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

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

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Elie Holzer with Orit Kent

Series: Jewish Identities in Post-Modern Society
ISBN: 9781618112903 (hardcover) / 9781618113856 (paper)
Pages: 264 pp.
Publication Date: November 2013

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

View the full 2014 National Jewish Book Awards list at the Jewish Book Council's website


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.

Elie Holzer is a practice-oriented philosopher of Jewish education. His research integrates text based Jewish studies, philosophical hermeneutics, pedagogy and ethical-spiritual traditions. He serves as a Senior Lecturer at the School of Education at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, co-designed the Beit Midrash for Teachers at Brandeis University in the years 2003-2008 and has taught in various academic and vocational institutions in both Israel and the United States. He has published a number of research articles on text based learning and on havruta learning and serves as assistant editor of the International Journal of Jewish Education Research.

Orit Kent is a Senior Research Associate at the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University, where she also teaches in the DeLeT/MAT program. Orit co-designed the Beit Midrash for Teachers at Brandeis and has taught in it since 2003, where she has developed an approach to the teaching of havruta and the close study of student learning. At the Mandel Center, Orit conducts research on collaborative learning and pedagogical approaches to the teaching of texts and draws on her research to help teachers create rich learning environments.

Elie Holzer and Orit Kent champion the idea that havruta text study is not an automatic practice which springs up naturally when two people sit together to study a text. It can and should be taught and learned. Moreover, when the skills and dispositions required for ‘good’ text study in havruta are taught, the learning and the learners are transformed. Few books combine philosophical analysis and pedagogical guidance and present both with such clarity. Teachers at all levels interested in the study of texts and the power of collaborative learning will find conceptual and practical tools to enhance their students’ learning and inspire their teaching. Even more, Elie Holzer and Orit Kent’s model of paired text study, with its emphasis on big ideas and concern for evidence, critical and imaginative thinking and humane interactions, is a microcosm of liberal learning at its best.
— From the preface by Sharon Feiman-Nemser, Mandel Professor of Jewish Education and Director of the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, Brandeis University
The traditional Jewish practice of “learning in havruta” has the potential to enrich both Jewish and general education, and the phrase “havruta-learning” is becoming increasingly popular. Unfortunately, it is also rapidly becoming an empty slogan associated with self-congratulatory but often thoughtless educational activities. This makes Holzer and Kent’s discussion of the nature, value, optimal forms and pre-conditions of havruta-learning very timely. Their first-hand experience with this practice as participants, guides, and researchers and the nuanced philosophical, educational, and Jewish lenses that animate their discussion give rise to a “must-read” book for theorists and practitioners who seek to develop a deep, conceptually rich, practice-relevant understanding of havruta-learning.
— Daniel Perkarsky, Professor Emeritus of Educational Policy Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Havruta study is the signature pedagogy of traditional Jewish learning. The unique scholarly passion of Elie Holzer and Orit Kent for many years, no one understands this form of peer learning as deeply. This is an elegant culmination of their joint philosophical and empirical efforts.
— Lee S. Shulman, President Emeritus, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education, Emeritus, Stanford University
A Philosophy of Havruta is an extraordinary accomplishment. Sophisticated and insightful, this book investigates a classic Jewish pedagogy in a way that both unpacks its theory and gives assistance to practitioners. A Philosophy of Havruta is a landmark study—for scholars, for curriculum planners, and for classroom teachers. It will be an essential resource for years to come.
— Barry W. Holtz, Theodore and Florence Baumritter Professor of Jewish Education, Jewish Theological Seminary of America

Table of Contents

Preface by Sharon Feiman-Nemser

Chapter One: Contextual Foundations
Chapter Two: Theoretical Foundations
Chapter Three: Setting the Stage for Havruta Learning
Chapter Four: Questioning for Interpretation
Chapter Five: Listening for Interpretation
Chapter Six: Supporting and Challenging
Chapter Seven: Evaluating Interpretations
Chapter Eight: Dialoguing with Texts and Partners
Chapter Nine: The Educational Value of Havruta Text Study