Visions of Torah

Beth Fine and Rabbi Sarah Rensin

As day school educators, we strive to engage our students in experiencing Torah: accessing the words in Hebrew and understanding them, placing the events in context, connecting with the characters, creating a meaningful whole that applies to their lives. This year our third and fourth grade classes are engaging in this work through the creation of large-scale interpretive art. Third graders are concentrating on texts about Yaakov, while fourth graders study the story of the exodus.

The students begin by considering the whole story in context, then pull apart the Hebrew text. They identify the Hebrew roots as well as familiar vocabulary, and begin to build meaning. At this point their Judaics teacher, Rabbi Sarah Rensin, encourages students to discuss the larger themes in the story. Third graders felt that parashat structure parashat Toldot, the Jacob and Esau story, was about relationship, while fourth graders saw the beginning of parashat Shmot being about family. From here, the students brainstormed how they could show their understanding in a visual manner. They worked in groups on different elements of the story, and created the pieces of the bulletin board. Each board includes creative writing, and is made through a collaborative process, based upon a deep exploration of the text and student ownership of the work.

What is relationship?

In this first foray into creating Torah art, the students chose the symbol of a house to structure parashat Toldot, using the windows to show different moments in the story. In the clouds, they wrote their thoughts about the nature of positive relationships,  and they created a visual family tree. Here are a fourth grader’s reflections on family.

•  Family is love. It is a group of generations, companions, friends, people who appreciate each other.
•  Family is the reason we’re alive. Family is people who love each other and will always be there for each other.
•  Family is life. Family is people that care for you. Family is love in the world around you.
•  Family is someone you love in your heart. Family is someone you would follow to the end of the earth.


What are angels? Do you believe in God?

The third graders connected deeply with Yaakov’s awesome dream. They learned about different views of angels and articulated their own 8and
9-year-old beliefs about God.


Love and jealousy

The students explored the complex relationships in Yaakov’s life. They even learned about mandrakes, familiar to some of them from the Harry Potter series, and wrote poems about their power. Here’s one example by a third grader.

Once I found a Mandrake
in the ground. It had
green leaves purple flowers
and yellow berries. It said
if I eat a berry I can Fly
I have a happy poem
Exciting And True
I have a happy poem
So I’ll tell it to you
I Can Make You go Crazy
But I can
Also make you
I'm a


What is family?
The fourth graders captured the beginning of parashat Shmot with this dramatic portrayal of bnei Yisrael (with their own faces and a notebook containing each student’s thoughts about the importance of family) preparing to go down to Egypt, zipline and all, accompanied by the shields of the tribes.

The Nile

This board uses the technique of a 3D pyramid triptych and a flowing Nile River. The students decided to translate this part of the story word for word, and put the Hebrew text and their translation in an envelope on the board.

This approach to Torah study, which begins with traditional text analysis, moves into identifying and writing about themes and culminates in students sharing their collective understanding of the text in artistic fashion, deepens comprehension and connection. Our students built an understanding from the word level up in a collaborative way, and now “own” that text. The Torah’s narrative has become their own story, and will hopefully be a touchpoint in their Jewish journeys for many years to come.

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HaYidion Art and Aesthetics Summer 2016
Art and Aesthetics
Summer 2016