What is Rabbinics?  It is one of the four Jewish Studies courses, but what should be included in Rabbinics? What should be its focus?  These are the questions the Jewish Studies teachers are discussing as we review the curriculum.

To gather some “data” that might enrich the conversation, I emailed a half dozen TanenbaumCHAT graduates to find out what units stuck with them and why.  Below is a sampling of their comments–their choice for most meaningful unit and why:

  • Organ donation “A family friend of mine, who is very religious, donated an organ completely anonymously. I was pretty confused as to how it was permissible to donate an organ, as I thought that according to religious reasons, a Jewish person had to have all their organs in order to be buried as a Jew. Thanks to my Rabbinics class, I was able to truly understand the specific laws that come from donating organs, and what is required.”
  • Death and Mourning “The Death and Mourning Unit was the most meaningful and helpful. It is very practical knowledge that is definitely useful and necessary. It just so happened that my Great Aunt passed away and that side of the family was unfamiliar with Shiva customs. I was able to help explain and give my family some clarity because I had studied it in school.”  Another student:  “I liked the topics in the Mourning unit because they were the most relatable and practical topics, regardless of one’s religious background.”
  • Sexual ethics “The grade 11 topics of marriage and conversion were interesting. Rabbinics was one my favourite Jewish studies courses, and as a university student I am trying to find a Jewish learning program that explores similar contemporary issues, as it is more relatable for students. These types of topics generate a lot of debate and affect everyone’s lives.”

What I learned from our graduates is that the most meaningful topics were the ones that had practical value, that dealt with some issue of contemporary Jewish living.  It’s that insight that led me to draft a mission statement for Jewish Studies in the words of Rabbi David Ellenson, former president of the Reform Movement’s Hebrew Union College:

The true goals of Jewish education are deep and broad. For individual Jews, our program of study should provide students access to the rich resources of our tradition. These resources can add meaning to their lives and help them answer life’s most challenging questions. Beyond the personal dimension, the goal should also be enculturation – connecting individuals to the ongoing experience of the Jewish people, past, present and future. Finally, Jewish education must also be generative – inspiring our graduates to create and support vibrant Jewish communities that sustain Jewish life, help repair a broken world, and ensure the future of the Jewish people.

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