contribution of writing about our teaching. With our book, Learning to Read Talmud, we aim to expand the research agendas of Talmudists to include scholarship on the teaching of rabbinic literature. As academic Talmudists—“insiders”—with a broad and nuanced understanding of both what the Talmud is and the vast range of approaches useful for reading it, we believe that professors of Talmud are uniquely reflective researchers of their teaching and the learning processes of their students. We are well-positioned to contribute both to the field of rabbinics and to the field of pedagogy. As articulated by K. Patricia Cross and Mimi Harris Steadman, “Teachers who know their discipline and the problems of teaching it to others are in the best position to make systematic observations and to conduct ongoing investigations into the nature of learning and the impact of teaching upon it.”[1] Learning to Read Talmud is thus rooted in the many research traditions that define us as Talmudists. The eight case studies included in this book describe the types of teaching and learning that emerge from the very nature of the Talmudic text itself. They not only present examples of an array of teaching techniques but also offer insight into how one teaches for different reading results as dependent on the different contexts in which professors find themselves.

Dr. Jane Kanarek is Associate Professor of Rabbinics at Hebrew College.
Dr. Marjorie Lehman is Associate Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Read the full post: http://www.ancientjewreview.com/articles/2017/1/3/learning-to-read-talmud-bridging-scholarship-and-pedagogy

[1] K. Patricia Cross and Mimi Harris Steadman, Classroom Research: Implementing the Scholarship of Teaching (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1996), xviii.

Cultivating Dispositions while Learning to Read Talmud

Today we hear from Jane Kanarek (Hebrew College) who, with  Marjorie Lehman (JTS), led the Mandel Center’s Learning to Read Talmud project. In June, they convened ten scholars of rabbinic literature to reflect on how students learn to read Talmud. Here, Jane considers how learning to read Talmud can cultivate certain dispositions in students.

In its simplest and most straightforward sense, learning to read means learning to decode. It involves learning to assemble letters into words, words into sentences, and sentences into paragraphs. Of course, this understanding of reading is far too narrow. First, it ignores the blog post block quoteimportance of sense-making, of forming some kind of coherent understanding of these different words, sentences, and paragraphs. Second, it elides the fact that learning to read is not a linear process.

Continue reading

On the Scholarly Dimensions of Teaching Talmud


Today we hear from Marjorie Lehman (JTS) who, with Jane Kanarek (Hebrew College), led the Mandel Center’s Learning to Read Talmud project. In June, they convened ten scholars of rabbinic literature to reflect on how students learn to read Talmud. Here, she shares some of the questions about teaching and learning that surfaced.

2016-6-28 Lehman PQScholars in the field of Talmud and Rabbinics who also teach rarely have an opportunity to reflect, analyze, and discuss their successes and challenges in the classroom. While we attend academic conferences to discuss our work, and publish research in books and articles, we spend little time learning from one another about what we do in our courses or reflecting together on how the pedagogical decisions we make affect the learning outcomes of our students.

All of us spend a great deal of time preparing to teach our students how to read rabbinic texts. We articulate goals based on the teaching contexts in which we find ourselves, think about appropriate assignments, and examine what we can learn about our students’ abilities from them, but we tend not to gather to discuss our pedagogy–as important as it is. Furthermore, few of us ever take on the task of writing about how we translate our scholarship into teaching, or of reflecting on the extent to which teaching well and researching well do—or do not—inform one another. Continue reading

The Americanization of Tikkun Olam

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

Seeing Jewish Studies Through Christian Students’ Writing

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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