S. Iluz, Y. Katz, H. Stern

Bar-Ilan University (ISRAEL)
Talmud study and teaching have unique characteristics, and this discipline greatly diverges from the other subjects in the curriculum, in terms of the overarching importance attached to it and its centrality in the curriculum, and in terms of its special textual and linguistic qualities.

Teaching Talmud for children is particularly challenging and this issue is the focus of the current research.

The aim of the study was to analyze a new program in a unique cultural environment: Talmud Torah schools in Israel are private elementary schools operated by the Jewish ultra-orthodox (Haredi) stream for boys aged 5-14 (approximately 10% of Jewish boys in Israel). These schools offer students an exclusively religious curriculum, based mainly on the study of the bible and the Babylonian Talmud. No comprehensive research study has been conducted in Talmud Torah schools for ideological reasons as the governors of these schools insist on full independence in all areas without any outside interference. The Ministry of Education has minimal control over policy, curriculum planning, student admission, and teacher training.

The research examined the contribution of the new program to the study of Talmud from two points of view: student achievement and teacher sense of self efficacy. This pioneering research will provide the first standardized measurement and evaluation of learning and literacy in a previously inaccessible and unresearched Haredi student population.

The sample consisted of 159 sixth grade boys in Talmud Torah schools. Students completed questionnaires (Raven' matrices tests and language skill questionnaires) to evaluate overall ability and an Aramaic vocabulary skills questionnaire to evaluate competency in Aramaic, the language used in the Babylonian Talmud. Following an intervention, which consisted of a 90-minute lesson on a previously unlearnt Talmudic issue, the students completed a Talmud knowledge test. Results of the study indicated that experimental group students attained higher grades than those attained by members of the control group.

The study also analyzed the sense of efficacy of 45 teachers who use the new method. The results indicated an especially high sense of efficacy linked to teachers' ability to advance weaker students.

The results are discussed in light of the unique characteristics of teaching Talmud in the educational-cultural context of Talmud Torah schools in Israel.