In this hour-long lesson designed for 7th-12th graders, students will explore how difference functions in their lives. Students will also be introduced to the ways that communities make sense of differences, and how mere distinctions can come to be imbued with moral connotations. The lesson uses BT Berachot 58b and BT Shabbat 53b as a way to engage students in these themes.
By Rabbi Steven Greenberg
Lesson 4: Exploring the Difference Between Differences
Time needed: 60 minutes Recommended age range: 7-12th grade Objectives:
Materials: Copies of the text, one per each pair of students
1. Explain to participants that you are going to examine some Jewish texts about difference and how Jewish tradition understands types of difference.
2. Begin the discussion by examining difference using the following questions (Take about 10 minutes for this part of the activity.):
o Eye color (brown, green, hazel, blue)
o Hair color (blonde, red, brown, black)
o Skin color (black, brown, yellow, red, and white)
o Height (tall – short)
o Strength (weak – strong)
o Intelligence (stupid, slow, thick, simple minded – smart, fast, brainy, clever, intellectual)
o Wealth (poor-wealthy)
o Build (skinny, thin – fat, husky)
o Beauty (ugly – beautiful)
o Age (young, energetic, immature, naïve, childlike – old, mature, wise, over-the-hill)
o Disability (handicapped – able bodied)
o Religion (Christian – Jew) (Moslem, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Baha’i, Sikh, Christian, Jew)
What does the following statement mean to you? Eve Sedgwick: “Difference is not the problem. The problem is the difference between differences.”
3. After discussing the meaning of difference, hand out the texts below and ask participants to work in pairs to read the texts and respond to the questions on the handout. You may decide to focus on only one text or break the participants into two groups with one group focusing on the first text by Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi and one group focusing on the second text about the disagreement between Rabbi Yosef and Rabbi Abaye. (Give the participants 15 minutes.)
4. Bring the group back together and ask participants to briefly share their responses to the texts and the questions.
5. Now as a group consider the following questions:
Lesson 4, Text Study 1
ב דומע חנ ףד תוכרב תכסמ ילבב דומלת
תאו ןקוולה תאו רוחיגה תאו ישוכה תא האר :יביתימ .תוירבה הנשמ ךורב רמוא םינקהבה תא האורה :יול ןב עשוהי יבר רמא הכומה תאו רגחה תאו שארה ייותפ תאו אמוסה תאו עטקה תא .תוירבה תא הנשמ ךורב רמוא סוקינרדה תאו סננה תאו חפקה דיליתיאד רתב – אה ,ומא יעממ – אה ,אישק אל – !תמא ןייד ךורב רמוא םינקהבה תאו ןיחש
BT Berachot 58b
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says: One who sees an albino says: “Blessed (is the One who) differentiates the creatures.” They asked a question: [Does this not seem to contradict what] We learn in the baraita? One who sees a very black person, a very red person, a very white person, a very tall person, a dwarf, or a hadranikos (unclear meaning) says: “Blessed (is the One who) differentiates the creatures.” [While the one who sees] a paraplegic, a blind person, a lame person, a flat-headed person, a person smitten with boils, or person with patches of skin discoloration (vitiligo) says: “Blessed is the true judge.” No contradiction! This [is a difference] from the womb of the mother, (i.e. from birth); this [is a difference occurring] after birth.
Lesson 4, Text Study 2
The Miracle Gender Bender
ב דומע גנ ףד תבש תכסמ ילבב דומלת
השא ידד ינשכ ןידד ול וחתפנו סנ ול השענו ,ןתיל הקינמ רכש ול היה אלו ,קניל ןב החינהו ותשא התמש דחאב השעמ :ןנבר ונת ול ונתשנש הז םדא עורג המכ ,הברדא :ייבא ול רמא !הזכ סנ ול השענש ,הז םדא לודג המכ הארו אב :ףסוי בר רמא .ונב תא קינהו.תישארב ירדס
BT Shabbat 53b
There once was a man whose wife died and left him with an infant to suckle and he could not afford to pay a wet nurse. A miracle occurred and he grew breasts like a woman’s two breasts and he nursed his child. R. Yosef said: Come and see just how great this man is that such a miracle was performed for him! Abaye said: On the contrary. How bad is this man that the orders of nature were changed for him.
This text study was created by Rabbi Steve Greenberg for Keshet. We encourage you to download this resource and share it with others, as long as you credit Rabbi Steve Greenberg and Keshet.