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The Narrative of Matan Torah. Lauren Kirschenbaum , Menachem Menchel , Hartley Perlmutter and Allison Rubin. Introduction. The nature of Jewish education

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the narrative of matan torah

The Narrative of Matan Torah

Lauren Kirschenbaum, MenachemMenchel, Hartley Perlmutter and Allison Rubin


The nature of Jewish education

  • Children grow up learning the stories of the Bible before reading them inside, and therefore they often approach the text with preconceived notions.

Our Interest:

  • To see how people assimilate the text of Matan Torah with their preconceived notions of the story and other foreknowledge.  
  • To see how different people understand ambiguities within the text and contradictions between what they have learned in the past and what is written in the text.
  • 2 Novices (3rd and 4th grade boys)
  • 2 Experts (teenage boys in high school)
  • Protocol: Asked interviewee to:
    • Summarize Matan Torah based on general knowledge
    • Draw a picture of Matan Torah
    • Read verses about Matan Torah (from Sefer Shmot) and explain the ambiguities and offer resolution to discrepancies between their summaries and the pesukim
  • Teenagers are less talkative and need trigger questions
  • Remember the more dramatic aspects of Matan Torah (EgelHazahav, breaking the Luchot)
  • The experts were aware of the abstract aspects depicted in the pesukim (KanfeiNesharim), while the novices focused on the concrete happenings

Analysis- Abstract vs. Concrete

Some of the key distinctions between our novices and expert interviewees manifest with regard to abstract reasoning versus concrete reasoning


1. Shofar

2. “Eagles Wings”

3. “Kedusha”


Analysis- Abstract vs. Concrete

There were exceptions to this distinction and we could not find consistency between both novices in each example.


Analysis- Drawings

Our analysis of the drawings led us to several interesting observations:

  • When drawing the ‘scene’ of Matan Torah, people are more likely to recall and to portray the components of the story that are most dramatic
  • e.g. -- breaking the luchot, despite it not being in the text
  • A potential theory for this behavior is that it is most memorable

Analysis- Drawings

Our analysis of the drawings led us to several interesting observations:

  • ‘Depicting’ God:
  • Both novices and Expert 2, seemed to want to portray God in a physical way, within the picture.
  • Novice 1 -- wrote the letter “hei” in a cloud
  • Novice 2 -- ?
  • Expert 2 – A cloud covering the whole sky


Our interviewees demonstrated numerous schemas, as well as a few mental models.


  • Both novices and Expert 2 incorporated a schema of rounded luchot included a picture of rounded luchot in their drawings
  • Novice 1 incorporated a schema associating fire with wood and thus, in depicting fire, he drew a charred branch -- this seemed to be a manifestation of his need for concrete reasoning because from his perspective, fire needs to burn something.



  • Novice 1 demonstrated a schema that mountains have snow at their tops
  • Novice 2 incorporated a schema of language and prefixes which manifest in his understanding of the word “encamped”
  • Expert 1 exhibited a story script associating greatness with the drum roll effect. He described thunder and lightning as the drum roll of God



  • Expert 2 described Matan Torah within its own schema


Mental Models

  • Utilizing a drawing to depict a story is a mental model that was employed by all interviewees (and prompted by interviewers)
  • Novice 2 attempted to construct a mental model when discussing where Hashem/God was
conclusion s
  • Experts remembered Matan Torah according to the stories they are taught in elementary school, even if they learned Shmot again in High School
  • This might teach us to re-evaluate how we teach Jewish Studies. Vivid stories seem to be more effective then learning from the pasuk.