Researching the Development of Torah She Be’al Peh (Project) 1

  • N/A
  • Grades: 7-9
  • Activity

by: Zvi Grumet

This is a self-directed project in which students create a timeline of the development of Torah Sheh Ba’al Peh.


In this inquiry-based project, students create a timeline of the development of Torah Sheh Ba’al Peh. The rationale for using the inquiry method is that conveyance of historical information, facts, names and dates, can be tedious and boring when taught frontally. The approach presented here engages the students in researching the information and presenting it in an exciting manner. Additionally, posting the final projects on the school walls or website, will add to the students sense of ownership and also provides a convenient reference point throughout the year. Having a variety of presentation modes allows for maximum student input and identification with the material as well as providing a variety of ways for the material to be learned, increasing student comprehension and retention.

Lesson objectives

Content: Students will be able to…

1. Describe the stages of the development of Torah She Ba’al Peh .

2. Identify the differenteras of the development of Torah She Ba’al Peh.

3. Name the eras in chronological era.

4. Provide approximate dates for each era.

5. Describe basic characteristics of each era.

6. Name three major personalities of each era.

7. Name a major work that characterizes each era.

8. Describe the work’s organization.

9. Explain the difference between the Talmud and the Gemara.

10. Describe the various components of a Gemara page.


Students will be able to…

1. Use the Internet effectively to research the topic.

2. Navigate a page of Gemara.

3. Organize the information into a comprehensive timeline.


Students will be able to…
1. Appreciate the necessity for the Torah She Ba’al Peh.
2. Appreciate the possible dangers of committing legal rulings and instructions to print.
3. Appreciate the evolving nature of Torah She Ba’al Peh .
4. Appreciate the importance of Torah She Ba’al Peh for the Jewish people.


Torah She Ba’al Peh – Oral Law
daf – page
misekhet – tractate
perek – chapter
ammud – page
sedarim – orders
Shas – six orders of the Mishna

Resources & Equipment needed

photocopied worksheets (see below. If you wish to use the online version of the worksheets instead, you will also need access to anumber of computers with Internet connections), materials for timelines (poster boards, markers, etc.)


1. Introduce the topic to the students.

2. Divide class into groups of three or four, so that each group “specializes” in a different era (or eras).

3. Hand out worksheets or direct them to the online worksheet.Explain the assignment.

4. Circulate the room and clarify any questions the students may have. Note: It is difficult to find a single, well-written source which can present the full picture to the students, and it is up to the teacher to help the students construct that picture for themselves. This is particularly true in at least five areas: 1-The role of Midrash Halakha, albeit important from a historical view, is difficult to comprehend from any of the written material; 2-Defining the role of the Achronim can be rather complex, and there is little good resource material available for that; 3-Defining the historical era of the Poskim is problematic (is Rambam included?); 4-For the sake of simplification, the Sevorim were omitted; 5-The responsa literature is impossible to restrict to a particular era, yet is very important in the development of Torah She Ba’al Peh.

5. After initial research, reshuffle the groups, so that new groups are formed of individuals who have “specialized” and share their research with other members of the group. Groups should then design their timeline.

6. Each group should present their timeline to the class.

7. Post final products on school walls or on the school website. Optional: On the worksheet, there is a section called “Bringing it All Together: A Page of Gemara”. This section introduces students to a page of Gemara and demonstrates how many of the different eras are integrated into one text (the Gemara). There is an excellent website run by Eliezer Segal at the University of Calgary which includes interactive pictures of pages from classical texts (Gemara, Rambam, etc.). These serve as valuable learning tools for students to learn to navigate the classical Vilna editions. The links to the site were provided in the resource material for the students’ independent learning in the previous unit, but are valuable for the teacher to be especially aware of. The teacher should take to make sure that students are familiar with the layout of the Gemara page. By looking at the page they should be able to identify the mesekhet and perek (they may also be need to review the organization of Shas into sedarim and what a mesekhet is), the page (including ammud alef and ammud bet, as well as standard notation used), were to find Rashi (near the binding), etc.


The way we assess learning needs to be reflective of the learning process itself. If we teach toward facts, then we need to assess which facts have been absorbed. If we teach toward comprehension, then it is that which needs to be gauged. Below are some suggested questions for assessment, based on the learning in this unit.

1. Why is there a need for Torah She Ba’al Peh? Offer two examples which demonstrate this need.

2. What problems are created once a legal ruling or instruction, no matter how carefully crafted, is actually written?

3. Was all of Torah She Ba’al Peh given toMoshe at Sinai? Takes one position on this question. Based on that position, what is the goal of studying Torah after it was once given? If theTorah was given at Sinai and passed on accurately from generation to generation, why do the Rabbis seem to debate so much?

4. Does the Torah She Ba’al Peh change? If yes, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Explain this based on the makhloket (controversy)between Rav Sherira Gaon and Rambam on the origins of Rabbinic disputes.

5. What is the Talmud? What role did the Mishna play in the development of the Talmud? What is the difference between theTalmud and the Gemara?

6. What are the names of two very important codes of Jewish Law? Who wrote them?

7. Explain why an Amorah might quote a Tannah but not the reverse.

8. What are responsa? When were they written?

9. Identify three major eras in the development of Torah She Ba’al Peh . What were the approximate dates of each? Name two figures from each.

10. You were recently visited by a long lost cousin who has no knowledge of Judaism at all. Your cousin tells you that she heard that there was something called the Oral Torah, but has no idea what that is. Explain to your cousin what the Oral Torah is. 11. Look at the attached photocopy of a page of Gemara. What page of which misekhet is this from? Identify the items labeled A, B, C, D, E.