about Ani ve-ami, Jewish Homeschooling

Coming soon: Ani Ve-Ami Curriculum Guide: Tanach

The following is the Foreword from the curriculum guide that I’m currently working on, just to give you an idea of what it will contain. I’d love feedback! Please let me know if there is anything else you’d like to see included.


Welcome to the Ani Ve-ami Curriculum! This guide will help you navigate the curriculum and customize it to best fit your family’s needs.
This guide covers:
– Tanach
– Jewish history
– Jewish literature
– Grammar
– Jewish music
– Jewish art
– Jewish poetry
– Geography

Additional materials needed:
– notebook (for each child)
– drawing paper
– pens, pencils, crayons

– Tanach (Hebrew, English, or both)
– A Treasury of Aggadah on the Torah (4 volume set) and A Treasury of Aggadah on Nach (4 volume set) OR Little Midrash Says on the Parsha (5 volume set) and Family Midrash Says (7 volume set)
– The Prisoner and Other Tales of Faith by Salomon Alter Halpern (published by Feldheim)

To complete the curriculum, you will need:
– Ani Ve-ami Jewish Year Guide
– Ani Ve-ami Weekly Parsha Guide
– Ani Ve-ami Secular History and Literature Guide: Early Ancient
– a math curriculum of your choice (see ani-ve-ami.com for recommendations)
– a science curriculum of your choice (see ani-ve-ami.com for recommendations)
– a Hebrew language curriculum of your choice, as well as textual study resources, if desired (see ani-ve-ami.com for recommendations)

A list of books for (optional) additional reading, as well as a list of recommended music and art, can be found in Appendix A.

This guide breaks up the school year into ten month-long units. While most homeschoolers will begin using this curriculum in September, some families might structure their school year differently, or might begin Ani Ve-ami mid-year. For this reason, the months are numbered, but not named. It is up to each family to decide how the monthly breakdown corresponds to their own schedule.
In addition, some families may choose to go through the curriculum at a quicker pace, while others may find it more effective to slow down and spend more than a month on each unit. Perhaps your children are especially interested in a specific unit, or perhaps, you have a child with special needs who takes longer to absorb the material, or perhaps your family loves to travel or is otherwise too busy to fit everything in this guide into a tight schedule. That’s perfectly fine. There is no right or wrong here. This curriculum is meant to be adjusted for your family’s unique needs.
This guide is intended for the whole family. The guidelines below describe how to use it for multiple children of different ages. Each child will be working on their own level, while at the same time participating in relevant family activities.
For each monthly unit, this guide offers a brief summary, as well as recommended reading and, sometimes, additional reading. The additional reading will sometimes take longer and overlap with the next monthly unit. Don’t worry — some months don’t have additional reading, and you won’t fall behind.
If your children are young, you might want to omit the additional reading. If you have both older and younger children, you might use the recommended reading as a read aloud for the whole family and the additional reading as independent reading for your older children. If all your children are older, you can use both recommended and additional reading as read alouds, or you might assign some of either recommended or additional reading to your children to read independently. Feel free to experiment and see what works best for your family.
The monthly units also introduce your children to Jewish art, music, and poetry, with selections for each month that are relevant to the time period, either in content or because it was produced in that time period.

Each monthly unit contains three or four weekly units. Each weekly unit is based on a short story or a passage from the Tanach. In the beginning of the week, you can read the story or passage aloud to your children. In the following days, each of your children will do narration and copy work or dictation on the story or passage.
Depending on the age of the child, narration could be oral, pictorial, or written. For more on narration, see the How It Works section of the Ani Ve-ami website.
Each weekly unit contains a paragraph for copy work or dictation and a grammar exercise based on that paragraph. A younger child should only copy a sentence or two. An older child should copy the whole paragraph and do the grammar exercise that accompanies it. For more on copy work and dictation, see the How It Works section of the Ani Ve-ami website.
Some weekly units also contain maps and directions for map work. We recommend that you make a copy of the map for each of your children and let them do the map work on their own level, with your help if necessary.

about Ani ve-ami, Jewish Homeschooling

Original Texts vs. Midrashic Retelling: When to Use What

When approaching Torah studies, we recommended two categories of books: original sources and midrashic retellings. In this post, we will discuss when and how to use each of these categories.

According to Jewish tradition, the Torah that G-d gave to the Jewish people on Mt. Sinai consisted of two parts: written and oral. The Written Torah, known as the Chumash, or the Five Books of Moses, is impossible to understand without the much more extensive Oral Torah, which elaborates on the details not mentioned in writing. For example, while the Written Torah tells us to refrain from work Shabbos, it does not explain what is considered work. For practical guidance, we consult the oral tradition.

For generations, the Oral Torah was passed down from parents to children, from teachers to students. They took great care to pass the tradition accurately. Just like in homeschooling, the relationship between the teacher and the student, as well as between the student and the text, played an important role in the transmission.

