Torah and Today Curriculum Project

Participate in our tradition’s discussion of life’s substantive issues!

“Torah and Today” (T&T) is a curriculum project created by Kol HaLev’s Jewish Virtual Academy (www.jewishvirtualacademy.org).  It is designed to facilitate substantive, authentic conversations for middle and high school students around contemporary social issues.  We utilize Talmudic texts to deepen the ways students think as Jews and as responsible citizens of contemporary society.  The curriculum also helps students build a vocabulary of Jewish values, and the ability to apply those values in nuanced ways.  We also will impart jewish learning skills to our students, including the ability to identify foundational Jewish texts, and to find, understand, and apply those texts in translation.

T&T was piloted in 2021-2022 through the Jewish Virtual Academy (a project of Kol HaLev).  We currently have 3 pilot sites, and are looking for other sites to help us further develop the curriculum, with the ultimate vision of offering a rich curriculum to the Jewish world

Although T&T is based on text engagement, we envision incorporating multiple ways of engaging students with those texts, including discussion, roleplay, and other educational activities.

What is our approach (hashkafah)?

From discussions with our students, we have learned that children yearn authentic dialogue: to be able to voice their opinions, and be heard and seen for who they are.  We believe that Jewish text learning provides a perfect format for such dialogues.  We believe that powerful Jewish learning can happen in any language, so the current curriculum (designed for supplementary settings) provides all sources in English.

We believe in facing the world honestly, and in seriously considering facts that don’t align with our assumptions.  We expose students to real life issues, and invite students to research issues themselves to make sure that their opinions are based on facts.  We also challenge students to think critically about claims, and consider what facts would be helpful to answer contemporary social questions–what they should try to find out before reaching an opinion, or accepting a claim.  We believe in thoroughly thought out opinions.

We approach these topics as “halachic” questions-i.e. we ask, “what is the right thing to do in a situation based on my reading of the Jewish sacred texts”?  We are not denominational–we realize that an Orthodox teacher and Reform teacher may arrive at different practical conclusions, and teach those conclusions to their students.  This text is appropriate for any teacher who wants their students to form opinions on the basis of a solid understanding of the traditional sources.

We expose students to texts as they are, and encourage students to enter into dialogue with their voices, since they are the voices of our community’s past.  We encourage students to listen to those voices, to be challenged by them, and also to challenge them.  We do not present a sanitized version of the sources; we present the source and encourage students to think critically about them. 

Part of joining our tradition’s rich conversation is developing the skills to read Talmudic texts.  Some extended passages are studied, and students are taught basic Talmudic logical structures so they can understand the flow of the passage they are reading, and build the tools to decipher other Talmudic texts (in English).  

Topics Covered

T&T consists of 12 topical modules (plus a review), for a total of 60-120 teaching hours to complete.  We understand that most programs offer 25-30 hours in a school year; partner sites are not necessarily expected to cover all of the modules.  You can pick and choose which modules you teach, and in which order you teach them.

