Document 14743488

How Do Teachers’ Backgrounds in
Studying Talmud Affect Their Teaching
of Talmud?
Three Portraits
Michael Gillis
The Melton Center for Jewish Education
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
January 2008
Guiding question
How does the different way each teacher
acquired their own subject-matter
knowledge of Talmud influence their
Pedagogical Content Knowledge
“…special amalgam of content and pedagogy.”
It represents the blending of content and
pedagogy into an understanding of how particular
topics, problems or issues are organised,
represented and adapted to the diverse interests
and abilities of learners and presented for
)Shulman 1987)
Varieties of subject matter knowledge
150 Ways of knowing (Wilson, Shulman
and Richert 1987)
Ways of knowing Talmud
The Yeshivah
(Kahane 1990)
The Academy
The Setting and Students
Community non-denominational high
 Orthodox halachic students a small
 Most students traditional or non-observant
 No a priori assumptions about the
authority of the Talmud or the Halakha
Virtually all teachers of Jewish Studies are
 Large proportion of shlichim (emissary
teachers) who enjoy high status in the
 The teachers give an Orthodox tone to
Jewish Studies even as they respect the
diversity of the student body
Talmud track
Students can choose between the Talmud
track and “Rabbinics”
 The Talmud track is considered by both
students and teachers to be an elite option
Research questions
How do the differences in background
affect the nature of the teachers’ PCK?
 In what ways do the teachers transform
subject-matter for teaching?
Collecting Data
Teacher interviews
 Classroom observation and recording
 Teachers interviewed before and after
observed teaching
 Teachers invited to comment on the first
draft of the portraits
Details from the portraits
Rabbi Rabinowitz
‫תלמוד בבלי‪ ,‬מסכת בבא מציעא דף לד עמוד ב‬
‫‪ ‬אמר רב הונא‪ :‬משביעין אותו שבועה שאינה ברשותו‪ .‬מאי‬
‫טעמא ‪ -‬חיישינן שמא עיניו נתן בה‪.‬‬
This is a big hidush!
If R. Huna had not said this what would I
have said? [student voices]
As soon as the bailee pays, [students’
voices] he should not have to make any
Rav Huna says NO! –even though he paid he
must swear that it is not in his
possession…So far fine.
The virtues of Rashi
Now Yossele, do you see the difference between
learning Gemara without Rashi and learning
Gemara with Rashi?
To tell you the truth, if I did not have Rashi on the
side…I don’t need Artscroll. I am from the period
when there was no Artscroll, there was Rashi –
Rashi was enough!
Rashi explains. Rashi knew, why? Because Rashi
was a fantastic teacher. Rashi knew that any
student who read the Gemara “we make him
swear” would lose their way and not know what
to do.
So Rashi says 'I’ll tell you immediately.' “It refers to
our Mishnah.” Rav Huna is talking about our
“The children know and see that here stands
a teacher who lives this discipline who lives
this material. … It's extremely important to
show them that its part of my life.
It causes the whole class to have respect for
the subject. Here speaks a man whose life is
Gemara, whose life is the yeshiva, whose
life is words of Torah and automatically their
response is, ‘Allow him to speak!’"
(Teacher interview)
Creating suspense
….But of course the Gemara is going to come and
say to Rav Huna that the hidush he says about
the Mishnah…
The Gemara tries to refute Rav Huna in a
Talmudistic way – I think one of the classical
instances of how the Gemara tries to refute an
Amora is here.
The Gemara brings a Mishnah – that you have
heard of – from Tractate Shevuot page 44 and
does entire twists and turns in that Mishnah to
show that R. Huna is wrong. I hope we will be
able to do it now.
But before we go to the Gemara I want to give you
a little introduction. Without this introduction you
won’t understand at all what is going on here….”
Michal Yaakobi
Because what we are hearing is really the
discussion in the House of Study. It’s as if I come
to class and say, “I want to ask you a question:
‘why is such and such the case?’”
Reuben [one of the students] comes and says I
think it is for such and such reason. Talia jumps
up and says ‘It is not as reuben said. Reuben is
saying incorrect things because surely it is
written in Scripture that such and such and such
and this does not fit with what Reuben said.
“How is this written in the Gemara? ‘If we say
(ileima) Reuben said ta ta ta ta ta ta BUT along
came Rabbanit Talia and said such and such. Yes?
‫תלמוד בבלי מסכת בבא קמא דף ו עמוד ב‬
‫ר' עקיבא אומר‪ :‬לא בא הכתוב אלא לגבות לניזקין מן‬
‫העידית‪ ,‬וקל וחומר להקדש‪.‬‬
‫מאי קל וחומר להקדש?‬
‫אילימא דנגח תורא דידן לתורא דהקדש‪( ,‬שמות כ"א)‬
‫"שור רעהו" אמר רחמנא ‪ -‬ולא שור של הקדש!‬
An open discussion
Michal: So what? Just because it is public property I should
not have to pay? What if I took this table and burnt it, I
shouldn’t have to pay because it is school property?
[students’ comments and laughter]
If this was Sarah’s table at home and I burnt it I have to pay.
If it is a table here that I burnt – let the whole school burn
down, I don’t have to pay. What do you say about that?
Student 1: …But that’s not so. If your ox gores a Temple ox
you replace it. Then it becomes as holy as the original one.
That one too, before it became Temple property, was
nothing special. They were just oxen.
Michal: OK, that is like what Talia said. To tell you the truth,
I haven’t thought about it. I don’t know the answer. I will
have to think about it.
Student 2: There isn't an answer because its wrong.
A critical moment
“At one level that is exactly what we want!
At another level, it creates enormous
strain, especially on the substantive
understanding that teachers bring to their
(Lee Shulman "Professional Development: Learning from
Experience“ in “The Wisdom of Practice" edited Suzanne
Wilson, San Francisco 2004 508)
Some questions
What is the evidence for significant
transformation of subject-matter knowledge in
these cases?
What is the long term significance of professional
What is sufficient subject-matter knowledge for
Talmud teachers?
Is there an unresolved curricular question beyond
the PCK of individual Talmud teachers?
What is the significance of these cases for
thinking about curriculum and professional
‫ואידך זיל גמור‬