Academic Bible in the Yeshiva Classroom: An Argument for Integration
Including a Case Study of Genesis 37-40

Aliza Segal

The purpose of the paper is to explore the desirability and feasibility of importing material from the world of Bible as an academic discipline into a religious, non-university classroom setting. The question is not whether every Tanakh teacher in a yeshiva requires a background in the academic study of the discipline, but whether, and how, those who possess such a background can and should bring it directly to bear on their classrooms. For the purposes of this discussion, the yeshiva is a post-high school institution in which students with reasonable textual skills and good knowledge of traditional sources study for a period of a year or more.

In the first part of the body of the paper, entitled “Tools and Methodologies,” the fields and areas of study from which the material under consideration may be drawn are explored. Some of these areas are completely foreign to the traditional yeshiva classroom; others encompass traditional texts which may be analyzed using a non-traditional methodology, such as historical, comparative, or linguistic approaches. Each area is presented in terms of its independent contributions towards understanding the biblical text, and then discussed in terms of applications in the in the classroom, taking into account both educational and religious (i.e. dogmatic, or theological) considerations. The following headings are found in this segment of the study: Ta`amei haMiqra, Aramaic Targumim, Midrash, Ancient Near Eastern Material, Works from the Second Temple Period, Textual Witnesses, and Source Criticism.

The second part of the body of the paper, entitled “Units of Study,” responds to the question posed by anyone reading “Tools and Methodologies:” how is this applied in the classroom? Thus the theories and arguments are exemplified in a series of units taken from the Yosef narrative, spanning Genesis 37-40. The corpus is divided into six units. Each includes a thematic introduction, followed by a listing of the traditional sources (midrash, targum, medieval commentaries) used in the classroom, which may be prepared in advance by students. Following this list is an analysis of the issues that are found in “Tools and Methodologies,” as they are related to the particular textual unit.

This is not a complete curriculum to these chapters in that not everything taught in the classroom is represented in the paper. Where medieval parshanut has points of contact with the areas listed above on a particular issue, and it frequently does, it is cited; otherwise, it is included in the list of sources but not discussed. Likewise, questions of literary structure or style are not accorded systematic treatment. The focus is on the content and analysis which is frequently absent from the yeshiva setting, as described above.

The paper is in essence an argument for the synthesis of the two approaches, the traditional and the academic, with the test of true applicability, of relevance, being whether the material in question truly enhances the student’s understanding of the biblical text. However, in order to achieve a conscious, informed synthesis, the component parts must be separated and examined. It is this evaluation which lies at the core of this project.

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