Torah Questions

by Sam Spinrad, Education Director

When I attended elementary school in the 1990s, I studied Torah stories with my father. I enjoyed the scripture battles and family drama stories, and had many questions. Did this story really happen? Why would this matriarch make this certain decision? Being a humble and honest educator, my father never pretended to know the answers to queries beyond his scope of knowledge. Whenever I asked a Torah question he couldn’t answer, he emailed a rabbi. Within a week or two, he would read me the response, often accompanied by a compliment on the question itself.

Years later at my San Francisco Jewish high school, I studied these stories in more depth in chavruta (partner study). My teachers, Ms. Gershman and Mr. Zeldin, taught me again about the importance of asking questions. For single passukim (verses), I learned Rabbis’ explanations for problems of language, context, and often, the biggest question of all: why is this text even in the Torah?

At Congregation Bet Ha’am, students learn Torah stories in third grade and Nevi’im (Prophets) stories in fourth grade. They focus on a single Torah portion and haftarah section at B’ Mitzvah age, and then examine stories through a “mature” lens in the high school class “Values: Scripture, Law, and Commentary.” These classes are my personal favorite topics of our curriculum.

Every student at Bet Ha’am enters class with a unique worldview. I love hearing each child’s perspective on the stories. Some kids enjoy them and ask for deeper explanations about the narrative. Other students are more questioning and ask big “why” questions, often unsatisfied with explanations. Many students connect the stories with their personal lives and want to better understand the scripture’s relevance to them.

If you find yourself discussing Torah with your child, encourage these questions. Try to get them to stump you! I love getting questions from families and passing them to Rabbi Saks when I can’t answer.  Sitting in on our religious school classes, I can see we are raising a generation of capable Torah scholars.

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

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