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Jewish Education in the 21st Century

By R. Haim Ovadia

To create a perfect, or at least optimal, system of Jewish education, we first must define the desired outcome. What do we expect our child to become after 12 years of Jewish education? I believe that the answer is that we would aspire to have a young person who is excited and proud about being Jewish, who is determined to lead a Jewish life, to contribute to society, and to bring up the next generation with the same conviction. The way these goals are realized for everyone may differ significantly, as some people are more text oriented, some are action-driven, some have mastery of Hebrew, while others access all Jewish material through translation. I would like to offer here some insights, based on my experience as an educator, a parent, and even as a student (though those days seem now so far away.)

Have you read your children’s textbooks? 

One of my favorite pastimes as a child was reading, especially the encyclopedia תרבות – Culture, which any self-respecting household in Israel had to have in the 1960’s and 70’s. When I was in my mid-twenties I found a used set and, overwhelmed by nostalgia, bought it and brought it home. As I leafed through the books I realized that I remember very well most of the entries on world culture and history, while those dealing with Jewish and Israeli history did not ring any bells. That was weird because those were, and still are, my favorite subjects. Why did I not recognize these entries? Another review of the books helped me understand the difference between the entries, a difference I was not aware of as a child, but which nevertheless affected me. The encyclopedia was an Italian publication, originally called Conoscere, which gained great popularity in Italy and was translated to many languages, Hebrew among them. The Italian publisher envisioned the series as a vehicle to bring education to the masses, and special attention was given to the visual aspect of the books, which were illustrated by Italian artists and printed in color. In the Hebrew edition, new entries were written to cover literature, culture, religion, and history, but those entries were accompanied, in most cases, by drab illustrations and black-and-white photos. When I was reading these books as a child, I usually skipped the “boring” pages, and with them the important knowledge they contained. 

This story illustrates the importance of engaging textbook. I was a hopeless bookworm – in one case my mother plucked a book (Greatheart, by J. Chipperfield) from my hands and tore it because she thought I ignored her when she called my name, but I wasn’t, I REALLY did not hear her – but still I skipped those entries because they looked boring and lackluster. 

Now take your child’s textbooks and put them side by side. World, European, and American History compared to Jewish History. English language compared to Hebrew. Does one of them look more engaging than the other? Check out the content. How interesting is the text in English compared to that in Hebrew? Obviously, the material in one’s mother tongue can and should be more sophisticated than that in the secondary language, but some though must be given to the content. It should be intriguing, informative, or entertaining, and when it is focused only on acquiring the language it does not pull the reader in. Take for example Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat or One Fish, Two Fish. Children four-year old will ask you to read it to them again and again, unaware that they are being tricked into learning. Meanwhile, in schools around the country, a commonly used Hebrew textbook offers the following story to first graders: Zazo the gosling sees a mountain. The mountain does not move. Zazo asks “why doesn’t the mountain move?” True, the story (clipped here to diminish torture) was created to teach the letter ז, but we should not insult the children’s intelligence. What first grader believes that an animal will not know the difference between an animate and inanimate object?

Or take for example this “story”, which is accompanied with dreary gray and green illustrations from the forties, though the textbook was published in 2001: On Shabbat Danny is not in the classroom. On the Day of Shabbat, he is at home. Danny’s father and mother are also at home. On Shabbat Danny’s family is at home. On Shabbat Danny is at the synagogue. Danny’s father and mother are also at the synagogue. On Shabbat Danny’s family is at the synagogue. Danny’s father prays at the synagogue. Danny also prays at the synagogue. Danny’s mother also prays at the synagogue… You get the point.

This is only the Hebrew department in the lower division, and the situation is not much better with other subjects and the higher grades. As most parents know, Hebrew and Judaic textbooks in high school are in many cases tons of handouts in overflowing binders. I believe it is imperative to produce presentable, creative, and engaging textbooks, but first we must ask what the texts are and what is the curriculum…

Hebrew or English?

