Teaching Midrash to Children Theory into Practice
Why Midrash? • Midrash is basic to Judaism- • Philosophy (God/Torah/Israel/Humans) • Values (din-rahamim/teshuvah/mitzvah) • Aggadah vs Halakhah is the “soul” of Judaism—poetry, emotion, legend, creativity (Heschel/Bialik) “If you desire to know Him by whose word the universe came into being, study the aggadah”-Sifre
What is Midrash? • Oral Torah • Creative interpretation of Torah/Bible in every age to make it relevant • Response to a changing world • Addresses eternal questions and issues (Heinemann/Zunz/Bloch) • Midrash is both process and product
Initiate child into this process & product • Has been peripheral and taught via Rashi/Tales of Rabbis • Child should “create” midrashim • Child should experience traditional midrashim-discussion, inquiry, analysis • Midrash belongs in curriculum “attached” to Bible study (not only as “Rashi”)
Midrashic Techniques and the Child • Narrative—filling in gaps in story • Parable—comparisons to concrete world • Metaphor, imagery • Dialogues • Creative/mythical thinking and interpretation Seem appropriate to child’s imaginative thinking
Children’s Thinking • Cognitive thinking (Piaget) • Ages 7-10 Concrete Operational: need concrete data to understand concepts • Ages 12+ Formal Operations: can manipulate ideas mentally, reason hypothetically, and think abstractly
Metaphoric Thinking (Howard Gardner) • Ages 6-10 Visual-Sensory: focuses on physical characteristics (bald head=“barefoot head” Pharaoh hardens heart-physical) • Ages 10+ Psychological: symbolic understanding (spring is a lady in a new coat, make hay while the sun shines) • E.g. The prison guard was a hard rock
Storytelling • Ages 7-10 focuses on plot/”facts”-can’t understand character motivation • Ages 10+ can interpret the story from “the outside”; understands conflict and motivations
Religious Thinking 1 (Ronald Goldman) • Ages 7-10 (concrete)-splitting of Sea: can’t explain how wind blew the water not the Israelites • Ages 12+ (formal)- Can give figurative explanations • Don’t teach Bible before teen years!
Religious Thinking 2 (James Fowler) • Ages 10-13 Mythic Literal-loves mythical stories; grasps meaning “directly” • Myth can have powerful meaning (Bettelheim) • Ages 13+ conceptualizes meaning of mythic stories Although children cannot abstract and conceptualize philosophical meanings behind Midrash, they can grasp meanings which lead to later understanding
Teaching Strategies Appropriate to Midrashic Thinking • Mashal (parable)- synectics • Drama/ Dialogue- bibliodrama (Peter Pitzele) • Story – creative writing • Creative Interpretation- the arts (torn paper midrash-Jo Milgrom)
Dual Focus • Creating Midrash (Process)—gets “inside” story and prepares child for discussion of classic Midrash (How did Abraham discover God?) • Analyzing Midrash (Product)—allows child to encounter traditional Midrash through inquiry and analysis.
Example Lesson-the vbx- thorn bush • I am a thorn bush. I feel______________ • When people come near me, I_________ • When the Israelites were in Egypt how was it like being in a thorn bush?
A Midrash (Shemot Rabba 2,5) Just as the thorn bush is the sharpest of all trees, and any bird that enters the thorn bush does not come out in peace, so too the slavery of Egypt was sharp and difficult. • What do the thorn bush/ bird symbolize? • What does it mean they did not come out “in peace”
rund khz Go and Learn! Rabbi Alvan Kaunfer Providence, R.I.