Jewish Digital Wisdom: 21st Century Hokhmat Lev

Digital Wisdom and Jewish Digital Wisdom: 21st Century Hokhmat Lev

A robust discourse regarding the unique characteristics and opportunities of 21st century education is ongoing in educational and sociological literature. While there are voices within the Jewish community that are engaged in this discourse and actively trying to apply it to Jewish educational milieus, the Jewish community has a long way to go. In order for Jewish education to remain relevant and grow in relevance, Jewish educational institutions need to integrate “digital wisdom” and 21st century educational theories and insights into our cultures and curricula. The concept of 21st century hokhmat lev (“deep wisdom”) is presented as a Jewish lens through which to explore 21st century education.

Digital Wisdom and Jewish Digital Wisdom: 21st Century Hokhmat Lev
            Prensky (2009) defines “digital wisdom” as a “twofold concept.” In his definition it is both wisdom enhanced by technology and wisdom exhibited in the proper use of technology (Prensky, 2009).  While there is a decidedly science fiction tone to his description of technologically enhanced minds with implanted, “lie detectors, logic evaluators, and executive function and memory enhancements,” Prensky’s “digital wisdom” ends up being a fairly banal concept exemplified by Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential election (Prensky, 2009).   While Prensky’s writing is at times provocative, the sum total of “digital wisdom” is little more than, “making wiser decisions because one is enhanced by technology” (Prensky, 2009).   By referencing Aristotle’s definition of wisdom and Socrates’ objection to the technology of writing, Prensky actually mitigates the novelty of his argument that technologically enhanced wisdom is something hitherto unheard of. 
            Prensky’s strength is his ability to provoke conversation.   While “digital wisdom” may not be as revolutionary a concept as Prensky would have us believe, it is useful educational/sociological shorthand for thinking about the impact of technology on education and the pursuit of wisdom in the 21st century.   
            In order for Jewish educators to apply the best educational theories and practices to our specific Jewish educational milieus we often need to play the role of meturgamim (“translators”).   Such is the case with Prensky’s concept of  “digital wisdom.”
            What is Jewish digital wisdom? At first glance it might seem like Jewish digital wisdom would be a more limited concept than digital wisdom generally.  Ironically, the opposite is true.  I would suggest that Jewish digital wisdom is rooted in a nuanced definition of the concept of hokhmat lev, which I translate as “deep wisdom.”
            In his Dictionary of the Talmud, Jastrow delineates the multivalence of the Hebrew words lev and hokhmah.   Lev, a noun, refers to both heart and mind: “[innermost,] heart, bosom; thought., inclination, mind” (Jastrow, 686).  Hokhmah, a verb, has a wide range of semantic resonances based on the permutation of the Hebrew root hacham.  Possible meanings include, but are not limited to, “to be wise, to know, to meet for deliberation, to become a scholar, to make wise, to stimulate a person’s mind by ingenious suggestions or questions; to subtilize, philosophize, to be shrewd; to be learned, to recognize, to know, to remember, to teach, to outwit, to be informed, aware; to learn, to hold counsel; to teach, to be a disciple or scholar” (Jastrow, 462-463).
            Jewish digital wisdom is best understood as 21st century hokhmat lev.  Hokhmat lev, by virtue of its broad semantic range, makes digital wisdom a meaningful and useful framing concept for Jewish educators.  Hokhmat lev is about the heart, the mind, and the rich interaction between them.   It encompasses ethics, morality, and critical thinking.  It requires not only enhanced access to information but “deliberation”, scrutiny, “philosophiz[ing],” recognition, memory, erudition, awareness, scholarship, mastery, inquiry, and critical thinking.  Implicated in the process of cultivating hokhmat lev is teacher and student, master and disciple.  Hokhmat lev assumes no digital divide or achievement gap.  It is a holistic and deeply Jewish concept. 
