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12. Jewish learning styles embrace challenge, debate and confrontation.

In the same moment that non-Jewish CPE supervisors (or peers) may perceive Jewish students as disrespectful, resistant, and challenging of authority, these same Jewish students may simultaneously perceive themselves as respectful and engaged in the learning process.

The principle of “pilpul” - seeking to better understand an issue or a question by gathering more information, and perhaps in the process, by questioning, challenging and clarifying what are presented as set assumptions is a culturally-learned Jewish trait. Jews often engage in learning through debate. We look at this side and then, at that side. We learn through what Taylor calls the method of Yeah – but … or Yeah – and… .Those of you who have seen either the play or the movie, Fiddler On The Roof will remember that each time Tevye, the story’s main character, has to make an important decision, he explores: first, on this hand and then, on the other hand, etc.

The roots of this learning style trace back to biblical times.Consider the famous dialogue between Abraham and God concerning the cities of Sodomand Gomorra. The Patriarch questions, challenges and clarifies God’s position concerning humankind.“Shall not the Judge of all the world do justly?”38 Similarly, Moses questions, challenges and clarifies his relationship to God when he asks: “Let me behold your Presence.”39

These roots have been nurtured through our talmudic and midrashic40 literature. In fact, one of the true wonders of our Talmud is that it preserves both the agreements and the disagreements of our ancient sages – often as they dialogued with each other across the centuries. This learning style is so ingrained in Jewish culture that even the most secular of Jews - those who have never studied or even seen a page of Talmud - have integrated this learning style into their repertoire.

Unfortunately, students utilizing this inquisitive learning style are often labeled resistant and feel put on the defensive. Experientially then, Jewish students often carry the added burden of being labeled “resistant” because of differing learning styles and “defensive” because of differing theological perspectives. This often has the effect of making their CPE journey feel emotionally and spiritually perilous. We encourage non-Jewish supervisors to consider that a supervisor and a student can discern whether resistance and defensiveness emanate from the student’s psyche or whether it is a misinterpretation of behavior that emanates from the student’s culture. Our personal experiences combined with the personal experiences of the hundreds of CPE supervisees that we have spoken to leads us to conclude that more often than not, the more Jews respond with: Yeah – but…  and  Yeah – and …, the more engaged they are in learning and the more respectful and admiring they are of their supervisor and peers.

© 2004 , Bonita E Taylor & David J. Zucker

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