Which Israel Educator Are You?

Our Sages teach (Taanit 23a) that in the middle of Adar the rain had not yet fallen. People send a message to Honi Ha’Meagel (Honi the Roof Thatcher), asking her to pray for rain, which she does but to no avail. He then draws a circle and stands inside it, pleading with God to open the heavens, even declaring that he would not leave his circle until God did.

God responds with just a drizzle. With impudence (audacity), he exclaims to God that he wanted more and God responds by opening the floodgates. Even more brazenly, he tells God that this flood is too much and a regular amount of rain begins to fall. However, in general, the land is flooded (people even need to climb the Temple Mount for shelter) and Honi lays her hands on an ox for a thanksgiving offering, asking for the rains to stop now.

The clouds dissipate, the sun is shining, and people go out into the fields to collect mushrooms and truffles. Disaster is avoided. Honi manages to serve as an intermediary between the people and God, bringing liberation to them in a miraculous way.

Shimon ben Shetach tells him that if it weren’t for the fact that he was Honi Ha’Meagel, he would surely be excommunicated. Who acts so petulantly toward God, making demands over and over again? It’s like Honi is a little boy who acts like one would expect when trying to convince his parents to grant him something special!

Honi makes things easy for people, gives them what they want, and successfully serves as a go-between, bringing people and God closer together. Shimon ben Shetach wants people to have to work harder to strengthen their relationship with God and try to reach a higher level of spiritual haughtiness. He doesn’t want them to trust miracles or miracle workers; he wants the responsibility to change the situation to fall on them.

Honi appears to be the hero of the story, while Shimon ben Shetach may seem like a heavy man, making unnecessary demands on people, pushing them unreasonably when there are easier alternatives. Honi may well bring people closer to God, but the relationship can be youthful and superficial. Shimon ben Shetach may well push for a deeper and more complex connection, but people may give up the effort because of the effort involved, or they may find such an attachment once achieved to be uninspiring and even artificial.

How can we understand this passage regarding the education of Israel? An eloquent and inspiring tour guide or teacher can feed his pupils, serving as chief entertainer while delivering Zionist sound bites or easy-to-digest messages.

Ultra-Orthodox students listen to their socially estranged teacher at their school in Rehovot in September (credit: YOSSI ZELIGER / FLASH90)

You can even get top marks in terms of student feedback. Your students can see you as their go-between to connect with Israel; He could even be considered a miracle worker in the field of education and tourism.

A tour guide or teacher may also have higher expectations of their students. He may adopt the Socratic method continuously, even when the students are exhausted; Each new topic taught may need to be acquired by the students through hard work, rather than simply being passed down from memory by the guide / teacher.

You may not prepare a source sheet or course reader, but instead force students to search for original work to find a relevant quote or text. Each lesson or tour experience may require tireless efforts on the part of students and force them to reflect on controversial and complicated issues and clarify their position in relation to them.

Your students may even hate some lessons or tours. At the end of the Israel program or the school semester or year, the teacher may not be seen as the central actor in the educational enterprise; Student evaluations of her might not be as high as those of her colleague, who takes Honi’s approach. Students may have learned a great deal and achieved a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the content, but they may be missing some element of splendor, wonder, and fun.

Perhaps Honi and Shimon ben Shetach are really on a spectrum and our job as Israel educators is to try to find our point on the axis between their two hashkafot (philosophical worldviews), one that works for us as educators and for the students themselves, which It is adequate in terms of the content of the knowledge that we intend to transmit and that is consistent with the policies of the institution in which we teach or guide.

What is your position? Are you more of a Honi or a Shimon ben Shetach? Why?

Inspired by a class with Nechama Goldman Barash.

The writer is a licensed tour guide and teacher.


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