Beyond Dispute: Debates That Shape Jewish Life

A Turnkey Curriculum from JTS

Debates—philosophical, spiritual, ethical, and cultural—are at the heart of Judaism and Jewish life. Are religion and reason compatible? Can Jewish law change based on context? How do we teach and talk about the Holocaust and the State of Israel? Should we prioritize Jewish causes or universal causes in our giving? Is Jewish tradition intrinsically patriarchal and ableist? Is our relationship with God defined by human obligation or divine compassion?

Beyond Dispute is a comprehensive toolkit that allows rabbis and educators to bring adult learners into a substantive, text-based exploration of how these debates have been manifested over the course of Jewish history, and to lead rich discussion about their continued resonance for contemporary Jewish life. The course enables teachers and students alike to go beyond the conflicts themselves to uncover the essential questions that underlie them, and to build a more inclusive view of the Jewish past, present, and future.

Each of the 11 units of the course includes a short video lecture, classical and contemporary study texts, and an extensive leader’s guide featuring lesson plans, hevruta questions, and more.

This course is the second in a series of turnkey curricula offered by JTS. Our first course, The Ethical Life: Jewish Values in an Age of Choice, has been taught in over 115 synagogues and other institutions.

How to Order

The price for Beyond Dispute is $500. Student binders are $5 each.

Discounts are available. If your organization is not able to afford this price, please email beyond.dispute@jtsa.edu.

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What the Curriculum Includes

  • Video Lectures: JTS scholars lecture for approximately 10 minutes, introducing the debate and its continued resonance for us today.
  • Sourcebook: The sourcebook includes primary texts for each lecture—in the original language and with English translation—and recommended background readings.
  • Leader’s Guide: An extensive collection of resources for course leaders, including recommendations for how to structure each session; an outline of each video lecture; hevruta questions and discussion themes; explanatory notes for each primary source; and suggested background resources.

Course Contents

I. Introduction

  1. Does Dispute Unite Us or Divide Us? The Complex Legacy of Debate in Jewish Tradition

II. Disputing Jewish Practice

  1. Is Judaism Particularist or Universalist? Giving Tzedakah in a Global Era: Rabbi Jan Uhrbach
  2. When Can We Legitimately Modify Tradition? Waging War on Shabbat: Rabbi Eliezer Diamond, PhD
  3. Do We Need to Mean What We Pray? Sacrifices in the Siddur: Rabbi Daniel Nevins
  4. Who Wields Authority in Jewish Ritual? Smashing Wine Barrels and the Patriarchy: Dr. Marjorie Lehman

III.  Disputing the Essence of Judaism

  1. What Defines Our Relationship with God? A Tale of Two Covenants: Dr. Benjamin Sommer
  2. Does the Torah Contain Everything We Need to Know? The Maimonidean Controversy: Dr. Alan Mittleman
  3. Is Judaism a Religion of the Heart or the Mind—and Who Decides? Hasidism and its Opponents: Dr. David Fishman

IV. Disputing the Jewish Future

  1. What Do We Mean by Jewish Continuity? The Legacy of “Be Fruitful and Multiply”: Dr. Michal Raucher
  2. How Much Should Tragedy Define Us? The Holocaust in Contemporary Jewish Life: Dr. Edna Friedberg
  3. Can Commitment and Critique Coexist? Teaching Israel in the 21st Century: Dr. Alex Sinclair

Course Materials

The course materials are designed to be used as part of an ongoing study program. However, each unit stands on its own, so course leaders may select which sessions they wish to teach and in what order they wish to teach them. Units may also be used as stand-alone sessions outside the context of a course.

All course materials are available on a password-protected online platform. They are also provided in these formats:

  • Video Lectures: On a USB drive
  • Leader’s Guide: A bound, printed volume
  • Sourcebook: We have created specially designed binders for your course participants. Study texts are available as PDFs on the online platform, to be printed locally by each participating community and inserted into the binder. One sample binder is included with your order and additional binders may be purchased separately. Students may also access the sources online on their electronic devices for a paperless experience.

Contact Us

To learn more, please contact beyond.dispute@jtsa.edu

This course is made possible through the generous support of Earle and Judith Kazis and the Kazis Family Publications Foundation.

