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Will You Get "hooked" on Jewish Text Study?

Posted on 06/20/2013 @ 12:08 PM

So often with our teens (like ourselves), Jewish text study fails to elicit the positive responses that social events, sports, or anything...well, fun can produce. Many texts don’t even explain why they deserve our attention in the first place, let alone provide a set of instructions on how to read them or what questions to ask. The task of any educator, and in our case, informal Jewish educators, is to make content and subject matter accessible, engaging, and radically relevant to students. What methods can we employ to make Jewish text study purposeful for ourselves and our teens?

One method excellent teachers use to excite their students about learning is called a 'hook.' As in journalism or pop music, a hook is used to quickly grab a student's attention, inspiring and exciting them about what they are about to learn. Teachers use hooks from all kinds of media--stories, pictures, video, songs, riddles—to cleverly draw in their audience and set the stage for the learning about to take place. A math teacher might ask students to find all of the kosher restaurants in the Upper West Side of New York on a Google map before teaching her students how to plot points on a grid. When students are given creative, practical applications for content, they are more likely to consistently engage with the subject matter that follows.

Jewish texts are like any other subject matter: some people are naturally excited by them, and some are not. Wherever you might fall personally, BBYO professionals should develop the skills to inspire teens to feel confident questioning and integrating Jewish principles about God, Torah, history, traditions, and culture into their Jewish lives. Are you up to the task?

Let's try it. I propose a challenge to all of our professionals in the field. The BBYO employee with the best hook for the text below will win a book of your choice to add to your Jewish library. Please submit your hooks to zjohnson@bbyo.org by Tuesday night!

Background Info and Text:

The following story comes from the Babylonian Talmud in a volume called Bava Metzia (the Middle Gate), in a series of stories about various rabbinic figures and their relationships with their families, communities, and each other. Two figures, Rabbi Hanina and Rabbi Hiyya, both living in the 3rd Century in Israel, are frequently engaged in debate with one another. Rebbi, the voice at the end of the story, lived a century later and is recognized as the redactor of the entire Mishna.

Whenever Rabbi Hanina and Rabbi Hiyya were in a dispute, Rabbi Hanina said to Rabbi Hiyya: 'Would you dispute with me? If, Heaven forbid!, the Torah were forgotten in Israel, I would restore it by my deductive powers.' To which Rabbi Hiyya rejoined: 'Would you dispute with me, who has already achieved that the Torah should not be forgotten in Israel? What did I do? I went and sowed flax, made nets [from the flax cords], trapped deer, whose flesh I gave to orphans, and prepared scrolls [from their skins], upon which I wrote the five books [of Moses]. Then I went to a town [which contained no teachers] and taught the five books to five children, and the six orders [of the Talmud] to six children. And I commanded them: "Until I return, teach each other the Pentateuch and the Mishnah," and thus I preserved the Torah from being forgotten in Israel.' This is what Rebbi [meant when he] said, 'How great are the works of Hiyya!'

This Shabbat Message was written by Rabbi Zac Johnson, Director of Jewish Enrichment, Western States Hub.

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