Shalhevet’s Modern Orthodox Education

I was attempting to Google to find an academic reference based on description of the book and this page came up.
It contained this curriculum from the Shalhevet High School in LA. At first, I could not figure out what it was. Then I saw that it is a new “Modern Orthodox education” created by the new YCT educated principal at the school. It is an interesting document. I dont want to get bogged down in the politics of the LA school or the nature of its graduates. The question is not what effect it has there or if it is a good school.

My question is what would happen if such a curriculum were tried here in NYC, with the potential for the best guest speakers? I do not agree with many of the choices but it certainly is interesting. In one of the first issues of Tradition, Eliezer Berkovits gave a vision of an ideal seminary that looked like this.It is also worth comparing to the Jewish Action article by Rabbi Riskin in the 1970’s about what an ideal High School curriculum would look like. is this the start of a good curriculum for our decade?

Here are some selections from the bigger document here. What do you think?

Shalhevet’s Modern Orthodox education consists of the following goals:

Talmudic Jurisprudence (10th Grade)

As the foundational corpus of Jewish and rabbinic knowledge, the Talmud represents the launching point for understanding the role of Halacha in Jewish society. Through textual analysis, students will be introduced to the fundamental principles and ethics that guide the Jewish tradition. Critical attention will be placed on the development of rabbinic authority, the philosophy of Jewish law and practical application.

Major focus will be placed on the Babylonian Talmud and the most popular medieval commentators and codes of law (Maimonides’s Mishna Torah and Rabbi Joseph Karo’s Shulchan Aruch).

Students will also be exposed to the Twentieth Century’s most prominent theologians, philosophers and rabbis, including Professors Eliezer Berkowitz and Louis Jacobs as well as Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Moses Feinstein. Additionally, students will explore classic Talmudic case law and precedential responsa. Students will also be responsible for integrative analysis of seminal US Supreme Court cases with Jewish law.

Contemporary Modern Orthodox Issues (11th Grade)
After having spent a year learning about the nature, function, process and procedure of Jewish Law, the students are now ready to investigate the rabbinic views on contemporary issues. Is religious Zionism sanctioned by our greatest scholars or is it condemned? What is the role of women in the modern age? How does Jewish Law react to modernity? As in the previous year’s Gemara class, the major focus will be on the Talmud Bavli and Rambam’s code of Jewish Law, the Mishnah Torah. With regard to religious Zionism, we will study the views of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, Rabbi Avraham Isaac Hakohen Kook and the Satmar Rebbe. While examining the role of women in Halachic life, we will study prominent religious thinkers such as Rabbi Sperber, Rabbi Henkin, Rabbi Soloveitchik, Rabbi Berkowitz and Rabbi Meiselman.

Halacha Beyond High School: Hashkafah of Modern Orthodoxy (12th Grade)

In the first semester, we will survey, analyze and discuss seminal texts of the brightest thinkers of the Orthodox world from the past two centuries who have contributed to the self-generated definition of the “Modern Orthodox” community. We will investigate three major areas of Jewish thought: the interaction with western culture, Zionism, and women’s issues, through readings from Rav SRS Hirsch, Rav DZ Hoffman, Rav A Hildesheimr, Rav Y Kalischer, Rav S Moheliver, Rav Y Alkalai, Rav AY Kook, Rav YB Soloveitchik, Rav Y Amital and Rav A Lichtenstein, among others.

Biblical Exegesis (11th Grade)
In this advanced course on the study of the Hebrew Bible, students will study the tri-partite division of Tanach (Torah, Prophets and Scriptures) and reasons for inclusion in the Biblical canon. We will then investigate the various approaches of the yeshiva and the academy to Tanach study. This course will explore the issues of authorship and textual transmission through the lens of Professors Julius Wellhausen and Karl Heinrich Graf as well as Professors Umberto Cassuto and Kenneth Kitchen. Particular attention will be placed on the Documentary Hypothesis, scholarly responses to the Hypothesis and Orthodox Jewish homiletic responses. Additionally, we will study Ancient Near Eastern texts, such as the Laws of Eshnunna and the Code of Hammurabi, and compare and contrast them to Biblical narratives and law.