Frequently Asked Questions for Course Leaders

  • Are these particular disputes relevant to contemporary Jews?
    Some course units address issues that are very much live debates in the 21st century, while others deal with disputes that were “settled” in the recent or even distant past. The latter were selected for inclusion in the course because they raise larger questions of pressing importance for contemporary Jews and provide a historical or traditional lens through which to consider those questions in new ways. Each chapter of the Leader’s Guide devotes extensive attention to the question of contemporary relevance.
  • Do I have to teach all 11 units?
    No; you can teach a course of any length you choose. The Leader’s Guide suggests some options for creating mini-courses based on the material, and you can also come up with your own combinations. In addition, you can use any unit of the course for a single stand-alone teaching session.
  • Can I add my own sources?
    Absolutely. We have designed the curriculum in such a way that you should not require any materials other than the Leader’s Guide, course videos, and study texts to prepare excellent teaching sessions. However, you are welcome to supplement our materials and/or omit some of our sources as you see fit.
  • How much time should I schedule for each session of the course?
    We recommend allocating a class session of at least 90 minutes for each unit of the course. If you can allocate 120 minutes—especially for the introductory session—all the better.
  • How do I prepare to teach each session?
    The Leader’s Guide walks you through every step of the process. The following are provided for every unit: framing of the issue; lecture summary; core questions; key terms; several possible discussion themes; important background on every source and the purpose it serves in the unit; hevruta questions; and a suggested lesson plan. In addition, the opening section of the Leader’s Guide provides guidelines for how to teach controversial issues in a productive and inclusive way.
  •  Is there a way to share and receive teaching tips from other course leaders?
    Yes! We have created a Facebook group for Beyond Dispute course leaders to ask questions of each other, share successful teaching methods, suggest additional sources, and generally serve as a community of practice. Joining the Facebook group is entirely optional.
  • Do I have to buy the participant binders for my students?
    Yes, we ask you to purchase a participant binder for every student so as to maintain the organization and branding of the course. The study texts themselves must be printed locally—either by you or by your students—and inserted into the binders, utilizing the pre-printed dividers.
  • How do my students access the sources?
    When you send us your list of registered participants, we will give them access to the secure online platform for the course, which includes the course videos and study texts. This will allow them to review material for sessions they may have missed or look at the material before class if you choose to structure your course in that way. You can also opt to have participants print their own sources for insertion into their binders instead of doing this for them.
  • How long after I place my order will I receive the course materials?
    You will have access to all course materials online within one business day. Physical materials are shipped within one week of your order.
  • Are the materials specific to the Conservative Movement?
    The course materials are designed to be relevant for all contemporary Jews. Units 3 and 4 focus on the tension between tradition and change, a theme that is particularly present in Conservative settings. All units reflect JTS’s embrace of traditional sources and modern critical approaches to textual interpretation and application.

Sites offering Beyond Dispute include:

  • Calgary, AB—Beth Tzedec Congregation
  • Vancouver, BC—Beth Israel
  • Walnut Creek, CA – Congregation B’nai Shalom
  • Colorado Springs, CO—Temple Shalom
  • Bloomfield, CT—B’nai Tikvoh-Sholom/Neshama Center for Lifelong Learning 
  • Manchester, CT – Beth Sholom B’nai Israel
  • Stamford, CT—Temple Beth El
  • St Petersburg, FL – Congregation B’nai Israel
  • Highland Park, IL -North Suburban Synagogue Beth El
  • Lexington, MA -Temple Emunah
  • Natick, MA -Temple Israel of Natick
  • Damascus, MD—Congregation Or Chadash
  • Frederick, MD—Beth Sholom Congregation
  • Owings Mills, MD—Beth Israel Congregation
  • Bangor, ME—Beth Israel
  • Portland, ME—Temple Beth El
  • Waterville, ME—Beth Israel Congregation
  • West Bloomfield, MI—Congregation Beth Ahm
  • Cherry Hill, NJ – Temple Beth Sholom
  • Closter, NJ—Temple Emanu-El of Closter
  • Cranford, NJ—Temple Beth El Cranford
  • East Windsor, NJ -Beth El Synagogue
  • Edison, NJ – Temple Emanu-El
  • Livingston, NJ—Temple Beth Shalom
  • Metuchen, NJ – Neve Shalom
  • Middletown, NJ—Congregation B’nai Israel
  • Morris Plains, NJ—Adath Shalom
  • Oakhurst, NJ – Congregation Torat El
  • Rockaway, NJ—White Meadow Temple
  • South Orange, NJ—Oheb Shalom Congregation
  • Flushing, NY—Hollis Hills Bayside Jewish Center 
  • New York, NY—Sutton Place Synagogue
  • New York, NY—Town & Village Synagogue
  • New York, NY—Park Avenue Syngogue
  • Niskayuna, NY—Congregation Agudat Achim
  • Dresher, PA – Temple Sinai
  • Harrisburg, PA—Beth El Temple
  • Harrisburg, PA—Chisuk Emuna Congregation 
  • Ivyland, PA—Ohev Shalom
  • Providence, RI—Temple Emanu-El
  • Knoxville, TN—Heska Amuna Synagogue
  • Dallas, TX—Shearith Israel
  • Houston, TX—Congregation Beth Yeshurun
  • Alexandria, VA—Agudas Achim Congregation
  • Herndon, VA—Congregation Beth Emeth
  • Shorewood, WI—Moses Montefiore Congregation