Re: Creative Responses to Educational Challenges: A sample Talmud lesson
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Re: Creative Responses to Educational Challenges: A sample Talmud lesson

January 13, 2019 10:29AM
Rabbi Klapper, thank you for opening up this conversation.

"In many Talmud classes, the Mishnah is not the subject of independent investigation; it is read simply as background for the Talmud. Students therefore experience the sugya as follows. Rava introduces an okimta with no textual basis. Ravina defends that okimta via a radical rereading. On the basis of that okimta, Rava aligns Rabbi Meir with a position that is not mentioned anywhere in the text, or indeed anywhere else in the Mishnah. On the basis of that alignment, Shmuel claims that the Mishnah is incoherent. In other words, students experience the sugya as a series of increasingly implausible interpretive events."

This paragraph, and especially this last sentence, rings true to me. And I agree that the flow of ideas that you describe is a much better way to teach, and to learn.

However, I differ regarding this comment:
"The mode of presentation above, by contrast, enables students to see the Talmud as intensely devoted to the text and original intent of the Mishnah and of the Amoraim. It inoculates them against seeing even apparently radical interpretive moves as arbitrary or lacking in integrity."

I am less concerned about students seeing the Talmud as devoted to the original intent of the Mishnah and Amoraim. In my experience, a close reading of the Mishnah will yield questions from students that don't interest the Gemara - or at least, there's no recorded conversation about it. The Gemara investigates issues and looks for interpretations that serve their textual and legal needs, and I don't know if those are always identical with those of the Mishnah, or how much that matters. When I learn Gemara with students, I am interested how the Gemara understands the Mishnah and the issues raised, as well as in how later readers might see it (up to and including my students).

When I teach, I present every Mishnah as a story. After we read the Mishnah and chart it out (מקרה, דין, טעם) I ask my students to tell me the story or potential stories of the Mishnah. What's the background for the מקרה? What do they imagine? As part of this conversation, I also ask them: If you were the Gemara, what questions would you ask about this Mishnah?

Both of these are strategies that I've developed to address (maybe a version of) the problem that you describe at the beginning of this piece: I don't want them to see the Gemara as a series of random interpretive moves. I want learners to feel some of the tension that the Gemara feels (by identifying ambiguity, gaps, topics that need more exploration or details) and I also want them to sense that there is always more than one possible story that might underlie the Mishnah. The Gemara will pick one (and may suggest one they hadn't thought of) but that doesn't mean the other ones aren't interesting.

I am so glad you shared your thoughts on this topic, and really hope that others will share their approaches.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/13/2019 10:31AM by mlb.
Subject Author Posted

Creative Responses to Educational Challenges: A sample Talmud lesson

Aryeh Klapper January 13, 2019 10:19AM

Re: Creative Responses to Educational Challenges: A sample Talmud lesson

Sara Wolkenfeld January 13, 2019 10:29AM


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