All academic disciplines within a school’s general studies program can incorporate constructive conflict within their classes. To do so, have teachers and their classes examine a conflict that has happened within a specific subject area. Use the lens of elu v’elu divrei Elokim chayim (these and these are the words of the Living God), which means valuing and respecting different perspectives, to analyze the disagreement, the purpose it served and the extent to which the conflict was mahloket l’shem shemayim (disagreement for the sake of Heaven) or not.
Here are some examples of Middle School General Studies opportunities to learn about the challenges and benefits of mahloket:
- In Life Science, examine some of the disputes between supporters of creationism and supporters of evolution – how did these disputes evolve, how were they carried out, how did they get resolved?
- In Physical Science, examine the scientific method and how it came to be developed. What function does experimentation and proving or disproving a hypothesis play in advancing science? What role does it play in carrying out and resolving mahlakot?
- In English or Hebrew literature, analyze a specific conflict in a short story or novel – what was the conflict about, who was involved, how were those involved impacted and how were others impacted? Were these conflicts l’shem shamayim or not? Why?
- In Social Studies, look at specific political, geographic, cultural or economic conflicts, in history or current events, to evaluate the extent to which these were l’shem shamayim or not. Discuss why. Compare and contrast the elements and outcomes of mahlakot that were l’shem shemayim and those that were not.
- In Math, have students look at two varying methods or strategies for solving one type of mathematical problem. (It would be helpful for teachers to select two methods that each work, but have different advantages or disadvantages). Help students examine why there might be more than one useful method and why some might prefer to use one, and some prefer to use the other.
Judaics teachers should prepare to deepen learning with text study of sources that speak to mahloket l’shem shamayim, and elu v’elu…, as well as identify areas of conflict within their own subject area. Specialist (arts, technology, physical education) teachers should also plan to teach about conflicts within their subject areas, during the 9Adar school-wide learning.
The person leading this program should provide all teachers with the same brief, introductory background about the Jewish perspective on the importance of valuing and maintaining respectful, constructive conflict, as well as resolving conflict prior to the time teachers begin preparing their lesson/project/activity for the 9Adar program. For instance:
- Start by introducing the story from Talmud Bavli Eruvin 13 b:
It was taught: …Rabbi Abba said in the name of Shmuel… For three years, the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai argued. One said, ‘The halakha is like us,’ and the other said, ‘The halakha is like us.’ ….A heavenly voice spoke: …”These and these are the words of the living God, and the halakha is like the House of Hillel.” A question was raised: Since the heavenly voice declared: “Both these and those are the words of the Living God,” why was the halakha established to follow the opinion of Hillel? It is because the students of Hillel were kind and gracious. They taught their own ideas as well as the ideas from the students of Shammai. (translation from Sefaria).
Teachers from a variety of disciplines could easily make meaning of this quote and apply it to their fields of expertise.
- Explain that this text teaches us to look at conflict from a variety of perspectives
- Explain the concept of mahloket l’shem shamayim and what characterizes such conflicts
- Provide the time and structure for teachers within departments to collaboratively identify suitable conflicts to examine during the interdisciplinary day of learning
- Provide the time and structure for teachers to learn to apply problem solving approaches to resolving conflicts that naturally occur in their own subject areas.
For further information about mahloket l’shem shamayim and its implementation in schools, please see the Pardes Rodef Shalom School Program at www.pardes.org.il/prss.
About Joan G. Vander Walde
Joan G. Vander Walde holds a BA in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and an MA in counseling psychology. She brings over 4 decades of experience as a Jewish educator, in research, teaching, counseling, mentoring and administration. Most recently, she worked as a middle school teacher, counselor, and principal at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland for 39 years. Currently she serves as Director of the Pardes Rodef Shalom Schools Program, working to advance the goals of the program through teacher education, mentoring, and collaborating with each school to adapt the Rodef Shalom lessons and programs to best suit individual school needs. With her colleagues at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem, Joan guides the continuing development of the program. Joan also mentors teacher leaders in Jewish day schools across North America through the Legacy Heritage Teacher Institute and co-ordinates school twinning between Baltimore and Ashkelon for the Macks Center for Jewish Education.