The aim of this activity is to raise the question of social welfare within the traditional community, and to examine the reality within the students’ current community.

  • Start by mentioning the Mishnah (see above) and (unless the class is very familiar with it) reviewing briefly the importance and the character of the book. Mention that, not surprisingly, there is an entire section that deals with all the Jew’s obligations in observing the Shabbat. Ask the class what sort of subject might appear in the very opening Mishnah, clearly a most important case that is considered sufficiently significant to open the entire Shabbat section. Make a list of the sorts of subjects that they would expect to find. Now add to the list the issue of carrying things on Shabbat, if it has not been mentioned, or single it out from the list if it does appear. Explain that this is the opening subject that the Mishnah will deal with. Now ask the participants to guess what sort of a case the Mishnah might use to open up this clearly important subject to the rabbis who compiled the Mishnah. Now offer the opening piece, quoted above.
  • Ask them whether it is surprising that the opening example deals with a beggar. What does this suggest about the Jewish society of the time? Why would the rabbis choose such an example to open their entire Shabbat discussion? In the opinion of the group, are the rabbis trying to convey any kind of a message?
  • Explore with the class the question of our obligations to the poor according to Judaism, maybe bringing some examples from the Torah such as Vayikra 25: 35-38 or Devarim 24:17-22. Ask them whether they think such clearly agricultural ideas as we find in the excerpt from Devarim were reflected in the largely urban or semi-urban Jewish communities in the Diaspora. If so, how would they expect to find them reflected? In other words, what provisions were made for the poor in traditional, pre-modern communities?
  • Run through the four types of assistance that we mention above. Ask the group whether it would solve the problem of poverty. Ask them what they think of such mechanisms. Are they pleased that, in their ancestors’ communities, things like this were present in community life?
  • Explain the idea of concern as a mitzvah. Examine the difference between tzedakah and charity. Now ask them whether they feel that these values have generally carried through to the modern Jewish community when not all community members are responsive to the tradition of commandment implied in the word mitzvah.
  • Explain that they must survey to what extent their own modern community has adopted these traditional values and to write a report on the care that the community takes of its less-privileged members.
  • Divide the students into small groups and let them start planning a strategy for carrying out their survey. It might be worthwhile for you, the educator, to equip yourself with a preliminary survey of the welfare institutions and organizations that operate within your community structure, so that you can help your students plan their projects. If the community is large, you may want to make larger groups and ask them to decide how to sub-divide in order to survey the various institutions and collect the data. In this way, each sub-group will have an opportunity to examine part of the community structure.
  • Explain the seriousness of their task. Tell them how much time is being allotted to the task. They must divide the time up between collecting their data, evaluating it and preparing their report for presentation. How will they gather their data? Whom must they talk to? Are there records offices in the community? They must consider which criteria they are going to use to evaluate their data (e.g. the size of the community, the wealth of the community, the percentage of community funds allotted to these social issues, competing community needs and so on).
  • The last stage of this process is undertaking the project itself. This is a complex, multi-stage task that includes the three stages already mentioned of collection of data, evaluation and preparation of the report. In their presentations, the students should talk about their subjective reactions to their findings. How did they feel about the things that they discovered? Were they surprised? Proud? Ashamed? What recommendations, if any, would they make to improve the job that the community is doing?
  • The final presentation can be a serious evening program that can include parents and representatives of the community.

N.B. It may be worth thinking about the class’s deciding to take on a collective project - some kind of specific task - within one of the institutions that they have surveyed. Alternatively, some individuals may like to volunteer within some of these same institutions. In either case, it is advisable to announce this at the time of the final presentations.





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10 Dec 2006 / 19 Kislev 5767 0