Tanach Study Days - Herzog Collegeן
Tanach Study Days - Herzog CollegeןCourtesy

A look at American Jewry's affiliation with Judaism shows too many American Jews evincing unconcern with preserving the Jewish People or even their own family as Jews, and the high rate of intermarriage bears witness to that indifference [in cases where the non-Jewish spouse does not convert halakhically]. The Reform and Conservative Movements have dealt with the situation by proclaiming that "if you can't beat 'em, join them" and normalized "marrying out," while countering that is the blessed growth spurt of haredi/religious more closed communities and yeshivas, but how is it that so many Jewish American adults have not absorbed the unique life force that Judaism embodies?

After all, many of those whose adult form of Judaism is just some amorphous ethnic connection went to afternoon Hebrew schools, and a not insignificant number attended modern Jewish day schools. So- Jewish educators are asking themselves how their love of Judaism can be transferred to students in the digital age, how they can make Jewish studies the most emotionally exciting and intellectually challenging part of the school day, how the Judaic studies teacher can be the mentor young people need, and the Jewish school the place where students want to learn how to lead their lives.

On Wednesday, July 19, to begin to meet those needs, Herzog Global hosted its first Jewish Educators Day as part of Har Etzion Yeshiva and Herzog College's annual four-day Bible Study Festival. These unbelievably popular Yemei Iyun B'Tanach held in Alon Shvut, Gush Etzion, were founded 32 years ago as a continuing education opportunity for Tanach teachers in Israel that attracts at least 4000 Tanakh enthusiasts of all ages and pursuits from all over the country, including this writer, who normally attends the classes in Hebrew, to drink up the words of the world's top Tanach teachers.

What could be a more fitting place for Torah education to come forth from Zion to the rest of the Jewish world?

Two participants at Herzog Jewish Education Day
Two participants at Herzog Jewish Education DayS. Manning, Tikshoret. biz

Herzog Teacher's College is famous for its Tanach Revolution – a unique, original approach that fosters dedication and immersion in Torah-true Tanach study. Now that methodology is going to find its way overseas as those who planned this first Jewish Educators Day succeed in distilling into pedagogical tools the essence of what brings thousands of people to give up vacation time and spend entire summer days studying Tanach.

The Jewish Educators' Day sessions, held in English, turned Tanach classes into an effective and cognitive blueprint for making the Herzog Teachers College approach to teaching Tanach a significant part of the answer to the challenges of Judaic studies educators from around the world.

Rabbi Dr. Shalom Berger, who created and organized the day's dedicated and practical track for Torah educators from abroad, summed it up: “Herzog College's annual Yemei Iyun b'Tanakh has served as a forum for learning and teaching for decades. Drawing thousands to Alon Shvut for shiurim in Hebrew and, in recent years, in English, the Yemei Iyun serve as a reminder of the power of Torat Eretz Yisrael to inspire the Jewish People. Among those who throng to Alon Shvut to hear Torah insights are many teachers who, in turn, bring this inspiration to their students in their classrooms."

Rabbi Dr. Shalom Berger
Rabbi Dr. Shalom BergerNatie Ben Nun

"This year, Herzog Global launched a Jewish Educators' Day, held in partnership with Yeshiva University's Azrieli Graduate School and Bar-Ilan's Lookstein Center, to share this excitement with English-speaking teachers. 40 educators came from Israel and overseas to hear lectures and participate in workshops that highlighted teaching materials and methods developed here in Israel. We look forward to continuing these relationships throughout the year and to inviting teachers back to Israel for Yemei Iyun events in the future.”

"We recognize that teachers need more than just inspiration to stay strong in the classroom. They need tips and tools for delivering their lessons in a relevant and engaging way. That’s why we brought together top pedagogues to share their experiences. We talked about teachers’ perceptions and classroom culture, empowering students as Tanakh learners, understanding the intellectual and emotional needs of our students, and different approaches to teaching Tanakh that make it more relevant to their Jewish identity." (The lectures can already be seen online).

Panel discussion
Panel discussionS.Manning, Tikshoret.biz

Educators attended from Yeshiva Torat Emet in Houston; Yeshivat Frisch in Bergen County; NJ; Yeshivat Har Torah in Queens; Berman Hebrew Academy, MD; Joe Dwek Ohr HaEmet Sephardic School in Toronto, Associated Hebrew Schools of Toronto; the Prizmah Center for Jewish Day Schools; Yeshiva University; the Lookstein Center of Bar-Ilan University; the Mayberg Foundation in Maryland; Mizrachi; Matan Women's Institute for Torah Studies; and various high schools, yeshivot and midrashot in Israel as well.

Michelle Wenner, for example, came specifically from Toronto to get inspiration and said this was her first exposure to Herzog's unique way of teaching. Shira Kronenberg from Frisch is director of their Judaic Studies Learning Center director, and teaches Tanach in all tracks and was glad to get fresh ideas. It was fascinating to watch teachers from differing milieus discuss their problems and challenges. A Houston day schoool principal was seen discussing his educational ideas with a Herzog lecturer all through the entire lunch break. And those are just a few examples of participants' reactions.

And the lectures? They embodied the interactive, stimulating learning experiences their presenters were talking about.

