January 31

Grade 6 – The Battle of Ai and Communal Responsibility

On a high from conquering the city of Yericho, Joshua sets forward on the course to conquer city #2: Ai.  Unbeknownst to him one person – Achan – violated the ONLY thing that God said not to do after winning Yericho. Achan stole from the spoils of war.  Why does this matter? Well, we are told that this was (part of) the reason that the Israelites lost the battle against Ai.

How is this even fair? This excellent question was the subject of Navi class last week.  Is communal punishment ever ok?

The classes read the following excerpt from a letter sent to Dear Abby:

“It is necessary to listen to and follow the teacher’s instructions so that the teacher can get on with teaching us.

On the other hand, I am a perfectly obedient student, I always do as I am told and rarely talk in class. And yet, I still get punished for other people’s bad behaviour every day. Therefore, I feel that there is no point in behaving well because I am going to be punished no matter what I do.

This attitude or mindset I have developed has been brought on by teachers like you, who insist on punishing the whole group/class for one or two people’s bad behaviour. This type of behaviour is unfair and unjust and I don’t think I can withstand it any longer.

If somebody is misbehaving, punish them individually (this is fair). I don’t mind being punished if I know I deserve the punishment, but, being punished through no fault of my own is just unfair.

Although it is important for the students to follow the rules, it is also important to treat us as students fairly and respectfully.”

Then we watched clips that addressed each side of the issue:


Finally, the students were asked to write their own letters addressing the issue: Is it ever fair to have a communal punishment.

Here are a few examples of the answers:

Dear Disgruntled student,


I understand that you could hate your teachers for punishing you while you did nothing, and it is not okay for them to punish you every day for the actions of your peers. However sometimes in order to inspire team spirit it is necessary to punish the whole team together. Imagine if you were on a soccer team and one of your friends showed up late, as opposed to punishing them individually, which would result in them feeling isolated from the rest of the team, it would make more sense to punish the whole team. This concept also applies to the classroom.


Dear Student,

I understand how you feel, and I know many other students feel the same way.

But your class is a team, one person does something wrong, you all go through the punishment together. I do this because I want you to learn how to work together.

Even though someone does something wrong everyday, it is not impossible to teach them how they should not do it, so after many reminders, nobody will do anything bad, as a team.



PS, I’m not close enough to you for you to call me Abby without the Mrs.

And, voting for the other side:

Dear Dalosras pickle brain,

I respect your argument in every way. It is not fair that if just one person does something wrong not everyone should be punished. I know that many people feel that is wrong. But I also think that it is important to take some things as a team because if everyone gets punished the person who did wrong will feel guilty and not do it again and the people who are getting punished will try not to do it because they don’t want to be that person and to let everyone be punished.


Altonato tomato

This chapter ends with Achan’s punishment and Bnei Yisrael preparing for the second battle of Ai.

December 21

Who’s Talmud – Grade 8 (Lookstein)

A review of our learning:

What is Oral Torah? How did it develop? Who were the key personalities that influenced its evolution?

What is Oral Law as opposed to Written Law? (Unit 1)We began our course with explaining what the Talmud is, why we need an Oral Tradition and used an example (from the Talmud) to show how the Oral Law provides another layer of understanding to the Written Torah.

How does a page of Talmud look differently than the average book? (Unit 2) We discussed how to navigate the different sections of a Talmud page and learned of the historical period when each section was written.

Who are some of the main figures that are featured in the Talmud? What significant stories and impact did they have on the Jewish people & Judaism in that particularly turbulent time of Jewish history?

We learned of Hillel & Shammai (Unit 3) who lived during the Second Beit HaMikdash (Temple) period. We compared their personalities and explained an important Talmudic concept that they are famous for- machloket-dispute in Torah study. We discussed some of the famous examples of their disagreements. We evaluated the positive contribution of machloket to society.

Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai (Unit 4) was our next personality. A student of Hillel who lived during the turbulent times of war both with the Romans and within the Jewish people. We defined sin’at chinam (baseless hatred) and analyzed its message as it emerges from the Kamtz/Bar-Kamtza story. We learned of his initiative and creativity in requesting what he did from Vespasian, and we evaluated how his bold choice kept the Torah relevant.

Our learning continued with explaining the challenges facing the Jewish people after the Sanhedrin (High Court)’s move to Yavneh (unit 5). We learned of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai’s edicts to remember the Temple (takanot Zecher l’mikdash) helping retain the centrality of the Beit HaMikdash in the Jewish collective memory. We interpreted the story of R’ Yochanan on his deathbed as he worried about his own life accomplishments, and we too evaluated his decisions.

