Latest update: July 25th, 2013
My approach to teaching is to take a “discussion-based constructivist approach” to learning, encouraging children to arrive at their own understanding of Torah through text-based study and a great deal of discussion. I constantly encourage them to think, ask questions and to arrive at their own insights into the Torah.
Instilling a love, enthusiasm and passion for Torah study is more important to me than whether or not a child understands any given verse on a particular day. A sense of humor plays a big role in achieving this; don’t underestimate it and try not to let a serious mood spoil your homeschool learning.
Most Room613 classes proceed in the following manner: We study a text, engaging in discussion about it, often analyzing every verse. I present classic Torah commentaries, as well as some more modern ones. We can sometimes spend a whole half-hour class on a single verse. Unlike most schools, I am usually not concerned with “covering ground” and reaching a certain point by a certain date.
Out of this process, we begin to construct a very personal understanding of meaning in the Torah. Much of our discussion has to do with gaining psychological insights into Torah personalities and possible motivations for their actions—often original insights suggested by the students.
This approach may or may not work for you, depending on how you prefer to teach and learn, your children’s personalities, your relationship with them and other family dynamics, but I am sure you can find some aspects that will be relevant and useful.
I always spend time before class preparing by going over commentaries and asking questions based on them as we study. After posing a question, I will often tell the class (for example), “I didn’t make that up, it is asked by the Ohr haChaim!”
I always start with Rashi, as he generally offers the simplest explanation of a verse. Usually I choose a few shorter Rashis, or maybe part of a long one, and I sometimes teach them in English.
I will then move on to other meforshim such as Kli Yakar, Baal haTurim, Seforno, and others.
I am going to take a sample verse from the Chumash – Parshas Noach (perek 6, pasuk 9) – and show you briefly how we might analyze it in a class.
Eileh Toldos Noach. Noach eish tzaddik tamim haya b’dorosav. Es HaElokim hishaleich Noach – These are the generations of Noah. Noah was in his generations a man righteous and whole-hearted; Noah walked with God.
To begin, depending on the age of your child, you might have them read the verse a few times, in Hebrew and/or English. Look at the verse; ask him or her if there is anything unusual about it. Perhaps he or she can create a list of questions or draw a picture – a graphic representation of the verse. If you are familiar with mind-mapping, that is also a great tool for parsing verses.
Here are some sample questions based on the verse above:
1) Why does it say “Noach Noach” (the name is repeated, which leaves room for interpretation in the original Hebrew)?
2) What does “tzaddik tamim” (righteous and whole) imply? What does “tamim” (pure) add to the description of Noach?
3) “In his generation”—what could that imply? Was he righteous or not? (It sounds like his righteousness was relative.)
4) What does it mean that he “walked with G-d?” (Compare with Avrohom who “walked before G-d.”)
Now here’s the Rashi for the first few verses of Noach:
Questions based on Rashi:
• What is the connection between the Torah mentioning Noach, praising him, and the idea of a blessing?
• “In his generation”—how does Rashi explain this? Is this good or not?
Even Ezra – Ish Tzaddik b’leebo, b’ma’asav tamim.
“Ish Tzadik”—in his actions. “Tamim”—in his heart/emotions.
This would probably lead to a discussion of what it means to be “righteous in action,” as opposed to “whole/pure in heart or emotion.”
Here are more sample discussion questions based on both Rashi and Even Ezra:
What does it mean to be “righteous in one’s actions?”
Can one do good things and be a bad person?
Can a good person do bad things, or only good? Could Noach do anything bad? Did he have free will?
Conversely, can one also be “pure” in their actions, or only in their heart?
Can a pure person do bad things?
Can a bad person be pure at heart?
“That generation transgressed in three areas: idol worship, forbidden relations, and theft. That’s why we are told that Noach guarded himself in three ways:
‘Ish Tzadik’—he didn’t steal;
‘Pure in his generation’—he guarded the family unit;
‘He walked with G-d’—he didn’t turn to idols/other gods.”
Sample questions based on Kli Yakar:
• Why was it important for Noach to counter the bad actions of his generation?
• How can we do the same?
• How is this “midah k’neged midah?” Or isn’t it?
* * * * *
Today’s homeschooling parents have a wealth of information literally at their fingertips. Several websites dedicated to Jewish homeschooling offer classes, curriculums blogs, articles, camaraderie, school supplies and more, giving parents who teach their children at home a host of opportunities.
Room613.net was created five years ago by Rabbi Yosef Resnick to fill an unmet need in the world of Jewish education, providing a comprehensive Judaic studies program for students who are homeschooled or who do not have access to Jewish education locally. Using cutting-edge virtual classroom technology to offer a live, interactive learning environment where students and teacher see and hear each other, share texts, videos, and graphics, and collaborate on a whiteboard, Room613.net brings students from around the country and the world together as a real learning community with a full schedule of Jewish studies and specialty classes for early childhood through high school.
Chinuch.org, a division of Torah U’Mesorah, gives educators the ability to share materials and ideas for students of all ages and includes access to a variety of educational materials clip art, forums, the Olomeinu archives and an audio/video library.
TorahTutors.org, an affiliate of Rabbi Chaim Brovender’s WebYeshiva, offers the homeschooling community the opportunity to build a customized homeschooling curriculum, which includes classes for students and weekly tutorials for parents.
LivingLessons.com offers a five-year Judaic curriculum for students in fourth through eighth grade using a series of age appropriate textbooks and workbooks. The focus is on teaching Torah through taryag mitzvos.
MorahSupplies.com offers a full range of supplies, from posters to aleph bais, with a craft corner offering inspiring ideas for educational projects.
JewishHomeSchool.blogspot.com gives insights, activities and other resources from a mother of five who not only homeschools her kids, but shares her experiences with the world.
Rabbi Yosef Resnick
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