Teaching Morals and Values Through Tanakh
by Rabbi Amy Bardack, Lower School Judaic Director
“Students will develop a love of Torah study for its own sake and embrace it as an inspiring resource, informing their values, moral commitments, and ways of experiencing the world.” That is one of the two standards we have committed to as a school, as part of our curricular initiative in Tanakh Standards and Benchmarks. Our goals are for students to derive morals and values from the text and develop skills to understand the Biblical text in Hebrew. Now in our second year of this initiative, all teachers in grades 2-8 are designing standards-based curricular units.
Here is a taste of the kinds of morals and values students discuss in second and third grade, in connection with the texts they study from Sefer Bereshit:
Having studied about the brothers lying to their father about having sold Yosef, third graders reflect on the effects that lying can have on others. They also consider circumstances in which lying could be seen as an acceptable choice.
Studying about Yosef forgiving his brothers, third graders reflect on the difficulty of forgiving those who have hurt us. They consider what is involved in being able to forgive.
Learning about Avraham’s concern about a peaceful separation from Lot, second graders discuss the importance of maintaining peace between people. Students think of times in their lives when they can be peace-makers, such as on the playground when conflicts arise.
Standing Up for What is Right:
Second graders study about Avraham arguing with God on behalf of the people of Sodom, including the key quote: “Will the Judge of All the World not act with justice?” They reflect on the importance of standing up for what they believe is right and the risks involved in doing so. They identify which injustices they would consider standing up for.
Discussing these kinds of morals and values helps students to develop skills in higher order thinking, which they can apply to all learning. The values are derived from the texts in the Torah, yet they are also applicable to other texts students might read and to their daily lives. Students see that the Torah can be a source of enduring truths about life, and that in turn motivates their learning. In designing curricular units with this standard in mind, we are enriching and deepening our students’ thinking and helping them develop a love of Torah study, which we hope will last a lifetime.