Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Answer is 'No'

Can Minimal Jewish Education Be Made Viable? 

by Leon A. Jick

(from The Education of American Jewish Teachers, a volume of essays on the state of American Jewish education, edited by Oscar Jankowsky, 1967)

"In light of the often-extolled Jewish concern for education, it is nothing less than shocking to review the negligible interest which the American Jewish community has shown in Jewish education. Compared to the enormous effort mobilized by the community to foster Americanization, or to prosecute the relentless multi-fronted war which has been and is being waged on anti-Semitism, the energies and resources allocated to Jewish education are inconsequential.

Perhaps this neglect was understandable during the years when a largely immigrant community was preoccupied with establishing itself. Unfortunately, the pattern has continued without any significant change. Within the past decade, a socially and economically successful American Jewry has built an impressive complex of hospitals, welfare agencies, and community centers; it has founded and financed a new university [Brandeis]; it has established a medical school and is planning a second. Its public relations agencies, undeterred by diminishing hostility, have mushroomed in scope and expertise. Jewish education remains a stepchild at the banquet table of Jewish generosity and concern.

In view of this neglect, all the more credit is due to the devoted band of public servants who have struggled to raise the standards of Jewish education, to innovate, to respond to the immediate and long-range needs of Jewish schooling, whatever its institutional form or ideological content.

During the decades when American Jewry relied primarily on immigration from Eastern Europe to provide teaching personnel for Jewish schools, a handful of farsighted educators established teacher-training centers, The decimation of European Jewry and the evaporation of the stream of immigration precipitated a crisis long in the making. Without the contribution of the existing teacher-training institutions, this crisis would have reached the proportions of a calamity.

The recent colloquium and the present book have reviewed the work of all segments of the American Jewish community in the field of teacher training. This review provides us with an opportunity to acknowledge the achievement of those who labored while the community as a whole slumbered. At the same time, the survey reminds us that what has been done in the past by all segments of the Jewish community is woefully inadequate to meet the minimal needs for teaching and administrative personnel in Jewish education. [emphasis mine]

The provisions for teacher education in the Reform movement indicate that this branch of American Judaism is probably in the most difficult straits of all. Even if we accept the improbable thesis that a one-day-a-week school can provide a minimally adequate Jewish education, we must ask how can such schools function properly without trained teaching and supervisory personnel?

The report presented in this volume spells out the particulars of a disastrously inadequate school system. According to the statistics cited, one-fourth of those currently teaching in Reform Jewish schools have not had any Jewish education at all. Less than a fifth of the teachers have had "a secondary Jewish education of any kind." Clearly, no educational system can be built with teachers who are so deficient in knowledge and experience and whose example seems to testify to the peripheral value of Jewish education. [emphasis mine]


For better or for worse, a substantial proportion of American Jewish children receive their Jewish education in schools which are conducted by the Reform movement. This movement, together with Bureaus of Jewish Education and Colleges of Jewish Studies, must intensify their efforts to provide competent Jewishly oriented teachers for Reform religious schools."

1 comment:

  1. Another fascinating post. I don't know if the problem with Hebrew schools was that the teachers lacked formal training in Jewish topics (they could have learned a lot from their parents or independently), but one day of instruction per week for a few weeks per year until a child is Bar/Bas Mitzvehed is patently inadequate.

    The contrast reminds me of an anecdote given in the PBS documentary on Hasidic Jews, "A Life Apart."

    When the Satmar rebbe, Joel Teitelbaum, came to America he saw many empty synagogues and only a few religious schools. He said "We will do exactly the opposite from these Americanized Jews. . . We will get by with small synagogues. Instead we will build big schools with many children learning the Torah."