‘Encouraging questions encourages learning’

Israeli-based author Maayan Gutbezahl posted an article on Jeducation World entitled Let My People Know: The Steinsaltz Approach to Jewish Education that explores the radically thoughtful approach to teaching established by the renown scholar, writer, educator, thinker.

In the course of the article, Gutbezahl quotes Rabbi Michel Falk, the head of the Steinsaltz Yeshiva in Tekoa, Israel and a former student of Steinsaltz. “Many young Jews don’t feel totally at home in their Jewish lives,” Rabbi Falk said. He must have been speaking tongue-in-cheek for his observation ranks as profound understatement.

But in describing the essential task of the educator, Rabbi Falk spoke plainly the core challenge. “Many young Jews feel that a Jewish life is something that belongs to their grandparent’s generation, or to the rabbis in the synagogue, but it’s not something accessible to the personal life of the common Jew. And that is the challenge we have today – how to help young students understand that they, too, can really ‘own’ their Judaism.”

How young Jews can be helped to feel that they too can “own” their Judaism in an authentic, meaningful way is an appropriate question to ponder on the eve of Shavuot.

For it is, after all, the holiday that commemorates when the disparate, rabble of former slaves received the prescription for leading a good, worthy, purposeful life: freedom, a mission and the Law. 

The teaching method that Rabbi Steinsaltz introduced and which subsequently became considered as revolutionary in the Orthodox world “seeks to pull back the veil obscuring texts and encourages students to find their way to the peshat, or simple meaning, by blazing their own trail in the pursuit of Jewish knowledge.”

In other words, the venerated scholar/teacher encourages, even demands, that his students think for themselves and not be afraid to ask questions.

“The Steinsaltz philosophy,”Gutbezahl wrote, “is rooted in the importance of questions as an educational tool, as they are uniquely personal. By asking questions, and receiving targeted answers, students start to feel like a piece of text is something that they can understand and relate to, instead of something that rabbis with many years of study managed to “figure out,” with unquestioned accuracy.”

The motto of Rabbi Steinsaltz’s educational endeavours is “Let my People Know.” He is not reluctant to hear, let alone answer difficult, if sincere, questions.

It is a motto GAJE endorses on behalf of the community’s families and children. It is imperative that young Jews know who they are. Only thus can they make informed decisions about how they wish to live their lives as Jews. But the schools, where their questions will be encouraged, must be affordable.

Gutbezahl’s article is available here:

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Samayach


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