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Teaching Aggadah – Midrash, Talmudic Stories, Parables, and Sayings

A basic course in the program: Studies toward a Specialization Certificate in the Didactics of Teaching Talmudic Literature and Oral Law.

Course Description:
Did Queen Vashti have a tail? and was that the reason why she did not agree to attend Ahasuerus' feast? Was the height of the manna in the desert 60 amah (about 30 meters!)? Was there a seven-headed crocodile in Abaye's Beith-Midrah (academy)? In other words, did the sages not have any logical limits, meaning that any fantastic statement could be uttered in the academy?
Were R. Akiba and his wife apart for 24 years, as the story in the Babylonian Talmud claims, or were they together, as the story in the Eretz-Yisrael's source claims?
What did the sages really think of women? How should these strange and fascinating texts be understood? Should we keep them away from our pupils or are we obliged to expose our pupils to them? At what age should our pupils be exposed to them and in what manner? Is there not a risk that we will confuse them with the biblical text?
It is questions like these, which stem from the Aggadah texts scattered throughout the literature of the sages, that will be dealt with in our course.
In the course, we shall deal with the most fundamental components of Aggadah in the literature of the sages, as well as with the manner in which Aggadah can be included in the teaching process. First, we shall examine the definition of Aggadah and what is contained in it. We shall also examine the literary limits of the discussion and the essays and historical periods we are dealing with. Moreover, we shall explore the places in which Aggadah was created and used: the Beith Midrash (academy) and the synagogue. We will find out how the use of Aggadah in the synagogue influenced its characteristics. We shall deal with the unique place of Eretz Yisrael in the development of Aggadah and find out why there was less interest in it in Babylon. Afterwards, we shall deal separately with each of three common types of Aggadah: Midrashim, Stories and parables, and the sayings and proverbs of the sages. In these three sections, we shall study the different ways in which these texts can be read and decoded. We shall ask incisive questions about the content of the texts and the manner of their creation, and we shall tackle fundamental questions relating to them. In the last section, we shall deal with the inclusion of the texts in the teaching of the various subjects – Bible, the portion of the week, the Oral Law, and literature.

Course Outline:
  1. Introduction
    • The definition and types of Aggadah
    • Literary and historical borders, and Eretz Israel as a place for creating Aggadah
    • The creation of the Aggadah in the Beith Midrash (academy) and the Synagogue
  2. The Midrash – Biblical Interpretation in Rabbinic Literature
  3. Stories and Parables in Rabbinic Literature
  4. The sayings and proverbs of the Sages
  5. The use of Aggadah in teaching
    • Teaching Aggadah and including it in the teaching process
The nature of the learning:
Most of the learning will take place by studying the texts from the literature of the sages and discussing them. In addition, the learner will become acquainted with the various essays in which these texts are to be found. The learner will acquire several tools and skills for decoding the texts. During the discussion of the texts, we shall relate to basic questions concerning them, and the learner will be exposed to various fundamental approaches to those questions.

Course requirements:
The learner has to read the course units and sign that he/she has read them. During the course, the learner will also be required to read several bibliographical references and submit several assignments that will complete and deepen the discussion.

Contact with the lecturer:
During the semester, it will be possible to contact the lecturer via email. In addition, there will be an encounter via the Interwise in which we shall discuss any questions that arise during the study of the units.
Application Form
Course Developer:

Dr. Rivka Raviv,
מכללת "אורות ישראל", אלקנה ואוניברסיטת בר-אילן