Wisdom From All My Teachers:
Challenges and Initiatives in Contemporary Torah Education
Edited by Jeffrey Saks and Susan Handelman
Urim Publications and ATID, Jerusalem 2003
Opening Chapters (Jan/15/2004)
New books on Jewish education help educators, parents and
those who just want to learn.
Sandee Brawarsky - Jewish Week Book Critic
One of the titles of a new book on Jewish education - To
Study and to Teach - is really the theme of several thoughtful books about
teaching that have recently been published. From different perspectives, the
authors and editors of these titles raise pressing questions and issue
challenges to the community.
Written by Americans and Israelis, these are books that
understand the urgent importance of Jewish education, take seriously its
teachers and students, ground the issues in Jewish values and urge deep thinking
about its practice and its future. They explore teaching and learning,
philosophical approaches, creative methodologies and policy implications.
Intended for professional and general readers, these new
books are useful to teachers, from Sunday school through university, to parents
and to all those involved in adult Jewish education.
Textual Knowledge: Teaching the Bible in Theory and
in Practice, by Barry W. Holtz (JTS), is a concise, well-written book about
conceptualizing the Bible as subject matter, drawing upon research in the field
of general education, biblical scholarship and literary theory.
Holtz, a professor of Jewish education at the Jewish
Theological Seminary and author of several books including Back to the
Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts, has been a teacher most of his
adult life. Here he focuses not on curricular topics but on ideas involved in
teaching the bible - larger issues of purpose, theories of teaching, and moving
from theory to practice.
He writes, "This book is called ‘Textual Knowledge' because
I believe that dealing with the issues of a teacher's knowledge of the subject
matter and the relationship of that knowledge to both teaching goals and
instructional methods is the most important starting point to improving pedagogy
- making it deeper, richer, more reflective and more powerful for students."
Wisdom From All My Teachers: Challenges and Initiatives
in Contemporary Torah Education, edited by Rabbi Jeffrey Saks and Susan
Handelman (ATID/Urim), is a collection of 20 essays directed to educators,
parents and policymakers. The contributors are a diverse group of innovative
Jewish educators, men and women, some who are new to teaching and others who are
among the leading figures in teaching Torah.
The writers share a deep concern for these issues and for
those whose lives will be impacted by their teaching. Among the essays are "Knowing
vs. Learning: Which Takes Precedence," by Rabbi Norman Lamm; "Toward Ahavat
Hashem: Art and the Religious Experience," by Rabbi Chaim Brovender; "As
Gardeners in the Garden of God: Hasidic Thought and its Implications for
Teacher-Student Relationships," by Rabbi Asher Friedman; "Historical
Perspectives in Talmud Teaching." by Beverly Gribetz; and "The Post-High School
Year in Israel: Parent-Child Relationships and Religious Growth," by Dodi F.
Both editors are involved with the Academy for Torah
Initiatives and Directions in Jerusalem: Rabbi Saks is the academy's founding
director and Handelman is a member of the faculty, as well as a professor of
English at Bar Ilan University.
Learning to Read Midrash, by Simi Peters (Urim),
provides a straightforward, systematic approach to the study of midrash.
Written with sensitivity to language and appreciation for the teachings of the
Jewish sages, the book provides interpretive tools for studying Torah.
Peters distinguishes between midrash halacha, the body
of legal teaching derived from the Torah text through midrashic methodology, and
midrash agada, the interpretive and homiletic teachings derived from the
narrative portions of the Torah. Her focus is mainly on the latter, looking at
both parables and stories.
Among the biblical stories Peters explores are the binding of
Isaac, the relationship of David and Bathsheba, and Moses at the burning bush.
Peters, who lives in Jerusalem, is on the faculty of several institutions
including Nishmat-the Jerusalem Center for Advanced Jewish Studies for Women,
ATID and Darchei Bina Seminary.
In Visions of Jewish Education, edited by Seymour Fox,
Israel Scheffler and Daniel Marom (Cambridge), leading scholars present
different models of ideal Jewish education for contemporary times, providing
philosophical underpinnings and practical concepts. The book is an outgrowth of
the Visions of Jewish Education Project, a program of the Mandel Foundation that
develops educational visions in a range of settings.
The editors write: "This book represents an effort to deepen
and broaden the enterprise of Jewish education by eliciting variant visions of
its rationale and import, relating educational activities to their bases in the
learning of the past and in reflective anticipation of the future."
Contributions come from Isadore Twersky, the late historian
and scholar of Jewish thought; Menachem Brinker, scholar of Hebrew literature
and philosophy; Michael Meyer, historian of Judaism; Michael Rosenak,
philosopher of Jewish education; and the book's editors, Fox, founder and
director of the Visions Project and professor of education emeritus at the
Hebrew University; Scheffler, professor of education and philosophy emeritus at
Harvard; and Marom, associate director of the Visions Project and a senior
researcher at the Mandel Foundation.