            As a Jewish educator qua meturgeman (“translator”) I am interested in bringing the concept of hokhmat lev into dynamic interaction with the various opportunities and challenges associated with the 21st century that are facing education generally and Jewish education in particular.  I believe that Judaism should embrace the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century and articulate a Jewish educational vision of 21st century hokhmat lev.   There is a high level of synergy and the possibility of unbounded creative dynamism at the various intersections of liberal Judaism and the cognitive and social processes at play in 21st century education.  Amazingly this synergy has not been systematically explored in Jewish education. 

21st Century Education and 21st Century Jewish Education
            While it would be foolish to deny the impact of technology on contemporary education and the current generation of students in K-12 schooling (Tapscott, 1998; Prensky, 2001; Oblinger & Oblinger 2005; Palfrey & Gasser, 2008; Hayes Jacobs, 2010) it would be equally foolish to limit the concept of 21st century education by focusing only on the integration of technologies into classroom instruction.  In the words of one 21st century position paper, “A focus on expanding access to new technologies carries us only so far if we do not also foster the skills and cultural knowledge necessary to deploy those tools toward our own ends” (Jenkins et al., 2006, 8).  21st century Jewish education too must focus on “fostering skills” and transmitting “cultural knowledge” with particular ends in mind. 
Liberated from a narrow view of 21st century education that focuses only on technology integration, the opportunity exists to take a much broader perspective and pose more fundamental questions regarding education.  For example, we can and should ask, “What should it mean to be an educated person in the twenty-first century? (Bereiter, 2002, 11).   Bereiter’s question and others like it take seriously the notion that we live in a “knowledge society” that is undergoing a “social transformation” (Bereiter, 2002, 12-13).   In order to prepare students for future success, schools need to be transformed into institutions that “produce knowledge” in ways that transcend even the majority of constructivist curricula (Bereiter, 2002, 19-20).  Again, the meturgeman asks, “What should it mean to be an educated Jew in the 21st century?”
            While a robust conversation among educational theorists and practitioners, social scientists, and policy makers is raging in general society, select voices within the Jewish community have begun a conversation on the topic of 21st century Jewish education.  The work of Woocher, Rubin Ross, and Woocher (2008) articulates a vision regarding the need, direction, and strategy for change in Jewish education today.  In articulating “Design Principles for the 21st Century” the authors take a broad view of 21st century Jewish education that focuses on 1) “empowering the learner”, 2) “the centrality of relationships and the social experience of learning”, and 3) “Jewish learning as ‘life-centered’” (Woocher, Rubin Ross, & Woocher, 2008.  3).  While technological innovation is undeniably part of the changing milieu of education it neither the primary cause nor the ‘magic bullet.’  Ironically, there is little in these “Design Principles” which is unique to the 21st century.   In fact, the notion that Jewish learning should be “life-centered” is attributed to Franz Rosenzweig, and the notion of empowering the learner can be traced back to the basic tenets of educational progressivism.  While these “Design Principles” are not saturated with 21st century lingo, the change agenda set forth has the potential to be visionary depending on how practitioners of Jewish education pursue new ideas and institutions.  As we will see, “empowerment,” “relationships,” and “life-centeredness,” all appear in 21st century educational discourse (Jenkins et al., 2006 in particular). 
21st Century Jewish Education—Possible Directions
            Woocher, Rubin Ross, and Woocher (2008) argue that, “Jewish education has responded… only partially and unsystematically” to the “dramatic” changes of the last quarter century (p.  2).   While we may grant that Judaism has not been quick to articulate a systematic new vision of Jewish education commensurate with the rate and nature of social change, this is more a reflection of a kind of institutional paralysis and fragmentation than it is a reflection of the potential within Judaism to do so (Wertheimer, 2008).  The spiritual side of Jewish institutional stagnation was identified by Mordecai Kaplan (1933) who bemoaned, “The lack of controversial writing about Judaism” as “the peace of stagnation” (Kaplan, 1933, xiv).   Implicit in Woocher, Rubin Ross, and Woocher, Wertheimer, and Kaplan, is the belief that Judaism can articulate a “controversial” or at least forward thinking vision of Jewish education.  It is my belief that Judaism is not only capable of doing so, but uniquely qualified to do so.  When viewed from a historical perspective, Judaism has demonstrated time and again a dynamic interaction with changing social conditions (Meyer, 1988 among others).  In spite of the strong traditionalist tendency within Judaism, Judaism has always synthesized and engaged various aspects of secular culture in exciting and authentic ways.  Such will be the case as Jewish educators explore the various aspects of 21st century hokhmat lev.  While it is beyond the scope of this (or any individual author/paper) to fully develop a vision of 21st century hokhmat lev (due to the communal/dialogic/dialectical nature inherent to such a task), it is possible to indicate a few compelling possibilities for Jewish educators to explore and consider. 
