The Inquiry Beit Midrash

One of the core foci of The Idea School is passion-based learning. We know that people are more excited about what they’re learning when what they’re studying is a personal passion and based in something about which they wonder and have questions. One of The Idea School’s unique features is the Inquiry Beit Midrash, where students get to explore topics in Judaism that intrigue, interest, and prod at them.

In fact, at one of our student events in the Fall, we asked students what their questions about Judaism were. They asked good ones, and here’s a sampling:

  • How can I connect to God physically and spiritually?
  • Were there always denominations -- Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform -- in Judaism, and if not, when did they start?
  • How do I incorporate technology into my practice of Judaism?
  • What are Jewish business ethics?

The Idea School wants to make sure students have the chance to get answers to their important questions.


Part One: Sparking Inquiry

      The first part of the Inquiry Beit Midrash program is sparking inquiry. Students will learn how to ask good questions and delve deeply into the questioning process, a skill they’ll develop throughout The Idea School academic program, but that they’ll also hone in the Inquiry Beit Midrash.

      Check out a Sparking Inquiry unit guide that Rina Hoffman, Michal Smart, and Tikvah Wiener developed in JEIC’s HaKaveret Design Program. A thought-provoking chart from the Right Question Institute shows how precipitously question-asking drops off as students go through the schooling process.

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      Students may stop asking so many questions once they start learning how to read. However, as educational theorist Neil Postman tells us, school is a place where students go to get answers to questions they don’t have, so they may also stop asking questions because doing so isn’t something of value in school. One of the goals of the Inquiry Beit Midrash -- and the rest of The Idea School program -- is to reverse this trend.


Part Two: The Beit Midrash

      Giving students the chance to explore a Beit Midrash and find Jewish sources that answer their questions is the second part of the Inquiry Beit Midrash program, and its heart and soul. This is where students immerse themselves in their tradition and see the power and beauty of the many voices in Judaism that weigh in on any topic a student wants to explore.

      Students will also become familiar with the texts in a Beit Midrash and learn which ones they need to find in order to answer their questions. They’ll also discover the figures from the Torah, Mishnah, and Talmud, throughout the ancient, medieval and modern world, and in the diverse Jewish communities across the globe and in Israel that they connect with the most.

Part Three: Making it Real in the World

      The final part of the Inquiry Beit Midrash program is sharing knowledge with the world. All parts of The Idea School program include public presentation of learning and the creation of products and events for the real world. A student might want to traditionally learn a unit and then have a siyyum, a celebration of learning where they share their knowledge.

      Alternatively, if a student explores, for example, the laws of lashon hara -- gossip and watching what one says -- they might want to launch a social media or community campaign where students and families become sensitive to what they say, post on social media, and write. A student who’s interested in art or building might study the history of art and architecture in Judaism and create a work of art or build an object that reflects their learning. There’s no end to the types of presentations and products or events students can come up with!

      Just as the program began with passion-based learning, with a burning question that the student had about Judaism, so it ends with a personal, passion-based expression of what the student gained throughout the learning process.

Note: Thank you to JEIC’s HaKaveret program for giving Rina Hoffman, Michal Smart, and Tikvah Wiener the opportunity to develop the Inquiry Beit Midrash program.