This website is made possible by generous donations from users just like you. $18 helps keep JWA online for one day. Please consider making a gift to JWA today!
Close [x]

You are here

Share Share Share Share Share Share Share

Judaism, Text Study, and Labor (Module #3)

This module is intended for use after playing the game Jewish Time Jump: New York and allows students to study traditional Jewish texts and apply the ideas in these texts to the stories and characters in the game. If your students did not play Jewish Time Jump: New York, we recommend you begin with Modules One and Two of this series to provide the necessary context for this lesson.

Jewish Time Jump: New York lesson plans and activities were developed in partnership with ConverJent: Games for Jewish Learning and made possible with generous support from the Covenant Foundation.

Overview

Enduring Understandings

  • Traditional Jewish texts provide guidelines for relationships between employees and employers.
  • In real life, individuals must interpret Jewish texts to understand how Jewish thought could be applied.
  • Judaism teaches that basic human needs include those of the body as well as the soul.

Essential Questions

  • What do human beings need to live, in addition to the basic necessities of food, water, and shelter?
  • What do traditional Jewish texts teach us about the responsibilities of both workers and employers?
  • How do traditional Jewish texts challenge or support the actions of both workers and employers in 20th century New York?

Notes to Teacher

Each section of the lesson outline includes instructions for alternate activities to help you adapt the material for students at different reading levels and for groups of various sizes. If you have feedback—positive or constructive—after teaching this content, please let us know.

Introductory Essay(s)

Introductory Essay For Educators

by Etta King and Judith Rosenbaum, Jewish Women's Archive

Texts from the Jewish canon—whether from the Torah, commentaries written by rabbis, or Jewish law codes—provide a rich wellspring of wisdom and knowledge from which contemporary Jews can draw life lessons. Like historical sources such as photographs and letters, traditional Jewish texts are shaped by the specific perspectives of their authors and reflect elements of Jewish life and thought in the time period in which they were created. For this reason, traditional texts are not only foundational to Jewish religious tradition, but they also serve as a record of Jewish thought and experience across time.

This lesson includes four traditional Jewish texts that students can use to enrich their analysis of the historical documents they are exploring. The first selection is from the fifth book in the Torah, Deuteronomy (Devarim, in Hebrew). After 40 years of wandering in the desert, Moses reviews the history of the Israelites and instructs them on how to live in the Promised Land. The laws he teaches govern every aspect of life from religious practice to criminal and civil law.

The second text is taken from the Shulchan Aruch (literally meaning “Set Table”), one of the foremost Jewish legal codes in our tradition. It was written in 1593 by Joseph ben Ephraim Caro, a renowned Jewish scholar born in Spain who fled both Spain and Portugal and settled in the Ottoman Empire. Since the codification of the Shulchan Aruch, rabbis and scholars have published many commentaries on it as they continue to review, interpret, and apply Jewish law.

The last two sources are taken from the Mishnah, which is an early compilation of rabbinic thought created between 180 and 220 CE by at least 120 different sages. During the first centuries of the Common Era, rabbis and scholars debated, clarified, and expanded on Jewish law and writings orally. The Mishnah is a written record of these conversations and debates, documenting different interpretations of the laws and ideas found throughout the Tanakh.

For thousands of years, traditional Jewish texts have provided an expansive literary framework for discussion of Jewish life and thought. Traditional text study allows students to join a centuries-long conversation about the foundational ideas of Jewish tradition and their relevance to life today. A few ways in which students might engage in text study include:

  • By studying in pairs, or chevruta, students learn from each other, as well as the text itself;
  • By studying social justice in a Jewish context, there are new entry points for text study for people who would not otherwise participate;
  • By uncovering texts that are most relevant to your students, in order that they can find meaning in texts that may otherwise feel inaccessible.

Tanakh: The three Jewish divisions of the Old Testament, comprising the five books of the Torah, the Prophets or Neviim, and the Writings or Ketuvim (including the Book of Psalms and the Scroll of Esther, among others). The word Tanakh is a Hebrew acronym for the names of these three collections Torah, Neviim, and Ketuvim.

Lesson Plan

Part 1: Bread and Roses for Workers and Owners

(15-20 minutes)

  1. The teacher will convene the class/group and review the Jewish Time Jump: New York game. In this discussion it is critical that students understand the perspectives of the different historical characters.
  2. Begin by asking students to list all of the characters they can remember from the game, including: workers (both union members and those who did not join unions), factory owners, reporters and newspaper editors, allies to workers such as members of the Women’s Trade Union League, and shtarkers (tough guys hired by owners to beat and intimidate strikers).
    1. Ask: Who were the different people or characters we have read about or encountered in the game?
    2. What did this character or group want, and how did they try to achieve their goals?
  3. These can be listed or displayed visually (on whiteboard, blackboard, projector, or large paper) so students can see them clearly. All of these people relate to labor, so there is no need to shift out of the labor frame (Jewish Time Jump: New York has many frames: women’s history, labor history, immigrant history, Jewish history).
  4. If you have completed Module 2, you may want to bring out the chart you made of “Working Conditions” and “Reasons Workers Stayed” for reference during this activity.
  5. After you have developed a close-to-comprehensive list, ask:
    1. Which characters do you relate to the most, and why?

Part 2: Seeking Direction: How Traditional Jewish Texts Inform our Decision-Making Process

(45 minutes)

  1. Prior to the start of class, display the four Jewish texts on the walls of the classroom.
  2. At this point, if you have not done traditional Jewish text study before, you may want to provide a brief introduction to the sources and the tradition of text study in Judaism. Feel free to use the information provided in the introductory essay to this module.
  3. Have students walk through the text display, giving them time to read through each text.
  4. Next, assign students to four groups—one group for each text (you may have multiple small groups working on the same text if you have a large number of students). You do not need to use all of the texts, but it is good to use at least two so you can compare them to one another.
  5. In their small groups, have students read the texts and talk through the accompanying discussion questions. The teacher should float from group to group, ensuring that students understand the nuances of each text.
    1. Text 3, Mishnah, Bava Metzia 7:1 might be particularly challenging for some students, and they may need your help parsing the text. The central issue in this text is defining minhag hamakom or “the custom of the land.” In other words, students must identify what the custom was in factories at that time in order to decide if and how Jewish factory owners were following Jewish law. On the one hand, almost all factories had labor practices that would be considered egregious in the US today. On the other hand, if that was the custom—the way business was conducted at that time—this text could be interpreted as supporting factory owners’ continuation of negative labor practices.
  6. Once students finish discussing the questions and have a good understanding of their text, they should prepare a short presentation for their peers. During the presentations, it might be helpful to display the group’s text in a way that everyone can see it. Each presentation should introduce the ideas in the text to the other groups and show their understanding of the text in relation to the issues at hand. Ask:
    1. Does this text seem to favor the perspective of the worker or the factory owner, or is it neutral? What makes you say that?
  7. At the end of each presentation, ask if any of the other groups have a different interpretation of the text or another perspective on how it could be understood.

Alternative Methods for Traditional Text Study Activities

Method 1: Large Group

If you have a small class, or if traditional text study is new for your group, you may want to read at least one of the texts and discuss the questions together as a large group. Be sure to give as many different students as possible an opportunity to share their ideas. Encourage students to offer different perspectives by asking “Does anyone see/understand this text differently?” or “Does anyone think this text is saying something different?”

Method 2: Ask, Uncover, Explain

If your class has done traditional text study before, or if you are looking for a more interactive activity, begin the same way as the method above.

After students have had a chance to see and read each text once, give each student (or pair of students) three different color markers, sticky notes, or pieces of paper (one each for “ask,” “uncover,” and “explain.”

  1. At this point, decide whether students will look at one text or respond to all four.
  2. For each text, students should post one response for each of the prompts, as follows:
    1. Identify: Who is responsible in this text? What are their responsibilities?
    2. Uncover: What do you think the author(s) wanted Jews to learn from this text?
    3. Explain: Does this text seem to favor the perspective of the worker or the factory owner, or is it neutral? What makes you say that?
  3. When students have commented, come together as a large group and discuss the final question of each text. Ask: Does this text seem to favor the perspective of the worker or the factory owner, or is it neutral? What makes you say that?

Part 3: Demonstrating Understanding

(30 minutes–1 hour, depending on how much time you give students to work on their projects.)

  1. There are two options for closing activities. Educators may choose to assign one activity or allow students to decide which they would like to do. Educators may also choose whether to have students work individually or in groups.
    1. Create Your Own Business: This can be done either individually or in small groups. Students will design their own modern-day business model based on the guidelines provided in the Jewish texts they have studied. Students may choose to write out a plan, create a visual art piece or poster, or make a video of a “pitch” explaining their ideas.
    2. Making a Case: Students will imagine that they are legally advising a union or a factory owner. Using the texts studied in this lesson, a student will prepare a case based on Jewish law that advocates for their client’s goals/interests.
  2. Provide activity handouts, explain the activity to students, and answer any questions they have.
  3. Allow students at least 20 minutes to work on their piece.
  4. Educators should decide whether to have students present their work to the class, to one another in small groups, in pairs, or not at all.

