This article is a part of a series. Click here for part one.
In this and future articles, I hope to be able to take you, the parent body and educators alike, through a tour of the Zekelman Standards for Chumash that is currently being implemented in many elementary and high school classrooms. The Zekelman Standards for Chumash is divided into six main sections and delineates specific knowledge and skills for Years 1 to 8. The first section is called Tanach Essentials and its very name underpins its importance.
Have you ever encountered any of these scenarios? You walk into a room where students or your child has finished learning and there is a Chumash left open on the desk. Or perhaps, you see a pile of books on the table and the Siddur is sitting on top of the Chumash, or a Chumash is upside down in the students’ cubby. You are learning with your students or your child, and they stop tie their shoelaces as you are teaching them. You are teaching a piece of Chumash and your student or child calls out, “that doesn’t make sense!” You are teaching a class, and a child walks in late, takes his/her Chumash and returns to his/her desk to join the class, yet when you inquire, the student has not yet said morning Brochos.
Each of these scenarios have one thing in common – there is a lack of knowledge and understanding in Tanach Essentials! Before one even begins to learn the content of Chumash, there are certain fundamentals that must be understood, absorbed and acted upon to be the proper vessel to be able to learn, understand correctly and retain what is essentially G-dly wisdom. This itself must also be taught to the students!
The commentaries on Torah ask, “Why does the Torah begin with a bais?” Amongst the various explanations, the Rebbe explains that this teaches us that before you can begin learning, you must recognize the ‘alef’ – alufo shel olam – Hashem, who precedes this Torah. The approach to learning must be to first recognize that this is G-dly wisdom and therefore beyond what a human being should naturally be able to understand, and second, that it is only because of Hashem’s love for the Jewish people that He made this wisdom accessible to us. It is for this reason that we must make the Brochos on learning Torah, as part of our morning Brochos and before we say or learn any words of Torah. This recognition of the נותן התורה is crucial for successful לימוד התורה.
The aim of the Tanach Essential section of the standards is to ensure that the basic overarching skills and attitudes required to learn Torah are not taken for granted, but are explicitly taught.
Tanach Essentials are therefore divided into three sections: 1) the Nature and Purpose of the Written Torah 2) the Conventions of Tanach and 3) Text Referencing Skills.
The Nature and Purpose of Tanach section ensures that students understand the Divine Nature of the Torah and explore the ramifications this has on the methods, attitudes and indeed Halachos pertaining to learning Torah. The following fundamental questions are addressed among others: What must I do to prepare to learn Torah? How does the knowledge of the נותן התורה affect the way I learn Torah? Why do we as Jewish people spend so much time learning Chumash, even when what we learn is no longer practiced (such as laws pertaining to the Beis Hamikdash)? Who wrote the Torah and how was it transmitted? How are details important and what type of sequencing does the Torah use? What does this piece of Torah teach me about my actions in my own life? How does what I know about Torah affect the way I need to learn it?
The Conventions of Tanach help to ensure that students realize how the Sefer Torah became the Chumash in front of them and what features from the Sefer Torah are still in their Chumash and which others features are part of our “Mesorah” (oral tradition) and required to be able to learn properly. Some of the Essential Questions here are: Why would it be hard to learn from a Sefer Torah? Where do all the markings in a Chumash come from? How do all the markings in the Chumash help me to learn? How does the language of the Torah reflect the purpose of the Torah?
Finally, the last section of Tanach Essentials deals with text referencing skills. Teachers consistently review the structure of Chumash (Chumashim, Sedrot, Parshiot, Pesukim) and the system of gematria (numerical values of the Hebrew letters) to ensure that students are easily able to navigate their way around Tanach. Students explore: How is the text structured? How does the structure of the text reflect its purpose? How is the Aleph-Beis different from any other alphabet?
In summary, Tanach Essentials outline the context and foundation required to begin the study of Torah as a frum Jew.
Stay tuned for Part 3 : Chumash Content.
For more information about the Menachem Education Foundation and the Zekelman Standards tandards please visit https://zekelmanstandards.org/
Dr. Sara Rosenfeld is on the Zekelman Standards Development Team. She is also the director of Curriculum in Yeshiva-Beth Rivkah Colleges in Melbourne, Australia, and author of numerous Judaic curricula and workbooks, Dr. Rosenfeld is sought after as a presenter and Jewish educational consultant around the world.