Standard 4

Grade: K–2 3–5 6–8 9–12

Students will view the Tanakh as the formative narrative of the Jewish people—past, present, and future.


Throughout the ages, Tanakh has served the Jewish people in many ways: a codex of law, a shared history, a moral compass, and a touchstone of national unity. In all regards, the Tanakh serves as the formative narrative of the people of Israel. Therefore, as students develop a working knowledge of the biblical narrative and explore the central themes of the Tanakh, they will be capable of drawing connections between the biblical text, contemporary Judaism, and their own lives. At the core of this study is the opportunity for students to come to embrace the Tanakh as their own formative narrative.



4.1 Identifies main characters of central Torah narratives.

Suggested Examples: Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, matriarchs and patriarchs, Joseph and his brothers, Pharaoh, Pharaoh's daughter, Moses, Miriam, Aaron

Suggested Resource: Torah Aura, I Can Learn Torah

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Role-play a character.
  • Ask twenty questions.
  • Play "yes-no" or "Who am I?" games.

4.2 Identifies main events of central Torah narratives.

Suggested Examples: The main stories of the patriarchal/matriarchal period, the story of the Exodus from Egypt, revelation at Mt. Sinai

Sample Learning Activity:

  • Sequence teacher-identified events in the Torah.
    • Create a storyboard for a narrative.
    • Arrange illustrations of the narrative according to its biblical sequence.

4.3 Recognizes central themes of the Torah narratives.

Suggested Examples: creation, covenant (the flood generation, Abraham, the Israelites), belief in one God (patriarchs and matriarchs), choices (Adam, Eve, Lot, Rebecca, Jacob, Joseph), slavery and freedom, receiving the Torah, peoplehood, Israel

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Explain a main idea in the student's own words.
  • Relate a theme to a Jewish practice, e.g., taking care of the environment, saying the Sh'ma, celebrating Pesah, studying Torah.
    • Discuss a Torah theme during circle time.

4.4 Draws connections between themes and biblical characters.

Suggested Examples: Adam and Eve (guardians of the world), Noah (righteous in his generation), Abraham (belief in one God), Shifra and Puah (doing what is right)

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Express themes in relationship to a biblical figure.
  • Explain choices made by a biblical figure.

4.5 Connects relevant holiday or celebration to the biblical narrative.

Sample Learning Activity:

  • When given part of the narrative, the student indicates the appropriate holiday from a list of choices.
    • Choose a holiday symbol, sing a song, choose a corner when a portion of the narrative is read.

4.6 Knows that the Torah (Pentateuch) is divided into five books.

Sample Learning Activity:

  • Name the five books of the Torah in order in Hebrew.
  • Design/find images representing narratives for a poster of one of the five books.
  • Design and illustrate a book cover for each of the five books.

4.7 Explains that the Jewish people read Torah portions weekly as part of a yearly cycle.

Curricular Examples: Create a Simhat Torah celebration. Teach an aspect of the weekly portion.

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Identify the sequencing of the Torah into weekly portions.
  • Link narratives to a specific book of the Torah.
    • Design parashah hashavua' cards.
    • Illustrate/write about any portion of a narrative or verse of choosing.
    • Illustrate a special midrash for the Torah portion.
    • Place a symbol of parashah hashavua' on a calendar.


4.8 Explores the implications of various biblical narratives and empathizes with the biblical characters involved.

Suggested Examples: be Sarah when she learns she is to have a child at an old age, be Moses when he sees the burning bush, be Miriam at the sea

Sample Learning Activity:

  • Assume the role of a given character and explain his or her actions.
  • Role-play, play charades, dress up as biblical figure.
  • Create a storyboard for a biblical character.

4.9 Identifies recurring central themes in unfamiliar texts.

Suggested Examples: covenant (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Israelites), courage and doing what's right (Noah, midwives Bat-Pharaoh, Moses), commandedness

Sample Learning Activity:

  • Identify central themes in new narratives.
    • Create a "concordance" or other graphic organizer of themes and central figures.

4.10 Compares and contrasts central personalities of Torah narratives.

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Draw analogies between personalities and events in their lives
  • Represent a biblical figure at a special gathering of biblical figures.
    • Create a journal in the voice of the biblical figure in response to a specific event, e.g., a chance meeting with another biblical figure.

4.11 Relates the familial connection of the personalities of the Tanakh.

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Represent the family relationships of the key personalities.
  • Design a family tree.
  • Create and participate in a "This Is Your Life" skit."

4.12 Increases specificity and detail of personalities, themes, and events of Torah narratives.

Suggested Examples: dilemmas, e.g., Sarah and Hagar, Jacob and the birthright, Moses and the Egyptian, positive and negative traits of a biblical personality

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Raise questions about the motivation of a personality.
  • Suggest alternative explanations to questions.

4.13 Locates the narrative sequentially in the text.

Suggested Examples: The Joseph stories happened before the Exodus from Egypt. Joshua led the Israelites after wanderings of the land and during the time of the conquest of Canaan.

Curricular Suggestion: Develop an evolving biblical timeline for the classroom as narratives are taught.