Document Studies

Deuteronomy/Devarim 24:14–15

Deuteronomy/Devarim 24:14–15

Deuteronomy/Devarim 24:14–15

יד לֹא-תַעֲשֹׁק שָׂכִיר, עָנִי וְאֶבְיוֹן, מֵאַחֶיךָ, אוֹ מִגֵּרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בְּאַרְצְךָ בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ. טו בְּיוֹמוֹ תִתֵּן שְׂכָרוֹ וְלֹא-תָבוֹא עָלָיו הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ, כִּי עָנִי הוּא, וְאֵלָיו, הוּא נֹשֵׂא אֶת-נַפְשׁוֹ; וְלֹא-יִקְרָא עָלֶיךָ אֶל-יְהוָה, וְהָיָה בְךָ חֵטְא.

14 Do not oppress the hired laborer who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your people or one of the sojourners in your land within your gates. 15 Give him his wages in the daytime, and do not let the sun set on them, for he is poor, and his life depends on them, lest he cry out to God about you, for this will be counted as a sin for you.

Discussion Questions for Deuteronomy/Devarim 24:147–15

  1. In your own words, what is this text saying? What is the primary point of this text?
  2. What does this text teach us about the relationship between work and one’s quality of life?
  3. What does this text teach us about the responsibilities of workers and employers?
  4. If you were a worker during this time, how might you interpret this text? How could this text support the mission of joining a union to fight for better wages and working conditions?
  5. If you were a factory owner during this time, how might you interpret this text? How could this text support the decision to keep a union out of your factory?
  6. Now prepare a short presentation for the other groups in which you will share your text and then discuss:
    1. Does this text seem to favor the perspective of the worker or the factory owner, or is it neutral? What makes you say that?
    2. After you discuss, ask if any of the other groups have a different interpretation of your text that they would like to share.

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 191

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 191

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 191 (Modified)

פועלים העושים מלאכה אצל בעל הבית מקצרין בברכת המזון כדי שלא לבטל מלאכת בעל הבית כיצד ברכה ראשונה כתקנה ושניה פותח בברכת הארץ וכולל בה בונה ירושלים וחותם בברכת הארץ ואין אומרים ברכת הטוב והמטיב כלל במה דברים אמורים כשנוטלים שכר על מלאכתן מלבד הסעודה אבל אם אין נוטלים שכר אלא הסעודה שאוכלים לבד מברכין כל ד' ברכות כתקנן וכן אם בעל הבית מיסב עמהם אף על פי שנוטלים שכר מלבד הסעודה מברכין כל ד' ברכות:

Laborers, who are engaged with work at an employer, should abbreviate the Grace After Meals (Birkat Hamazon in Hebrew) in order not to waste the work time of the employer…

In what situations does the previous ruling (about abbreviating the Grace) apply? In a situation where they get paid for their work above and beyond the meal itself. However, if they only get paid with the meal itself that they eat, then they should recite the full 4 blessings of the Grace After Meals as they were arranged (i.e., in full). Furthermore, if the employer eats with them, then even if they do get paid beyond the meal itself, they should recite the full 4 blessings.

Source: English Translation by Jon Levisohn. Hebrew text from Sefaria.org. Interpretation found in Rabbi Jill Jacobs’ “Jewish Employee-Employer Relations.” MyJewishLearning.com.

Discussion Questions for Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 191

  1. In your own words, what is this text saying? What is the primary point of this text?
  2. What does this text teach us about the responsibilities of workers and employers?
  3. If you were a worker during this time, how might you interpret this text? How could this text support the mission of joining a union to fight for better wages and working conditions?
  4. If you were a factory owner during this time, how might you interpret this text? How could this text support the decision to keep a union out of your factory?
  5. Now prepare a short presentation for the other groups in which you will share your text and then discuss:
    1. Does this text seem to favor the perspective of the worker or the factory owner, or is it neutral? What makes you say that?
    2. After you discuss, ask if any of the other groups have a different interpretation of your text that they would like to share.

Mishnah, Bava Metzia 7:1

Mishnah, Bava Metzia 7:1

Mishnah, Bava Metzia 7:1

,א השוכר את הפועלים, ואמר להם להשכים ולהעריב--מקום שנהגו שלא להשכים ושלא להעריב, אינו יכול לכופן; מקום שנהגו לזון, יזון; לספק במתיקה, יספק: הכול כמנהג המדינה. מעשה ברבי יוחנן בן מתיה שאמר לבנו, צא ושכור לנו פועלים, ופסק עימהם מזונות. וכשבא אצל אביו, אמר לו, אפילו את עושה להם כסעודת שלמה בשעתה, לא יצאת ידי חובתך, שהם בני אברהם יצחק ויעקוב; אלא עד שלא יתחילו במלאכה, צא

ואמור להם, על מנת שאין לכם אלא פת וקטנית בלבד. רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר, לא היה צריך לומר, אלא הכול כמנהג המדינה.

One who hires workers and instructs them to begin work early and to stay late—in a place in which it is not the custom to begin work early and to stay late, the employer may not force them to do so. In a place in which it is the custom to feed the workers, he must do so. In a place in which it is the custom to distribute sweets, he must do so. Everything goes according to the custom of the land [minhag hamakom].

