One 50-minute class period

Membership, Identity and Traditional Jewish Texts

Learning Objectives

Students will begin to:

  • examine what causes each of us to be "pushed off our moral center"
  • begin to understand how circumstances can affect our perceived choices
  • study sources from Jewish tradition, and see how they shed light on certain moral dilemmas


This lesson was developed as part of Kesher, Facing History's Jewish Education project. This lesson explores questions of ostracism, peer pressure, inclusion and exclusion, and what causes people to act in ways that they later regret.


In order to make the transition from identity to the historical case study, examining the case of Eve Shalen is a very useful lesson. Students begin by examining a situation everyone can relate to, namely, excluding other people in order to gain acceptance. From this study, students can then begin to see how Germans in the 1920s and 1930s could act in ways that they themselves would likely feel was immoral. In addition, it begins to show students how Jews could end up outside of people's universe of obligation in Poland before World War II.


Teaching Strategies


  1. Begin by having students complete a think, pair, share exercise about a time when they acted in a way they later regretted.
    Have them consider the following questions:

    • Why did they act the way they did?
    • What were the circumstances?
    • How do they judge their actions now?
    • If they could re-enact the situation, would they have liked to have acted differently?
  2. Show students the video The "In" Group", featuring Eve Shalen in A Discussion with Elie Wiesel. You can also share the reading version. The have students write their response to the clip in their journals. Have them revisit some of the questions they addressed in their think, pair, share.

  3. Divide the class into pairs or small groups, and give each group one of the texts below.

    Note: All the text is taken from Rabbinic literature. Rabbinic Literature consists primarily of the Babylonian Talmud (codified in the 600's CE), and texts known as midrashim, which begin as expositions on the Biblical text, but often go in many directions. Rabbinic literature is a mix of law and stories, and is traditionally studied in pairs or small groups.

    As each group looks at one text, they should think about these questions:
    • How does each text connect to Eve's situation?
    • How does it shed light on how we judge her actions?

    Note: You do not need to use all of these quotes. We have found that using three to five quotes, with each group examining one quote, seems to work well. You can use however many quotes are appropriate for your particular class size and grade level.

    • If upward you spit, your own face you'll hit. (Midrash, Koheleth Rabbah 7:9, 1)
    • This is what the Holy One said to Israel: My children, what do I seek from you? I seek no more than that you love one another and honor one another. (Midrash, Seder de-Rabbi Eliyahu 26)
    • He [Ben Azzai] used to say, "Treat no one lightly and think nothing is useless, for everyone has one's moment and everything has its place." (Mishnah Avot 4:3)
    • The person who endeavors to gain honor at the price of degrading a fellow human being has no portion in the world-to-come. (Midrash, Bereshit Rabbah 1:5)
    • Love upsets usual conduct. Hatred upsets usual conduct. (Midrash, Bereshit Rabbah 55:8)
    • What is in your heart about your fellow human being is likely to be in his heart about you. (Midrash, Sifre on Deuteronomy, 24)
    • It is easy to acquire an enemy, difficult to acquire a friend. (Midrash, Yalkut Va-et'hannan 845)
    • Do not humiliate, you and will not be humiliated. (Talmud, Moed Katan 9b)
    • Huna says: Strife is compared to an opening made by a rush of water that widens as the water presses through it. Abaye the Elder says: Strife is like the planks of a wooden bridge; the longer they lie, the firmer they grow. (Talmud, Sanhedrin 7a)
    • Our Rabbis taught: You shall not hate your brother in thy heart. [Lev. 19:17] One might have believed one may only not smite him, slap him, curse him, therefore the text states: ‘In thy heart'; Scripture speaks of ‘hatred in the heart'. (Talmud, Arakhin 16b)
    • Who is the mightiest of the mighty? The one who turns an enemy into a friend. (Avot de-Rabbi Nathan 23)
  4. Come back together as a whole class, and have each small group summarize their discussion.

    • What was their text saying? What were the implications?
    • How do they shed light on how we judge Eve's actions? What are some reasons as to why we act in ways we later regret?
    • What steps can we take either to ensure we can act in a positive way in a difficult situation or to ensure we do not act in a negative way?

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