            Shifting notions of text, reading, authorship and literacy.
            The notion that technology in general and Web 2.0 in particular necessitates a rethinking of the concept of literacy has gained widespread traction in 21st century educational literature (Inter alia Jenkins et al, 2006; AASL, 2007; Marsh, 2007; Prensky, 2001 and 2008; Black, 2009; Dresang & Kotrla, 2009; Merchant, 2009; Trilling & Fadel, 2009; Mills, 2010).   Literacy needs to be rethought not only in relation to digital content but in relation to “the reading, writing and creation of texts” generally as Web 2.0 has accustomed young and old alike to being “active users” and generators of content (Marsh, 2007, 267, 273).  Beyond impacting traditional notions of reading, writing, and text, there is a growing sense that literacy encompasses “a set of cultural competencies and social skills that young people need in the new media landscape” (Jenkins et al., 2006, 4).   Far from being limited to content knowledge, 21st century literacy promotes cognitive as well as societal goals.  The American Association of School Librarians’ Standards for the 21st– Century Learner focuses not only on “critical thinking” but also on “applying knowledge to new situations,” “creat[ing] new knowledge,” and “participat[ing] ethically and productively as members of our democratic society” (AASL, 2007, 3).  That literacy should be concerned with ethical conduct and promote democratic citizenship is not unheard of.  However the distillation of ethics and citizenship into concrete academic documents and their renewed attention in discussions of digital literacy is significant and reflects the unprecedented access to knowledge and information of varying qualities as well as the ability to produce knowledge and information with increasing ease and obliqueness (Jenkins et al., 2006). 
            One particularly intriguing aspect of the literacy conversation is the concept of “Radical Change Theory” (Dresang & Kotrla, 2009).  Radical Change Theory asserts that texts and readership are being transformed in the digital age because of the increased presence of “interactivity, connectivity, and access” as significant and defining features in literary contexts (Dresang & Kotrla, 2009, 94).   “Interactivity” points to the blurring of the lines between reading and writing.  Non-linear formats, dynamic interactions between graphics and text, and the use of hypertext and links demand a level of activity and engagement from the reader that approaches Barthe’s concept of the “writerly text” (Dresang & Kotrla, 2009, 97).  Building on the ideas of reader response theories, Radical Change Theory calls attention to the meaning-making activity of the reader and demonstrates that a wide array of texts invite and encourage this constructivist engagement.  “Interactivity” brings with it the intriguing possibility of “infinite readings” (Dresang & Kotrla, 2009, 98). 
Beyond “interactivity”, “connectivity” has to do with the “social interaction surrounding literature.” “Fan fiction,” which is the reader-generated extension of popular literature like the Harry Potter series, is considered a paradigmatic example of how literacy has changed (Dresang & Kotrla, 2009, 104; Black, 2009, 690).  Lastly, “access” reflects the unprecedented access to information enjoyed by all consumers.  “Access” also refers to the ability to engage with more diverse and difficult texts than ever before (Dresang and Kotrla, 2009). 
            21st century hokhmat lev and new Jewish literacy.
