Monday, November 29

The Mesorah Classroom

Here's a question:
We often talk about the symposium created in the Torah classroom: "Teachers don't teach, and students don't study; everybody learns" is the nicest way I've heard it put. Reminds you of the best moments you may remember from having been in a Beit Midrash, no?
[The Rav expanded the idea to include not just teacher and student, but all of the hokhmei ha-mesorah: click here.]
In reality what do we do in the day-to-day high school or elementary school classroom to make this happen? Daily schedules, bells, homework, and routine all work against creating this--and, pedagogically speaking, it doesn't happen by accident. The AP reports today on an interesting experiment a college president has undertaken--read about it.
What might such a radical experiment teach us about generating the mesorah experience and "symposium of the generations"? How would it undermine our efforts? What have you done successfully to make it happen?
See that little link for comments to the bottom right? Click on it and share your thoughts (can do so anonymously).

Tuesday, November 23

Index to Halakhic Man

The Rav's Ish HaHalakhah was published 60 years ago; translated 20 years ago. Now there is an index.

(Thanks Torah U-Madda Journal!)

Sunday, November 21

The Plague Approacheth

If you teach Sefer Yoel or Shmot (or even just getting ready for the Seder a bit early this year), the approaching plague of locusts which began hitting Israel today is a great opportunity to deal with a bit of "realia" in the classroom. (Of course, for farmers--and all dependent upon them--this is a potentially tragic occurrence. Don't forget this.)
Click here. Here. Here. No, here.

You must see the eyewitness account of the 1915 locust plague that hit Jerusalem as recorded in the Luach of Rav A.M. Luntz. It's cited in the Da'at Mikra to Yoel (p. 16, note 59) in Trei Asar, vol. 1: (excerpt and loose translation here):
The locusts came to the cities, and on 6 Nissan (1915) the plague blanketed the skies of the Holy City until it was pitch dark at noon. The Badatz decreed that on the following day there should be a Taanit Tzibbur and the whole day should be one of selichot, prayer and petition. After a few days the locusts left the Land, leaving fear in their wake, for the female had enough time to lay her eggs. The government grabbed at every chance to fight it…but it was impossible, for the locusts were so great and mighty. When they saw that the eggs were everywhere, they decreed that each male between 15 and 60 must collect 5 kilograms (=11 lbs.) of eggs and turn them over to the authorities… But it didn't succeed in collecting even 1/100th of the eggs. The larvae began crawling on the trees, devouring whatever had been left… Encampments of locusts were sighted throughout the summer, until Kislev (=December), and we can only hope that the concluding words of Yoel (2: 20, 23) will also be fulfilled for us: "I will drive the northerner [=locusts] far from you, I will thrust it into the parched and desolate land… O children of Zion, be glad, Rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given you the early rain in His kindness…and threshing floors shall be piled with grain, and vats shall overflow with new wine and oil."
Hey, but wait, aren't these guys kosher? What's up with that?
Yumm, click here. Leftovers anyone?

UPDATES: Click here. Locusts sighted in Jerusalem. The bugs also read Hebrew.

Saturday, November 20

Co-ed vs. Single Sex?

What's the latest research saying about the benefits/drawbacks of co-ed vs. single sex schooling in general/public education? See the venerable Teachers College Record.

What's it all got to do with teaching Torah? For that, see ATID.

Thursday, November 18


Jewish school curricula, and the structure of the school day, rarely differ from secular models. Outlandish claim? Maybe. Maybe not. It's a question we're working on in ATID now.

In a recent book, Getting it Wrong From the Beginning: Our Progressivist Inheritance from Herbert Spencer, John Dewey, and Jean Piaget, philosopher of education Kieran Egan critiques the faulty utilitarian basis of modern general education, tracing the genesis of our status quo to the progressivist movement of the 19th century, and figures like Spencer, Dewey and Piaget--and their utilitarian disregard for the development of the "whole person" which pushes out “useless” subject matter from the curriculum.

Utility, career preparation, and tachlis become the exclusive designers of the curriculum, at the expense of the humanities and the arts, argues Egan. He concludes that what we ought to do is make educational "decisions about your preference turn on the value-saturated business of sorting out what you think is the best way to be human, the best way to live--as Plato put it. The sad fact is that it is only from such a conception that we can derive educational principles" (p. 182).

For sure, Egan isn't the first to throw his stone. Others have done it--and in a lot clearer English (see Bloom, Hirsch, et al). Egan is interesting for our question, because he's frum (a frum Protestant that is) and interested in religious education. For a somewhat critical review of Egan's book--but not his thesis--click here.

Here's a question for you: Since the means of educating are not neutral, how does the form of the school day--to say nothing of the content--effect the inner fiber of what we're teaching? How do implicit assumptions and values conveyed through the general curriculum, and even the Kodesh side, leave their fingerprints on the "whole person"?

Tuesday, November 16

Yemei Iyun in Tanakh & Jewish Thought

Yemei Iyun in Tanakh and Jewish Thought

ATID is proud to be a co-sponsor of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah's third annual YEMEI IYUN IN TANAKH AND JEWISH THOUGHT, which will take place on Sunday, June 26-Tuesday, June 28, 2005 at Maayanot Yeshiva High School in Teaneck, NJ.

Come join us at this premier event for Judaic studies teachers with shiurim and workshops all day, delivered by leading educators and scholars from North America and Israel. This year's program features an added third day focusing on areas of Jewish thought.

Registration brochures will be available in late April. Contact Rabbi Nati Helfgot for more information: