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Teaching Mishnah: Goals and Skills

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

Course Description
In this course we will examine methods of teaching Mishnah, the foundational document of Talmudic Literature and Oral Law. We will discuss the formidable challenges involved in effective Mishnah teaching and survey strategies and techniques that have been proposed for confronting them. The course will focus on integrative and text-based teaching methods, which utilize creative reading strategies in order to render the text accessible to students and open it for analysis and discussion.

Course Objectives
  1. To acquaint the student with the problems and challenges involved in effective Mishnah teaching.
  2. To survey strategies and techniques that educators have proposed for effective Mishnah teaching and to examine their advantages and disadvantages.
  3. To give the student a broader and deeper knowledge of the nature, history, and purpose of Mishnah redaction and of Mishnah commentary.
  4. To examine the skills goals and educational goals involved in teaching Mishnah and explore methods for teaching them.
  5. To examine how creative reading strategies may be utilized didactically in order to deepen knowledge, foster skills development, and encourage thought and discussion regarding Jewish values.
Course Outline
  1. The educational and didactic challenges of teaching Mishnah
    • The language barrier.
    • Terseness and dryness of the mishnaic text – lack of rationales and lack of discussion.
    • Contents which lack inherent interest, comprising legal minutiae.
    • The disjointed nature of the mishnaic text and its apparent disorder.
    • The non-textual ("midrashic") nature of Mishnah commentary.
    • The dearth of effective educational materials for teaching Mishnah.
  2. Approaches to teaching Mishnah
    • Mishnah as gateway to Talmud or to halakhah.
    • The integrative ("deep") study of Mishnah.
    • History and realia in Mishnah study.
    • The "topics" method of Mishnah study.
    • The Barkai method of Mishnah study.
    • The Veshinantam method of Mishnah study.
    • Literary methods of Mishnah study.
  3. The history, nature, and purpose of Mishnah redaction
    • The codification of the Oral Law – when, how, and why?
    • Historical and philological explanations of problems in Mishnah redaction.
    • Literary explanations of Mishnah redaction: verbal associations and parallelism.
    • The exegetical, conceptual, and educational ramifications of studying Mishnah as a coherent text.
  4. Goals of Mishnah Teaching
    • Choosing an "orientation"
      1. Moving from "orientation" to "goals"
    • Skills
      1. Recognize and understand the organizational method of Mishnah units of different sizes: mishnah, group, chapter, tractate
      2. Analyze the language of the Mishnah, including difficult words and literary patterns
      3. Correlate mishnayot on the basis of linguistic and thematic similarities
      4. Recognize ambiguities and exegetical problems in Mishnah and develop tools for addressing these issues
    • Educational goals
      1. Appreciating the wisdom, complexity, and depth of halakhic thought "Big ideas" in Mishnah
      2. Appreciating the relevance of Mishnah to how Jews think and practice
      3. Mimetic goals and/or transformational goals
  5. Strategies and Methods for Effective Mishnah Teaching
    • Introducing a unit of Mishnah study
      1. Reading the unit – how?
      2. Introductory story or discussion
      3. Study of background material (biblical, midrashic, halakhic)
    • Locating and addressing exegetical issues
      1. Use of parallel tannaitic material
      2. Use of selected brief Talmudic passages
      3. Use of commentary
      4. Use of scholarly/academic methodology
      5. "Close reading" methods
    • Analyzing larger units of Mishnah – topically and literarily
    • Didactic tools
      1. Graphic presentation of Mishnah text
      2. Charts
      3. Worksheets
      4. Dramatization
      5. Individual projects
Application Form
Program Developer:

Dr. Avraham Walfish,