A Reading List for the High Holidays

As the High Holidays approach, we enter a season of reflection. What better time to browse books on Jewish learning? We present here a reading list on a variety of topics in Jewish education, identity, and religious and cultural practice, some of which are freely available as Open Access ebooks.

The New Jewish Canon

Edited by Yehuda Kurtzer & Claire E. Sufrin

“Extraordinarily rich, lively and illuminating. … [The editors] have succeeded magnificently in achieving their goal.” —Jonathan Kirsch, Jewish Journal

The late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have been a period of mass production and proliferation of Jewish ideas, and have witnessed major changes in Jewish life and stimulated major debates. The New Jewish Canon offers a conceptual roadmap to make sense of such rapid change. With over eighty excerpts from key primary source texts and insightful corresponding essays by leading scholars, on topics of history and memory, Jewish politics and the public square, religion and religiosity, and identities and communities, The New Jewish Canon promises to start conversations from the seminar room to the dinner table. The New Jewish Canon is both text and textbook of the Jewish intellectual and communal zeitgeist for the contemporary period and the recent past, canonizing our most important ideas and debates of the past two generations; and just as importantly, stimulating debate and scholarship about what is yet to come.

Sin•a•gogue: Sin and Failure in Jewish Thought

David Bashevkin

Sin•a•gogue is an invalu­able resource for any­one who seeks to bet­ter under­stand the roles that sin and fail­ure play in each of our lives. … [Bashevkin] can add Sin•a•gogue proud­ly to his resume as a true accomplishment.” —Rabbi Marc Katz, Jewish Book Council

It is no more possible to think about religion without sin than it is to think about a garden without dirt.

By its very nature, the ideals of religion entail sin and failure. Judaism has its own language and framework for sin that expresses themselves both legally and philosophically. Both legal questions—circumstances where sin is permissible or mandated, the role of intention and action—as well as philosophical questions—why sin occurs and how does Judaism react to religious crisis—are considered within this volume. This book presents the concepts of sin and failure in Jewish thought, weaving together biblical and rabbinic studies to reveal a holistic portrait of the notion of sin and failure within Jewish thought.

The suffix “agogue” means to lead or grow. Here as well, Sin•a•gogue: Sin and Failure in Jewish Thought will provide its readers frameworks and strategies to develop even in the face of failure.

Beyond Jewish Identity: Rethinking Concepts and Imagining Alternatives

Edited by Jon A. Levisohn and Ari Y. Kelman

“This important volume rejects narrow definitions and resists the way that ‘identity’ has been oversimplified and flattened in Jewish communal contexts. Along the way, it offers new paths for other communities struggling with concepts of identity to follow as well.” —Felicia Herman, Executive Director, Natan Fund

There is something deeply problematic about the ways that Jews, particularly in America, talk about “Jewish identity” as a desired outcome of Jewish education. For many, the idea that the purpose of Jewish education is to strengthen Jewish identity is so obvious that it hardly seems worth disputing—and the only important question is which kinds of Jewish education do that work more effectively or more efficiently. But what does it mean to “strengthen Jewish identity”? Why do Jewish educators, policy-makers and philanthropists talk that way? What do they assume, about Jewish education or about Jewish identity, when they use formulations like “strengthen Jewish identity”? And what are the costs of doing so?

This volume, the first collection to examine critically the relationship between Jewish education and Jewish identity, makes two important interventions. First, it offers a critical assessment of the relationship between education and identity, arguing that the reification of identity has hampered much educational creativity in the pursuit of this goal, and that the nearly ubiquitous employment of the term obscures significant questions about what Jewish education is and ought to be. Second, this volume offers thoughtful responses that are not merely synonymous replacements for “identity,” suggesting new possibilities for how to think about the purposes and desired outcomes of Jewish education, potentially contributing to any number of new conversations about the relationship between Jewish education and Jewish life.

Learning to Read Talmud: What It Looks Like and How It Happens

Edited by Jane L. Kanarek & Marjorie Lehman

Finalist, 2017 National Jewish Book Award for Education and Jewish Identity

Learning to Read Talmud is the first book-length study of how teachers teach and how students learn to read Talmud. Through a series of studies conducted by scholars of Talmud in classrooms that range from seminaries to secular universities and with students from novice to advanced, this book elucidates a broad range of ideas about what it means to learn to read Talmud and tools for how to achieve that goal. Bridging the study of Talmud and the study of pedagogy, this book is an essential resource for scholars, curriculum writers, and classroom teachers of Talmud.

A Philosophy of Havruta: Understanding and Teaching the Art of Text Study in Pairs

Elie Holzer with Orit Kent

Winner of the 2014 National Jewish Book Award for Education and Jewish Identity

No longer confined to traditional institutions devoted to Talmudic studies, havruta work, or the practice of students studying materials in pairs, has become a relatively widespread phenomenon across denominational and educational settings of Jewish learning. However, until now there has been little discussion of what havruta text study entails and how it might be conceptualized and taught. This book breaks new ground from two perspectives: by offering a model of havruta text study situated in broader theories of interpretation and learning, and by treating havruta text study as composed of textual, interpersonal and intra-personal practices which can be taught and learned. We lay out the conceptual foundations of our approach and provide examples of their pedagogical implementation for the teaching of havruta text study. Included are illustrative lesson plans, teachers’ notes and students’ reflections, exercises for students, and other instructional materials for teaching core concepts and practices.

Attuned Learning: Rabbinic Texts on Habits of the Heart in Learning Interactions

Elie Holzer

“This highly original book offers readers an opportunity to study rabbinic texts on education with a gifted teacher and to experience a process of learning which touches the mind and heart.” —Sharon Feiman-Nemser, Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Professor of Jewish Education, Brandeis University

Practice-oriented educational philosopher Elie Holzer invites readers to grow as teachers, students, or co-learners through “attuned learning,” a new paradigm of mindfulness. Groundbreaking interpretations of classical rabbinic texts sharpen attention to our own mental, emotional, and physical workings as well as awareness of others within the complexities of learning interactions. Holzer integrates pedagogical pathways with ethical elements of transformative teaching and learning, the repair of educational disruptions, the role of the human visage, and the dynamics of argumentative and collaborative learning. Literary analyses reveal that deliberate self-cultivation not only leads to ethical and spiritual growth, but also offers a corrective for the pitfalls of the contemporary calculative modalities in educational thinking. The author speaks to the existential, humanizing art of learning and of teaching. This book can serve as a companion volume for A Philosophy of Havruta: Understanding and Teaching the Art of Text Study in Pairs, adding a new dimension of its model of joint learning. 

Turn It and Turn It Again: Studies in the Teaching and Learning of Classical Jewish Texts

Edited by Susan P. Fendrick & Jon A. Levisohn

“An almost Talmudic diversity of visions and statements that scholars, educators, and interested lay persons will all find valuable.” —David M. Stern, Moritz and Josephine Berg Professor of Classical Hebrew Literature, University of Pennsylvania

The study of classical Jewish texts is flourishing in day schools and adult education, synagogues and summer camps, universities and yeshivot. But serious inquiry into the practices and purposes of such study is far rarer. In this book, a diverse collection of empirical and conceptual studies illuminates particular aspects of the teaching of Bible and rabbinic literature to, and the learning of, children and adults. In addition to providing specific insights into the pedagogy of Jewish texts, these studies serve as models of what the disciplined study of pedagogy can look like. This book will be of interest to teachers of Jewish texts in all contexts, and will be particularly valuable for the professional development of Jewish educators.