Israel and Jewish Experience – Ksharim curriculum
A broad and in-depth curriculum for adults – 43 fully annotated sessions – Israel throughout all aspects of Jewish text and Jewish life: from Israel in the bible, to Jewish holidays, Jewish history, liturgy, life cycle events, contemporary issues, and beyond.
This curriculum was written by Rabbi Dr. Marc Rosenstein, and co-authored by Sigalit Ur and Tova Sacher (of the Galilee Foundation for Value Education), in a joint development project of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and Makom.
In the traditional Jewish community, long before there was a Zionist movement or a state of Israel, the “connection to Israel” was built in to everyday life. The entire calendar of holidays, the words of the daily prayers, the everyday detail of the stories of the Bible and the laws of the Mishnah – all were permeated with Israel: its landscape, its climate, its agriculture, its geography.
The success of Zionism has led to the crisis of Israel education. Now that Israel is a modern state, now that we have “returned to history” with all the unpleasantness and difficult dilemmas that that entails – and now that in our modernization we have lost much of the substrate of tradition in which our Israel connection was rooted – we are left trying to create a new connection to Israel, based on the assumption of the Zionist revolution: that Judaism is a nationality, not a religion.
The difficulty that the modern or post-modern North American Jew has in defining his/her Jewish identity (religious? ethnic? national? universalistic?) creates a parallel difficulty in defining his/her relationship to Israel – and this in turn leaves educators without clearly defined goals and outcomes. This whole course is designed to help teachers grapple with this situation and formulate their own responses. This first lesson is meant to articulate the problem, and start the deliberation process that will, hopefully, run throughout the course.
Israel is of course a lot of different things – a state, a vision, a symbol, the scenery of history – but most basically, it is a geographical entity, a place, with distinct characteristics of topography, climate, flora and fauna, and natural resources. Obviously, traveling in Israel (or living there) is necessary for one to get a “feel” for the place, to “know” it. On the other hand, sometimes even traveling or living in a place runs into the problem of not being able to see the forest for the trees. Through satellite and aerial photos, of course maps, and written descriptions, we can get a sense of the big picture, of the lay of the land. This lesson will present some activities and resources to help accomplish this; however, we hope it will be just the initial experience of an ongoing practice of turning to the map to locate and imagine every historical event and personality connected with Israel.
Just as this course assumes that a fully realized Jewish identity should include feeling at home in the geography of Israel even if one has never set foot there, so too, we feel it is important to be oriented in the “map” of Jewish history: to have a sense of the flow of Jewish chronology in the context of world history, to be aware of major turning points and personalities. Moreover, we believe it is important for a teacher to be involved in the conversation about the historical significance of Israel: did the Jews “leave history” when they lost their national independence? Did we “return to history” in 1948? Are we living in messianic times? How we relate to Israel and how we teach Israel are inseparable from these philosophical questions.
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Clearly, the roots of our connection to Eretz Yisrael are perceived by the tradition to lie in the experiences of the patriarchs. Abraham’s experience was unique, as the first generation – the founder, the immigrant, the progenitor. The next two generations were already “natives” and provide for us a different kind of model, with some different motifs and issues. This lesson will examine the texts describing Isaac’s and Jacob’s links to the land. As with the preceding lesson, the focus here is on peshat, the plain meaning of the text.
Up until now the biblical story has been centered in or at least focused on thelandofIsrael. The land has been the pivot of the Patriarchal narrative. Divine promises of its inheritance combined with the forefathers’ attempts to realize and pass on that vision have fueled the story even when the action was taking place somewhere else. The story of Joseph is a turning point; it literally moves the characters out of thelandofIsraeland centers on the unfolding story inEgypt. From the time Jacob joins Joseph until the end of the Pentateuch thelandofIsraelno longer serves as the stage on which events unfold or the focus of the narrative. The questions we will discuss over the next three lessons are: Why? What does this shift in emphasis tell us about the role of the land in our national consciousness? What is the significance of the exile, enslavement and exodus – then and now?
This lesson will discuss the story of Joseph as a prototype of different Diaspora experiences throughout the ages.
The beginning of Jewish peoplehood occurred in Egypt. This is striking in the first verses of Exodus where the text lists the sons of Jacob who came to Egyptas individual families and then just a few verses later Pharaoh designates them – for the first time ever- as the nation ofIsrael. The birthing process of our people included enslavement, redemption and revelation, all which occurred disconnected from a national homeland. This lesson will explore the historical, philosophical, social, theological and moral significance of that process. Through discussion and comparative sources we will attempt to understand the implications of those particular beginnings: how they imprinted the nation ofIsrael, their consequences, the effects they had on our character, self image and destiny. To Full Post
The saga of the 40 years of wandering in the desert takes up the better part of two books in the Pentateuch – the Book of Numbers (called Bamidbar – ‘In the Desert’- in Hebrew), and Deuteronomy describe the experiences of the people of Israel in the desert. In this lesson we will try to examine the different ways the desert experience affected and influenced the people and its relationship to thelandofIsrael. We will do so by closely studying two specific episodes – the story of the spies and that of the two and a half tribes that requested the land outside the promised borders. These stories form “bookends” to the 40 years of wandering in the desert. The sin of the spies resulted in the decree that the nation would not enter the land until all the present generation had died and is therefore the beginning of the extended desert stay. The story of the two and a half tribes takes place at the end of the forty years as the new generation prepares to enter thelandofIsrael. As such they provide an interesting contrast to each other and cast light on the entire period. To Full Post
The Torah – given in the desert – contains a number of laws that restricted our freedom to exploit the land upon our entry into it. These include limits on when we may work the land, what we may sow and how we may harvest – and also taxation on the produce. Since these commandments are only binding on Jews living on their land in Eretz Yisrael, the tradition developed a special attachment to them – as long as we are living in exile, we are denied the opportunity to fulfill these mitzvot, so our religious life is incomplete. These laws therefore came to symbolize the specialness of the land, our connection to it, and our longing for it when we are in exile. Of the various land-based laws, the sabbatical year (shmita) is probably the best known example, and one whose restoration has generated interesting debates over the past century and a half, so we will examine it as a case study in this unit. This exploration will touch on questions about the nature of land ownership, about mechanisms of social justice, and about the relevance of biblical precepts in the post-biblical era.