Unit II. Visualizing Values - For Further Exploration

Here are some additional ways to extend this unit or explore its themes in greater depth:


American Values / Jewish Values

Ask students to consider Jewish values in relation to American values. Have them read some key American texts – such as the Bill of Rights, the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, or a speech by Martin Luther King – and ask them to try to identify the values expressed in the texts. You can find all of these texts online at www.usconstitution.net. You might also, or instead, ask students to identify the values reflected in the symbols of America – for example, the American flag, the Seal of the United States, or the Statue of Liberty.

Have students consider the following:

  • How do Jewish values relate to American values? How are they similar or different?
    Have students try to express the relationship between the two through a Venn diagram.
  • Are the values expressed in classic American texts actually reflected in American life today?
    Have students look at current events to try to answer this question.
  • What values are reflected in popular culture – movies, music, TV?
    Students can choose a movie, CD, or TV show and write about the values they see reflected in this piece of pop culture.


 The Musar Movement – Values and Virtues [recommended for High School]

In relation to values, students can explore the 19th-century Musar Movement, founded by Rabbi Israel Lipkin Salanter (1810 -1883). Rabbi Salanter tried to encourage ethical behavior and character development among his students. He wanted people to focus on strengthening their middot tovot—positive qualities or virtues. These include: peace of mind, forbearance, orderliness, spiritedness, cleanliness, humility, righteousness, thrift, zeal, silence, gentleness, truth, and abstinence. Ask students to compare values (“arachim”) with virtues (“middot”). Are they different? Students can look up both words in a few different dictionaries and compare the definitions. (Virtues are usually defined as individual qualities, while values refer to communal beliefs or ideals.) How do Salanter’s middot compare with the Jewish values the class has identified? Ask students to create Venn diagrams showing the relationship between the two.

For more information on Rabbi Salanter and the Musar Movement, see The Teachings of the Fathers of the Musar Movement by Lester Eckman (1990) or Rabbi Israel Salanter and the Musar Movement: Seeking the Torah of Truth by Immanuel Etkes (1993).


Values Bulletin Board

Have students find examples of a particular value (or any of the values you’ve discussed) in the newspaper. Create a “values bulletin board” in your class and post the stories. How are the values you’ve identified reflected in the life of your communities (Jewish, local, national, international)?


Values in Song

Play a song for the class that you think reflects one or more values (it could be a Jewish song, a protest song, even a contemporary pop song). Distribute the lyrics and have students listen, follow along, and write down the values they believe arise from the song.

You can also hold a values “sing down.” Divide students into 2 – 4 groups and choose a value from your list. Each group then has to come up with as many songs as they can that relate to that value. The groups take turns singing their songs until all but one of the groups run out of songs.


Conflicting Values [recommended for High School]

Although our values generally guide our behavior, it isn’t always clear how we should behave in a given situation. Sometimes, even within a given value system, there are numerous options. For example, according to Judaism, what does one do in the case of someone who needs an organ transplant? Should a potential donor endanger his own life to possibly save another? And what about posthumous donations—do you desecrate a human body to transplant an organ into someone else? And how do you even know exactly when one life ends?

Rabbis have been debating these questions for decades. To read a good overview of the issue, visit My Jewish Learning Website. You might have students debate this issue or another issue in which Jewish values could potentially come into conflict.