Tanakh classes are designed to engage students and develop their textual, thematic, exegetical and application skills. Students will learn to navigate the biblical text, classify the material, ask meaningful questions and appreciate the larger themes and motifs contained within the text. The focus is on the text of Tanakh, with the study of commentaries as part of the process of understanding the biblical text rather than the goal of the classes. In this way, students gain an appreciation of the process of parshanut (exegesis) as they, on their own level, are engaged in the same quest as the commentators. By having students prepare texts prior to class discussion, the students are empowered to be active participants in the learning process. This preparation often takes place in the form of chavruta (cooperative) learning. The students’ insights and questions are an integral part of our classroom discussions. The information and observations gleaned during preparation become the raw material from which the classroom discussion is constructed. Although careful attention to individual words and literary devices is essential to the study of mikra, students are expected to go well beyond the focus on small units of language and to endeavor to identify the themes and essential messages of each section, perek and sefer. Students learn how details fit into larger biblical themes and how to relate a text to others in Tanakh.
Curriculum planning for the cross section of Chumash, Nevi’im and Ketubim includes the identification of the spiritual and moral values inherent in the text which highlight its contemporary relevance. Tanakh teachers aim to transmit to their students the skills, appreciation and enthusiasm for the study of biblical text that will motivate future learning.
The Book of Devarim: Mastering Exegetical Methodologies
In his various speeches that comprise the entirety of the book of Devarim, Moshe carries out his last task as leader and teacher of the Jewish people. However, the theme of Devarim is not as apparent as in the case of the other four books of the Torah. In this course we will analyze the book of Devarim’s various stories, laws and words of rebuke in order to uncover its unifying themes and eternal messages.
Course lessons with corresponding verses will be outlined in the syllabus and given out at the beginning of year. Each lesson will provide us a foundation to learn Sefer Devarim thematically and develop critical textual skills. Emphasis will be placed on close reading of texts, identifying textual difficulties, providing solutions using classical and modern commentaries, and studying the methodology of the various exegetes. In addition, we will study a variety of academic topics that relate to the Book of Devarim. Examples include Divine authorship of the Bible, variations of the masoretic text, Ancient Near Eastern treaties, and other relevant topics.
Mitzvot Through the Parashah
Over one quarter of the taryag (613) mitzvot are concentrated in three parshiyot: Mishpatim, Kedoshim and Ki Teitze. Our in-depth focus on these sections will provide understanding of and insight into a broad range of mitzvot bearing practical and philosophical significance. The connection between the Written and Oral Torah will be highlighted as we cover topics such as civil law, marital law, and the Torah perspective on issues such as war and slavery. We will also have the opportunity to strengthen Humash textual skills and appreciate the unique goals and methodologies of various primary commentaries.
The first story of siblings in the world, Kayin and Hevel, ended in fratricide. Was it jealousy, pride, anger or all of the above? Throughout Tanakh, there are many stories wrought with controversial sibling relationships. This course will examine the most famous sibling relationships in Tanakh, both positive and negative, starting with Kayin and Hevel and ending with the infamous story of King David’s sons, Amnon and Avshalom. This class will require students to prepare various perushim both in chavruta style and at home. We will use both medieval and modern approaches to better understand the characters and their relationships.
Women in Tanakh
It says in Megillah 14a, “There are four beautiful women in the world; Sarah, Rachav, Avigayil and Esther.” What made these four Biblical women more worthy than others to be bestowed with this prestigious title? Which women were known as the seven prophetesses? And did you ever wonder about women that were pure evil, like queens Eezevel and Ataliah? In this course we will learn about 20 of the most impactful and important women in the Bible. We will start the year learning and discussing Michal, Avigayil and Batsheva – three wives of King David. From there we will go on a thematic journey through Tanakh, ending the course with some of the most wicked and evil women that ever lived.
Biblical Portraits: Artist Beit Midrash
This course will begin with Sefer Yehoshua and continue through Megillot. It will cover Jewish and non-Jewish men and women in Nakh who teach us unique lessons in behavior, character, morality, and more. This class involves textual study, reflection, chavruta and individual work. After thorough study of each individual, project based assignments will be given to reflect one’s understanding and application of the learning. Projects will be presented to a group of teachers and/or administrators who will be included in our formal critique of each final work. Students must have sufficient skill sets to create drawings, paintings or 3-D art works for this class.
Torat Chaim: Life Lessons of the Torah
This course will demonstrate the relevance of the biblical text and its commentaries to the many religious questions that we confront on a daily basis. We will deal with issues of faith, the personal relationship between man and Hashem, the highs and lows of daily religious experience as well as various other theological, philosophical, psychological and existential questions.
We will look at various passages of Chumash, each of which contains a message for spiritual growth. Utilizing textual analysis, literary methods, and ancient and modern exegesis to notice the sophistication of the individual passages, we will then draw from this analysis to realize how the text adds meaning to our daily lives.
Parshanut on the Parashah
In this course, the curriculum will move along with the parashat ha-shavua. We will begin each week with the students’ reading, dividing and titling the sections of each parashah, allowing students to gain a broad familiarity with the Torah. We will analyze topics that arise in each parashah, using the parshanut approach of particular commentators. Parshanut is the study of how and why a mefaresh chose to interpret the text in a particular manner. We will also explore various midrashim that pertain to each parashah and how to best decipher their meaning. The course will also focus on the bigger hashkafik/philosophical issues that are raised in the weekly parashah. There will also be a focus on teaching students how to craft their own divrei Torah.
If tabloid newspapers had existed in the Ancient Near East, the Tanakh and its characters would be featured constantly in the headlines. Faithful to the biblical text, we will carefully analyze characters or events in Tanakh that are often neglected in a typical high school curriculum. Our Tanakh study will be evidence-based, intellectually stimulating, emotionally gripping and have modern-day relevance. Some of the episodes we will analyze are Dinah/Shechem, Reuven/duda’im, Yehudah/Tamar, Shimshon, Pilegesh ba-Give’ah, Pesel Michah, David/Batsheva/Michal, Amnon/Tamar etc. While some of these characters play a primary role in the narrative in which they appear, others serve as foils to the protagonists. All are colorful, somewhat controversial due to varying degrees of sexual scandal, child abuse, political intrigue and fraud. Nonetheless, each is essential in conveying the values inherent in the stories. We will try to understand what motivated their bad decisions and whether or not there was potential for them to act otherwise. Mapping the narratives’ rise from scandal to respectability, we’ll identify their transformative literary traits as we focus on intertextual parallels, mesorah, theology, private experience, empathy, and chilul Hashem. Ultimately, we will figure out how our historical role models reconciled with past mistakes and remained a people of integrity and Hashem’s model nation.
Eliyahu and Elisha
We sing about Eliyahu Hanavi at havdalah every motzei Shabbat, pour a glass of wine for him at the seder, and set a chair for him at every brit milah. But who is Eliyahu Hanavi in Tanakh? This course will explore the perakim in Sefer Melachim that tell the stories of Eliyahu Hanavi and his successor, Elisha. We will discuss and develop significant themes such as the need for justice vs. mercy, the role of the Navi, the actual threat of avodah zarah, and the ideal leadership qualities.
In this course, we will focus on utilizing close textual analysis to understand character development, noticing that the way in which a story is told is significant. We will compare these perakim to parallel stories in Tanakh such as Moshe at the Sneh and Yonah in Ninveh. In addition to literary analysis, we will learn classical and contemporary parshanut that develops these themes.