Living the Legacy


Jews and Agricultural Labor

Unit 1 , Lesson 6

Jewish Women's Archive - Living the Legacy

Jews and Agricultural Labor

Lesson plan:
  1. Jewish Values and Food

    Below is a list of statements about food that come from Biblical, Rabbinic, and modern sources. For this first activity using the statements, the teacher should use his or her judgment with regard to which sources and how many sources to give to each student or group. The teacher can give all the statements to all of the students, choose just a few of the statements to give to all of the students, etc. If a teacher is dividing the sources up, it would be most useful to give each group/student a mix of traditional and modern texts. Important: give students the handout version of the statements, which does not identify the source of each excerpt; the citations are for the teacher’s use and should be revealed to the students only after they have had a chance to hypothesize about them.

    Before giving students the statements about Jewish values and food, tell students that they will do three things with the statements:

    • Hypothesize about what time period the statement comes from;
    • Hypothesize about who may have said it or from what source or type of source it came from, eg. “Moshe,” “the Bible,” “Deuteronomy;” “Pirkei Avot,” “the ancient rabbis,” “prayers in the siddur, in the Haggadah”, etc.
    • Categorize the value(s) implied in the quotation, eg. “kashrut,” “gratitude,” “self-sufficiency,” “compassion,” “stewardship,” “health,” “environmentalism,” “fairness,” etc.

    They might keep track of their responses to these three questions by drawing a simple chart with three columns, one each for “Time,” “Source,” and “Values,” and a row for each statement.

    Once students have had a chance to work with the sources and have made their hypotheses and categories, have them share their responses in the large group. Help them to round out their understandings about what is being said in each statement and correct any misunderstandings about the sources that may have arisen, by giving them the references for each source and additional information you have from the introductory Essay. Teachers might also have students read the introductory essay themselves. The Lesson 6 Document Study Jewish Statements about Food: Then and Now includes questions to pose for each statement, as well as some additional information about the content of some of the sources. Additional information can be gleaned from the Introductory Essay.

  2. Creating a Utopian Vision for Food Production, Distribution, and Consumption

    Explain to students that they are going to create their own utopian visions about food. In order to do so, they should think about food production, distribution, and consumption. Teachers might choose to have students look at some websites dedicated to historic Jewish utopian agrarian communities to get ideas for their projects. A few of these include:

    Ask students to look at the “values” category they created in Part 1 of the lesson and to prioritize those values in order of importance to them individually. Students should only include those values on the list that are important to them and should be encouraged to add any additional values that matter to them and were not on the list.

    Have students break into pairs to share the values they’ve listed and to flesh out what it would mean to live those values. Explain to the students that when listening to their partners, they should 1) ask clarifying questions; 2) make suggestions to strengthen their partner’s utopian vision; 3) point out to their partners when they are hearing conflicting ideas; and 4) refrain from pushing their own utopian visions on their partners.

    Direct students to sketch out their ideas, either in pictures or in words. Teachers should check students’ sketches to be sure they include all the values they decided were important to them, and teachers should engage students in conversations about their work if some values come in conflict with others. When teachers feel satisfied that students’ sketches are adequately fleshed out, have students transfer their visions into written manifestos, drawings, or models. Invite students to bring in objects they’d like to include in their models, or assign students to complete their models at home and then to bring them into class.

  3. Taking Action: Dreams to Reality

    Acknowledge with students that it may take some time to be able to live (or even get close to living) their utopian values, but that there are probably things they can do now that would bring them closer to those ideas.

    Assign students to work in pairs to identify three actions they could each take now to begin living their utopian visions. Some examples include:

    • If the student’s vision is to eat food that does not hurt the environment, they might begin by eliminating a few items from their diet that have to travel more than 100 miles to their tables.
    • If they’re concerned about animal welfare, they might research becoming vegetarian, or research kosher meat companies that are engaging in only humane slaughtering techniques, or begin by reducing the amount of meat in their diets.
    • If they’re committed to eating food that is produced by agricultural laborers who are treated justly, they might research the labor practices of different companies and get involved with campaigns like the 2011-12 work with the tomato growers of Immokalee, FL.

    Students should be encouraged to focus on small, personal steps they can commit to (and that will likely be more acceptable to their parents) rather than beginning with the larger, harder to attain goals.

    After discussion in pairs, invite students to share their manifestos, drawings, and models with the whole group, along with some of actions they have identified for immediate change. Capture these "immediate actions" in writing and encourage students to help one another think of ways to live by their ideals in their current lives. Teachers may choose to save the list, post it in the classroom, or share it with parents via email or a class website.

    Over the next months, teachers can have periodic check-ins with students to discuss their progress toward achieving their goals regarding food production, distribution, and consumption. Teachers may also realize that some common goals materialize amongst the students. These may a present a rich opportunity to do a project or take action as a whole class.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Living the Legacy - Lesson: Jews and Agricultural Labor." (Viewed on April 20, 2014) <>.