We then moved on to Unit 6 where our central figure was R’ Akiva.We learned of his determination to transform from a simpleton to a leader of the Jewish people. We discussed his approach to Torah learning and contrasted it with a contemporary of his day, R’ Yishmael. We also noted the different approach he took regarding the Romans (different than R’ YBZ). We learned of his commitment to faith and defiance of the Romans through his parable of the fox and fish. R’ Akiva’s legacy is one of optimism in the face of despair.

The last unit (7) which we have started is focused on R’ Gamliel, a leader who emphasized the authority of his position of Nasi. His position was to discourage dissenting opinions and unite the people under one authority and set of practices. (Very different from Hillel & Shammai) This, at times came at great cost. We will continue after the break to analyze the advantages and costs of maintaining a central religious authority.




December 21

Navi 7- Shmuel Bet (Lookstein)

Will the real king please stand up?

Transition of Royalty, loyalty and Loss

Shmuel Bet: Chapters 1-4

Perek 1: David is informed of the tragic end of King Shaul and his son, Yonatan by an Amalekite lad. He informs David that he was an accomplice in killing Shaul. Thinking that the Amalekite was trying to win over David, David reacts strongly to this Amalekite on several fronts. David clearly wants all to know that he is not interested in annihilating the previous dynasty and that doing so will not be a cause for promotion or favor.

He then laments the death of King Shaul (his father-in-law) and his best friend, Yonatan. Although his relationship with Shaul was complex, he recognizes the greatness he possessed. As for Yonatan, he mourns his best friend and their friendship. He recognizes them both as significant warriors to Am Yisrael and mourns the national loss.

Perek 2: David had been anointed privately awhile before (in Shmuel Aleph/I Samuel) and recognized that his time to ascend the monarchy had arrived. Consulting with Hashem, he moves to Hebron making it the capital of his tribe, Judah. Avner, the army general of Shaul is reticent to let the monarchy leave the tribe of Benjamin. He coronates Shaul’s surviving son, Ishboshet for the rest of Israel. The division fuels play fights led by both Avner and Yoav, David’s army general. A civil battle follows with casualties, including Yoav’s brother Asah’el.

Perek 3: Ishboshet accuses Avner of criminal charges, intimating that he is trying to assume the kingship himself. Avner responds angrily to the accusation, informing him that he will switch over to David’s side. David accepts Avner’s move with one condition, the bringing back of his first wife, Michal. With the acquiescence to the condition, Avner sets out to convince the Israelites to all proclaim David as king. Yoav gets wind of Avner’s move and explodes angrily at David for allowing this traitor to join forces. He then summons Avner back, assassinating him with guile. Upon hearing the news, David is appalled and criticizes Yoav harshly and both leads Avner’s funeral procession as well as offer a eulogy for this leader in Israel.

Perek 4: With the tribe of Benjamin losing almost all of its power, two army generals plot and assassinate Ishboshet. They approach David in a similar manner as the Amalekite thinking they will win his favor. Their end is similar to that of the Amalekite with David articulating & demonstrating his strong opposition to those who act criminally in order to gain his favor.

With the ‘rocky’ transition of leadership now ending, we will begin with David assuming the throne fully when we return from winter break!

December 15

Grade 6 Navi Page – Year in Review

Hello and welcome to the Grade 6 Navi Page

Winter break is upon us and I would like to take this opportunity to give you a brief summary of what we have been studying in our class. Each chapter gives a chance to work on reading skills in Hebrew and English, analysis of text, and another theme that I chose to help make the text more relevant and interesting to the students. Below are summaries of the perakim (chapters).  

This year we are studying the book of Yehoshua.  We began the year talking about leadership and imagining how Yehoshua felt about taking over from his mentor Moshe. We discussed how he might feel unqualified and looked at texts from Chumash that teach us that, actually, Yehoshua was uniquely qualified for this job: to lead the Children of Israel into the Land of Israel. In fact, the book of Yehoshua begins with a pep talk from God explaining all of this to us (and, of course, to Yehoshua!)

Theme: Leadership

In Perek 2  Yehoshua sends in Spies just like Moshe did.  What was the purpose of the mission? It was really  a “rubber stamp” because Hashem promised Bnei Yisrael that they were going to win. We also met Rachav, a woman who brokered a deal with the Spies to help them complete their mission (We will meet her again in Perek 6 when she helps with the war). We discussed three reasons motivating Rachav:

  1. She was afraid of Bnei Yisrael
  2. She was unhappy in Yericho
  3. She believed in Hashem.

Theme: Faith vs. Action

Perek 3 details  the crossing of the Jordan river. We spent some time working on understanding the geography of the crossing through working with maps. God split the river similar to the splitting of the Red Sea. Why was that necessary? What do we learn from miracles? This miracle brings us back to the idea of another literary theme  in this part of the book of Yehoshua: filling the shoes of Moshe. The entire introduction of the book is peppered with events that echo back to Chumash as a way of communicating Yehoshua’s choseness.

