Interpretive Experience: The Core of Meaningful Tanakh Education

February 26, 2013

Source: Mandel Center Blog


Orit Kent and Allison Cook of the Beit Midrash Research Project at the Mandel Center propose that a special type of instructional activity—the interpretive experience—become the centerpiece of meaningful student work on Tanakh. In years of observation of Tanakh classes in elementary through high schools they have seen that Tanakh learning tends to fall into two major types of student activity: language and/or translation exercises, and personalization. They suggest that the use of interpretive experience can greatly improve students' learning of Tanakh.


In their view, a core task of Torah learners is to be engaged in the process of interpreting texts, of trying to understand not simply words or events, but the text’s meanings. This requires careful study of the text itself, involving close reading and a focused discussion that continually returns to the passage being studied.


Interpretive experience holds both the reader and the text in conversation in order to make meaning. It is what transpires when the Tanakh and the learner need each other: The text needs a human partner to notice it, wonder about it, grapple with it, and appreciate it in order to convert fixed words into living ideas, while the human partner needs the text to invite him or her into new horizons of understanding and growth, intellectually, ethically and spiritually. Through the interpretive exercise, students deeply engage with the Torah in its particularity of language and form to discover insights, instruction and connection.


They describe one example of an interpretive exercise: students drawing character portraits of Jacob and Esau, trying to express through their drawing the relationship between them, pointing to details in the Biblical narrative which support their design.


It is interpretive work that emerges from and draws upon language and translation skills and gives them meaning and purpose. And, it is interpretive work that also enables personalization questions and responses to be rooted in deeper understanding of text.


Read their post at the Mandel Center Blog and their article in HaYidion: The RAVSAK Journal.

Updated: Mar. 05, 2013