In addition to the above scholars, we will also expose the students to the philosophical thought of Jean Astruc, Jon Levenson and Louis Jacobs as well as Orthodox scholars, Rabbis Yoel Bin Nun, Hayyim Angel, Jeremy Wieder, Shubert Spero, Mordecai Breuer and Dr. Tamar Ross.

This course also will emphasize the medieval exegesis methodologies of the French school, Rashi and his grandson Rashbam, as well as the Spanish school, led by Avraham Ibn Ezra and Nachmanidies. The students will then take this knowledge and apply it to the study of a particular sefer from Nach.”

Political Theory of Modern Middle East (11th grade)
This course covers the political, philosophical and religious considerations that affect international Middle East policy. Students will study contemporary regional affairs and political theory through the lens of current events. Students will be exposed to influential thinkers including Ruth Gavison, Yoram Hazony, Sari Nusseibeh, Michael Melchior, Michael Oren, Dennis Ross and Edward Said.

Jewish Philosophy & Law (12th grade)

How does Judaism address the great existential questions of the human condition? Students will engage in a sophisticated dialectic that includes in-depth study of the philosophical works of Maimonides, Spinoza, Kant, Bentham, Kierkegaard, Hirsch, Kafka, Kook, Buber, Soloveitchik, Berkowitz and Sacks. In this course learners will confront such quintessential questions as creation, revelation, ethics and secular philosophy, the problem of free will, justice and the existence of evil. Upon completion of the course students will be able to articulate the ontological, epistemological and axiological foundations of Western thought and Modern Orthodoxy.

16 responses to “Shalhevet’s Modern Orthodox Education

  1. Looking at the JS faculty list, I’m having a hard time seeing all of these things actually being put into practice properly. Hardly any women (one of the three is part of a “fellowship program”) a Chabadnick and a settler. I’ll believe it when I see it.

    • Amit,
      That was point in the first paragraph about not judging it based on LA. The question is not whether they can do or if their students would be interested. The question is what if we tried it in NY, NJ, or MA where you could get the best faculty and even have the best guest speakers.

  2. Guest speakers seem beside the point. The impact a guest speaker has on a high schooler’s education is very, very minimal.

  3. As with most high school curricula, this sounds like an idealistic dream with no connection to reality. Furthermore, often the curriculum itself is not important, rather the time devoted to the topic; a 45 minute class or even an hour and half class on Talmudic Jurisprudence is unlikely to meet the noble goals set out in this curriculum. As to the curriculum itself, it seems like an indoctrination to modern orthodox thought (as understood by the administration). Lastly, and in my opinion most importantly, this curriculum does not seem to provide students with the basic skills required in Jewish studies developed by years of systematic and intensive study, instead students are exposed to Jewish studies haphazardly through hand-picked topics without the depth and breadth of the entire Jewish corpus.

  4. The contrast between the two 12th grade philosophy/Jewish thought classes is interesting. The first sees MO as a community that defines itself via three areas of engagement with modernity. The second says that MO is not about community, it is about the individual’s struggle with Western thought. Here we go again.

    If the question is whether it would “work” I would need to understand what the goal was. If it’s simply “what would happen” I suppose the answer is you would bore 80 percent of the kids. Unless high school kids are now much more interested in the issues that drive a mostly rarefied discourse, I don’t really see the point.

    It does seem to me that the best outcomes usually come about when a school gives kids a bit of independent access to texts. If you really want to know how existentialism figures into modern Jewish thought you can figure it out later if that ever interests you. If you want to figure out a gemara you are going to be stuck with whatever artscroll gives you because you never had to prepare a sugya.

