Pedagogic Hermeneutic Orientations in the Teaching of Jewish Texts

Sep. 27, 2009

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, Volume 77, Issue 3, pages 216-238


Teaching texts is an interpretative activity. Teachers explain, ask questions, focus on specific words and topics, and the like. By doing so, teachers are involved in the interpretation of the texts they teach. However, teachers can go about interpreting texts in class in different ways, each with its own different educational implications. Hermeneutics is the theoretical field that deals with the comprehension and interpretation of texts. This article is concerned with the unique manner in which hermeneutics is manifested in the teaching of texts (as opposed to the hermeneutical interpretation of texts that occurs where no teaching is involved, when the interpreter focuses on interpreting the text without any specific educational goals). I claim that deliberations that take place with regard to interpretation within a context that involves teaching, differ in character from the theoretical hermeneutic debate on the proper interpretation of texts outside of such a setting. The teaching practices and understandings of teachers who teach Jewish Thought in Israeli public high schools will serve here as a case study through which this issue is examined.


In this study, twelve expert teachers of Jewish Thought in Israeli high schools were observed and interviewed, in order to examine their ideas regarding the proper way to approach and teach Jewish canonical texts. Using qualitative analysis, I identified a central component of these teachers' Pedagogic Content Knowledge and named it their Pedagogic Hermeneutic Orientation (PHO). A teacher's PHO consists of his or her knowledge and beliefs about the way texts should be interpreted in class and about the roles of the teacher and the students in this process. Five different PHOs are described in the article to demonstrate the nature of teachers' orientations. I suggest that instruction and professional development of teachers should be constructed to support teachers in developing a thoughtful PHO. Developing this kind of professional discourse can facilitate the development of common concepts and criteria even if flexible and open to discussion—regarding acceptable practices for instruction of Jewish texts in high schools.

Updated: Sep. 27, 2011