Saturday, March 10, 2007

Canned Divrei Torah

As we approach pesah I am reminded of the hours of preparation day school students undergo so that they can properly perform at the family Seder. That includes not only the requisite recitation of Mah Nishtanah (in 3 tunes and four languages), but the reams of Divrei Torah kids bring home to share with their families. It's the the same syndrome of the canned Shabbat Divrei Torah read off of parsashah sheets, but magnified many times over. That must be why outside of Israel there are two days of Seder - to allow for the recitation of all those Divrei Torah.

It's hard not to be cynical. Recent seminary graduates (both men and women), full of enthusiasm for what inspired them, carefully prepare sheets with shortened versions of complex ideas which the students for sure do not understand, and maybe even the teachers themselves. Ask any of these kids a question about their devar Torah, and you are met with a blank stare - it's not on the sheet!

The imperative to speak words of Torah at a meal (and not just a Shabbat meal!) are meant to ensure that the topic of conversation around the table is to revolve around weighty matters, not to have a perfunctory performance. Similarly, the Seder is not designed as a forum for showcasing kids' talents at reading, but is the quintessential educational interactive session, in which parents dialogue with their children to try to engage them in a meaningful exploration of Yetziat Mitzrayim and its themes. Somehow, this all gets lost.

Perhaps we should be encouraging our schools to teach kids to ask questions of their parents, rather than be the source of instruction to the parents. and if the parnets don't know - let them come and learn, or maybe even explore together with their kids. Who knows, maybe they'll manage to stay awake till the meal.

1 comment:

  1. Kudos, Rabbi Grumet, on addressing a critical issue in Jewish education. We should be focusing more on teaching our students how to think, instead of feeding them what to think. I hope your post inspires educators around the world to refocus on the critical task of guiding the leaders of the next generation.
    Chag Kasher V'Sameach,
    Rena Spolter