HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal


From the Editor

by Barbara Davis Issue: Teaching Tanakh
The second most wonderful thing about serving as an editor of HaYidion (the first is working with Elliott Rabin and the members of the editorial board) is the opportunity it provides for me to engage in my own Jewish learning. In addition to the in-depth reading of the work that appears in each issue, I have the chance to do some research in order to write an introduction that measures up in some degree to the scholarship and experiences embedded in our contributors’ pieces.

In the case of this quarter’s issue, the task was compounded by the seriousness of the theme. In Shabbat 127a, we read: “These are the things for which a person enjoys the dividends in this world while the principal remains for the person to enjoy in the world to come. They are: honoring parents, loving deeds of kindness, and making peace between one person and another, but the study of the Torah is equal to them all.” The task of teaching and studying Tanakh is weighty, for so much is riding on it. It is far more than a subject, like science or math. Proverbs 3:18 tells us that “the Torah is a tree of life to those who cling to it. All who uphold it are happy.” Its importance in our faith is prodigious. In Pirkei Avot (1:15), we are told that Shammai taught, “Make the study of Torah your primary pursuit.”

But in today’s world, in today’s classrooms, in today’s day schools, the task of studying the Bible, much less teaching the Bible, is fraught with new challenges, not the least of which was foreseen by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotz who told parents, “If you truly wish your children to study Torah, study it yourself in their presence. They will follow your example. Otherwise, they will not themselves study Torah but will simply instruct their children to do so.” Most of us deal quite regularly with students whose parents are not studying Torah, Nevi’im or Ketuvim in their presence, and thus the job of the teacher of Tanakh becomes not only that of the pedagogue but also that of the parent in leading by example. Fortunately, as you will see when you read through this issue, there are many incredibly dedicated, talented and creative teachers confronting and meeting the challenges of teaching Tanakh today.

One of the most significant features of the articles in this issue is the fact that so many excellent practitioners are employing the “best practices” of contemporary educational theory and research in the teaching of Biblical text. Differentiated learning, authentic assessment, standards-based, project-based and active learning are all incorporated in original approaches to this timeless subject. But perhaps an overarching framework for this Shavuot quarterly can be found in the “advice to the teacher” by David Hartman which appears in the Shalom Hartman Institute’s “Tanakh Teaching.” I believe that all of us in Jewish education will find that these words resonate with us:

If it is not meaningful to you, don’t teach it. Jewish teaching is not communicating mere knowledge or technique but sharing your religious passion, your moral integrity, your personal search with your students. Share your integrity, your yearnings, and your doubts and let your student meet you in the classroom.

I hope you will find that this HaYidion offers you inspiring ways to make those classroom meetings deeply meaningful on many levels.&daims;

Dr. Barbara Davis is the secretary of RAVSAK, executive editor of HaYidion and head of school at the Syracuse Hebrew Day School in Dewitt, New York. Barbara can be reached at bdavis74@twcyn.rr.com.

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Teaching Tanakh

Tanakh (the Jewish Bible, Prophets and Writings) is the cornerstone of Jewish tradition; but how do we take our most ancient text and make it come alive for contemporary Jews? Read how educators deploy an array of methodologies and pedagogies to unlock the treasures of the Tanakh for today’s students.

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