Theme: Miracles

Perek 4 teaches us about a monument that Yehoshua erected in the Jordan river and next to the Jordan river . The students all looked for monuments from around the word and we discussed the different reasons to build a monument – to tell about a victory, to honor a person or event, to remember someone, or to say thanks. We discussed the reason reason that Yehoshua built two monuments at the site of the Jordan. 

Theme: Memory

In Perek 5, Bnei Yisrael have entered into the land of Israel and are ready to conquer, right?  Actually, it is the first of Nissan and they are worrying about getting ready for Pesach! Interestingly, before the military campaign, the Children of Israel celebrate their freedom. We are also told that God stops providing the Manna everyday. All of this is another indication that the people are ready to really be independent in their land.

One more curious event happens in this perek, Yehoshua meetaa “man”  who introduced himself as a “captain of the LORD’s host” who told him to “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy.” This is the final story that echoes back to the Chumash; to the conversation at the Burning Bush when Hashem told Moshe to take off his shoes.  

Now, Yehoshua is ready to start his conquest. 

Theme: Independence

Have a wonderful vacation!

Morah Rivky


April 29

Grade 8 Lookstein Judaics: Motivated for Good

In this week’s Lookstein Virtual class, we explored the idea of motivation. The Rabbis of the Mishne have a long discussion about what people’s motivation should be to do mitzvoth. As a way to start the unit, the class created this word cloud of things that motivate them. The students’ answers provoked a really fascinating conversation that you can re-engage with them and your families at home.

What motivates you to be a better person? What do you think should be one’s motivation to do a mitzvah?


March 25

Procrastination and Parables (Lookstein update)

Dear OJCS Families,

In the last few weeks we have had a great time becoming acquainted with the wisdom contained in Pirkei Avot-Ethics of the Fathers. In our class we have been exploring how the sages of the Mishna related to age-old problems such as how to build a strong and positive community or how to be efficient with time management.

In a week when we are busy preparing for Pesach it has served as a timely reminder on how to prioritise our time. The last thing we explored was how the Mishna uses parables to teach important lessons. This too resonates with Pesach when during the Seder we will tell the story of the Children of Israel’s bid for freedom.

Wishing us all a Pesach of meaningful narratives,

Mr. Lipman

March 25

Grades 6-7: Passover Update (Morah Rivky)

The Haggadah states, in every generation a person is obligated to regard himself as if he had come out of Egypt, as it is said: “You shall tell your child on that day, it is because of this that the L-rd did for me when I left Egypt.”

There are – at least — two ways to understand this phrase. The first is for us to sit at the seder and imagine ourselves living in an ancient world, enslaved, and suffering and then experiencing the undulated joy of the Exodus. The second is for us to sit at the seder and contemplate what enslaves us in our lives today. Is it our commute to work? Our reliance on technology? Living for the past year through a pandemic?

The students in 6th and 7th grade Navi addressed this idea this week in class in preparation for Passover and developed a third option: to combine the two approaches. Yes, we sit at the seder and connect to our past, and at the same time, we think about how many of the ideas expressed at the seder are relevant to our lives today. We discussed a few ways to “own” the story and some ideas to incorporate into the conversations around the table.

As the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks said: “Education is the conversation between the generations. An army protects a country. Education protects a civilization.” May this Passover celebration protect us and inspire us going forward.

Have a wonderful holiday.

Morah Rivky

March 12

Grade 7: Lookstein Virtual Update

We recently finished a unit about David’s conquests and the care that he took to make sure to treat his enemies, allies, and army fairly. Those are high standards! Even all the more challenging since God told David that he is not allowed to build the Temple.

It is under this umbrella that we began a new unit this week. The story of David and Batsheva. The students handled the sensitive material with maturity. The story in and of itself is intriguing. It also lends itself to great discussions such as: how can such a principled person make sure a huge mistake? What do you do when you are confronted with a challenge? And, how do we view David now that we have this different perspective on him?   The unit began but we have a lot to learn and to consider.

Shabbat Shalom!

Morah Rivky

March 12

Grade 6: Lookstein Virtual Update

The sixth grade has spent many months learning about the wars Yehoshua raged against the tribes of Canaan. We had many conversations about ancient warfare and the moral justification for the attacks that Bnei Yisrael waged against the tribes of Canaan. The students had really important insights and questions and we all concluded that some of the wars were easier to understand than others.

This past week, we started talking about settling the land. The students were all assigned a tribe to research.  They looked at historic and modern maps to locate each tribe’s portion of land. Each student presented their findings to each other.  We concluded the unit considering how to settle this land after all this time. What emotions were in play and can we connect to what the Children of Israel felt so long ago.

Shabbat Shalom!

Morah Rivky