This Torah Study Tool Is Everywhere — But You May Have Never Heard of It


Source: JTA

Sefaria, a nimble online database of Jewish texts in both their original language and in translation, is rapidly becoming the red-hot center of the source sheet universe, which I assure you is a thing. Since Sefaria was founded in 2013, over 12,000 people have made some 74,000 source sheets using the site’s handy source sheet builder. Of those, 7,200 of their creations are available online.

And the range of subjects is testament not only to the depth of the Jewish canon but to the breadth of Jewish obsessions. There are sheets for lessons on sex, death, love, money, family strife and sibling rivalry, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. For Simchat Torah, there’s a sheet on the rules about women dancing with a Torah scroll. There’s even a sheet about whether or not Jews should take part in Halloween.

Other sites share their source sheets online. The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute posts sheets on animal welfare. American Jewish World Service offers material on social action. The Orthodox NCSY youth group has sheets on a range of topics.

Rabbi Dan Epstein, the senior Jewish educator at the George Washington University Hillel, also refers to creating a source sheet as an art form. Epstein should know: He’s shared nearly 100 source sheets on Sefaria, and they’ve been viewed collectively over 72,000 times. To teach a lesson on Jewish views on the afterlife, for example, he might include verses from the Bible; Talmudic passages known as Mishna or Gemara; perspectives from the medieval sages Maimonides and Saadia Gaon about the soul and reincarnation; and a teshuvah, or rabbinical ruling, from the 20th-century Modern Orthodox authority Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. These would form the basis for a guided classroom discussion, perhaps after the students had a chance to review the material and a few key questions in chavruta — that is, in pairs or small groups, a staple of yeshiva education going back centuries.

Rabbis and teachers had always done this kind of layered Jewish teaching, building an argument or lesson out of centuries of Jewish writing on a topic the way a geologist describes a mountain by pointing to the layers of rock beneath the surface. But the source sheet revolutionized Jewish learning by making sure every student was literally on the same page.

Read more at JTA

Updated: Feb. 12, 2018