Teaching Torah

Class Notes 9/10

  • Describe yourself as a teacher/learner of Torah: I learned Torah with a program called Partners in Torah. I was very overwhelmed with all that there is to learn, and wanted to learn it all. I remember feeling like I wasn't learning in a very organized way, and didn't feel like I was making any progress. For example, when learning about the Hagim, I wanted to know about the history, tradition and rituals for holidays such as Rosh Hashanah and Purim, and wanted to study all the prakim related to these holidays. But when I actually got into the nitty gritty of reading these stories (the Book of Esther, etc.), I felt like I was just touching on these subjects and really wanted to go deeper. Learning Torah left me feeling frustrated, but also with a desire to learn more.
  • I've really enjoying making connections in learning Torah. A lot of Jewish teachings relate to other teachings, such as "lo levayesh" which can relate to other teachings.
    • being part of a process of meaning making
    • making Torah "come alive," visualizing
    • helping students see it as our shared history
    • connections to history
    • my own continued learning
    • discussions as a part of the students' development as Jews
  • I feel that learning the Hebrew phrases, and relearning all the stories of the Torah will be a challenge for me.
    • competency, comfort with the subject matter
    • need to find a safe space, where students feel comfortable
    • finding age appropriate topics in the Torah, dealing with the scary or unethical parts (slavery, polygamy, incest)
    • finding ways to engage the students in the topic
    • overall goal of lessons, staying focused
  • I hope that this class will provide reinforcement to my knowledge of Torah, and provide new knowledge, and serve as a resource for teaching Torah to my future students.

Analyzing a Chumash/Tanakh:
  • The Living Torah, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan
    • Layout: divided into Parshiyot and further into topics.
    • Translation: Interpretive translation, he was given some interpretive license
    • Commentary: minimal commentary, mostly for clarification
  • The Five Books of Moses, translated and compiled by Robert Alter
    • Completely in English, written by a biblical scholar. He took the time to translate and commented on why he made these translation choices.
  • Commentary on the Bible by Richard Elliott Friedman
    • scholarly approach, made his own translation
    • tries to account for contemporary understandings and accounting for them
    • also compiled an English version of the Bible, with each of the 4 authors in different colors
  • The Five Books of Moses, translated by Everett Fox.
  • Artscroll Bible, Stone edition
    • commentary and pictures, detailed and informative
    • travel edition--the print is very small
    • uses modern English
    • Editor stance: orthodox, designed to be a textbook and a holy book
  • A Women's commentary
    • Hebrew and English, contains information about etymology
    • contains commentary written by women
  • The Torah, reform movement's version, URJ press
    • Contains "Gleanings" of other traditions, both Jewish and non-Jewish
  • Etz Chayim: conservative
  • The Hertz, oldie but goodie

Tanakh: is an acronym for Torah (or Chumash), Nevi'im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings--includes Megillot, Psalms, Proverbs, Chronicles, Esther, Lamentations)

Parshat HaShavua: Read on Shabbat morning, by Shabbat afternoon you read the next parsha.

Class Notes 9/17

  • There are 54 parshiyot in the Torah. Some are read together.
  • Shabbat Morning: You read the parshat hashavua.
  • Shabbat Afternoon: You read the next week's parsha
  • Monday morning: parsha
  • Thursday afternoon: parsha
  • Simchat Torah: we read Zot HaBracha: the last portion of the Torah
    • this portion doesn't have a Shabbat
  • Triennial cycle: you break up the Torah portion into three sections and read the entire Torah over 3 years

The Torah
  • Beresheit: Book of families
  • Shmot: Book about the forming of the nation of Israel
  • V'yikra: Book about rules (holiness code in the middle "kiddushim")
  • B'midbar: trying to get to the land of Israel (the end of the story)
  • Devarim: a recap of everything (probably added later)
    • the people never enter the land of Israel

Rosh Hashana:
  • ten days to repair our relations with humans
  • Parshat Ha'Azeina: in Devarim 32:48
    • "On that same day the LORD told Moses, **49**“Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession. **50**There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. **51**This is because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites. **52**Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.”
  • Moses may have said to G-d: "Just as Abraham offered his son Isaac to the Lord, so too will I offer myself to the Lord. And while I understand that I acted against the Lord, I wish that before my last breath I could feel the soles of my feet on holy soil."