Herzog College's Rabbi Daniel Wolf, instead of lecturing about the exciting study of Tanach, proved it by teaching a topic in a way that kept the teachers raptly listening and on their toes, showing how defining context and engaging in close, comparative reading of the text, can guide students to seeing the big picture when they reach the end of a Sefer. His practical methodology employed finding similar stories, words and expressions, thus using literary analysis to link the story to broader connections. He showed how with computer apps, that is doable on many levels in every track.

Rav Daniel Wolf, Herzog
Rav Daniel Wolf, HerzogS. Manning, Tikshoret. biz

Should you be teaching one story, one parsha, one book - or showing that Tanach is actually one story? he asked, challenging teachers to plan their lessons with that in mind.

Do that, he advised, and students will get used to looking for patterns in Tanach, for the universal message. This is what we mean by Herzog Tanach - finding an idea, clarifying accessible evidence for it and its relevance to your context, using the computer as a practical tool to break down the text, show structure, and find where words appear or do not appear again. This digital tool helps students realize that there is a big picture while adding literary reading to the usual linear reading. He suggested using material posted by Herzog College and adapting it to one's students' level – for example, he said, not every group of students will find analyzing the now available detailed maps interesting enough to spend time on them.
Dr. Ilana Turetsky
Dr. Ilana TuretskyS. Manning, Tikshoret. biz

Dr. Ilana Turetsky of Yeshiva University's Azrieli Graduate School, a vibrant, enthusiastic, and interactive speaker, was a living lesson in methodology, in addition to giving participants much practical advice on how to become the teacher students wish to know as well as emulate.

She used the concept of selective attention to address student perceptions and skills and how teachers should relate to them in the classroom. Her way of making that point was another lesson in methodology.

Just as significant was her guidance about making the classroom a place with positive vibes, providing concrete examples of how the way the teacher chooses to talk and can control the urge to use negative phrases actually creates the narrative – and then the reality - and how when we assume the best (are dan lekaf zechut) and show compassion, building up aspirations can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, a hypothesis backed up by serious educational research.

Tanach was there, inspiring this practical lesson as well: The Rashi explaining the wording of Moses' request for Hashem to choose a new leader to mean someone who realizes that no two people have the same needs shows how the literary study of Tanach can become an educator's guide. In teaching this,

Turetsky, in effect, brought the points given by the lecturer who preceded her to the teachers' room.

Panel Participants
Panel ParticipantsSharon Altshul

Teachers eagerly awaited the panel discussion on the topic of Head vs. Heart, moderated by (r. to l.) Rabbi Reuven Spolter of Herzog College, and including Mrs. Simi Peters of Nishmat, Rabbi Shmuel Feld of Jewish Education Innovation Challenge, and Rabbi Yehuda Chanales of Yeshiva University's Jewish Incubator. It drew the largest crowd, and they were not disappointed. Speakers dealt with varying views on the ongoing problem of spirituality vs. skills, whether a teacher must make a choice between connecting to students' hearts and their acquiring basic Jewish learning skills such as understanding Biblical Hebrew and going on from there to reading texts and commentaries, which were once considered an axiomatic part of the curriculum.

Perhaps, it was suggested by one panelist the learning experience that attaches you to Judaism is when you work hard and feel good afterward. When you grow in understanding and earn your success. While suggesting different solutions, all agreed that schools are trying to do too much in too little time and that the key question is where students will be in later years, what influences that and can motivate them in the direction we wish them to take.

Rabbi Dr. Yehuda Brandes, head of Herzog College, presented the first graduation certificate from the Tanach Teaching Certificate program, a master's program focused on teaching Tanach in the Diaspora classroom, to Gavriella Steinman.

Award presentation
Award presentationSharon Altshul

Photo: (l.to r.) Amihai Bannett, CEO of Herzog College, Rabbi Dr. Yehuda Brandes, head of Hezog College, Gavriella Steinman, Rabbi Reuven Spolter

Rabbi Dr. Zvi Grumet of Bar IlanUniversity gave the story of the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and half of Menashe a new and thought-provoking twist by showing, in the Herzog way, how to encourage students to look at the whole Tanach, draw comparisons with similar dialogues and find the differences between them. He showed how to use the alhatorah.org site, got participants to divide the story into parts, notice which words were repeated and what that signified, which appeared here for the first – and even last – time, encouraged them to analyze the contents of Moses' fiery, longwinded speech and the reasons for it.

Rabbi Dr. Zvi Grumet
Rabbi Dr. Zvi GrumetSharon Altshul

Did Moses overreact, he asked? That depends on how far back your analysis goes. The story literally came to life with the guidance of a superb pedagogue. I could imagine the students eagerly becoming involved in the multi-layered text.

Orit Lasser and Dr. Chaviva Speter then led a workshop which launched a new approach to teaching Tanach for reviving Jewish Identity and Relevance – "Tanach is our Story" – turning the material studied into a continuing story in which each student will feel he has a part. There is much room for teacher inventiveness in this program, allowing for adaptation to a particular classroom, although there are a large number of modular units all ready for use.

Ora Lasser (r.) and Dr. Haviva Speter
Ora Lasser (r.) and Dr. Haviva SpeterS. Manning Tikshoret.biz

Did all this spark your interest? Are you a Jewish studies educator or an involved parent? Look at the Herzog Global website in three languages and see all the educational innovations just waiting for you. And most important of all, plan to join next year to change the way your students learn Tanach!