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.
The period of Roman rule of Eretz Yisrael is important in our consideration of “teaching Israel” for several reasons:
- Continuing the conversation that began with Shivat Tziyon, about the significance of land, autonomy, sovereignty, and exile: if we are living in our land but do not have sovereignty, are we in a kind of exile? Or does exile only refer to physical separation from the land? How important, in our relationship to the land, is political independence?
- Another conversation that continues and blossoms during this period is about Judaism’s relationship to foreign cultures. The Jewish-pagan polarity that is so evident in the Bible becomes much more complex and nuanced during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. This brings us to down to the modern discussion of “what is Jewish culture?” and “What is Israeli culture?” Is any culture that is rooted in Israel ipso facto Israeli? Jewish?
- It is during this period that the basic documents of the Oral Law are codified; thus, the “Jewish Tradition” as we know it, both Halachah and Aggadah, is founded upon the records of the discussions of the rabbis of Eretz Yisrael under the Romans – and this includes, of course, the place of the land itself in that tradition (see lesson 22, The Mishnah).
The Great Revolt and the destruction of the Temple represent, of course, a major turning point in Jewish history from every perspective. The pattern of life in exile had been established previously, with the creation of the Babylonian community; however, the diaspora as we know it is really only known to us from 70 CE onward.
A few key points regarding this period that are of interest for our teaching of Israel:
- The escape to Yavneh: trading the struggle for political sovereignty for acceptance of limited religious/communal autonomy
- The Bar Kochba revolt and the historical power of messianism
- The historical memory and observance of the destruction in the Jewish tradition (this was dealt with in lesson 15, on the destruction of the first Temple)
- The two revolts as symbols in modern Israeli culture
Most of the Tannaitic literature belongs to the halachic genre, and is made up of laws, as opposed to the aggadic genre, which is made up of stories, legends, sayings and ideas. In many educational settings in the Jewish world today, which are not committed to a halachic way of life, this literature is therefore neglected, with biblical texts largely preferred, as well as some aggadic stories gleaned from the literature of the sages.
In his classic essay “Halachah and Aggadah“, Hayim Nahman Bialik (considered Israel’s national poet, though he died before the foundation of the state) decries the focus of his generation on Aggadah, and the neglect of Halachah. He advocates a renewal of the study of Halachah, both as a literary genre, and as a way of life – not necessarily the traditional Halachah of the Shulchan Aruch, but the concept of commitment to a way of life.
We will read an excerpt of Bialik’s essay both to see how deeply grounded some modern-day figures in the Israeli literary world are in the world of the ancient texts, and to understand Bialik’s claim that Halachah and Halachic literature should not be abandoned as irrelevant in this day of Aggadah. Then we will study some of the texts from the Mishnah to which Bialik refers, and end by discussing whether these texts can be used in our classrooms.
A Jewish diaspora has existed since the times of the First Temple. The balance of power between Eretz Yisrael and the diaspora was in a constant flux, depending on the sizes of the communities, their economic and political wellbeing, and the existence of a temple which served as the religious center for the Jewish world. In this unit we’ll look at Eretz Yisrael-diaspora relations in the time of the second Temple and after its destruction, always keeping in mind the (somewhat striking) parallels with phenomena we observe today. As an example of a large and powerful community (somewhat like the North-American Jewish community today?) we will examine in more detail the Babylonian community. We’ll look at the two Talmuds, one from Babylonia and the other from Eretz Yisrael, to see the differences and why they emerged, and examine one particular story which appears in both Talmuds, with subtle but telling difference.
How we measure time reflects how we see the world and our place it. Each individual has markers in time that are important to him – birthdays, anniversaries, yahrzeits, etc. So too different nations and cultures mark time uniquely. Their respective systems reflect their perception of time and space. The Christians count from the death of Christ, the Moslems from the flight of Mohammed. The Gregorian calendar follows the solar year. The Islamic calendar follows the lunar year. In this lesson we will study how Jews mark time and try to understand the significance and results of the system, and its role in linking the land and people of Israel. It turns out that in addition to sanctifying time, the Jewish calendar is deeply connected to the sanctification of place: in living according to it, Jews all over the world affirm, consciously or not, their rootedness in the landscape of Eretz Yisrael.
Note: This lesson is divided into two unrelated sections, one quite light-hearted and the other very somber – it’s up to the facilitator to decide on the order of the sections.