            That evolving definitions of literacy should be of interest to “the People of the Book” should be obvious.   Issues of readership, authorship, text, and authority are persistently relevant in Judaism and Jewish education.  21st century hokhmat lev should consider how Radical Change Theory’s notions of “interactivity, connectivity, and access” are relevant in Jewish educational milieus today.  The relationship between “fan fiction” and midrash, between hypertext and Talmudic citations, between connectivity and public Torah readings—these are fertile areas for exploration.  Literacy technologies have had deep sociological repercussions throughout Jewish history as the Jewish people have moved from scroll to book and beyond.  The ability to “access” Jewish text is a key question in every age because access impacts the overall shape of the Jewish conversation.  The time has come for Judaism to embrace the opportunity to reconsider Jewish literacy and what it means for 21st century hokhmat lev.  Woocher, Rubin Ross, and Woocher’s criteria of empowerment, relationship, and life-centeredness should be a part of this conversation.  “Empowerment” and “access,” “relationship” and “connectivity,” “life-centeredness” and “interactivity”: these concepts play off of one another in a variety of dynamic ways. 
            Participatory culture.
            Jenkins et al.  (2006) offering the following definition of “participatory culture”:
A participatory culture is a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices.  A participatory culture is also one in which members believe their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection with one another (p.  3).
            Participatory cultures focus on empowerment and allow for multiple levels of engagement wherein, “some will only dabble, some will dig deeper, and still others will master the skills that are most valued within the community” (Jenkins et al., 2006, 10).  “Creative expression” and “active participation” are valued (Jenkins et al., 2006, 7). 
            Judaism as a participatory culture. 
            Traditional Judaism embodies several aspects of Jenkins’ “participatory culture” as it encourages participation in myriad ways.  This is even more the case for liberal Judaism, which consistently seeks to remove barriers to participation.  Judaism requires community.  One cannot live a full Jewish life in isolation nor can one be fully Jewish as a non-participant.  Jewish prayer, study, observance, indeed all of Jewish living can only take place within the context of a participatory culture.  Like other participatory cultures, when it comes to Judaism, “some will dabble, some will dig deeper, and still others will master the skills…” (Jenkins et al., 2006, 7). 
            One significant point of departure between traditional Judaism and Jenkins’ notion of “participatory culture” has to do with the role of innovation and creative expression.  A key feature of participatory culture as defined by Jenkins is “relatively low barriers to artistic expression” (Jenkins et al., 2006, 3).  Until recently, and even now in many cases, many Jews encounter barriers—real or perceived, when they approach Judaism.  They do not find in Judaism a summons to “artistic expression.” Similarly, mentorship is often lacking in Jewish religious life and many Jews feel that Judaism places little value on their individual contributions to the culture and participation in the community. 
            Jewish education can and should play a role in helping Judaism to become more of a participatory culture.  By mentoring and educating students of all ages, Jewish education can help lower the barriers to participation and creative engagement with Jewish tradition.  Existing Jewish educational milieus such as day schools are the venues where Jewish children are socialized for participation in Jewish life.  Decisions impacting the curriculum and culture of such institutions should weigh whether steps are being taken to make Judaism more or less accessible for students.  Are students being equipped with the skills and dispositions associated with 21st century hokhmat lev? Are they being invited to interact, connect, access, empower, make meaning, create, express, and produce? One of the great benefits of participatory culture is that it generates feelings of ownership and belonging.  In Judaism we speak of educating toward Jewish commitment.  Bringing the dynamism of participatory culture more fully into Jewish education can undoubtedly strengthen feelings of ownership and belonging.  Such feelings are necessary for Judaism to remain relevant in the marketplace of “participatory cultures.”
            Teacher training and professional development: towards TPCK.
            Transformation in education cannot happen without teacher training and professional development.  Mishra and Koehler (2006) build on Shulman’s concept of PCK by putting forth the concept of TPCK.  Whereas PCK stands for “pedagogical content knowledge” TPCK stands for “Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge” (Mishra & Koehler, 2006, 1017, 1021).  Their aim in expanding Shulman’s PCK is to provide a theoretical framework for discussing how teachers’ technological knowledge is inextricably connected to teachers’ knowledge of pedagogy and content (Mishra & Koehler, 2006).  A 21st century teacher cannot be successful without demonstrating competency in the areas of TPCK.  Technology is a critical component for Mishra and Koehler because “the incorporation of a new technology or new medium for teaching suddenly forces us to confront basic educational issues because this new technology or medium reconstructs the dynamic equilibrium among [technology, pedagogy, and content]” (Mishra & Koehler, 2006, 1030).  In other words, teachers must be reflectively aware of the impact of technology on the art of teaching. 
