In Rabbi Goldberg’s recent blog post, he argues that, contrary to popular belief, Rabbinics as a study does not require text; it actually begins with the youngest, pre-literate learners in the form of Jewish values, holidays and traditions. He posits that neglecting to acknowledge that these rituals and ideals come from rabbinic understandings and teaching them in a more deliberate manner is doing a disservice to these young students. I agree, and would expand upon that even further.
It’s important to understand that every teacher holds some underlying assumptions, many of which are subconscious and therefore unarticulated. By fostering a growing mindfulness among teachers that Rabbinics is foundational to many Jewish early childhood and early education lessons, it opens the door to a more effective introduction to Judaism.
The Oral Law has its name for a reason, and we as modern teachers can continue that sacred tradition of passing it down without text. Particularly for our younger students, there is an infinite amount to be learned from spoken word, ritual, ethical behavior, attitudes, dress and symbols.
Teachers should also ensure not simply to relay our tradition, but to include the students in it. The more students feel like a link in the 5000-year chain, the more they will connect and feel ownership over Judaism, and with that, an obligation to pass it on. But that alone is not enough - it’s also important at this age for a student to develop a relationship with G-d. It is a teacher’s duty to treat the student as a partner in the study of Rabbinics and help them along their struggle to understand and relate to the Divine. It is this final piece that is crucial to propelling Judaism into the next generation, and it must start at this young age.
Click here to read Rabbi Feld's full response.