Book Review: Jon A. Levisohn and Susan P. Fendrick, Editors, Turn It and Turn It Again: Studies in the Teaching and Learning of Classical Texts

May. 03, 2014

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, Volume 80, Issue 2, pages 148-151


In Turn It and Turn It Again: Studies in the Teaching and Learning of Classical Jewish Texts, edited and published in 2013 by Jon A. Levisohn and Susan P. Fendrick, we have a volume that certainly lives up to its name. The volume provides a rich and diverse range of viewpoints on and orientations to the teaching and learning of Jewish texts, such that I feel remiss only reading it once. That the authors invoke the famous quote of Ben Bag Bag from Pirkei Avot 5:22 seems especially appropriate in the context of Levisohn and Fendrick’s anthology, given its similarity with Pirkei Avot’s ability to blend both pedagogic and ideological purposes. The editors divide Turn It and Turn It Again into four parts that focus consecutively on subject matter, teaching and teachers, learning and learners, and the context in which the texts are taught. While these divisions (taken, it would appear, primarily from Joseph Schwab’s scholarship) may appear somewhat artificial in the context of the contributing essays, they provide readers with an accessible structural framework through which to consider the themes addressed by the different authors…


While the book left me with individual questions for many of the voices represented among these teachers of biblical and rabbinic texts, I experienced an overall satisfaction at the conclusion of Turn It and Turn It Again. Not only was I happy not only to hear these contributors’ voices, but I was also pleasantly surprised by the sheer number of teachers who seriously examine their approaches. The range of different outcomes speaks to the distinctive creative power that individual teachers demonstrate as they labor with learners. The authors’ contributions remind me of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s idea that “life is a journey, not a destination,” a maxim that may express yet another way to view Ben Bag Bag’s original quote. Keep turning it, for as Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai says in Chapter 2 of Mishnah Avot, “If you have learned much Torah, do not be so impressed with yourself, for it was for this purpose you were created.” The fairly new field that integrates pedagogy and Jewish texts is richer for this work.


Read the entire review at the Journal of Jewish Education.

Updated: May. 27, 2014