ATID's Mahshevet Yisrael Initiative

Introduction

In Jewish education, few things are more important than our attempts to have an impact on students' beliefs, ideas, and worldviews. If students know much information, but have not thought through the implications of that knowledge, or do not live according to those beliefs, than we have, to a great degree, failed.

Beginning in the 2005-2006 academic year, ATID began dedicating some of its attention to the challenge of teaching Jewish Thought to Orthodox Jewish high school students in North America. We were struck by the difference between Israel and North America. In Israeli religious-Zionist education, the study of Jewish thought is considered central in schools' attempts to cement and enrich the religious commitments of youth. While things are hardly perfect, resources and study materials are available, and there is even a high school matriculation exam (bagrut) in the subject. In North America, in contrast, Mahshevet Yisrael is underdeveloped. In some schools, it is absent from the formal curriculum as a field of study. Even where it is emphasized, there are not enough resources available to help teachers prepare material that is right for their students.


Dr. Yoel Finkelman
Director,
Projects and Research

We believe that Mahshevet Yisrael education – defined broadly to include various ways in which students construct their religious beliefs, worldviews, and attitudes – deserves considered attention as we work to educate the next generation of Orthodox Jews. ATID hopes to make its own contribution to this effort, and we are, therefore, offering the first fruits of the ATID Fellows' thinking and research on this topic. We are posting to the web a series of essays and resources that may be useful to school administrators, teachers of Mahshevet Yisrael and limudei kodesh, and interested laypeople.

During the second phase of this project, we hope to add further material on the topic to our web site, publish an English translation of Prof. Sholom Rosenberg's thought-provoking work In the Footsteps of the Kuzari, and expand the Notes from ATID series with studies of Mahshevet Yisrael education. In addition, we will be convening conferences and workshops in New York and Jerusalem to present our work, so that teachers and schools may benefit, and that we may learn from practitioners in the field.

We hope that you will find this material informative and useful, and encourage you to share your thoughts, questions, criticisms, curricular materials, and experiences with us. We will be happy to make our website a clearing house for other people's responses, ideas, and materials. Please feel free to be in touch with us.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Toward an Agenda for Improving Mahshevet Yisrael in North American Orthodox High Schools
Yoel Finkelman
This introductory essay sets an agenda for future research and programming that might improve Mahshevet Yisrael education in North America, in addition to offering initial suggestions for the teaching of the topic.
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Basic Issues in Jewish Thought: A Curriculum
Daphne Fishman-Secunda
This model includes an outline of a two year course as well as carefully selected primary sources relevant to a series of philosophical topics.
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A Student-Centered Approach to Contemporary Issues
Yamin Goldsmith
Goldsmith suggests a student-centered model, exploring ways to help students grapple with the challenges of relating secular learning and activities to Torah ones.
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Mahshevet Yisrael in the "Regular" Classroom
Anne Gordon and Jason Knapel
This essay includes suggestions for how mahshevet yisrael might be effectively integrated with a regular limudei kodesh class, using the example of Humash Bereishit.
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Preparing for Life on Campus: Male Female Relations
Jeffrey Kobrin
Here Kobrin has expanded on his important Ten Da'at article (available here), by detailing how he goes about teaching the difficult topic of Jewish approaches to sexuality in general, and the prohibition of negiah, in particular.
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The Hidden Curriculum and Mahshevet Yisrael Education
Yoel Finkelman
This essay considers how aspects of the "hidden curriculum" – the ways in which students learn a great deal about social roles, values, and ideals from aspects of school life other than tests, papers, and the formal curriculum – influence students' worldviews and religious attitudes, and what schools can do to help improve that.
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Bibliography
Several ATID Fellows have contributed annotated bibliographies, dealing with how and why to teach Jewish thought, available primary sources, secondary sources about leading Jewish philosophers and thinkers, and contemporary resources on a series of philosophical and hashkafic topics.
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Contemporary Issues in Modern Orthodox Jewish Thought:
A Course-Plan for a High-School Class

This curriculum guide suggests class materials for teachers who would like to introduce students to basic issues in Modern Orthodox ideology.
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Jewish Ethics Curriculum
Zev Rosenfeld
This essay proposes an outline for a Jewish ethics class in Israeli high schools.
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Medabrim Emuna
Itay Bitron
This essay argues that addressing issues of hashkafah is best suited to small, individualized, voluntary groups, and it suggests ways of creating such an environment in schools.
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Art History, Judaism and Education
Noa Cohen
How can we integrate Jewish sources into our study of art and artists? Noa Cohen reflects.
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Machshevet Yisrael – Survival or Endurance?
Rabbi Daniel Wolf
This work makes a compelling argument that good teaching of any limudei kodesh requires teachers to articulate the meta-messages of the material, which inevitably involves teaching about core Jewish ideas.
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Appendix...
Beyond Flipping Out?
Dr. Yoel Finkelman & Rabbi Meir Arnold
Recently, the community of Jewish educators has paid a great deal of attention to the role of the year in Israel in forming the religious identity of Orthodox youth. Over the course of the 2007-2008 academic year, ATID spent time interviewing students the year in Israel program to better understand what they year means to them.
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The Beit Midrash and the World of Literature: A Discussion
When you bring Jewish sources into the literature classroom it helps illuminate both the literature and the Jewish sources. Aminadav Routenberg brings some intruiging examples.
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