            Mishra and Koehler are not the only voices suggesting that teachers need support in order to be successful agents for 21st century education (Eisner, 1995; Watson, 2006; Krumsvik, 2008; Lei, 2009; Hedberg, 2010; Archambault et al., 2010; and others).  While younger teachers may have positive beliefs about technology it has been demonstrated that this does not mean that they know how to meaningfully integrate new technologies into their pedagogy (Lei, 2009, 92).  Specifically, teachers need collaboration with experts, successful experiences implementing new technology, and a sense of being a part of a community of practice committed to technology integration (Hedberg, 2010, 2).  Empirical research on teacher professional development suggests that effective workshops and professional development opportunities can transform PCK into TPCK (Archambault et al., 2010). 
            Jewish education and J(ewish)TPCK. 
            Woocher, Rubin Ross, and Woocher (2008) remind us that Jewish education will not change unless a dedicated cadre of Jewish educators leads the way (p.  5).  These Jewish educators will need to articulate a J(ewish)TPCK that brings Jewish education closer to an understanding of 21st century hokhmat lev.  At the risk of descending into alphabet soup I think there’s tremendous value in considering the possibility of J(ewish)TPCK as it relates to 21st century hokhmat lev.  Articulating a theoretical framework for 21st century Jewish education reveals how complex 21st century Jewish education can be.  A 21st century Jewish educator will be able to cultivate a sense of 21st century hokhmat lev only if they consistently integrate their knowledge of content, pedagogy, technology, and Judaism.  It could be argued that “J” and “C” are actually the same thing—that Judaism is the content that a Jewish educator must know.  However, Judaism is not only content, but also process.  Judaism is not only the “what” but also the “how.” Chevruta learning, tefila services, and Torah readings are a few examples of the  “how” of Judaism.  It is not enough to be familiar with the content of Judaism.  For true 21st century hokhmat lev Jewish educators must be able to engage Judaism as a methodology for teaching various forms of content, not unlike what has hitherto been referred to as “integration.” Asserting the “J” means insisting that Judaism is unique.  It means that as Jewish educators we are meturgamim, because we are not satisfied with great ideas that are written in a foreign language and that do not reflect the nuances and particularities of Judaism. 
            While there is tremendous value in Jewish educators receiving professional development in non-Jewish contexts, the only way that Jewish education can fully actualize 21st century hokhmat lev is with particular support and training for Jewish educators.  At the present moment there is a disconnect between Jewish education and 21st century education.  This is because Jewish educators have not yet developed the necessary platforms to do the specific work of articulating a vision and practice of 21st century Jewish education.  It is incumbent upon teachers and other Jewish leaders to be pioneers in this field.
Ki Va Moed– “The Time has Come”
            The 21st century is no longer a distant and abstract concept.  We live in a world where 9/11 is increasingly associated more with history than memory.  Moreover, we live in complicated and often discouraging times.  As one author proclaims, “Ruptures and upheavals punctuate injustice and illuminate the breakdown of community: the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, the genocide in Darfur, the No Child Left Behind Act, and corporate globalization…” (Renner, 2009, 59).   The 21st century is a time of instability, anxiety, and conflicting ideologies.  It is also a time of hope and opportunity. 
Before long, speaking of 21st century education will feel passé.  The conversation will have moved on to mid-21st century education or “post” 21st century education.  The window of opportunity for Judaism to meaningfully explore 21st century hokhmat lev is narrower than most of us can imagine.  Jewish educators are not merely lagging behind; we are actively closing doors and burying our heads in the sand by not engaging one another in a process of updating and reinvigorating Jewish education.  A conversation regarding 21st century hokhmat lev needs to happen now, otherwise any trace of vibrancy and “life-centeredness” in Jewish education will be the stuff of history and memory. 


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