180 Students- 1 Case Study- 1 energized Upper School

For the first two weeks of the second semester, the entire Rabbi Moshe H. Levinson Upper School of Berman Hebrew Academy wrestled with an ethical-religious dilemma in their Talmud/Rabbinics classes that created a buzz and an energy around their Judaics learning that was truly inspiring.

The case involved a dilemma based on an actual medical event from 1977.  Conjoined twins were born to an Orthodox Jewish couple and they shared one six-chambered heart.  They could not live more than a couple of weeks in this state. Can you take the heart and put it in one of the babies, giving them a chance to live a regular life but also ending the life of the other?


The Upper School used the Project Based Learning (PBL) model as a way to approach this complicated topic.  PBL is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge.

Each student received a packet of sources to help work through the core principles involved in deciding this heart-wrenching question.  Because such a case has no direct parallels in rabbinic sources, of course, the students needed to interpret, analyze, analogize, and identify the most productive parallels to help resolve the dilemma.

In classes, in the hallways, in carpools and at dinner tables, students across grades and classes argued, debated and decided.  It was an eye-opening experience for many of them since, in true Project-Based Learning fashion, it started with a problem to be solved.  

Some of the students were also privileged to hear more about the bioethics side of the case from Jeffrey Gruenglas, an expert in this area.  Mr. Gruenglas explained the principles of medical ethics and their importance and presented different possibilities to handle the specific case from the point of view of the parents and doctors.

The two week project culminated in a public discussion and debate by some of the faculty members, moderated by Dr. Levisohn, in front of a rapt student body, who used their electronic devices to answer questions about the case.  Their collective responses were projected on a screen during the panel.

The overwhelming success of this project has energized the desire to prepare other such case studies for future use in the classroom.

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