How might a deep understanding of halakhah help us solve real world problems?
How does the halakhic system take into account human needs and desires?
How might new technologies impact our observance of halakhah?
How might we make good decisions when a halakhah governs something that is in many ways beyond our control?
Learners will understand the scope and content of the mitsvah of פרו ורבו.
Learners will get a taste of how halakhah develops and is applied to real world situations.
Learners will be able to articulate the scope of the mitsvah of פרו ורבו: Is it giving birth to children? Raising children? Having multiple generations of descendants? How exactly do you know if and when you’ve fulfilled this mitsvah? How do different sources answer these questions?
Learners will synthesize halakhic knowledge and human sensitivity to answer real world questions about the observance of halakhah.
Learners will understand how halakhah responds to technological innovation and change.
Skills and Abilities:
Learners will be able to complete a targeted halakhic research project, and answer questions such as: What are acceptable sources? How do I find them? What tools do I need in order to access, read, and understand them? Who are the halakhic experts in my world who I can turn to for assistance?
Learners will improve their ability to read and understand a sugya in the Gemara (with some scaffolding).
Learners will be able to investigate the halakhic ramifications of a sugya.
Learning Activities: [Teachers may elect to do some or all of these activities, depending on the class level and time allotted]
1) What do the students know or believe? Begin with a Group Level Understanding (GLU) assessment to check for understanding. There are many ways to do this (see here for more information on GLU/GLA) and here is one possible set of instructions. This will allow you to get a sense of what students know or believe about this mitsvah prior to this unit.
2) Learn the Gemara: The students will then learn the sugya in Yevamot about פרו ורבו. The Mishnah and the most relevant section of the Gemara are below (a more advanced class could also do the section of the Gemara that immediately follows the Mishnah). Note that in this setting, students learn Gemara in hevruta pairs during class time, and also work on the text independently or with their hevruta at home. The homework allows for a flipped classroom model, in which the basics of the text are mastered outside of the classroom, freeing up class time for troubleshooting and higher-level conversations. The scaffolded learning guide is here (the guide for the Mishnah is here), and the homework assignment with embedded video is here.
3) Check for understanding: Review the sugya in class, using selected questions from the learning guide to ensure that the students comprehend the text and are able to begin thinking about the big ideas.
4) How might we find halakhic resources? Check for prior knowledge, and show the students how to find halakhic resources on Sefaria. Below are screen shots of some ways you might choose to demonstrate Sefaria’s abilities to your students.
Option 1: Start from the verse in Genesis (or, if you prefer, from the Talmud in Yevamot) that commands procreation, and demonstrate how to use Sefaria’s sidebar to find relevant resources.
Option 2: Try searching “procreation” (or פרו ורבו, or related terms) on Sefaria.
Discuss how they might trace modern halakhic works that they find elsewhere online back to the original sources, by pursuing footnotes and references on Sefaria.
Ask: Have you ever asked a halakhic question to an expert? Who did you ask? How did you choose that person? What makes an answer good or useful? The teacher may want to have one or two examples in mind to share with students.
5) You be the posek: Assign the students to write teshuvot (halakhic responsa). Each pair/group of students is assigned one of the questions on this assignment sheet. Using Sefaria, each hevruta is expected to do research, write up their answer, and create a daf mekorot, a source sheet, to support their answer.
6) Get the community involved: Sefaria makes it easy to share and showcase materials. Here are some possibilities for getting the larger community engaged in this project.
Invite a panel of experts, and have the students present their answers.
Create a public group that functions as a digital gallery of their materials. Invite experts in any location to contribute to the group and/or respond to the students’ materials.
Invite members of the school community to view the public group and appreciate all of the hard work the students invested.
Responses in worksheets (spot checked by teacher as students work in hevruta)
Participation in class discussions (are students engaged, etc.)
Quality of teshuvot (here is a sample rubric; adjust to suit your version of the assignment)
Conversation with local experts / non-local experts (ask the expert how they experienced the conversation)
Public group / digital gallery - quality of submissions (this is part of the rubric)
Do a second round of GLA/GLU process at the end of the unit. What do the students report having learned? Did they have a good experience?
Possible interdisciplinary connections:
Biology class: Understanding different types of ART (assisted reproductive technologies), and/or the biological causes of different types of infertility.
Medical ethics: Invite an expert from a local medical center to come speak to the class, or arrange for a videoconference with someone who is not local.
Tanakh: Which characters in the Bible struggle to have children? What responses are offered within the text? What might this teach us about the context for the mitsvah of פרו ורבו?