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Given a list of key biblical events, place them in sequence on a timeline.
  • Provide background for a new narrative, e.g., what led up to an event.

4.14 Recognizes that observance of holidays and Shabbat originates in the Tanakh.

Suggested Examples: Shalosh R'galim, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Rosh Hodesh, Purim, Shabbat

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Find an appropriate verse(s) in the text that commands the observance of a holiday.
  • Identify a biblical passage in the kiddush.
  • Highlight key biblical phrases in the kiddush and the reason for the observance.
  • Connect reasons for observance to the biblical source.
  • Compare Pesah mitzrayim to today's Pesah seder.
    • Make a diorama of a holiday or celebration for then and now.
    • Create a portfolio of a holiday's biblical and rabbinic name.
    • Chant the kiddush.

4.15 Identifies biblical passages located in the siddur.

Suggested Examples: Sh'ma (Deut. 6:4-9), v'Haya im Shamoah (Deut. 11:13-21), va'Yomer (Num. 15:37-41)

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Identify central biblical themes in passages.
  • Locate passages from the Tanakh in the siddur.
  • Sing biblical verses with Torah trope in prayer service.

4.16 Examines words to modern Jewish music based on biblical themes.

Suggested Examples: Debbie Friedman's "Lechi lach," "Water in the Well," "Miriam's Song," Craig Taubman

Sample Learning Activity:

  • Choose a song for the parashah hashavua' celebration.
    • Create a dance or pantomime for a song.
    • Compose a song based on a personality, theme, or event.

4.17 Explains that the Tanakh is composed of Torah, Nevi'im, and Ketuvim.

Sample Learning Activity:

  • Identify the words of the acronym Tanakh.
    • Design bookmarks or humash book covers for each of the five books and selected books from Nevi'im and Ketuvim.
    • Create a Tanakh poster puzzle.


4.18 Traces events of the narrative with greater intensity, focusing on details and complex themes.

Suggested Examples: covenant, emergence of a people from slavery to freedom, revelation at Sinai, acts of rebellion, ongoing relationship of God to Israel, centrality of entering the land of Israel, Israel's election

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Identify a recurring central theme in a new narrative.
  • Compare the theme in a new narrative to the theme in a narrative previously learned.
  • Discern conflicts between the "ideal" and the narrative.
    • Keep a journal of a central theme, e.g., acts of rebellion.

4.19 Analyzes the characters in the Tanakh, focusing on their motivation and personality.

Suggested Examples: Jacob's deceit, Joseph and his brothers, Joseph and Potifar's wife, Moses as a leader, Korach's rebellion, Miriam and Aaron's punishment for being critical of Moses, Pinchas' zeal, Saul's rage, David's usurpation of power, Solomon's greed

Suggested Resources: Peter Pitzele, Scripture Window and Our Father's Wells: A Personal Encounter with the Myths of Genesis; Ilana Pardes, Biography of Ancient Israel

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Lists three characteristics that exemplify a given character
  • Bring proof from verses to support claims.
  • Explore issues of why the Torah presents human foibles.
    • Role play, graphic organizer

4.20 Recognizes interweaving of biblical themes and passages throughout the siddur.

Suggested Examples: creation, redemption, revelation, covenant

Curricular Suggestion: can be integrated with the study of tefillot and rabbinics

Suggested Resource: Franz Rosenzweig, The Star of Redemption

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Find references to a central biblical theme when given a prayer to analyze.
  • Explore the significance of the biblical passages of Sh'ma (Deut. 6:4-9), v'Haya im Shamoah (Deut 11:13-21), and va'Yomer (Num. 15:37-41) as part of the "set prayer"/מטבע של תפילה .
    • Write a personal prayer based on a given theme.
    • Create a photo journal of phrases from the siddur that reflect creation/ מעשה בראשית.

4.21 Incorporates new time periods from the Tanakh within a timeline.

Suggested Examples: Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Understand the different time frames of the Torah and Nevi'im.
  • Select three events from each new time period to represent a given time period on the timeline.
    • Design an illustrated timeline.
    • Make a special bookmark for the time period studied.


4.22 Examines central themes found in Genesis.

Suggested Examples: nature of God, nature of humankind, free will, good and evil, religious impulse

Suggested Resources: Nechama Leibowitz, Studies in the Book of Genesis; HaRav Joseph B. Solevetchick, Lonely Man of Faith

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Explain themes in light of Judaism today and modern understandings.
  • Write an article for the op-ed page of a newspaper about a theme and how it connects to a current modern issue.

4.23 Recognizes the revolutionary concept of monotheism as originating in the Torah.

Suggested Resources: John Bright, A History of Israel, James B. Pritchard, The Ancient Near East, Volume 1, An Anthology of Texts and Pictures

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Compare creation stories to ancient Near Eastern myths, e.g., the Gilgamesh Epic; the Enuma Elish.
  • Examine narratives relating to the covenant for their emphasis on the belief in one God, e.g., patriarchs, the Decalogue.

4.24 Traces the development of Covenant (Brit) throughout the Tanakh.

Suggested Examples: See Standard 7: Mitzvot

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Connect covenant to divine election.
  • Connect covenant to the observance of mitzvot/laws.

