Worth Knowing: Talmud Study and the Intellectual Values of High School Students at Liberal Jewish Day Schools

February 2020

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, 86:1, 65-93


What do Jewish day school students believe constitutes good understanding and worthwhile learning in the context of their encounter with rabbinic texts in the classroom? This article shares findings from an interview study of Jewish day school students in grades 9 through 12 regarding their attitudes toward the study of Talmud. I argue that high school students’ estimations of the value of Talmud study are shaped, not only by individually held tastes, talents, and commitments, but also by a set of shared intellectual values. These values, related to their beliefs about the purposes of learning and what good learning should accomplish for the learner, develop in the context of their schools and communities and frame how students set goals for and assess their own understanding of Talmud.

In assessing their own engagement with Talmud, high school students take into account the status of a subject, the degree to which knowledge of the subject is necessary to participate in adult communities of practice, the degree to which knowledge of the subject facilitates discussion with peers, whether the subject produces meanings commensurate with other text-centered subjects the student studies, and whether the subject produces generalizable knowledge.

Updated: Mar. 04, 2020