Wednesday, November 01, 2006

What does a Jew - or a human - need to know?

For those who ascribe to an essentialist view of knowledge – in other words, that we could make a list of what is truly important to learn – here are two fascinating websites attempting, through consultations with experts, to map out the entirety of human knowledge and of Judaism (website in Hebrew).

On the first site, the links for detailed information exclusively attach to Wikipedia entries (there's no original content), but the map itself is interesting - although to my mind it privileges Western thought and religion in a strange and unnecessary fashion. On the Judaism map, there's no further description of any of the headings, although there is an explanation of the rationale behind the map and several published chapters of an upcoming book that go into considerably greater detail.

I won't keep you in suspense. Here, according to the website, are the content areas of Jewish knowledge:

  1. Philosophical and Theoretical Foundations of Judaism (if I understand correctly, focusing on such questions as "What is Judaism?" and "Who is a Jew?")
  2. Jewish Religion (including, for example, Torah, rabbinic writings, prayer, and mysticism)
  3. Jewish Culture (such topics as Hebrew literature and music)
  4. Jewish Society (such as folklore and demographics)
  5. Jewish Geography
  6. Jewish History

Of course, there is a great deal of overlap between these headings, with certain topics appearing under several headings. I'm not sure how the project will be able to sort this out in a useful way, but it is certainly an interesting start.

More immediately applicable may be their page on the question of "What is Judaism?" which identifies 8 different models for answering this question, incorporating definitions of Judaism as a religion, a culture, and as a people.

While we're on the subject of essentialist curriculum, it is also worthwhile to spend some time on E.D. Hirsch's Core Knowledge curriculum website, which hosts a huge reference library of related articles and a variety of FAQs on such questions as "isn't it elitist to suggest a body of content?"

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