Hebrew is a beautiful, logical, and compact language. It is the language of the bible, the Mishna, the Midrash, poetry, the modern State of Israel, and our prayer books. It is also, as many new immigrants to Israel used to say, עברית קשה שפה – language Hebrew difficult. English speakers who are not used to gender-specific nouns find it more difficult than those who speak French or Spanish, but even those language don’t apply gender to verbs as Hebrew does (אוכל\אוכלת; אוכלים\אוכלות). Typically, when you see a student in preschool or elementary school who excels in Hebrew, it is either because Hebrew is spoken at home or the parents are passionate about Hebrew, in which case they ensure full immersion, get tutors, and follow closely the language program with the teacher. 

For most students in Jewish day schools, there is no serios incentive for learning Hebrew, unless it is inculcated in them at home or by the teacher. Graduates of some schools, despite having a comprehensive Hebrew curriculum for years, are incapable of speaking the language or fluently read Hebrew texts. Considering this, we must ask whether it is preferable to teach essential Jewish text in Hebrew or in English (or the students’ spoken language)? Teaching עברית בעברית has the advantage of exposing the students to the original texts and helping them acquire the necessary skills for analyzing such texts. On the other hand, given the double curriculum and the limited time for teaching Judaic studies, it might be better to eliminate the language barrier and make the text more accessible to the students. And there is another problem which looms large, a problem which I have encountered in numerous occasions with diverse groups of students, from high school to rabbinical candidates. The problem is known as “lost in translation”, but I would like to focus not on what is lost when one reads the English text, but on what is lost when one reads the Hebrew text and interprets it in his mind or on the paper, word by word. To demonstrate that problem, let us conduct a quick test:

Test Your Translation Skills

On a piece of paper, jot down the associations you have when reading the following words:

שושנים, בית, אש, הר, צעקה, כלב, סערה, אמא, ים, לב

Now write the associations you have with the same words in English:

Roses, home, fire, mountain, shout, dog, storm, mother, sea, heart.

Did you have the same associations in both languages? If Hebrew and English are not your languages, try this with words in your native tongue and another which you are learning. Chances are that the associations in your native tongue are much richer and poetic than in the language you are translating from. That is because the words in our native tongue are acquired in a natural process as we grow and communicate with people and with the world around us. Not only do we identify them in poems, literature, media, and street signs, but we also assign them to objects and sights. Compare this process to our familiarity with an acquired language, and you could easily see how dull and poor it is in comparison. There are no semantic fields or clusters of words associated with the words we slowly translate in our mind, one by one. 

The nuances missed when translating single words become much more significant when translating idioms, and of course poetry and prose. Whether teaching Tanakh, Mishnah, midrash, or Hebrew literature, the teacher must convey a fragmented, almost disembodied text, and might find it very difficult to be passionate about the text or inspired by it. Connecting the dots between the text studied in class and other texts in Jewish literature which can be associated with it can greatly deepen the understanding of the students, but it requires tremendous effort.

(This article was originally published as a blog, and at this point, I referred a question to the readers, among whom I knew there are many distinguished scholars, rabbis, and teachers:) Assuming that you have limited time to teach a paragraph, let’s say the Ten Commandments, to students who have  a working knowledge of Hebrew, would you rather achieve a literal translation of the text by the students, or work with the text in English, highlighting key words and focusing on conveying the message and on inspiring the students to consider themselves part of the covenant represented by the text?

(And this were the conclusions of the survey:) Regarding the question whether curricula should focus on teaching the Hebrew language or the content, it seems that no one doubts the importance of mastery of Hebrew to fully comprehend our classical texts. At the same time, however, we must acknowledge the problem of not being able to convey the full power of the moral messages of Tanakh and Jewish philosophy when teaching in Hebrew only. The answer should therefore be that one size does not fit all, and that schools should create two separate tracks, one would have a high bar in Hebrew requirements, and those who do not meet them will join the other track. These two tracks should start from pre-k, and so parents who truly want their children to speak Hebrew will make sure that they are exposed to Hebrew as a spoken language at a very young age. This will guarantee that those enrolled in the Hebrew track come from households where Hebrew plays a major role, whether because it is the native tongue of the parents, or because of ideology. It solves the problem of lack of incentive in Hebrew studies. 

