Women have been enhancing the Jewish world with their knowledge of the Bible and Judaic studies, Malke Bina, founder and chancellor of Matan, the Sadie Rennert Women’s Institute for Torah Studies, told The Jerusalem Post.
Matan and the Bellows Eshkolot Institute, an innovative institute dedicated to women’s Bible and Judaic studies, grew out of Bina’s desire to “delve more into Jewish sources” and a lack of options for women to study these topics within an Orthodox framework in Israel.
“We began with four or five women studying around a dining room table,” she recalled. “The first year we went public we already had 90 women studying the Bible and Talmud.”
Since then, Matan has grown to encompass numerous branches throughout the country and has taught thousands of students over the years.
“Women have been doing a lot with this learning and knowledge,” Bina said. “We are also always looking for where there are more needs.”
During the last five years, she explained, Matan has discovered a need to branch out and train and teach educators from abroad.
“We heard from so many educators abroad who said they needed our help, that there are not enough inspiring teachers who can be relevant and can control the classroom and be meaningful to the children when it comes to Jewish studies,” she said.
As such, Matan established the Eshkolot Program, now in its first year, which brings 16 aspiring and veteran teachers to Israel for a year to study Bible and Judaica.
“Our aim is to change the course and trajectory of Tanah [Bible] teaching in North America,” Shani Taragin, a leading educator and the educational director of Eshkolot, told the Post.
According to Taragin, educators in the US who want to teach in Jewish day schools traditionally receive a general degree in education and go on to pursue graduate studies.
“But they are never really given the in-depth foundations of how to teach Tanah,” she said.
The Eshkolot program aims to provide them with this foundation, with courses on the Bible, Jewish philosophy, commentary, teaching prayer, Zionism, leadership and touring the land of Israel. Ninety percent of the courses are taught in Hebrew, giving participants the opportunity to polish their Hebrew skills.
“The best place is to bring the educators to the land where the Tanah took place and take them to the sites where events happened and expose them to the top educators in this field,” she said.
Participants are further encouraged to sharpen their teaching skills, learning how to develop skills independently, curriculum building, and methodology.
“The greatest tool that a teacher can bring into a classroom is inspiration, and the root or foundation of inspiration is a proper appreciation and passion for what you are teaching,” she said. “So the greatest goal of the program is to fortify impassioned educators who will go in and not just teach at the highest level, but also impassion their students.”
Not only does the program train teachers, but participants can also receive up to a $15,000 stipend and the opportunity to receive a master’s degree in one year from the Hebrew University’s School of Education, with a focus on biblical education.
“We want to attract teachers who are not satisfied by the status quo, to come here and learn more and go back [to the US] with much more confidence and knowledge and this will propel a much more interesting study of Tanah,” Taragin said.
Miriam Borenstein, 29, from Long Island took a sabbatical from teaching Bible studies to high school students at the Yeshiva University High School for Girls to participate in the program.
“There was something gnawing at me, which was that I wanted to sharpen my knowledge and learning and spend some time refocusing and refining my teaching,” she told the Post.
Borenstein, who has been a teacher for seven years, said that despite her teaching success she was interested in honing her knowledge of the Bible and Jewish studies.
“There wasn’t any program [in the US] that felt like a right fit,” she said.
“As far as I know, nothing like this exists in the US when it comes to Bible studies.”
Borenstein had initially participated in a summer program at Matan a few years ago and, after hearing about the new opportunity and receiving a blessing from her school – which is holding her teaching position – she said attending the Eshkolot program was a “no brainer.”
“Matan is an exciting place that supports higher learning for women and is doing it on so many different levels and so it is exciting to be part of the institution,” she said.
She explained that what drew her to the program was both the prospect of spending a year in Israel as well as learning from some of the top experts in biblical studies.
“The land of the Bible is the best place to be to study the Bible and the caliber of teachers who are teaching in this program are an all-star team,” she said. “So the prospect of being with them for the year was an exciting prospect and coming to Israel was a draw, being able to learn about something in the Bible and then visit that spot.”
Borenstein is currently in the midst of her year-long program and says it has been a “special experience.”
“What has made this program so incredible is that when you love teaching and you want to gain more, there is something about teachers taking time and reintroducing ourselves to the classroom to become students again,” she said.
“Putting ourselves in this learning environment is a tremendous way to sharpen teaching and relate to students and give the students the best experience in the classroom – letting them know that we ourselves are lifelong students,” she added.
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