To Study and to Teach: The Methodology of Nechama
Leibowitz, by Shmuel Peerless (Urim), provides insight into the teachings,
teaching style and the personal qualities of one of the most influential 20th
century Torah scholars, known as "the teacher's teacher." This is the first time
that Leibowitz's singular approach to Torah instruction has been comprehensively
and systematically presented in one work, making her teachings and methods
The material in the book is extrapolated from her writings,
lectures and study sheets. Many Leibowitz students were themselves teachers of
Torah, and her style was to have all those in her shiur, or class,
actively involved in the learning. Leibowitz opposed rote learning and believed
that true learning "takes place only when students are engaged in a thought
provoking process of analysis."
Leibowitz urged teachers to follow five practices, which are
useful points: not to lecture, not to allow students to write while the teacher
is speaking, to provide an introduction to the material to be studied, not to
ask students factual questions (or any questions where the answer is obvious
from the context), not to use a repetitive lesson structure.
Peerless, who studied with Leibowitz for several years, is
the director of the Center for Jewish School Leadership at Bar-Ilan University's
Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora and co-author of Studies
on the Haggadah from the Teaching of Nechama Leibowitz.
Reviewed by Shalom Berger
ATID, the Academy for Torah Initiatives and Directions opened
its doors some years back with the expressed intention of raising the level of
dialogue among young Jewish educators, giving them the opportunity to actually
think about what they have chosen to devote their lives to. (Full disclosure: I
acted as a mentor for a number of ATID fellows, including one whose project
appears as an article in the book under review.)
In its first few years of existence, almost 50 young educators
participated in their fellows programs, producing a wide range of thoughtful
commentary on contemporary Jewish education, which are available on-line at http://www.atid.org/journal/journal.asp.
This volume takes some of those projects and combines them with articles by
leading practitioners and thinkers in the field of Jewish education, making up
an insightful, multi-generational picture of the discipline today.
The book is broken into six sections, including
"Meta-Reflections on Torah Education" with articles by Rabbis Norman
Lamm and Aharon Lichtenstein, "Torah Education and Personal
Development" with articles by Steve Bailey and Joel Wolowelsky, and
"On the Study of Talmud" with articles by Avi Walfish and Beverly
Gribetz. For the full table of contents, see http://www.atid.org/publications/bookcover.asp.
Every anthology is bound to have some articles that catch your
eye and others that are less inspiring. My years as moderator of a discussion
group for Jewish educators has taught me that there are issues that are not of
great interest to me, yet are of great relevance to others. There is something
here for everyone concerned with Jewish learning and teaching today.
Here are a few brief words about some of articles that I found
to be of interest.
Avi Walfish's "Hermeneutics and Values: Issues in Improving
Contemporary Talmud Teaching" comes as a relief to those of us who toil in
the classroom and find that the new methods that are often suggested in the hope
of getting students "interested" in Talmud study suffer from the
age-old malady of "throwing the baby out with the bathwater". With the
use of specific examples, Walfish suggests three central goals that can connect
students with Talmud:
Emphasizing values and spiritual concerns;
Pointing out stylistic and literary qualities of Talmudic
Honestly grappling with the methodology of the Talmudic
text itself (hermeneutical principles).
By successfully developing sensitivity to these goals, Walfish
argues that the teacher can inspire the students to develop a respect for the
study of Talmud as well as for the internal logic of the Talmudic discussion.
Yitzchak Blau's "Redeeming the Aggadah in Yeshivah
Education" appears in the section entitled "Curricular
Deliberations". It could easily have been included in the section that
focuses on Talmud study. Many a Gemara Rebbe spends sleepless nights deciding
whether to read-and-translate the upcoming Aggadic portion of the Gemara or to
simply skip it and continue with the next sugya. I recall my own
excitement upon discovering Rav Kook's Ein Aya on Massekhet Berakhot,
a find that changed the pace and direction of my class for an entire year. Blau
argues that the text of the Aggadah itself should act as an opportunity for
discussion of contemporary moral and ethical issues within the context of a
Gemara class, rather than relegating such discussion to a Jewish philosophy
class where English articles by contemporary thinkers are usually the
springboard for discussion. Blau presents seven sample Aggadot, and,
while admitting that commentaries on the Aggadic portions are not always readily
available, he calls upon the community of educators to collaborate on producing
curricular materials that will redress the situation.
Yoel Finkelman's "Virtual Volozhin: Socialization vs.