Eventually came the time when, exiled and persecuted, the Jewish people were busy with basic survival and no longer able to assure accurate transmission of the oral tradition. The Sages decided to write down parts of the Oral Torah. We will elaborate on this, G-d willing, when we get to the next time period, the period of the Talmud.

Meanwhile, as we learn the Five Books of Moses, or the books of the Prophets, or Writings, it is important to keep in mind that they are meant to be understood within the context of the whole of Jewish tradition. Originally, the student would learn the text, and the teacher would fill in the gaps by providing the context of the oral tradition. Later in history, commentators, such as Rashi, committed this context into writing. Today, Torah teachers usually teach their students both the text and the traditional commentary.

The midrashic retellings we recommend in Ani Ve-Ami are based on the Oral Torah. Midrash (pl. midrashim) literally means an interpretation. Midrashim interpret the text, making it more accessible and palatable to its students.

Which brings us to our topic. What should homeschooling parents do?

The answer, as often the case in Judaism, is, it depends. If the parent is thoroughly familiar with Jewish tradition and feels confident teaching the texts directly and providing the context orally, that’s wonderful. Unfortunately, in today’s day and age, most of us are not so well educated. We tend to rely on books rather than our own memories and our own grasp of oral tradition. That is why the midrashic retellings are so valuable. They teach our children, and ourselves, the stories from the Torah in a much more enjoyable and memorable way. Instead of cut and dry text, we are given vivid details that touch our hearts and minds and stay with us for the rest of our lives.

So should we just give up on the original texts and only study midrashic interpretations? Absolutely not! It is important to distinguish between the text itself and the midrash, for several reasons.

First, there are various collections of midrashim, compiled by early Jewish sages. Some of these midrashim contradict each other. Clearly, they can’t all be true. Not all midrashim were meant to be understood literally. Many are parables, meant to teach us values, not facts. How do we know which midrashim are metaphorical? Well, the truth is, we don’t. But we do know that each and every midrash contains a valuable teaching. The midrashim need to be studied, over and over again, not as historical, but as ethical, truth.

Therefore, when a midrashic retelling adds details to a Torah story, we need to prepare our children, and ourselves, for the possibility that we might encounter another midrash that contradicts those details. Neither of the midrashim is “wrong.” They are both valuable. But as we learn more Torah, it is important to keep in mind what is in the text itself and forms the basis of Jewish tradition vs. what came from a midrash and constitutes a secondary teaching.

Second, there are different types of midrashim. By studying and analyzing them, we form a bigger picture of the Jewish tradition. More of that in the next time period, G-d willing.

And third, as a midrash says, there are seventy facets of the Torah. Each verse in the Torah is multifaceted and contains layers of meaning. Those who don’t distinguish between the text of the Torah and the midrashim are limiting themselves to the one and only understanding of the stories – the one in the particular midrashim they happen to study. But they might be missing as many as sixty nine other facets of the same text! There might be other midrashim, no less traditional, that they are simply not aware of, because they are too stuck on the ones that are familiar to them.

So where does this leave us practically? For young children, who do not yet have the capacity for abstract thought and the understanding that the same passage may have more than one meaning, the midrashic retellings are sufficient. As children grow and begin to think more abstractly, I continue reading midrashic retellings to them, but I point out which parts are written directly in the Torah and which come from a midrash. At the same time, we work on their textual skills and introduce the Chumash in the original, a little bit at a time. When the children are older, they begin studying the texts in the original, first with Rashi, then with other traditional commentators, who may bring contradictory opinions and midrashim.

And this learning continues throughout life, because we can never exhaust the whole body of Jewish tradition. There are always more facets to discover, more ways to gain a deeper and more complex understanding. So take a deep breath, don’t worry about getting it right – there is no such thing – and, most importantly, have fun! Learning Torah as a family is a wonderful experience that your children will remember for years to come.


about Jewish education, Jewish Homeschooling

Shavuos musings

In a few days we will celebrate Shavuos, the day when we hear the reading of the Ten Commandments, commemorating the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. When the Torah describes the Jewish people’s arrival at Mt. Sinai, it uses the word “encamped” in singular rather than plural. Rashi explains that the Jewish people were united “like one person with one heart.” A prerequisite for receiving the Torah is coming together — developing the feelings of closeness to each other, despite our very real differences and disagreements.

Often, people find it easier to get along with perfect strangers than with their own family members. But loving our neighbor as ourselves applies to our family too! In homeschooling, resolving conflicts between siblings and fostering close relationships likely takes more time and effort than academics. But this side of homeschooling is by no means extracurricular. Learning together as a family provides the perfect setting for personal growth and development, which is necessarily for receiving and absorbing the Torah.

Working on the Ani Ve-ami curriculum has also been an amazing opportunity to get to know people from different backgrounds who are united in the same goal of providing our children with a quality Jewish and secular education. And now that the curriculum is live, we see families from all walks of life turning to Ani Ve-ami for their educational need, uniting in transmitting the Torah our people received on Mt. Sinai to the next generation.

We are a link in the chain — a notion that is both humbling and empowering. May our educational endeavors be blessed with success! Have a wonderful Shavuos!