The Halakha Detective: A Primer on Researching the Laws of Shabbat

Background to Lesson

  • Duration:
    • 160 minutes (4 periods)
  • Grade and Levels:
    • 9-10, higher levels; 11-12, any level
  • Unit Context:
    • Unit in Hilkhot Shabbat class

    • Modern Orthodox High School

    • Unit’s Big Idea:

      • While the halakhic system might at first glance look haphazard, in fact there is an internal coherence to the system.

    • Unit’s Essential Questions:

      • How do these laws develop from the Torah to modern times?

      • What are the skills necessary to research a halakhah topic independently?

    • Learning Targets:

      • TLW will gain greater knowledge of the laws of Shabbat.

      • TLW gain skills to research a practical halakhah topic independently.

      • TLW will grow in one’s self-confidence as an “insider” in the halakhic system.

Lesson Plan

  • After creating a Sefaria sheet with the instructions outlined below, the teacher uses the "Assignments" feature under the file tab to assign a copy to each student. After each student completes the assignment, the sheet is automatically submitted to the teacher. (In this case, the teacher can erase the underlined sections below.) Alternatively, if not all students have access to digital devices, a teacher might opt to print the sheet for some or all students, add in lines to the sheet where relevant, and have them complete the assignment by hand.
  • Students are introduced to the following three areas [selected because each has a reasonably substantial amount of source material on Sefaria source sheets]:

    • Electricity on Shabbat

    • Musical Instruments on Shabbat

    • The Laws and Meaning of Havdala

  • Vote with your feet to research one of these three topics by walking to a corner of the room.

  • You are assigned a partner who chose the same topic, with whom you will complete the remainder of the assignment.

Now, thinking about the topic you chose, complete the "K" and "W" sections of an online KWL. "K" refers to anything you already know about the topic, and "W" refers to anything you want to know about the topic. This will help to drive your research.

  • Together with the classmate you were paired up with, open the Sefaria source sheet library. By using and searching for tags, find 2-3 source sheets related to your chosen topic. [Teachers may choose to supplement from other online and/or print practical halakhah resources.]
  • After browsing those sheets, bearing in mind the questions you raised in the "W" section of the KWL, select 4-5 sources from those sheets. Those sources will be included in a source sheet that you are designing as you own summary of the topic.
  • Below, write which sources you chose and why. Then share with your teacher, who will offer feedback on your selections. Revise your list based on your teacher's feedback.
  • In your own words, summarize each of those sources below:

They share your summaries with your teacher. Consider your teacher's feedback and, again, adjust accordingly.

For the next stage of your research, use the Resources connected to your 4-5 chosen sources in order to further research their topic.

Then complete the source sheet and write up an outline of a mini-class you and your partner will teach the rest of the class. [Teachers can assign instructions and a rubric depending on the precise skills and presentation elements they are looking for.]

  • After you teach your class, get feedback from your teacher and fellow students, and adjust your source sheet accordingly. Next, make the source sheet public on Sefaria and share on social media accounts. Your class can also create your own Sefaria group and feature all the source sheets there.
  • For additional credit, students can use the "Visualize" tab under "File" to create colored, box sources and create pictorial flow of your sources.