Question Marks

NLE Resources invites rabbis and educators from around the world to contribute guest posts.  Here’s a new blog from Rabbi Yehuda Chanales, Director of Educational Technology and Rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County, New Jersey.

Over the past two years, I have been doing a lot of research and learning about Project Based Learning (PBL), one of the numerous “21st century learning” strategies that his been increasing in popularity in the general education world (See Edutopia’s PBL site).

PBL proponents claim that students learn best when they are working to solve authentic, real life problems that are similar to the types of issues professionals might encounter in their work or general adult life. When material is framed in this context, the question of “Why do we need to know this?” is easily answered and learning becomes necessary for more than just acing the upcoming test. As students work to produce a solution to the problem, the teacher serves as a guide to facilitate their inquiry by providing resources, materials and lessons that they can use. While this model appears a natural fit for science and math classes, it has encouraged me to think more carefully about the “authentic problems” we would like students to be able to “solve” in limmudei kodesh.

With the help of some innovative teachers and Dr. Moshe Krakowski, a curriculum and PBL scholar at YU’s Azrieli Graduate School, I developed the following questions on Megillat Esther that students in my Nach classes last year were assigned. As part of the assignment, students met with prominent professionals and interviewed them about the “real life” problems each question dealt with. Thank you to Rabbi Steven Weil of the OU, Mr. Michael Miller of the JCRC and Rabbi Yaakov Glasser of NJ NCSY for volunteering to meet with students!

You can view some of their work here and I look forward to sharing a student published iBook which includes work from all the megillot and Sefer Yonah very soon. If you would like to see more examples of some PBL assignments and join a group of educators experimenting with applying PBL to Torah learning, vist the PBL group on Yeshiva University’s HSChinuch Community. Feel free to contact me at ychanales@gmail.com with any questions.

Here are the questions:

1. מגילת אסתר’s role in תנ”ך

You are an esteemed member of אנשי כנסת הגדולה who has received a request from אסתר to include her ספר in תנ”ך (as the גמ’ מגילה records- the request of “כתבוני לדורות”) and have been asked to present a summary of her arguments and those of your fellow “כנסת” members who claim that the מגילה should not be included. You may present your arguments as a written brief, series or correspondences or an oral debate. Consider both the substance of the מגילה and precedents in תנ”ך to support the arguments on either side.

An alternative along these lines:

On your college campus, a non-religious Jewish friend of yours (who happens to be majoring in Bible) argues that מגילת אסתר is a completely secular book which was written to justify the development of the Purim holiday which appears to be a glorified Jewish party day. Either re-enact the debate you had with him at the Hillel’s pre-Purim event that year or share with us the e-mail correspondence you had with him about this question.

(For this question, you will interview college students who have confronted questions about the divine nature of תנ”ך and how they have responded.)

2. Jewish politicians?

A prominent Orthodox Jew, Senator Moe Bieberman has just been nominated as a member of the President’s cabinet. You have been asked by a local Jewish newspaper to write an op-ed piece arguing for or against Orthodox Jewish involvement in American politics and, since it is Purim time, you decide to look to מגילת אסתר as the basis for your argument. (Alternatively, you may write a letter to Mr. Bieberman arguing your position.)

Some more specific questions to consider: “כי מרדכי היהודי משנה למלך אחשורוש, גדול ליהודים ורצוי לרוב אחיו”- The גמ’ describes how מרדכי was “רצוי לרוב אחיו” and not “כל אחיו” because many leaders of the generation felt he should not be involved in Jewish politics. What can מגילת אסתר teach us about the value and pitfalls of Jewish involvement in politics? How are its messages similar or different from other paradigms in תנ”ך? What can we learn from the מגילה about what our role should be in contemporary American politics? In what ways are there similarities and differences between the מגילה and today?

(For this project, you will be required to interview at least one Orthodox Jew involved in politics at the local, state or national level. I can help you find people to contact.)

3. Standing Up for Jewish Identity

The NCSY/Aish HaTorah/Bnei Akiva leadership has asked you to prepare a special Purim session for teens entitled: “Standing up for Jewish Identity: Lessons of Leadership from מגילת אסתר”. Using the מגילה, prepare a session that will enable teens to discuss and learn how to inspire others to be proud of their Jewish identity.

Some more specific questions to consider: What drives an interest in hiding or ignoring Jewish identity in מגילת אסתר and what pushes or enables them to stand up for it? What can we learn from the מגילה about empowering Jews to be proud and stand up for their identity?

(For this question, you will interview local outreach professionals)

4. Invoking a Name

As the rabbi of a generally comfortable and safe Jewish community, your community has been shocked by recent Anti-Semitic attacks against the shul and individual members of the community. Members of your community are upset by the lackadaisical approach local politicians and the police department have taken towards the episode and start referring to them as “Hamans”, “Hitlers”, “Jew-haters” or “Anti-Semites”. You decide that you must give a shiur to the community (or write an article for the shul’s monthly bulletin) relating to the recent episode and the name calling.

Some more specific questions to consider: What makes someone an Anti-Semite and how do you combat their attitudes, power and influence? How is the enemy of the Jews in מגילת אסתר similar or different from other stories of Jewish persecution in תנ”ך? Similar or different from the anti-Semitism of today?
What can we learn from the מגילה about the way/s we should relate to and deal with those who hate/attack us?

(For this question you will have to interview people who have experienced anti-Semitism or work with organizations that attempt to fight it)


To learn more about PBL, and how to implement it into a Judaic studies classroom, you can view a webinar below given by Rabbi Dr. Aaron Ross on behalf of the YUHS Chinuch Community:

Photo credit: Opensourceway

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