Dr. Dan Mendelsohn Aviv is the head of curriculum, design and communications for an as-of-yet unnamed Jewish High School opening in Toronto, ON in 2018. He also hosts TanakhCast, a rollicking bi-weekly podcast about the Tanakh and is the author of End Of The Jews: Radical Breaks, Remakes and What Comes Next and Bar Mitzvah Palooza! Why the Jewish Rite of Passage Needs an Overhaul.
I have been learning Jewish texts since I was a child.
Having been blessed with a classical education, I had the opportunity to study Tanakh, Mishnah, Talmud, Jewish philosophy, Jewish law as well as Jewish history in varying degrees of depth and amazement. And though Jewish learning commanded half of every school day, I could not possibly cover everything... or even cover one thing from beginning to end. There are long-standing pedagogic debates about this issue. I will not bore you with the blow-by-blow, except to say that most folks see little educational value in completism.
The Daf Yomi is not a dog in this fight, but a daily affirmation that Jews, to be Jews, study text. The endeavour has been humming along since 1923, engaging countless thousands of Jews in the study of a folio page of Talmud each day. The whole project takes about seven years and five months and ends with a siyum - or celebratory meal commemorating the completion.
As such, the Talmud is a well-trod path. I wanted to explore the path not taken - the Tanakh. (This is an odd acknowledgement but there is no English Daf Yomi equivalent for Tanakh. There’s parshat hashavua with the associated haftarot, but it doesn’t cover everything Tanakhic.) As any casual reader of the Tanakh will tell you - it has everything. Laws! Genealogy Lists! Sex! Murder! Intrigue! And that's only covering the first ten chapters in Bereishit…
As important as my desire to learn Tanakh, I also wanted to share what I learned with others who might want to learn some Tanakh but find the task daunting.
Podcasting is the perfect medium.
I listen to dozens of podcasts each week about everything from sound design to the Socratic method. With each download, my mind races with new stories, new ideas and new discussions.
In 2013, I decided that I wanted to join that conversation. And so, I launched TanakhCast.
Every two weeks, I look at four chapters in the Tanakh. I began with Genesis 1 and when Episode 123 on Ezekiel 12-15 drops on January 23, 2018, I will reach the half-way point.
Each episode begins with a brief summary of the portion, then I share some thoughts about an idea or an issue that emerges from the text. Every so often, I invite a guest to share their thoughts. What I discuss is wide-ranging, oftentimes based on historical research, but it also gets personal and sometimes political. For example, Episode 87 on 2 Kings 20-23 focused on Hezekiah’s Tunnel, my childhood memories of walking in the wet, and how archaeology, an oftentimes dusty, academic pursuit, fuels hot political debates. Have a listen here.
Though TanakhCast was never intended to be part of my teaching (some of the topics and some language might be inappropriate for sensitive listeners), podcasts about Jewish history or the Daf Yomi could easily integrate into the classroom.
But, like me, one does not only have to be a consumer of a world’s worth of thoughtful, insightful content. Writing, recording and producing a podcast can provide students with an opportunity to be creative and technical as well. The skills they will hone writing compelling stories, recording and editing audio for each episode are easily transferrable to other spheres of life and learning. Podcasting is the ultimate extra-curricular activity.
Podcasting also creates opportunities for creators and listeners to connect and bond around the subject matter. In other words, podcasting creates community. Imagine your students getting as excited about Tanakh or Jewish history or halakhah as they are about Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Imagine how exciting it would be for them (and you) if they figured out a way to connect both passions - and podcast about it!
Though I encourage you to take the leap into podcasting, begin with baby steps.
Subscribe to TanakhCast and other podcasts that capture your fancy.
Once you get a sense for the medium, it’s time to find your niche and your voice.
And start talking.