Learning in Israel Yeshivah Programs" deals with my two professional loves
- teaching Talmud and one-year Israel programs. Finkelman argues that as much as
the one-year Israel programs aim to teach limudei kodesh - with a clear
emphasis on Talmud study - they are interested in promoting religious growth and
commitment in their students. In the interests of accomplishing this second
goal, argues Finkelman, the Yeshivot sacrifice skills development, encouraging
their students to enjoy the excitement of lomdus, even as they remain
unable to prepare primary sources on their own. Finkelman believes that much of
the methodology employed in today's Yeshivot is a throwback to the days of
European Yeshivot which were dealing with a vastly different population. In
conclusion, Finkelman expresses his concern that the standard Yeshivah
curriculum does not prepare the students to continue to learn independently nor
to deal with the reality that will face them upon their return to a non-Yeshivah
One thing that is clear when reading these articles is the
inspiration for so much of the contemporary world of Jewish education. Of the
twenty articles, fifteen of them refer to either Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik or
his student and son-in-law Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein (this includes one article
written by Rav Lichtenstein, and one article entitled "Teaching Rabbi
Soloveitchik's Thought in the High School Classroom"). Far from making this
collection one-dimensional, it attests to the broad impact that Rabbis
Soloveitchik and Lichtenstein have had on their contemporaries and students,
which points to the importance of ATID's ultimate goal – to produce thinking mehankhim
To give a sense of the value that I place on the articles in
this volume, I have already referred Lookjed readers to two of them (Chaim
Brovender's "Towards Ahavat Hashem: Art and the Religious
Experience" and Joel Wolowelsky's "Religious Counseling and Pesak
Halakhah in a Yeshivah Setting") as a basis for on-list discussion.
For purchase information, see http://urimpublications.com
AJL Newsletter (February/March 2004)
Association of Jewish Libraries
Wisdom From All My Teachers
Reviewed by Nira G. Wolfe, Highland Park, IL
Judaism promotes Torah study as a way to reach Torah knowledge
and a process leading towards the development of independent learning skills, love of
study, and the observance of the commandments. Among the mitzvot, "the
study of Torah outweighs them all."
Wisdom From All My Teachers brings together the ideas of
twenty contemporary Jewish educators (fourteen men and six women) regarding the
present and the future of Talmud Torah. Contributors express views of Modern
Orthodoxy, Orthodoxy, Chasidism, and other developers of Judaic Studies
curriculum innovation. The book is divided into six parts:
Meta-reflections on Torah education; Torah education and personal
development; On the study of Bible; On the study of Talmud; Curricular
deliberations; and Yeshivah study in Israel.
There is definitely a trend to integrate general education as a
tool in promoting Jewish education. Among others included in this text: Rabbi Chaim
Brovender shows that there is a place for serious study of fine arts in
Orthodox schools. Dr. Steve Bailey implements Lawrence Kohlberg’s
universal model of moral education into Jewish Day Schools. The Jewish
heritage is the main source for promoting spirituality and ethical values.
Erica Brown reflects upon religious language and modern sensibilities in
adult education classes, and Dr. Dodi Tobin considers implications of
religious growth post-high school year in Israel.
Saks and Handelman present a significant pedagogic tool for
Jewish educators seeking new methods to fit the changing world. All essays are
well written and documented with accurate footnotes. Wisdom From All My Teachers
will interest all who are involved with Jewish education. It should be part of
all academic Jewish collections, as well as Yeshivot, Seminaries, Day
Schools and Synagogue libraries.
Wisdom From All My Teachers:
Challenges and Initiatives In Contemporary Torah Education
By Jeffrey Saks and Susan Handelman, Eds.
ATID and Urim Press
Reviewed by Prof. Oscar Mohl
It is rare to find a book notable for its area of concern, its
contributors, its sponsorship, and its publisher. But Wisdom From All My
Teachers rates high on each level.
Books on religious education tend to be full of platitudes, but this one
is packed with 20 creative and insightful explorations of such important
topics as the nature of Torah study and its relationship to the love and
awe of G-d, personal moral development; the role of worldly wisdom in
Torah education; the cultivation of the student’s soul; the challenges
of teaching students or adults who do not fit into the mold of the
traditional curriculum; deliberations on the teaching of Talmud and Bible
to this generation; the use of philosophy and aggadah in the yeshiva
curriculum; and the place of the Israel experience in shaping the
religious personality. Here is food for thought for all of us who want to
think seriously and creatively about the important issues in contemporary
Just as the topics are first-rate, so are the contributors. Roshei Yeshiva
Rabbis Chaim Brovender, Norman Lamm and Aharon Lichtenstein provide
important hashkafic overviews. Seasoned professionals like Erica Brown,
Shalom Carmy, Beverly Gribetz, Gilla Ratzersdorfer, and Joel B. Wolowesky
tackle specific educational issues with insight and erudition, as do other
equally engaging but lesser-known educators Their discussions will surely
provide a springboard for deliberators that can only enhance Torah
education in our contemporary setting.
The book was sponsored by ATID: The Academy for Torah Initiatives and
Directors in Jerusalem.
