Studying What the Prophets Demand of Us, and Living It
Rabbi Benjamin Barer, High School Tanakh Teacher & Tess Mendelson (Grade 12)

We are thrilled to be showcasing a new curricular offering in the Jewish Text department, which blends close reading of text (Ahavat Torah) with concrete action stemming from the values latent in the text (Tikkun Olam).

Tess Mendelson: To be completely honest, I took this class because it was the only Jewish Text class that I have not yet taken. Over this past quarter, I have realized that Tanakh Seminar isn’t just a class talking about ancient hebrew scripture, but really a class that truly relates to how we approach our lives and what is going on in the world around us.

Rabbi Barer: The Talmud, in a famous passage (Kiddushin 40b), considers the question: “which is greater, study or action?” and concludes, in brilliant Talmudic fashion, that “study is greater, for it leads to action” (גדול התלמוד שמביא לידי מעשה/gadol ha Talmud, sh-meivi li’dei ma-aseh). This year in Tanakh Seminar, we are studying the Nevi’im Achronim or Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve minor prophets). These towering figures are the earliest and best examples of radical justice seekers in the Jewish tradition, and CESJDS’ core value of Tikkun Olam derives directly from them.

TM: As part of this class, each student is assigned a lesson to teach the class. For my project, I was talking about the calling of the prophets. I wanted my classmates to relate to what my discussion was talking about, so I looked to find perfect guest speakers for my class. I brought in Tim Shriver, Kathleen Shriver, and Mollie Bowman. Each of them talked about when they felt they were called and how they called upon others. For me, this felt like a school assignment, however after the class, I received so much feedback from my peers, family members and even random people that I did not know. I realized that what we are learning in Tanakh Seminar transcends beyond the Zoom screen and into what is really going on in the broader world.

RB: It would have been disingenuous to confine our learning to the classroom (physical or via Zoom). Instead, each student is spending at least 10 hours volunteering for an organization of their choice and providing regular reflections on how that service ties into the themes and texts we study together. Above all, the goal of this semester-long project is to take the learning off of the page and channel it into materially impacting the world around us for the better - the prophets ask no less of us.

TM: Another aspect of this class is our semester long volunteer project. I chose to stick with an organization that I have been working with since 8th grade: Friendship Circle. While I thought I would just be doing the same thing I have always done, being given the chance to actually reflect on my work and experience allows me to understand the impact that my actions can have on the world.