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The Search for Questions: An Introduction to Moreshet

Much of my workday is spent seeking answers to questions like, are our learners accomplishing all the goals we have set out for them? What’s the status of this new unit, and where are we with the implementation of that new curriculum?

In the fast-moving school environment, it is easy to become absorbed in the search for answers, however we run the risk of suspending the essential role that grappling with our questions plays in the field of education. We can forget — even just for a moment — that the very act of questioning is what leads us to unlocking the value in the information we seek to gain.

What worth does our acquired knowledge have if we are unable to ask, “So what?”. Similarly, if we want to continue to spur learning in new and exciting directions, if we want to fuel innovation and empower our students to become future leaders, we mustn’t get lost in the pursuit of answers alone — not in the classroom, nor outside of it. We mustn’t let ourselves or our students neglect the value in taking the journey of inquiry. 

It is time to accentuate the importance of asking questions.

There is no doubt that COVID has rekindled, for many of us, the ambiguity and discomfort of asking a myriad of questions about something we know little about. The good news is that the more we ask, the closer we get to finding the answers that work for us, and there is nothing more Jewish than the act of asking questions. The late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks teaches in an article for the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, that “the highest compliment a teacher [in the Yeshiva] could give a student is “Du fregst a gutte kasha,” or “You raise a good objection.””. Teaching our students to ask questions is an essential component of the learning that takes place in the Jewish Studies classroom. 

For some children, as in the case with the Passover Haggadah’s wise child, questioning comes easily. They are naturally inquisitive and can analyze and examine facts. Needless to say, most of us are not naturally good at asking questions; instead, as is the case with the Haggadah’s innocent child, it is a skill that needs practice. By practising asking questions, we can improve not only our emotional intelligence, but also our nuanced understanding of the diverse truths and narratives found all around us.

How does this translate to the learning that we want to see at Bialik? 

This is where our new Senior Division Moreshet course comes in, aimed exactly at sparking questions, questions and more questions, through rigorous text study and meaningful conversation. Our new Moreshet course — the only course of its kind — combines the study of Jewish history and traditions, and invites students to reflect on their personal Moreshet, or heritage, throughout the learning journey. It draws on inquiry-based learning and the Chevrutah approach to teach our children to be curious, to wonder, to consider and to reflect. Chevrutah is a concept worthy of its own blog post, but for now this definition from MyJewishLearning.com will do: in Chevrutah, “[a] pair [or small group of students] struggles to understand the meaning of [a] passage and discusses how to apply it to the larger issues addressed and even to their own lives.” 

Inquiry and Chevrutah are the driving forces behind the first half of this program’s mission statement — a statement written in the same manner that it preaches — inspired by a question-driven dialogue between our Moreshet Teacher Design Team and members of the Bialik administrators:

“Through the Moreshet course, students will apply academic rigour and employ critical thinking to explore and experience the many different values, historical and present-day stories and texts that shape the Jewish narrative.”

To study Moreshet at Bialik entails exposure to facts, sites, artifacts and narratives collected over nearly three thousand years of Jewish life. Our hope, as the second part of the program’s mission statement will attest, is that through meaningful inquiry and Chevrutah:

“Students will build a strong and lasting connection to the State of Israel and the Canadian Jewish community”

The Moreshet course was designed around the assumption that the child who asks becomes a partner in the learning process and also in the Jewish community — not only on a personal level, but also on the communal and global levels. They are not a passive recipient of the Jewish tradition, but an active participant and contributor to its survival and its continuity. With their anthology in hand, they learn from primary sources, exploring all that these have to offer. Then, through inquiry, they come to draw diverse, fascinating and informative conclusions that inevitably lead to posing additional, meaningful and more nuanced questions. 

Round and round it goes, until the discomfort and ambiguity that lies in innocent questioning, is slowly replaced with an authentic, self-, text- and peer-driven wisdom, comfort, and belongingness. 

And if that is not what the study of one’s heritage should be about, then what is?

Adi Barel
Associate Director, Jewish Studies