    I’m not sure how the “great ideas” pedagogical model became the preferred way to inculcate MO values. Instead, I would really like to see a HS curriculum based on the great books model for both Jewish and secular curricula. Let kids learn how to read/learn on parallel tracks with sustained engagement and then give them the space to hash things out. (I had a mostly crappy HS education, but in a sense the traditional yeshivish gemara curriculum, with a some modification, is really a great books approach. You live with it until you get it or hate it.) But what do I know. I’ve never had to control a classroom or deal with the actual concerns and limited attention span of the contemporary teen. (I’ve had my share of experience with apathetic college kids; a far lesser burden.)

  5. I’m not sure what MO curriculum looks like nowadays. When I was in school, I’m not sure that there was a curriculum. Each rebbe would pick a masechet of gemara and start teaching some of it. We’d also pick a sefer of chumash and learn it with rashi and selected others, and the same for Navi. There was no study of method or derech ha-limmud, no organizing ideas, no real exploration – just a forced march through some sifrei kodesh. It was only in 11th grade, when we began to prepare for the Bechina Yerushalmit (the Jerusalem exam), and the up to 9 college credits that came with it, that we started having some organized learning, at least in Nach. We learned the selection stories of the major Nevi’im and compared them. We studied their most famous prophecies and learned about parallel and chiastic poetic structures.

    In short, I’m delighted that there’s structure and purpose, because I was not well-served by my school. I didn’t learn how to learn (from my school) and I didn’t really learn any important ideas either. I did get a great secular education though – where there was curriculum. Seems like we should be able to do better than that.

  6. i teach this stuff for a living, the modern stuff obviously more than the classical materials, so i hate to say it: the curriculum sounds like a bore. not because the contents aren’t interesting to me, but because it sounds like a program, somebody else’s program being forcibly imposed upon students across an entire curriculum.

    i guess what i see are a bunch of names, waved around like a philosophical talisman. what i don’t see is how any of these bluechip names in the history of jewish and western thought are supposed to address in an organic way the current questions that a student or groups of students might form for themselves about the world or worlds that they themselves inhabit.

    i hope it works, but the whole thing looks too top-heavy and perhaps ideologically driven. i guess this is true of all educational programs. but the program at hand is too specialized to be of general interest beyond the kids who find themselves drawn to philosophy. i think it would be better to just learn gemara or dostoyevsky without all the appratus, which to my mind requires a more organic, bottom-up type of directional movement.

    in my opinion, philosophy, unlike literature (including “jewish literature,” including talmud and midrash), is best pursued as an elective, and perhaps even sparingly at the high school level. maybe because what makes philosophy special is that it actually requires broad exposure to non-philosophical contents such as literature, history, math, and science.

  7. I didn’t much care for this curriculum for the same reasons that were discussed in the earlier comments. There is no stronger tie than to be a yodeah sefer and a talmid chacham. There was one particular idea that I found really distasteful. “While examining the role of women in Halachic life, we will study prominent religious thinkers such as Rabbi Sperber, Rabbi Henkin, Rabbi Soloveitchik, Rabbi Berkowitz and Rabbi Meiselman.” Here are teenagers with so many life issues yet to be solved. They need to think about dating or not, shomer negiah or not, how to develop a relationship and how to create a good marriage. There will face sex, drugs and non-frum lifestyles should they attend a secular college. Jewish feminism and its opponents doesn’t confront these issues. What is needed is a ruv with some intelligence and flexibility to discuss a course in value clarification, and present a livable Orthodox perspective. Movies and the 19th century shiduchim novels from Jane Austin thru Henry James would all be of value. If they pick up some romantic ideas all the better.

  8. huh? feminism, jewish and not, occupied a big part of my thoughts as a teenager, drugs very little.
    and feminism has PLENTY to offer to the discussion of sex relationships and marriage!

  9. ki-sarita:
    They tried a women’s davening group at Ramaz when I was in HS (early 1980s), but the girls that went, just treated it as another excuse to shmooze, just like they did every other day on the women’s side of the mechitza (grr – girls can talk all they want, but when boys do, they get sent to the vice-principal’s office – enforcement should be egalitarian).

    “strongest tie is to be yodeah sefer and a talmid chacham” – which won’t come without a lot of post-HS reading and learning, and most people won’t get there at all. So is it better to instill a love of traditional learning so that they can try for a goal that most won’t reach, or is it better to give them ammunition for social situations?

