Having recently returned to studying at Pardes I have noticed that there are two basic types of Jewish pedagogy. There are countless Jewish texts, from the Torah to the most obscure commentaries, but regardless of the source being drawn on, a teacher can choose to present an idea or set of ideas in one of two basic ways. The ideas can be presented as the teacher’s own addition to the ‘marketplace of ideas’ — open to debate and discussion, as well as to revision upon revisiting the source in question or other sources that may come to bear upon it. Conversely, they could be presented as a more polished set of thoughts about a given subject, with only marginal room given to debate or constructive criticism.
Given this basic division, and the fundamental truth of the idiom ‘two Jews, three opinions’ it is slightly surprising that the more common of the two methods, by far in the Jewish world at large, is the latter, manifesting itself in what is known as the dvar torah. On all festive occasions in the Jewish calendar it is a custom for someone, both at synagogue and around the table of a festive meal, to share a dvar torah. And while it may be the case that in the privacy of one’s home there will be more room for further discussion, definitely when given in a communal setting, little discussion is encouraged. Living surrounded by the beauty that is created and fostered when many diverse voices are allowed to engage in dialogue about Jewish texts, I see it as a profound shame that more discussion and debate is not encouraged and built into the very way in which we share ideas about Jewish texts.