2000–01 Hakirah or Mehkar: The Religious Implications of an Historical Approach to Limmudei Kodesh

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Few projects end up accomplishing all of the goals they set out to achieve, and this paper has been no exception. Although I intended to survey educators in the field and to observe the implementation of similar darkhei limmud in the classroom, I never quite achieved that goal and instead spent most of my time considering the theoretical aspects of the educational approach I envisioned. Were I to continue pursuing this research project, implementation of the theoretical would be my next focus.

In addition, the theoretical issues that I did explore raised several more that I was not able to address fully in the context of this project but that are certainly worthy of consideration. Is our goal in teaching Torah to convince students that Torah is truth? When we say that Torah is eternal, do we mean that Torah is above time (i.e. that the Torah discourse is a-temporal) or do we mean that Torah lives forever (i.e. “be-hol dor va-dor” Jewish people grapple with living a Torah life)? What is halakhah’s relationship to time (timeless, time-bound, a product of time)? How can we best convey to students that they are part of an ongoing tradition: by presenting Torah as a-temporal or by presenting Torah as a product of history?

Initially having conceived of my ATID project as related to the study of Jewish history, I thought that my research was in a class of its own; it did not occur to me that my project was related to any of the other ATID research being pursued. Only at the end of the year, in the course of listening to other fellows present their work, did I realize that, in fact, several of us had chosen to explore the same educational question, albeit from different angles: how can we as educators answer our students’ demand for relevance? Or, how can we successfully convince students that ancient texts have meaning, relevance, to their contemporary lives? In this paper, I have attempted to present one possible solution: the development of a new approach to Torah study that utilizes academic tools and methodologies as well as traditional klei limmud.

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