    Ramaz was mostly straightforward what I call “conceptual” learning in the Talmud classes – talk the issue out, from all perspectives, then see how that maps onto the various opinions in the text. We didn’t “learn how to learn” – that was apparently left for the post-HS year, but the post-HS year was far from universal at that point, and since I wasn’t all that frum, and was tired of Jewish classes, I just wanted to go to college and then to work. So I had to teach myself, years later, how to learn a sugya. Also took a lot of Talmud classes at Lincoln Square Synagogue.

    I have a Stoliner friend, who went to Chaim Berlin, who said he had the same problem – he realized when he was 16, that they weren’t teaching him how to learn, they were using the “conceptual” method, so he too sat with dictionaries and taught himself how to learn a sugya. So it’s not just an MO thing.

    The closest Ramaz came to Shalhevet’s programmatic “contemporary issues” learning was 10th grade, the “prepare for the social pressures of college” year. We did Yishayahu and Yirmiyahu in Navi, focussing on the real meaning of the messianic passages, so as to be able to resist missionaries in college. We even read R Aryeh Kaplan’s “The Real Messiah” as a text. Judaism class with R’ Jack Bieler was contemporary Jewish sociology, warning us against the twin evils of “intermarriage and assimilation”.

    Anyway – philosophy? in lower grades of HS? Until I was in my 30s, philosophy put me to sleep. I somewhat regret not having taken Kant in college when a bunch of my friends did, but I wasn’t read for it then.

  10. It is nice to teach Modern Orthodoxy but they should teach those thinkers and their ideas in historical context .

  11. Clearly written for parents and donors, much to all our regret.
    Nevertheless, praise the initiative. At this point, praise almost any out of the box initiative.

  12. As co-authors of the Tanakh and Talmud sections of Shalhevet’s curriculum project, we wanted to express our appreciation for the open and exciting discussion that has taken place thus far on this blog. Many of the comments discussed here pertain to very real questions that we’ve had to grapple with as we craft this program, and we certainly hope that continued discussion here about how to address these issues will improve the curriculum as a whole.

    We also felt the need to further describe our goals and approach so that our continued discussion can proceed constructively. First, we’d stress that the write-up on Shalhevet’s website is a dated and incomplete draft of the project, and that much progress has been made to it since the document was posted. We were glad to see, however, that even from this rough outline, readers were able to glean important information about our methods and goals. Also, while our Judaic studies principal is a YCT graduate and we invite members of that institution to contribute valuable insight to this curriculum, the lead authors of the project are graduates of Yeshiva University and RIETS, and this project will be continuing next year with support from Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future and Yeshiva University’s Legacy Heritage Fellowship.

    A couple of additional points:
    • Our primary goal throughout this project has been to communicate the relevancy of our tradition within the modern world. Today’s students are indeed bored; the thought of poring over ancient texts in a difficult language is simply not what most modern high school students want to do. Students are often thrust into gemarah learning with little to no introduction, and while they’re taught how to learn Talmud, it’s seldom explained to them why they should. They’re rarely taught about the role of Talmud study in shaping Jewish tradition throughout history or introduced to the individual who composed the particular text that they’re struggling over. At the end of the day, our goal is to connect students to Jewish learning via an approach that does not simply start with “Keitzad Haregel” Rashi’s commentary and a couple of Tosafot. It is an approach that communicates the beauty of Torah in a modern world and thereby invites today’s students to develop a continuing relationship with it – and is has been a tremendous help to us in addressing this challenge within our school.

    • At the same time, the issue of traditional modes of learning has been a central one that we’ve tried to address in this project. Again, ultimately, this curriculum is not just about modern orthodox philosophy – although it is certainly about that as well. At its advanced stages, the curriculum envisions a transition back towards more “traditional” learning – continuing the applied modes of analysis through traditional studies of Talmudic tractates. Further, the curriculum remains an entirely text based approach – while we may not be treating entire tractates, our primary texts still consist of individual gemaras, as well as selected texts from rishonim and achronim, in addition to articles from Torah and scholarly journals.

