History: including both historical events and personalities as well as Jewish perspective.
I. Torah Studies
Ia.Text: The Chumash: The Five Books of Moses
The Chumash is the foundation of the Hebrew Day School curriculum. Chumash is taught daily throughout the elementary years. Chumash Breishit is completed by the end of fourth grade. Subsequently, Chumash Shemot, parts of Vayikra, Bamidbar and parts of Devarim are completed by the eight grade.
A mastery of basic vocabulary of the Chumash is achieved by the end of fourth grade, which includes the two hundred and seventy eight words which appear more than ten times in Breshit. In addition, familiarity with many more Hebrew words may be expected.
A child should be able to find the “Shoresh”, or root word of most verbs and understand the meaning of a basic prefix or nouns, and basic conjugational prefixes and suffixes for most simple verbs. He should be able to demonstrate an elementary understanding of the text. Upon starting the commentary of Rashi, the child should be able to read the script with a degree of fluency and understand the content.
The level of proficiency of textual skills will naturally vary from child to child. In addition, the degree to which various skills are stressed in different classes will directly affect the mastery students will be able to demonstrate.
It is generally accepted that children should complete the Neviim Rishonim, early prophets, by the end of elementary school.
Navi is studying in the following sequence:
Grade 4 -Yehoshua-Joshua
Grade 5 - Shophitius-Judges
Grade 6 - Shmuel I- Shmuel I
Grade 7 - Shmuel II- Shmuel II
Grade 8 - Malachim I and II- Kings
Navi is taught 2 periods a week.
First among all the skills which a student needs to develop is the ability to recognize the sacred nature of the text and essential “Kedusha” holiness ascribed to personalities and the events. While they were recorded as seemingly mundane dramatic stories, the events described have a much deeper and more profound meaning.
Ic. Text- The Mishna: The codified oral tradition.
The study of Mishna is both a prelude to the Talmud as well as an independent pursuit. The cognitive process required is on a higher and more complex level than that required for Chumash study, yet for more than a millenniumand a half, Jewish children successfully assimilated the learning process from a very early age. It is obviously necessary to begin with the simple lest concepts, many of which any child from an observant home is familiar with (the Shabbat and festivals, etc) and progress from there to more complex issues.
Mishna is begun at the fourth or fifth grade.
A child studying the Mishna must learn the new skill of dealing with differing opinions, both of which are valid. He must be able to understand the processes of extracting a concept a concept from an illustration, and reconciling the practical application of an abstract idea. This takes time, mental maturity and a patient and talented teacher.
Id.Text – The Talmud or Gemara
The vast volume of Talmudic literature has become known metaphorically as “the sea of Talmud” because its pursuit is an endless process. The study of the Talmud starts at a tender age; its mastery is a lifetime quest. Yet even when a day school education may not include even high school, children should be exposed to the delicate intricacies of Talmudic logic, even if on a most basic level. This has traditionally been limited to boys.
Talmudic studies start at seventh grade.
A student needs to be able to read a text in a language totally unfamiliar to him. A basic mastery of the generic Aramaic-Hebrew Talmudic language will be an absolute requirement for any level of higher Judaic studies. Vocabulary and oral punctuation are a process which takes many years to master, but without which any Talmudic studies can be undertaken.
The special logic of the Talmud give and take is a delicate process, but not beyond the grasp pf a preteen. A talented teacher can make all the difference here.
II. Halacha: Jewish Laws and Customs
Textual Content: (concentration and texts will vary from school to school, but some basics are universal.)
IIa. Tephilla: Prayer-every child must learn how to pray to the Al-mighty and why. This process starts in the preschool and intensifies when a child learns to read from a Siddur. By firth grade, a child should go through most of the basic morning prayers, Shacharit.
For a child to be able one day to function as an active participant in communal synagogue prayers, he must develop fluency and accuracy. He must learn the order and importance of various daily and holiday prayers.
