Curriculum Cycle

Our school operates on a four-year curriculum cycle, with the entire school focusing on one theme for the entire year. This model allows us to dive deeply into a theme and explore it in all of our programming throughout the year. Every week that Beit Midrash meets, each class will study the same topic at the appropriate level for their age group.

The four years of our cycle are:

Avodah עֲבוֹדָה (Jewish practice) 

Torah תּוֹרָה (our central Jewish text)  

Derekh Eretz דֶרֶךְ אֶרֶץ (Jewish values)  <----- We are here!

L'dor vador לְדוֹר וָדוֹר (Jewish history)


Derekh Eretz: Living an Ethical Jewish Life

What is Derekh Eretz? Rabbi Phil explains below:

The Hebrew term דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ literally means “way of the world.” The phrase was employed in rabbinic literature (Talmud, Midrash, etc.) to refer variously to natural, normal human behavior (something like human nature), to one’s worldly occupation or trade, or to correct, proper conduct and behavior. Derekh Eretz in this latter sense has come to be the term’s common and accepted definition, effectively synonymous with courtesy, etiquette, politeness, or good manners. The Rabbis held this kind of Derekh Eretz in high regard, recognizing that our behavior reflects not just upon us as individuals, but upon our communities, our teachers, and even upon our God!

Although the Rabbis often found verses in Tanakh that support practices of Derekh Eretz, these weren’t generally included as formal laws in the halachic codes. In other words, some aspects of Derekh Eretz are properly classified as mitzvot – religious obligations. For example, Maimonides calls tzedakah (charitable giving) a mitzvah in his classic law code Mishneh Torah. Other aspects, meanwhile, are held to be more like recommendations or guidelines and often vary in their application with time and place. 

Similarly, some aspects of Derekh Eretz are what we’d call, in modern terminology, “ethics,” while others are more like “values.” Ethics are the actions, or sometimes, constraints on the actions that righteous people take. Values, on the other hand, are principles and ideals that help us in thinking about what’s most important and in making judgments about how we’re going to act. Values are what motivate us to act ethically. Tzedakah, within this framework, is the ethic which we are motivated to perform because of our concern for tzedek (justice, fairness, equality). 

In this curriculum year, we will explore Derekh Eretz holistically – embracing all of these various dimensions. 

Enduring Understandings for Our Derekh Eretz Year

  1. Derekh Eretz is the set of ethics, the conducts and behaviors, we do to take care of our sacred connections to God, family, community, and self. 

  2. As Jews, we have a responsibility to be concerned with and act on behalf of the dignity and well-being of others, simply because they are human beings.

  3. Jewish tradition guides us in making choices that bring greater kindness, compassion, and justice into the world.

  4. When I live with Derekh Eretz, I feel I’m living a life that I can be proud of.

  5. Living with Derekh Eretz is a central part of expressing my Jewish identity. I am an important part of an ongoing story of the Jewish people.