Activity: Regarding The Non-Jews

The aim of this exercise is to explore attitudes to non-Jews and Jewish responsibility to a wider world.

  • Ask the students how they think Judaism sees non-Jews. As equals? As inferior?
  • Show them the verse on the creation of mankind from Beraishit. Suggest that the creation story expresses deep values and insights regarding the way in which Jews saw the world. Explain, too, how generations of Jews looked back to the Biblical texts to understand the implications for their own behavior in the world in which they lived.
  • Now ask them to write a brief commentary explaining what ideas and guidelines they get from the Biblical text that could help Jews looking there for clues as to how they should relate to non-Jews.
  • Get them to share some of their responses and then hand out the two versions of the Mishnaic quote from Sanhedrin. Divide the class into pairs. Give one version to half of the pairs and the other version to the other. Do not tell them that there is more than one text. Explain briefly what the Mishnah is - if there are those who do not know (the classical rabbinic text from the early-third century, which became the basis for Jewish law and behavior throughout the whole Jewish world until the beginning of modern times). Give them all the same task: ask them to write the commentary that they think that the authors of their Mishnah would have written to the verse from Beraishit.
  • Bring them all together again and start to discuss the question, using the commentaries that they have written. It is likely that there will soon be a great deal of confusion over the question of the Jewish or the universal aspects of the issue. If there is not, make sure that you create it! At a certain point, clear up the mystery by explaining about the different manuscript versions of the Mishnah.
  • Announce to the students that they are going to be invited to a great conference of rabbis and scholars and that the task of the conference is to decide which of the two versions of the text is to be included in the ‘Jewish People's official version of the Mishnah’. At stake is nothing less than the chance to influence the approach of the Jewish people towards the whole of the non-Jewish world. Divide the students into small groups. Every group must prepare a position paper for the forthcoming conference. Which version would they recommend be adopted by the Jewish people and why?
  • Hold the conference to discuss the issue.
  • Finish off by emphasizing the central question once again: how are Jews meant to relate to the non-Jewish world? You may want to include in your summary the Midrash about the drowning of the Egyptians. Explain that there were differences in the Jewish world and summarize the various opinions that the group has expressed.



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10 Dec 2006 / 19 Kislev 5767 0