  1. Advocating ideals in a free society
    • 5-10 hours
    • How do we relate to a world that doesn’t always reflect our values?  A deep dive into the halachot of tochecha (rebuke/speaking up)
  2. Socially responsible investing
    • 6-12 hours
    • To what extent are we responsible for the actions of companies we buy from and invest in?  At what point do we have an obligation to not purchase/invest in certain companies?
  3. Worker treatment
    • 3-6 hours
    • Looking at the ways workers are treated, in contemporary society, do any cross the line as unethical? We look at minumum wage, sweatshops, outsourcing, and contemporary slavery.
  4. Gun Control
    • 5-10 hours
    • What are the parameters/limits of self-defense?
    • Who can an individual sell guns to?
  5. Gender Roles
    • 6-12 hours
    • Students learn gender roles presented in Jewish traditions, and explore their own gender identity and understanding of gender in light of both traditional ideas and their own experience.
  6. Homosexuality
    • 3-6 hours
    • Explores the traditional prohibition on homosexuality, the challenge that poses for observant Gay and lesbian Jews, and approaches to resolving that challenge. 
  7. Gender affirmation
    • 3-6 hours
    • Judaism traditionally assigns gender based on physical aspects of our bodies. How do we understand the status of a person whose experienced gender does not match their body? How do we relate to “gender affirming” lifestyles and treatments?
  8. BDS & contemporary anti-zionism
    • 4-8 hours 
    • Explores some history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict
    • Explores and looks critically at the claims of contemporary critics of Israel, including Hamas and the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) Movement
  9. Immigration
    • 2-4 hours
    • Why is there an immigration crisis in the world?  Are we obligated at accept refugees/immigrants?  How many of them must we accept?
  10. Medical care
    • 2-4 hours
    • How do we reconcile the economics of healthcare with the need of all humans to receive healthcare regardless of economic status?  Does health care need to be free/affordable?
  11. Criminal Justice Reform
    • 4-8 hours 
    • Explores the American Judicial system (including extended incarceration and solitary confinement) and evaluates it against jewish values.
  12. #metoo
    • 4-8 hours
    • Helps students understand the history and importance of #metoo.  What is the proper way to confront abuse?  When is it proper to go public, and when is it not?
  13. Judaism and the Environment
    • 6-12 hours
    • What limits does Judaism place on our use of natural resources?  Explores issues including fracking, mountaintop mining, and fossil fuels.
  14. Censorship & Cancel Culture
    • 2-4 hours
    • What forms of speech should be censored, and what should be aired?  What is the proper response to someone whose views we find detestable?
  15. Animal Welfare
    • 3-6 hours
    • How do we see animals, and what rights do they have?  Do contemporary practices of farming and scientific experimentation maintain those rights?
  16. Abortion
    • 3-6 hours
    • How do we understand the legal status of a fetus, and what implications does that have for whether it is ethical to have an abortion? How do contemporary American restrictions compare to halachic approaches?
  17. Review/Concluding Project
    • 1-6 hours
    • Students utilize skills and knowledge they have learned, to research a topic they care about which was not covered in the curriculum

Curriculum project 2022-2023

Our overall curriculum is designed for 60-120 instructional hours.  The 2021-2022 pilot group consisted of a small number of honors level middle school students meeting online for two hours weekly.  Based on the preferences of that group, the curriculum took 60 hours.  This reflected a brisk pace of instruction with little review and reinforcement; we anticipate that other groups of students would require more reinforcement, review, and other activities, and thus might need to modify the course by only covering some of the modules during any given school year.   

Format:

Curriculum Guides will be provided in Google Slides format.  These slides are designed Each pilot site will receive a copy of the google slide for the unit in their Google Document folder.  We ask that all notes, modifications and additions are notated in that document or in another Google Document in the same folder.

What you will receive

  • Google Slides document with Curriculum Guide for the unit:
    • unit introduction explaining concepts covered
    • sources (or links to sources) for students to use–these are designed to be projected onto a screen, but can also be printed for use as a worksheet 
    • hevruta worksheets
    • explanatory notes  
  • Optional class for teachers (fee involved)
  • Units will be released on a staggered basis, every 2 weeks starting in August. 

What you will commit to:

We are providing this curriculum guide at no cost to pilot sites (donations encouraged), in order to invite you to team with us in building something we believe that the jewish world needs.  In order to be a pilot site, we ask that you be willing to commit to the following:   

  • Pre-program survey, focus group, & evaluation survey forwarded to participants
  • Ongoing feedback
  • Sharing lesson plans & activity materials created 
  • Voluntary donation to help with cost of developing T&T

We look forward to partnering with you to create powerful and relevant Jewish education!

Sample Lesson

See a sample lesson at:

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1VvHB3vWOR-JU4ikzAvY0i-c-dLxEDJeBm7-hqqLorDE/edit?usp=sharing

Great, let’s do it!

Please contact Rabbi David Siff at rabbi@kolhalevpbc.org to explore becoming a pilot site.

Our teachers are also available to teach the curriculum remotely for your school- please let us know if you would like more information.