Midrashim: the Book of Legends: gives a rabbinic reading of the same story where Moses argues with G-d and fights for his life.
When studying the text:

  • active engagement directly with text
  • pulled out of the box
  • multiple points of view
  • authenticity

Enduring understandings about Torah study:
  • The Torah is our story
  • The Torah will help you live your life
  • Torah gives a sense of self meaning for every age and every generation
  • The Torah connects Jews to one another
  • Torah learning must have valence beyond the classroom

Chunking the text: split up the bible chapters into themed sections and come up with titles.

Class Notes 9/24

Parshat Beresheit: Focusing on Genesis Chapter 4, Cain slaying his brother Abel
  • Pros: Questions were helpful
  • Progression: read, small groups, share
  • Choice of text was thought-provoking
  • Discussion
  • Division of labor
  • What were the big ideas:
    • need to be thy brother's keeper
    • relationship between G-d and people
    • Choice: to give into temptation; G-d's choices
  • What's the punishment for the crime?
  • Cons: space to take notes on the questions
  • clearer picture of what leaders were getting at
  • hard to know which questions to ask
  • translation
  • Good idea: take the Hebrew translation of Damei (plural of blood). G-d could hear Abel's "bloods" crying from the earth. This shows us that when you kill a man, you kill his generations. This could relate to modern events: whether to send more troops to Iraq, etc.
  • Bloom's Taxonomy lets you know good types of questions to ask for different levels of knowledge.

Commentary styles/orientations
  • Parshanut: based on earlier commentators
  • Contextual: look at the times and cultures of the times
  • Literary criticism: who wrote the Bible and what are the implications of knowing this for the understanding of your text
  • Moralistic: value-based, this action is right, and this action is wrong
  • Personalized: application to life
  • Ideas: modern/biblical/rational, ex: faith and science go together
  • Grammar/language

Class Notes 10/1

Text study feedback: balance of text and discussion (too much text); look a few verses before and a few verses after; compare/contrast creates tension; flexibility

20-30 minutes for teaching Toldot

Class Notes 10/22
From Shira's Torah Lesson
  • Structure and flexibility
  • Discussion: generating
  • Age appropriate
    • complexity
    • can't read
    • background
  • Students need functional knowledge of text (know how to sing the song)
  • Torah is about having and struggling with questions
  • Students will love Torah
  • Torah is relevant in our lives
  • Secular and Jewish curriculum must be integrated
  • Everyone has a voice and the power to interact with and respond to the text

Big Ideas:
  • Meta big ideas
  • subject matter specific

Class Notes 11/19

Barry Holtz article on orientations
"Tough Questions" by Judy Elkin in Sh'ma
  • OK not to have all the answers, this does not undermine you as a teacher
  • our natural tendency is to want to give answers
  • pre-think how you would respond to hard questions
  • comfort with ambiguity
  • return question to students
  • ask challenging questions
  • important to teach kids there aren't always answers
  • finding answers for yourself rather than being given answers
  • opportunity for positive feedback
  • comfort with ambiguity (issues that aren't worth it, no easy answer)
  • use questions to feed their curiosity

Class Notes 12/3
Teaching Vaysihlach:
  • Name change: Jacob to Israel. From now on, Jacob means it's about his family, Israel is referring to his role as nation builder
  • Important to preface: Rachel dies in childbirth. This can be a scary thought for young children. It's important to preface this by saying that today this rarely happens.
  • disconnect between what resonates for you and what is developmentally appropriate for your students
  • It's important to have your "voice" in your lessons, if not the kids will pick up on that