4.25 Understands the influence of historical national memory on the development of Jewish life as it relates to having been "strangers in the land of Egypt."

Suggested Examples: Exodus 22:20-23, 23:9; Leviticus 19:34

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Locate and cite biblical sources of the concept.
  • Analyze "for you were strangers in the land of Egypt…" as a generative Jewish value.
  • Examine and compare implications of the concept for the Israelites or the Jewish people as a landless people and as a sovereign nation.
  • Recognize the centrality of the concept in the Haggadah and siddur.
    • Explore the concept of empathy: "If I were to see myself as coming out of Egypt, then I would…"
    • Identify other Torah values related to empathy, kindness, and the role of memory.

4.26 Recognizes "law" as central to the biblical narrative and the development of Judaism.

Suggested Examples: Genesis 9, Noachide Laws, Exodus 19ff–the Decalogue and Mishpatim, Book of Numbers, interweaving of law and narratives, Deuteronomy, emphasis on observing laws, midrash halakhah

Curricular Suggestion: can be integrated with rabbinics

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Analyze the nature of the revelation at Sinai/מעמד הר סיני.
  • Examine the relationship of the narrative to the law.
  • Recognize the centrality of biblical law in the study of midrash halakhah, Mishnah, and Talmud.

4.27 Relates the main themes of megillot to their corresponding holiday.

Suggested Examples: The Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Jonah

Suggested Resources: The JPS Bible Commentary Esther, commentary by Adele Berlin; Reading Ruth, edited by Judith Kates and Gail Reimer

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Analyze a book or megillah for its connection to its specific holiday.
  • Research the historical development of the megillah and why it was written.
  • Examine the narrative of megillot for its historicity.
  • Analyze the megillah for its meaning and universal truths.

4.28 Recognizes biblical passages throughout Jewish liturgy.

Suggested Examples: Book of Psalms, Psalms for the days of the week, Sh'ma and its accompanying berakhah, daily and Shabbat prayers

Curricular Suggestion: can be integrated with rabbinics or a course on liturgy

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Analyze the psalms and explore why these psalms were chosen.
  • Survey the Book of Psalms and select personal daily psalms.
  • Extrapolate biblical themes and passages in selected prayers. from weekday, Shabbat, or holiday prayers.

4.29 Explores the timelessness of prophetic moral and ethical messages.

Suggested Examples: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Evaluate a current social issue in light of the words of the prophets.
  • Develop a social-action project.
    • Participate in Operation Isaiah (a project to collect food for the needy prior to Yom Kippur).

4.30 Explores themes and concepts from Wisdom Literature (Ketuvim).

Suggested Examples: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Identify central themes and ideas and their relevancy to modern thought.
  • Explore theological and philosophical issues.
  • Examine issues of theodicy.
    • Write an essay on the topic of theodicy using multiple text sources.
    • Compare ideas in the Book of Job to JB: A Play in Verse by Archibald MacLeish.

4.31 Identifies the varied literary styles found in the Tanakh.

Suggested Examples: narratives, laws, poetry, prophecy, genealogies, etiological tales, detailed historical itineraries, descriptions of cultic rites and objects

Suggested Resource: Robert Alter, Literary Guide to the Bible, Joel Rosenberg, "The Biblical Narrative," Back to the Sources, edited by Barry Holtz

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Refer to literary form in uncovering the significance of a passage.
  • Recognize metaphors and adduce the meaning.
  • Distinguish between historical and ahistorical sections of the Tanakh.

4.32 Knows important dates of the biblical and postbiblical periods.

Suggested Examples: Patriarchal period, 1800-1300 BCE; Exodus from Egypt, 1250 BCE; David, 1000 BCE; Solomon, 960 BCE; Division of Kingdom, 922 BCE; Assyrian exile of Northern Kingdom, 722 BCE; Josianic Reform, 620 BCE; Babylonians destroy the Temple and exile of Judea, 586 BCE; Cyrus allows return, 538 BCE; Second Temple, 515 BCE; Ezra and Nehemiah, 444 BCE; Daniel, 169 BCE

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Create a timeline of pivotal moments in Jewish history and defend the choices.
  • Know the sequence of the books in the Tanakh.

4.33 Explores the notion of myth as a narrative with enduring truth.

Suggested Resource: W. Gunther Plaut, "General Introduction to the Torah," The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp.xx-xxi

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Use myth to explain important aspects of existence.
  • Appreciate the possibility of multiple interpretations of text.

4.34 Recognizes the Tanakh as the formative narrative of the Jewish people.

Suggested Examples: T. Carmi, The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse; J. Zipperstein, Elusive Prophet: Ahad Ha'am and the Origins of Zionism; Yitzchak Rabin, Speech on signing the "Frameworks for Peace," September, 1993; Modern Israeli songs and writings

Sample Learning Activities:

  • Reflect on how modern Jewish existence is rooted in Tanakh.
  • Identify and understand biblical references and allusions in modern Hebrew literature and poetry, Jewish thought, and speeches.