Source: Translation as quoted/translated in Jill Jacobs, There Shall Be No Needy Teacher's Guide. (Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2010), p. 29. Hebrew text from Mechon Mamre.

Discussion Questions for Mishnah, Bava Metzia 7:1

  1. In your own words, what is this text saying? What is the primary point of this text?
  2. Based on what you have learned, what was “the custom of the land” in New York City around 1909–1911? What trends existed for how garment factories were run?
  3. What does this text teach us about the responsibilities of workers and employers?
  4. If you were a worker during this time, how might you interpret this text? How could this text support the mission of joining a union to fight for better wages and working conditions?
  5. If you were a factory owner during this time, how might you interpret this text? How could this text support the decision to keep a union out of your factory?
  6. Now prepare a short presentation for the other groups in which you will share your text and then discuss:
    1. Does this text seem to favor the perspective of the worker or the factory owner, or is it neutral? What makes you say that?
    2. After you discuss, ask if any of the other groups have a different interpretation of your text that they would like to share.

Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 3:21

Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 3:21

Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 3:21 (Modified Translation)

ג,כ [יז] רבי אלעזר בן עזריה אומר, אם אין תורה, אין דרך ארץ; אם אין דרך ארץ, אין תורה. אם אין חכמה, אין יראה; אם אין יראה, אין חכמה. אם אין דעת, אין בינה; אם אין בינה, אין דעת. אם אין קמח, אין תורה; אם אין תורה, אין קמח.

Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah says: If there is no Torah study, there is no derech eretz (worldly involvement); if there is no derech eretz, there is no Torah study. If there is no wisdom, there is no fear of God; if there is no fear of God, there is no wisdom. If there is no reason, there is no understanding; if there is no understanding, there is no reason. If there is no flour, there is no Torah; if there is no Torah, there is no flour.

 

Source: Translation modified from Soncino Classics, Version 2.2. Hebrew text from Mechon Mamre.

Discussion Questions for Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 3:21 (Modified Translation)

  1. In your own words, what is this text saying? What is “Torah?” What is “flour?”
  2. What does this text teach us about the relationship between work and one’s quality of life?
  3. How might workers’ needs for “Torah?” and “flour” come in conflict with employers’ needs for “Torah?” and “flour?”
  4. If you were a worker during this time, how might you interpret this text? How could this text support the mission of joining a union to fight for better wages and working conditions?
  5. If you were a factory owner during this time, how might you interpret this text? How could this text support the decision to keep a union out of your factory?
  6. Now prepare a short presentation for the other groups in which you will share your text and then discuss:

    1. Does this text seem to favor the perspective of the worker, the factory owner, or is it neutral? What makes you say that?
    2. After your discussion ask if any of the other groups have a different interpretation of your text that they would like to share.

Handouts

Teacher Resources

About Jewish Time Jump: New York

A project of ConverJent, an organization dedicated to developing games for Jewish learning, the game Jewish Time Jump: New York positions students as journalists for the fictional Jewish Time Jump Gazette. Using GPS coordinates to interact with characters from the early 20th century, students learn about the people and events that shaped US labor history, including Rose Schneiderman, Clara Lemlich, and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. The accompanying Parent Guide provides troubleshooting tips, background information, and prompts to inspire conversation between game participants.

Get the game and learn more on the ConverJent website.

ConverJent Logo
Covenant Foundation Logo

Jewish Time Jump: New York lesson plans and activities were made possible with generous support from the Covenant Foundation.

1 Comment

My boyfriend left me for another girl. I needed him back desperately because i loved him so much. I became very worried and needed help. as i was browsing through the internet, I came across a website that suggested that Dr.Ebuka can help get ex back fast and stop a divorce or breakup and so on , So I felt I should give him a try. I contacted him and he told me what to do and i did it then he did a (return Love spell) for me. 28 hours later, my boyfriend came back to me crying and begging for my forgiveness. Today I'm so happy and i want to recommend this great spell caster to anyone that truly needs an urgent solution to his or her broken relationships and marriage. Simply contact the great "Dr.Ebuka" If you have any problem contact him and i guarantee you that he will help you., Thank you Dr Ebuka  for saving my broken relationships and brought my boyfriend back to me!" email him at: ebukalovetemple@gmail.com ,you can also call him or add him on Whats-app: +13103599685 ....

Students Discussing Talmud
Full image
Students discussing a page of Talmud during a lesson.
Photograph by hooktothejaw/Flickr.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Judaism, Text Study, and Labor (Module #3)." (Viewed on December 15, 2017) <https://jwa.org/teach/jewishtimejump/judaism-text-labor>.

Donate

Help us elevate the voices of Jewish women.

donate now

The JWA Podcast

listen now

Sign Up for JWA eNews

 

Discover Education Programs

Join our growing community of educators.

view programs