ATID was founded in 1998 by Rabbis Chaim Brovender and Jeffrey Saks as a
center for professional training, resource development and policy planning
for Torah education. It has quickly emerged as a center for serious
discussion of important issues in contemporary Jewish education. Rabbi
Brovender has long been recognized as one of the creative voices in Jewish
education. The whole explosion of advanced Torah education for women can
be traced to his original and courageous pioneering efforts decades ago.
In this volume, he takes up a fresh question: the role of the fine arts of
The handsome volume was published by Urim Publications, a new Jewish
publishing house that is quickly setting a standard for excellence in the
quality and importance of the volumes they put out, and the care they take
to present their significant material in attractive and well-crafted
volumes. It shall be interesting to see it emerge as a new major resource
for contemporary Judaica.
Wisdom From All My Teachers combines erudition with deep concern for the
challenges facing the field of Jewish education in the contemporary world.
It should be read by all laymen and professionals who want to deal with
these challenges in sophisticated way.
JEWISH BOOK WORLD (Spring 5764/2004), p. 14.
Wisdom From All My Teachers: Challenges And Initiatives In
Contemporary Torah Education
Jeffrey Saks and Susan Handelman (Eds.)
Urim Publications; 2003; $28.95; 399 pages
Review by: William Liss-Levinson, Ph.D.
"... teachers must know that their task is to educate and reveal
children of the Lord and giants of Israel. They must see the children sitting
before them as great souls still immature; their task is to get them to grow and
flourish. A teacher is a gardener in the
garden of God... " (Rav Kalonymous Kalman Shapiro in his [translated]
A Student’s Obligation,
cited in essay by Asher Friedman, subtitled "... Hasidic Thought and Its
Implications for Teacher-Student Relationships ").
It is within this context of a
sacred mission that the two editors developed this volume consisting of twenty
essays. The book is an outgrowth of work begun by ATID – the Academy for Torah
Initiatives ad Directions in Jewish Education in
Jerusalem. Both editors have been intimately
involved with ATID – Saks as a co-founder and Handelman as a member of the
faculty and academic board. All the contributors are profoundly and passionately
committed to elevating the quality of Torah education to a level that is
commensurate with its lofty imperatives. In
general, the essays are very interesting and thought-provoking, and several are
Chaim Brovender’s essay,
"Towards Ahavat Hashem: Art and the Religious Experience, " boldly outlines
the possible role of art as a part of the formal Torah curriculum. Yael
Wieselberg’s "Awe, Love and Attachment: Religious Development and the
Maharal of Prague, " contrasts some contemporary academic approaches to Torah
study with the Maharal’s notions that hokhmah
(wisdom) must not only lead additionally to spirituality but also must result in
awe of God. Friedman’s essay,
referenced above, gives us a glimpse into the application of Hassidic and
Kabalistic concepts to the teacher-student relationship. Yael Unterman’s "If
You Seek Him With All Your Heart: Nurturing Total Individual Growth in Yeshiva.
Unterman’s call for a new set of additional goals for the yeshiva, to include
"... developing a personal relationship with God, finding one’s own unique
path in Torah and nurturing spiritual completeness. " Beverly Gribetz’s
"Historical Perspectives in Teaching Talmud, " makes the case for an approach
that would give students a far better framework for understanding and
appreciating the development of the Talmud itself and the Halachic
process in particular. In a courageous essay, "Walking Before Running:
Towards a More Practical Judaic Studies Curriculum, " Gideon Rothstein suggests
that rather than the traditional Talmud-dominated focus, we might achieve a
greater good for the overall Jewish community by focusing on what he calls
"Educating for Jewish Adulthood. " In "Virtual Volozhin: Socialization vs.
Learning in Israeli Yeshiva Programs, " Yoel Finkelman tackles the issue of the
now commonplace post-high school year [or two] of study in Israeli yeshivot and
proposes that a more skills-oriented curriculum should be considered.
This a serious book for those who
are willing to grapple with a wide range of educational and pedagogical issues
that are confronting the Orthodox world, with obvious broader implications to
Torah education even from other denominational perspectives.
I would hope that this volume is only a beginning for the editors and
William Liss-Levinson is Vice
President of Business Development for Castle Connolly Medical Ltd., a consumer
health research, information and publishing company. He has a Ph.D. in Education
and has been exposed to a wide range of formal and informal approaches to Jewish
education over the course of his life.
AUSTRALIAN JEWISH NEWS
So much of religious literature is detailed focused; it's a real
joy to engage with the broader thoughtfulness of this volume collected from the
perspectives of contemporary Orthodox educators. The writers tackle such issues as
teacher-student relationships, religious counselling, teaching values and the post-high
school year in Israel, each essay rooted firmly in text but not limited by it. It's
great to know Torah education is producing thinkers of not only intellectual but
spiritual depth. Let's hope it is taken up by rabbis and teachers at all levels.