Text Study on Jewish Activism


In this lesson, students will read key Jewish sources on political activism and will analyze the role of activism as a core Jewish value.


Students will:

  • Summarize the foundational ideas behind activism in the Jewish religion, through the lens of Soviet Jews’ activism.
  • Reflect on the essential question: is social action a Jewish value?


  1. Trigger: Watch a video clip about priorities in following Jewish law. Ask students: how does our responsibility to others fit within what was stated in this video?

    Use the prompts below to lead a discussion with students, aiming to draw connections to the Refuseniks and their struggle.

    • What is your reaction to the video? Do you agree that we emphasize some laws over the ones about caring for others?
    • Why are we saving lives anyways? Why do we care so much about our brethren to save them in other lands?

2. Text Study: Have students study the texts in this source sheet. Then use the questions below to guide a discussion.

Suggested Questions for Discussion

  • How do the first four sources from the Torah lay the groundwork for us to understand what God expects of us?
  • The sources from Isaiah and Micah are very well known, yet the lessons from these prophecies have rarely been realized. Despite the best intentions, there are always wars somewhere in the world, people are not always perfect, and many mistakes are made. So, how can we read these texts and not brush them off as unrealistic?
  • How does Pirkei Avot 2:16 help us approach the huge task of taking on responsibility for others?
  • How do these sources relate to the story of Soviet Refuseniks? Who stood up for them and how? How did they stand up for their own rights and what happened as a result?
  • Which of these sources may have spoken most to those Soviets who demanded justice? If you were in their position, which source or sources would speak to you? Why?
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