Maggid Books of Jerusalem has recently published a new edition of Pirkei Avot entitled Sage Advice. It was translated and provides commentary by the renowned scholar, teacher Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg.
We draw GAJE members’ attention to this new edition because Rabbi Greenberg infuses it with references about education. In the book’s preface, Rabbi Greenberg describes Pirkei Avot in a manner seldom used among the countless commentaries on this favourite book. “I admired its (Pirkei Avot’s) implicit goal of popular education and endearment as a paradigm for educators and as a model worthy of emulation.”
Rabbi Greenberg expands upon this early declarative characterization of Pirkei Avot throughout his commentaries. He notes that once the Second Temple was destroyed in 70A.D. and the people driven away from Jerusalem some 60 years later, the sages needed a radically different method to instill the awareness of the Divine Presence.
“…They detected within every word of Torah many levels of meaning, their continuous study uncovering ever more layers of wisdom. They also extended the activity from the intellectual elite to lay people. For the sages, teaching Torah was not a hereditary entitlement and scholarship not a genetic gift. It was essential that everyone should know how to learn Torah, and study was open to anyone willing to make the effort. To that end, the sages instituted a public school system that would include all children, especially the poor and orphaned. In place of the illiterate citizenry of the biblical period, awed by the Spectacle of the Temple service and overwhelmed by God’s Presence there, the Jewish people were now empowered en masse. They too could encounter the Divine Presence and personally participate in the religious life of prayer and home ritual. And so the sages turned the Jewish people into the People of the Book.”
Rabbi Greenberg adds: “Pirkei Avot reflects the sages’ focus on education as well as their pedagogical genius. I believe that R. Yehuda the Prince, who together with his scholarly circle edited the Mishna, grasped the nature of the miracle of continuity and transformation, which the sages had achieved. He realized that the new incarnation of Torah incorporated a more personal set of connections with a closer Shekhina. He grasped that the new Jew had to be more learned, his values more internalized, in order to be active in carrying on the tradition. This was to be the religion of the whole community, not just that of the rabbinic elite.”
Elsewhere Rabbi Greenberg writes, “The book (Pirkei Avot) is a masterpiece of popular education. It dramatizes how rabbinic Judaism was intended to serve and engage all people, not just the academic elite.”
There are other such key characterizations of Pirkei Avot as a foremost instrument of education. But the key point for our purposes is the recurring emphasis and re-emphasis by Rabbi Greenberg that education that “include[s] all children, especially the poor and orphaned” is at the living heart of the “miracle of continuity.”
Last week we pointed out that one of our GAJE members, Sholom Eisenstat, an expert in the use of educational technology in Jewish Education, will be speaking about the possibility of introducing blended learning for Jewish high schools at the Taste of Limmud on Sept. 18. His presentation is entitled: A Viable Solution to the Financial Crisis in Education.
This week we draw members’ attention to the fact that the Taste of Limmud dedicates an entire track to the subject of Jewish Education. In addition to the discussion on the possibility of blended learning, Daniel Held, Ilana Aisen and Evan Mazin will lead a discussion on A Tale of Two Vaughans: the Changing Face of the York Region Jewish Community; and Mary Pennock will discuss The Roots of Jewish Education.
For more information on the conference, please visit LIMMUD.ca