Learning about Learning

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

Category: Commentary (page 3 of 9)

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

What Should a Vision of Jewish Education Do For Us?

Jon A. Levisohn is director of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, and the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Professor of Jewish Educational Thought, at Brandeis University. This post is an abbreviated version of his recent article, “A New Theory of Vision,” in HaYidion.

My colleague Danny Lehmann has shared some constructive, generative ideas for Jewish education in the 21st century in his recent article in HaYidion, in which he argues for creativity, hybridity, transformative spirituality, and more. Do these ideas constitute a vision? Well, that depends. Continue reading

Engaging the Public Through Jewish Languages

Sarah Benor, associate professor of contemporary Jewish studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religioncontributes this entry to our series from the Pedagogies of Engagement in Jewish Studies seminar. She can be reached at sbenor@huc.edu.
image003I became interested in Jewish languages as a college student. Initially I had only heard of Yiddish, Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), and Judeo-Arabic, but eventually I learned about endangered languages/dialects like Judeo-Greek, Judeo-Malayalam (from Southern India), and Judeo-Tadjik (Bukharan, from Uzbekistan), as well as emerging languages/dialects like Jewish English, Jewish French, and Jewish Hungarian. For the past two decades, I have been researching and teaching about the phenomenon of Jewish languages, and I find great satisfaction in sharing what I’ve learned with scholars and students.

But classroom teaching, academic publications, and conference presentations have limited reach. Only a few dozen students each year encounter my ideas in the classroom, and given that linguistics and Jewish studies are both small fields, maybe a few hundred people hear my presentations or read my articles. Continue reading

Minds and Hearts: Rethinking the “Division of Labor” Between Jewish Studies and Hillel on Campus

Barry Wimpfheimer, associate professor of religious studies at Northwestern, contributes this entry to our series from the Pedagogies of Engagement in Jewish Studies seminar.


WebAs Director of The Crown Family Center for Jewish and Israel Studies at Northwestern University, I have insisted on a division of labor between Jewish Studies and Hillel. Jewish Studies is the site for the study of Judaism, Jews and Jewishness while Hillel is the place for exploring Jewish identity and finding community.

This division of labor benefits both parties. Hillel is able to unabashedly promote a vision of Judaism and Jewish commitment. That vision is broad and pluralistic, to be sure, but it emphasizes Jewish exceptionalism. In this way, Hillel harnesses the resources of community and university to advocate for Jewish interests on campus and beyond.

Jewish Studies, on the other hand, can invite students of all ethnic and religious identities to explore Jewish literature and the history of Jewish religion and culture without the limitation of promoting Judaism or Jewish cultural affiliation. Enrollments are increased when we target both Jewish and non-Jewish students. The history of the Jewish religion, culture and people is easily integrated in the humanities curriculum. Perhaps most fundamentally, Jewish Studies scholars are free to explore aspects of Jewish history, religion or culture that do not support the program of Jewish exceptionalism or continuity.

But is it possible that the division of labor has negative ramifications as well? Continue reading

Jewish Identity Complex: Why we Cannot, and Should Not, Get Along

This guest post is by Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, community engagement manager for CASJE. It was originally published at eJewish Philanthropy.

We all carry what has been termed FOMO, “a fear of missing out.” Today at least, although Jewry is concentrated in the vicinity of New York and in Israel, technology allows us all to tune in from wherever we are located. We do not have to miss out. I’ve been glued to my computer screen during lectures, communal debates, and the like. I followed people’s Facebook and Twitter comments during Yeshivat Maharat’s historic graduation, for example, while simultaneously watching live-feed streaming from the graduation itself. While the modern age has allowed all of us to participate in a number of events and conferences, our engagement can still be limited due to time, technological glitches and other factors.

As the Community Engagement Manager for the Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education (CASJE), I was thrilled to learn of blogcasting, a new communication medium wherein everyone has equal access to a conversation and all are welcome to contribute; there are few better ways of “keeping up.” Continue reading

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