    • While the details of any educational curriculum obviously must be tailored to a specific student body, this project has thus far seen an overwhelming response from our students – an interest in engaging text, an excitement for the exploration of sources, and the development of critical skills in learning. Our goal has been to ensure that students will no longer be able to simply claim that the sacred texts and heritage before them are arcane or irrelevant, and we’ve been encouraged by the powerful response from within our student body thus far and will be continuing to develop tools to track it. We see a changing reality every day within our students and within their connection to Jewish tradition – expressed in casual encounters (students exclaiming “I can’t believe we did not know this” and “So, halakhic thinking does make sense!” – not the reactions to Torah learning that we were used to hearing in high school), as well as through their ability to think critically about complex contemporary issues relating to the halakhic process (on ordaining women: “we learned that halakhic thinking is a process and that various textual factors and precedents need to be considered to resolve this issue”) – for us, these responses have gone a long way towards answering the questions of how to put it into practice or connect this dream to the reality within our school.

    • At the end of the day, we certainly agree with the notion expressed in the blog that any curriculum is limited by its communicators – a teacher armed with this curriculum who cannot connect to his or her students will not be more effective than a teacher who cannot effectively develop a meaningful relationship with the students, no matter what particular text he or she is teaching. Our hope, however, is that this project will help the right teacher do an even better job of connecting his or her students to Jewish learning, identity and values.

    Thank you again for engaging in this discussion with us, and we look forward to receiving additional responses from Kavvanah’s readers. In particular, if any readers are interested in more specific details about course choices or materials, we’d be happy to provide more information and would welcome continued discussion.


    Noam L. Weissman
    David P. Stein

  13. I see a very big difference in how Talmud & Halakha are approached on the one hand, and Tanakh on the other. The Talmuyd & Halakha curriculum seems daring yet traditional, while in Tanakh, the traditional approach seems tacked on, to be yotze. It seems to portray Biblical Criticism as the true approach, to which some Orthodox thinkers can offer a homiletical response. Has the same ring as apologetics (undeservedly for R’Yoel Bin Nun et al., undeservedly for the traditional approach, and undeservedly for apologetics in general, which deserve a bit less of a bad rap).

    So one question the authors have to ask is, what kind of Modern Orthodoxy do they want to impart to their students.

    And of course, the remark above about how the curriculum breathes two very different definitions of MO is true, too.

    I love to see the final product – the curriculum and the students 5 years later.

    That said, itś a daring idea, and I hope it contributes to ‘hinukh.

  14. One anecdotal data point: My niece transferred into Shalhevet last year as a junior. When I saw her a couple of weeks ago, she had picked up and started reading the Guide to the Perplexed. I hadn’t previously known her to be reading seforim in her spare time.

  15. And then there’s this:

    Our school, Shalhevet High School, is raffling a once-in-a-life time grand prize as a fund-raiser for the senior class trip to the “March of the Living” in Poland and Israel.

    A trip to LA to see Taylor Swift in concert August 23rd.

    The grand prize includes:

    * airfare from a major U.S. city
    * two nights at a Beverly Hills hotel
    * two top-priced Taylor Swift Speak Now concert tickets


    * a $150. shopping spree with a Hollywood stylist
    * two hair and make-up make-overs at a Beverly Hills salon
    * two photo shoots with a celebrity photographer
    * two 48-hour Starline “hop-on hop-off” double decker tour bus passes
    * Lunch at 20th Century Fox Studios


    gift certificates to local restaurants
    gift certificates to local ice cream/frozen yogurt stores
    gift certificates to a coffee shop
    50. certificate for Speak Now Tour souvenirs at the Staples Center
    A “Welcome to Hollywood” gift bag waiting at the hotel

    and more to be announced!!!!!

    Facebook: Win A Trip To See Taylor Swift In Hollywood
    Twitter: TaylorLAraffle

    Please forward this to everyone you know – especially friends & relatives with Taylor Swift fans!!!

    thank you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s