Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sura in the lounge

The 10th grade Jewish History curriculum has a unit on the Talmud, that focuses on the differences between the Mishna and the Gemara. Estee Fleischmann and I cam up with a little improv play a few years ago that we involved the class in.

Basically, the two teachers play Ravina and Rav Ashi. They are asking their students to brainstorm how the Torah she'beal peh should continue to be written. The former wants to just make a new document similat to the Mishan, and the latter disagrees. To make a long story short, they brainstorm with the students, who sort of reinvent the wheel in designing how the new structure should look and come up with the Gemara. The major insight is that while the Mishna recorded the product of discussions, the Gemara must record the process. This will create a work which must be learned and studied, and opposed to just read. Anyone who studies it becomes, over time, part of the oral tradition and a living carrier of the Torah.

Now, we also want to shtick it up. So you have to put out middle eastern food, smells and sounds to create atmosphere. When I put on the little play with the current 10th grade Jewish History teacher, Rabbi Ari Spiegler, we turned the student lunge into ancient Sura in order to have our discussion. My favorite prop was an old school oil lamp that I made from a kit. I mean, how cool is this thing? Just check out the video below, and let me know what you think.


Forwarded conversation
Subject: Article: Sura in the lounge

From: N
nice- good stuff. btw-  i really like the new layout design of your blog

From: A
I love it-
Although, I kept expecting the carpet to catch on fire or something. If you want a video to go viral, it needs a bit more pizzazz.
Seriously though, how do the kids react? Do they get the point? Do you think it impacts how they feel about gemara in general?
Is the play full of really hard words and difficult syntax?

From: Michael Unterberg 
Thanks, N. Yeah, I like that the viewer can choose to alter it using the sidebar. Way interactive.

Apropos, A, since as you know, Fire is a Virus. (see link) Pizzazz, on the other hand, is a local restaurant. (nuch a link. nerd jokes abound)

The play is improv, so that avoids the annoying syntax. The kids like it. They are sitting on the floor on pillows and noshing, and their teachers are wearing robes. So that's fun. Many get the point, and have fun with it. Some don't and need more classroomy reinforcement. The idea is that this positive fun time will both help them remember it and give a good taam to it. That's harder to measure though. It should provide a reference point for Gemara teachers to provide occasional motivation, I would hope. 


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