Thursday, September 12, 2013

Are You Team Zakkai or Team Saccari?

Who should rule over the Land of Israel? What should the Jewish government's relationship be with foreign powers? Does being a Jewish patriot mean that one should agree with everything that the leaders say? What is the "right" Jewish leadership anyway?

Interestingly enough, these questions have been debated by Jews throughout the millennium and students can now take part in this discussion via today's distance learning framework.

Kadima, a St. Louis Jewish Day School, has brought these and other issues into their Jewish history class as the students examine relationship between the Sacarii -- a Jewish group of rebels who terrorized the local population into revolting against the Romans -- and the followers of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai who led a more moderate faction in 1st century C.E. Jerusalem.

After learning about the origins and philosophies of the two groups the students were encouraged to put their own spin into the discussion.

Why did the Sicarii believe as they did? Were they right to take their struggle to the extreme "in the name of G-d." How might the Sicarii be called today?

Using a wide range of online tools the Kadima students have begun to delve into the history, and the dilemmas, of the era. Students participate in an online poll to decide how to describe the Sicarii -- political assassins? Terrorists? Fascists? Zealots?  -- and to think about what they would do in such a circumstances. They share their thoughts and ideas on the Haiku board which the class uses as a Learning Management System for the class.

The students studied Yirmiyahu's letter to the exiles and then were encouraged to compose their own letter with advice and warnings. The class compared Yirmiyahu's letter to an early 20th century writing by Rebbe Meir Simcha of Dvinsk and then reviewed the Roman expulsion of the Jewish from Jerusalem to subsequent expulsions and persecutions.

The Kadima class is unique in that the school's boys and girls learn separately. Using online tools however, the classes can participate as one unit. The class meets with the boys in one room and the girls in another as they all have access to the teacher simultaneously and can study, explore, provide feedback and comment on the same online forum.  

The course evaluation involves a choice of writing a skit about the historical period, creating a history game for the class, creating a wikiproject or creating a multi-media project. Students may also suggest their own final project based on the approval of the instructor.

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