Symbolic foods: One of the striking things about Israel is the fact that although a majority of the citizens share their Jewish nationality, religion, ethnicity, culture and customs, their traditions are surprisingly different due to their diverse lands of origin. While in the initial years of the state, the declared goal was a melting pot in which all people would assimilate into one big Jewish-Israeli collective, in recent years the rich variation and diverse backgrounds have come to be appreciated, and efforts are made to celebrate and preserve the different ethnic cultures (or “edot”, as they are called in Hebrew). In this lesson we will examine this issue by looking at the various symbolic foods eaten by the people of different edot on Rosh Hashanah.
The Yom Kippur war: For Israelis, Yom Kippur, in addition to being the Day of Atonement, has taken on a new and somber meaning since the 1973 Yom Kippur war. The war was one of the bloodiest Israel has known, and for some it brought the euphoria and messianic fervor which emerged after the 1967 Six Day war to an abrupt halt. For a few days, Israelis felt unsure of their survival, personally and as a state; 3000 soldiers were killed – about 0.1 percent of the population; the government considered using Israel’s atomic weapons to avert the catastrophe; the last-minute aerial shipment of arms and ammunition from the US helped Israel stem the tide. In the lesson we will watch and discuss a (30 min.) video about kibbutz Beit Hashita, which lost 11 of its members during the war. The kibbutz commissioned composer Yair Rosenblum to compose a new melody for the U’Netaneh Tokef prayer of Yom Kippur to commemorate the fallen soldiers. This melody is sung by chazzanim (cantors) in many Israeli synagogues today during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Sukkot is a much loved and much studied festival that comes to round up the fall holiday season. It “works” as a harvest festival in Europe and North America, and is associated with messages of eco-harmony and colorful customs. And it ends with Simchat Torah, certainly a non-Israel-based celebration (and likely a Diaspora innovation). Thus, one can happily observe Sukkot without noticing any connection to Israel. And yet, there are a number of aspects of this festival that definitely express our connection to the land of Israel. This unit seeks to highlight these, without necessarily reviewing the whole range of religious meanings, values, and observances connected with the holiday.
Tu Beshvat is mentioned in the Mishna not as a holiday but as the cut off date in determining tithes and orlah. (See lesson 9 on the mitzvot of the land of Israel). Despite these humble beginnings the day has evolved into a holiday commemorating our connection to the land of Israel and its natural bounty. In this class we will trace the evolution of the day and the different meanings it has acquired throughout the ages. We will try to understand the reasons behind the significance each age chose to emphasize and how the different interpretations reflect a changing connection to the land of Israel.
Purim is generally viewed as a particularly happy holiday, characterized by a number of customs designed to make us laugh, to make us “push the envelope” of what is permitted and what is acceptable, in the direction of wild celebration. The story behind the holiday, contained in Megilat Esther, is an entertaining drama, with suspense, irony, sexual innuendo, cartoon violence, and a happy ending. So we read the scroll, but parts we drown out with noise; and we sing, and clown, and masquerade, and party – and move on to the more serious joy of Pesach. This picture is true in the Diaspora as well as in Israel, and part of this unit will look at Purim observance in Israel.
However, it is possible to see in the Esther narrative a darker view of the events, which all the merriment, perhaps, comes to cover up. Perhaps the Purim story can be seen as a dark satire on the Diaspora, as a “Zionist” tract, emphasizing the vulnerability of the Jews when they are not in their own land. Thus, it can give us some insight into the meaning of Exile and the necessity of national sovereignty.
In this unit we will trace Pesach from its first celebration, by Joshua and the people of Israel immediately upon entering Eretz Yisrael, to its transformation in modern times by the pioneers of the kibbutzim in Israel.
From Joshua’s time onwards, while the tabernacle and then the Temples existed in Israel, Pesach was celebrated by the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb, to commemorate the meal eaten by the children of Israel on their last night in Egypt. When the Second Temple was destroyed, Pesach (along with the other festivals, and indeed the whole of Judaism) was transformed by the sages into something completely different – a family celebration, comprising a festive meal and learned discussions on the topics of the day (the proportions between the two differ from family to family…). The Haggadah, the text that accompanies the seder, began to take shape during that period, but continued to develop throughout the ages. The pioneers of the kibbutzim, trying to design a celebration which would express their commitment to Zionism, socialism and communal life, transformed the Haggadah in new and interesting ways. We will examine a large collection of excerpts from different kibbutz Haggadot to see how the values of the members shaped the texts they used.
Pesach is the holiday that celebrates our deliverance from slavery in Egypt. It is strange that the culmination, as it were, of that event, namely the entry into Eretz Yisrael, is not celebrated – neither on Pesach nor on any other traditional holiday. As we shall see, the editors of the kibbutz Haggadot tried to remedy this omission by transforming Pesach into a festival which celebrates their modern-day exodus and return to the land.