It will be very difficult, of course, to convince schools to go this way, and if it happens, it will require joint effort of schools, teachers, and parents, to create resources which will allow immersion in Hebrew at the early years. As many of readers commented when the first part of this article was published as a blog, in which I wrote about the need to create engaging and exciting learning materials, one of the best tools we have is modern technology and the internet. The problem is that the available material is scattered over many websites and YouTube channels, and it is not always easily accessible. I know this from my own experience, and because my wife told me! She has always used music to teach language, and she wrote and composed original songs on Parasha and Judaic studies, as well as a Hebrew textbook now used by Yeshivah of Flatbush. Her musical materials are not recorded and posted for others to use, and when she searches for video clips or worksheets to show her students, there is very little which is suitable for American children for whom Hebrew is a second language. Israeli or Hebrew speakers, on the other hand, have material appropriate for their children’s language skills. We lived in Bogota, Colombia, for five years, and though Colegio Colombo Hebreo was a wonderful school, we were not satisfied with the level of Hebrew there. In of our trips to Israel we schlepped back two sets of videotapes, with some forty tapes in total, and many Hebrew workbooks. The two sets, פרפר נחמד and בלי סודות, were highly educational but also entertaining, and together with the workbooks they helped keep our children on track. When we returned to Israel the teachers at Darkhay Noam, Petah Tikva, couldn’t believe that those kids lived in South America for five years. However, when we tried to use the same videos (online, of course) for American students, they were too advanced for them. Based on our shared experience, here is what I like to suggest:

  1. We need to create a web-based hub for all the available material for teaching Hebrew in creative methods, hopefully expanding it to other fields of Jewish Studies. 
  2. The hub should be crowd-sourced and designed as a closed wiki (only certified people can edit). Even as a closed wiki, it could enlist hundreds and hopefully thousands, of educators and parents.
  3. The hub will curate and link to existing material. The first step of curation will be done by the editors, and the next one will be done by users, using a rating system like that of Reddit. 
  4. The next stage will be to invite educators to submit and create original material. There could even be targeted campaigns such as: “we need something for ___________, who has a video/song/worksheet to share?”
  5. Create subtitles for the Israeli series mentioned above, and others which might prove useful, to allow parents to explain the content to their children. 

The advantage of that system is that it will be based on user-experience, the users being the children. It will make existing materials accessible, will help expose unknown materials and create new ones, and will help educators determine which textbooks and worksheets are engaging and exciting for students.

K-12 Curriculum

It is hard to believe, but there is no agreed-upon curriculum in the Jewish education system in the United states. In the few schools where the idea of a curriculum exists, it usually presents the following problems:

  1. There is no K-12 curriculum. Rather, pre-school usually focuses on language skills and holidays, while elementary school and high school each have their own, which are not necessarily compatible or continuous.
  2. The core concept of most Judaic studies’ curricula is covering ground or exposing the students to as many important works as possible. Students “must” learn Humash, Navi, Parashat HaShavua, Jewish Laws (Dinim), Talmud, Mishna, Jewish thought (Maimonides, Kuzari), and of course, separately, Jewish history.
  3. Some of the subjects, though anchored in the school’s curriculum, are not clearly defined and are left largely in the teacher’s hand. Talmud, for example, is a body of work with over 2,700 pages of text. How does one decide what is appropriate or necessary for students to learn? 

I believe that the ideal Judaic studies curriculum should neither be built around the texts which are considered important, nor around skills of language and analysis. Those two are important but they are not the primary goal, at least not for K-12. Judaic studies are not another academic area but rather a means of introducing our children to the tenets of the Jewish faith and instilling in them the eternal values of the Torah. For most parents, the search for a good school does not start with the thought: “Rabbi so-and-so is an expert on The Guide of the Perplexed!” What are the main criteria for choosing one Jewish school over another? I can describe what I know from my experience, as well as that of friends who shared theirs or asked for advice. The criteria are usually, in descending order:

  1. Acceptance rate in universities and colleges.
  2. Level of general studies.
  3. Trends in the community.
  4. Character traits of graduates.
  5. Zionism.
  6. Level of Judaic studies (strong Hebrew skills; ability to get into a good Yeshivah.)
  7. Judaic studies curriculum

The first two (or three) reflect the desire of the parents for their child to be successful and well-integrated into their society. A good school (with emphasis on high school) is one which sends your child off to an excellent higher education, from which he or she will emerge four or seven years later ready to make a living, succeed, and maybe even conquer.   Number 1-2 greatly depend on the nature and quality of the curriculum, but most parents do not bother to analyze it, since the success of past graduates is the proof that the curriculum is good. Numbers 4-6 speak represent the aspiration to preserve Jewish tradition and values. Unlike higher education, which is easily defined and labeled (Ivy league, state or city colleges etc.), the definition of Jewish heritage is very broad. For some parents it’s “I want my child to pray three times a day, never skip a day of tefillin, eat the highest level of Kosher food, and hopefully make Aliyah” while for others it’s “I just want him to be a good Jew” or “the main thig is that she or he marries Jewish.” For that reason, parents rarely pay attention to the curriculum. These outcomes are often determined in the crucial teenager years, and even with a hectic or misguided curriculum in the early years, a student might embark on the right track with the help of a dedicated and inspiring teacher. This, however, is not the norm, and I believe that it is up to the schools to create a Jewish curriculum which has one primary goal: 

A high school graduate should feel pride and joy for being a Jew, and intrigued to keep learning and growing spiritually. He or she should be exemplary citizens, who integrate their observance of Torah and Mitzvot with the secular world surrounding them. They should be able to conduct their professional lives without compromising their religious beliefs and practices.

Achieving that goal is of supreme importance, and we should therefore gear all our efforts towards it from the very first day of our child in school. Every text and program should be measured by that yardstick. For example, if a student in second grade spends several days on learning the names of all the people in Abram’s family and their familial connection, or the details and the maps of Abram’s travels, we should ask how this is going to make him a good Jew. When Elementary school students dedicate several months to memorizing the different types of sacrifices and in what occasion they are brought, or the names of all the kings of the northern and southern kingdom, how long they ruled, and whether they were assassinated or succeeded by their sons (that’s me in 7-8 grades), we should ask the same question. And yes, we should ask that question when a high school student dwells on medieval philosophical debates on the nature of God’s names, or the five different opinions in the Talmud on Kiddush when Yom Tov falls on a Sunday (the verdict is יקנהז).

Only once we have secured the goal of producing graduates who are committed to their heritage and inspired by it, can we think of approaching texts which are intriguing and important, but do not contribute directly to the cause. To do that, I believe that we need to build a comprehensive K-12 curriculum which will revolve around themes. 

Theme-based K-12 Curriculum

To successfully implement a curriculum, and especially one which is theme-based, we need to examine several rules of Jewish education:

  1. There are certain books or texts which the students must learn.
  2. In the lower grades, children should be talked down to because they cannot grasp complex or abstract concepts. 
  3. When it comes to practical Halakha, the parents’ education cannot be trusted.  

Rule number one elevates certain books, authors, or texts to the status of permanent members of the curriculum, and everything else must be built around those. Schools and educators each have their own list, but some texts stand out, for example, the Talmud, or parts of it, Rashi’s commentary on the Torah, and philosophical works such as the Kuzari or Guide of the Perplexed. Of these texts, only those which serve the purpose of Jewish education should be integrated into a comprehensive program, built around themes and concepts, and delivered in gradual increments of depth to students K-12.

Rule number two underestimates the intelligence of children. We should not assume that children are less intelligent than adults. My wife teaches first and second grade, and she tells me of amazing question and answers her students come up with. That happens because she has a sincere and respectful dialog with them, and because she allows them to express their opinions instead of spoon-feeding them. Together, my wife and I have been teaching for almost thirty years (each…) in non-formal education, and our experience with our students and our own children has shown us that children are capable to handle very serious and deep subjects. We must trust their intelligence and be sensitive to their reactions, and while we do not avoid tough questions, we must make sure to always provide a sense of stability and trust. In Jewish education, such questions include, for example, the issues of divine justice, the nature of God, and creation vs. evolution. 

