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
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
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 importance 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.
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
This guest post, by Rabbi Joshua Cahan, is reprinted with permission from eJewish Philanthropy.
If you are a Jewish educator looking to teach Talmud outside of the Orthodox world, you will probably end up teaching high school. Outside of seminaries, high school students spend more hours a week studying Jewish texts, and are more likely to study them in the original, than any other group in the US. This makes the Jewish high school an ideal setting for a rich conversation about what in-depth Jewish learning should look like in the non-Orthodox world. It is a setting that demands real answers to the question that bedevils visions of our communal future: what precisely is the Jewish content that should fill in our vague dedication to Jewish Continuity? Continue reading