IIb. The Shabbat and Festivals:
Basic to Jewish observances are the Shabbat and periodic festivals. Without a thorough knowledge of their meaning and various laws and customs, a Jew cannot function. The process of learning about the Shabbat and Festivals starts early with some of the colorful basic observances, but most progress to a full Halachic understanding.
Every day school student should be able to recite the correct blessing over food and periodic special occasions, which also require an acknowledgement of G-d’s benevolence. They should have mastered all basic Brachot including Birkat Hamazon, grace after meals, by heart, by the fifth grade.
Though many of the dietary laws are quite complex, the basic “Halachot” are such that even a young student should be able to be fully knowledgeable of the basic laws. It is not just a matter of what is Kosher, but also why and how it becomes Kosher. By the junior high grades, a student should know what it takes to make a kitchen kosher, and what renders it or any utensil “Treiph”. A student should know the biblical references to the laws of Kashrut as well.
Sefer Torah, Tephillin, Mezzuzah (and also the laws of Tzitzit). All students should become familiar with the laws of sacred object such as a Torah (and Bet Knesset), Tephillin and Mezzuzot. They should have a fundamental understanding of how they are made and what makes them Kosher. The same is true of Tzitzit and other sacred objects.
IIf. Bein Adam and L’Chavero
Between man and neighbor. All children should study the Jewish laws relating to interpersonal relationships and personal morality. This includes the laws pertaining to property (lost and found), Tzedakah as well as “Kibud Av V’eim”- honoring parents (and teachers). Every Jewish child should be taught about the sense of community within the Jewish world, as well as detailed Jewish laws and personal conduct.
IIg. Dinei Harechush
The Halachot governing property. What are the rights and responsibilities of owing property? What is the nature of our responsibility towards the property of another? Though the body of these laws is immense, children need not to be exposed to the basic of property laws. This includes: being responsible for damage one causes to the property of another, as well as the rights of an accidental damager; the laws of returning a lost article, when and to whom; the laws of a borrower and lender; the obligation to give Tzedakah; and much more.
IIh. Eretz Yisrael:
The special relationship, which ties us to Israel, should be carefully nurtured. Every child is taught that Israel is the Jewish homeland and about it special sacredness. In addition, children should be familiarized with the special “Halachot” pertaining to Israel and its inhabitants.
III. Lashon Ivrit:
All Jewish schools teach the Hebrew language. We pray in Lashon Hakodesh, it is the language of our sacred texts and the tremendous body of Jewish knowledge. All children should be reading with a degree of fluency and accuracy by the end of first grade. They should all learn to write Hebrew simultaneously.
IIIb. Language Skills
Children, in the early grades, should be able to write a simple grammatically correct sentence in Hebrew. Their writing should become more complex as they develop more proficiency in the middle grades.
They should be able to distinguish the tenses and genders, and conjugate simple verbs and nouns correctly by junior high school. By then, writing a short composition or poem should be a developing skill.
IV. History-Divrei Yemei Yisrael
Jewish history is much more than just a review of names, dates, places and events. It is a study of how we as people developed, and the sage of our chain of tradition which stretches back to Mt. Sinai. We cannot simply review historical data, but must help children understand stories of Jewish triumph over adversity of every form. Books alone can hardly convey the intensity with which a teacher must impart and inspire. While there is precious little time to properly treat three and a half millennia of Jewish history in a formal way, a teacher must weave history and the “hashkafa” perspective of the Jewish experience into all subjects in order to be able to do a credible job.
It is generally accepted that history taught in the elementary years weighs heavily in favor of ancient history; that of the biblical period, the second Bet Hamikdash and the Mishaic and Talmudic periods (1000 BCE to 500 CE). Proper treatment of the medieval and subsequent periods are generally left to the high schools.
Students should be able to recall the chronological order of the Jewish periods within Jewish history. They should be able to identify historical figures with which the events are associated.
More importantly, however, is the development of the realization that Jewish historical figures cannot be equated with those of their secular counterparts when we include Biblical and Sages of the subsequent periods. Their “hashkafa” of Jewish history should begin to show sensitivity for the sacredness of the Jewish people.
Torah Academy - The school with a neshama for all Jewish children.