Monday, March 15, 2010

History is How We Write It

A few weeks ago there was a lengthy article in the New York Time Sunday Magazine about the Texas Board of Education and its influence on textbook publishers.  The debates and hearings are now over, and the new Texas standards are now in place.
Publishers will now respond to the new standards by publishing textbooks that align to them - Texas is a huge market and the publishers need to sell their books.

I hope this will encourage educators to seek sources for their students that reflect appropriate perspectives, even if those are not reflected in the available textbooks.  That is one of the advantages (and yes, challenges as well) of the enormous amount and diversity of information available to us today.  Please click on this blog from the ASCD Smartbrief about learning in today's world.  What is true about students in the general educational world is true in the Jewish educational world as well.

And to remember that - as I wrote on February 24, 2010 in a post about Purim -the lens through which we understand history is even more important than the accumulated facts that we have about it.


Big Ideas:

  • Different sections of Torah focus on totally different concepts and ideas
  • It can be challenging to make personal meaning for ourselves from sections of Torah which appear to be archaic and irrelevant
  • All the diverse ideas in Torah can lead to important ideas for the reader
Essential Questions:
  • How can the discussion of animal and grain sacrifices be important today when Jews no longer bring sacrifices?
  • Why did the rabbis want all Jews to read about something that only a small group (the Cohanim) ever did?
  • Should there be consequences for improper acts if they are done accidentally?  Explain your thoughts 
  • What happens to a people when their situation changes radically altered by circumstances beyond their control?
Learning Activities:
  • This commentary connects parshat VaYikrah with the upcoming holiday of Pesach in an interesting way.  It can offer a way to relate to what might seem archaic on its face
  • American Jewish World Service invites us to consider why we should continue to read about things that we no longer do in this commentary by Evan Wolkenstein
  • Shoshana Glatzer, my valued friend and even more valued teacher, wrote the following about this parasha.  It includes an explanation of the sacrifices, as well as a reference to the meaning of the Hebrew word het.  How does understanding the word affect the way you understand wrongdoing?

The book Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco, is a historical novel set in the first half of the 14th century.  It describes an Italian monastery in which there is a huge library of scrolls containing the collected wisdom not only of the Church, but also from Greek, Arabic and other cultural sources.   This library is open only to the official librarian and a few hand-picked helpers - scribes whose job it is to copy the texts and preserve them.  No one else is permitted access.  The purpose of the library is to preserve the knowledge within its walls, not to share it.
In the Druze religion, an offshoot of Islam, only the priests have deep knowledge of the religious texts, as stated on their website:
Ordinary members, Jahill (singular) and Juhaall (plural), do not normally have access to religious texts. They attend only the first part of their religious meetings. The remainder of the meetings are reserved for the Sheiks. There is no actual prohibition of the reading of religious books. It is just that if a person becomes educated in the truth of God and of life and yet do not follow the duties arising from these truths, then their judgment would be worse that if they had remained uneducated.
The Torah and other Jewish writings are open to all who wish to study them, and all Jews are encouraged to become personally involved in such study.

What does this mean to you?

Please read and follow my new blog, addressed directly to students about the Big Ideas in Torah.  It is found at
It provides an opportunity for upper elementary and middle school learners to respond directly to thoughtful questions about each week's parasha, and to create valuable, collaborative meaning