Teaching in the Tension between Universalism and Particularism
The debate between particularism and universalism presents a central dilemma in contemporary discussions of Peoplehood. The extreme universalist position pulls the rug from underneath the whole idea of the Jewish collective and argues that, in today’s world, there is no longer justification for prioritizing or being committed to a particular group.
On the other hand, the conservative approach in which Peoplehood is totally focused on Jewish survival and well-being can also be seen as a contradiction to other core Jewish values. Perhaps most importantly, educators cannot avoid this issue because it presents important ethical dilemmas that are real and relevant in the lives of our students.
Not addressing the issue is educationally irresponsible and leaves our students without guidance to engage in these discussions.
As a result, we believe that a responsible approach to Jewish Peoplehood is to engage with both positions and allow the students to live in the tension between the two approaches, experiencing that tension as a positive source of energy for discussion and identity formation.
With this in mind, we offer an approach suggesting a potential lack of conflict between the two values. Simply, investing in a strong, particular, Jewish collective can actually be instrumental in mobilizing Jewish resources towards universal causes.
That is, organizing as a collective, while at the same time emphasizing the ethos of universal responsibility and educating towards it, creates a framework for nurturing an integrated Jewish collective universalistic approach to the world that is true to Jewish values.
This approach frames the issue as a dialogue between values rather than a conflict between values that are competing for prominence. Because both approaches have deep Jewish roots and textual support, they require finding the right balance between them.
In a previous time, the focus was justifiably on the members of the collective. Today, however, the emphasis on Tikkun Olam (Repairing the world) is perhaps more appropriate. Thus, creating the right balance becomes the challenge of each generation in its time. What is essential to remember is that Jewish collective work (includingTikkun Olam) will not happen without a strong Jewish collective.
Framing the debate this way places the responsibility for the future of the Jewish People and its mission in the hands of the students. It does so from a position of responsibility that considers the issues in a holistic fashion. Our success as educators does not depend on the positions our students embrace, but rather, on the serious process they engage with in forming their opinion.
Teaching Towards a Balance between Particularism and Universalism
The Pedagogic Introduction provides an overview to the principles of a pedagogy for exposing students, in all settings and ages, to Jewish Peoplehood. As described in more detail in the introduction the pedagogy consists of three components:
- Engagement with the Jewish People – Connecting with the Heart
- Developing Peoplehood Commitment through knowledge – Connecting with the mind
- Motivating Action-oriented expressions of belonging to the Jewish collective enterprise – Connecting with the Hands
The Education Toolkit is a tool for the world-wide community of Jewish educators. We are committed to sharing resources across the field, and encourage educators to share their own resources and lesson plans, allowing us to create a user-driven program bank.
Ideas for Sparking Engagement
Designed to focus on emotional engagement, motivation to learn more, pride, solidarity and connection.
- Ask students about the responsibility they feel to their families, friends and communities. Discuss the different types of responsibility they feel to different groups of people (their family, friends, members of their town/city etc., ).
Ideas for Strengthening Commitment
Designed to provide students with more knowledge that will help them understand what Jewish Peoplehood is and why it is important.
- Discuss the Jewish texts that deal with the nature of responsibility, the levels and types of obligations that Jews have demonstrated. Compare the texts of “tikkun olam” and “the people of your own city come first” and discuss them.
- Study examples of Jews who became leaders in universal social movements, such as the Civil Rights Movement. Read their writings, learn about their involvements and consider whether they led as Jews, or simply as human beings.
Ideas for Motivating Action
Designed to give students concrete outlets for their motivation and connection and to strengthen their sense of responsibility through action.
- Connect your students to organizations such as the American Jewish World Service and Bend the Arc, which serve non-Jewish communities, through Jewish values. Invite speakers from those or similar organizations to share their work and values. Participate in a volunteer trip through these organizations.
- Develop volunteer projects in both Jewish and non-Jewish contexts. Help students articulate their relationships and feeling to these different opportunities – is all volunteering the same? How do they feel as Jews when they work within a non-Jewish community or framework?