Values Education Through Aggadic Stories: The Didactic Rewriter as Interpreter

From Section:
Formal Education
Mar. 28, 2016

Source: Journal of Jewish Education Vol. 82, No. 1, pages 54


Didactic rewrites of aggadic stories are an important resource in values education. This study, geared primarily toward teachers involved in choosing curricular materials, investigates how the didactic rewriter actually becomes an interpreter, rather than a mere transmitter, of the original text. The personal values of the rewriters can influence the retold story, as can their desire to adapt it to their target audience. In order to increase teacher awareness of the rewriters’ interpretive process and its ramifications, two different rewrites of the same original aggadic story are compared as a paradigm. The different values and role models which emerge as well as the potential impact of each rewrite on the child’s moral development are examined.


Differences between Segal and Goren’s didactic rewrites of the same original aggadic story have been analyzed in order to examine the influence of the personal values of the two didactic rewriters on their respective stories and how these values interplay with different target audiences. Faced with a linguistically ambiguous text, the interpretive role played by the rewriter was explored, demonstrating the interpretive role played by the rewriter. As discussed above, Segal stated explicitly how important it was to her to avoid changing anything from the original text, while Goren allowed herself far greater liberty to elaborate on the text in order to create a more emotionally compelling story. Yet, this article has demonstrated that despite Segal’s stated goal of keeping her own values out of the rewrite, the changes in her rewrite are not any less significant than those introduced by Goren. This finding thus demonstrates how each didactic rewriter approached the ambiguous text with a priori assumptions and then shaped the story she told in a way that fit in with her prior concepts and explanations (Thiselton, 2009, p. 5).

Different didactic rewrites which present differing secondary values thus present the individual teacher with the practical challenge of which rewritten story to tell—or not to tell in the classroom. This challenge is one that needs to be addressed not only by the individual teacher, but by curriculum planners and educational supervisors as well, when deciding upon the values they wish to present to their student body at large. Agreement with the primary value conveyed by the story is only a first step. Awareness of the secondary messages of the story is a crucial element to be considered by the educator deciding which rewrite to use in the classroom as a pedagogic device. This awareness would then enable the values educator to make informed curricular decisions regarding which and whose moral values are being taught—those of the original text—those of the didactic rewriter—or those of the educator herself.

A teacher who agrees with the primary value conveyed by the story but disagrees with some of the secondary values is faced with a number of possible options. One option is to delete part of the rewritten story. Another is to read the complete story as written and then point out and discuss the problematic parts with the children. Still a third option is to actively change the parts that she finds objectionable. In choosing any of these options, the teacher then becomes part of the didactic rewriting process itself. By actively engaging her own values with the rewritten text, the teacher herself, like the didactic rewriter, then becomes an interpreter as well. A conscious awareness of this process can facilitate a clearer delineation of whose values are being presented, to which audience, and for what purpose.

Updated: Feb. 07, 2017
Curriculum | Research | Talmud studies | Values education