Rule number three affects more the allocation of time and resources then the structure of the curriculum, but it also has implication on the complex relationships, a love-triangle (or love-hate?) if you wish, between school, students, and parents. Each year, teachers spend precious time in working with students on the intricate details of the laws of Shabbat and holidays. The redundancy breeds boredom, and sometimes can even take away from the surprise element of the holiday, especially on Pesah. Additionally, it could sometimes cause tension between students and their parents, as students confront their parents with demands for a different practice, just like the one they were taught in school. Instead of investing so much time and effort in becoming the parents’ community and halakhic guide, schools could adopt one or all the following tactics: a) reach out to parents and ask who is interested in learning Halakha. Once the parents learn and practice, their children will follow their example; b) make an effort to learn the practices of all parents, a process which might take several years, but which can be documented and accessible online; and c) with a well-structured curriculum, add each year levels of meaning and depth, and teach only those added elements. The rest will be done by the students at home by reviewing texts from previous years. 

Once those concepts are understood, we can approach the question pf creating a theme-based curriculum. Here are several themes I believe are important, and I would love to hear your thoughts before I publish the next article on Monday, in which I hope to expand on some of the themes:

The Image of God; Shabbat; Sacrifices and Prayers; Business Ethics; Lashon Hara and proper speech; Reward and punishment; Respect for parents, siblings, and elders; Social Justice; Creating a judicial system; 

The Importance of Tanakh

The Tanakh should be the primary source for every Judaic Studies subject, including Jewish history. It is ספר הספרים – the Book of Books, and the only text we believe was delivered to us by the power of prophecy. Jewish faith and observance is based on the belief of the revelation on Mount Sinai and the direct communication between God and humans through the prophets, and therefore the study of any subject should be prefaced with the question: “what does the Tanakh say about this?” In the realm of Jewish Law, it was Maimonides who sought to instill this awareness in his readers, and so at the opening of each section of his Mishne Torah he listed the number of commandments and prohibitions related to that subject in the Torah. Before the laws of Shabbat, for example, he writes:

הלכות שבת יש בכללן חמש מצות: שתי מצות עשה, ושלש מצות לא תעשה. וזה הוא פרטן: (א) לשבות בשביעי. (ב) שלא לעשות בו מלאכה. (ג) שלא לענוש בשבת. (ד) שלא לצאת חוץ לגבול בשבת. (ה) לקדש היום בזכירה. וביאור מצות אלו בפרקים אלו

The laws of Shabbat include five commandments, two active and three passive commandments, which are: a) cease work on the seventh day; b) not to perform work; c) not to administer punishment (by the court) on Shabbat; d) not to go out of the Shabbat boundary; e) sanctify the Shabbat verbally. The details of these commandments will be explained in the following chapters. 

Those two tiny lines are sometimes ignored by readers, but they are extremely important, as they provide a perspective of the volume of the legal discussion of Shabbat, or any other concept, in the Torah. When studying the laws of Shabbat, students should know that there are five Shabbat-related commandments in the Torah and ask how the halakhic literature evolved to its current volume. But learning about Shabbat in the Tanakh does not end with the number of commandments. Since the commandment of Shabbat is associated with the creation of the world in the Exodus’ decalogue, and with the exodus in Deuteronomy’s decalogue, understanding the theological message of creation and the exodus is imperative to understanding the biblical concept of Shabbat. In addition, students should be familiar with the rituals of Shabbat in the Tabernacle and the Temple, the case of the wood-gatherer, and the manna. They should also learn chapter 58 of Isaiah where the prophet praises Shabbat observance, and chapters 17 of Jeremiah and 13 of Nehemiah, which chronicle the Shabbat wars in ancient Jerusalem. 

Armed with this knowledge, students are now ready to approach rabbinic literature, to which they can be exposed gradually and according to their level. They should be able to distinguish between the halakhic and non-halakhic components of that literature and be familiar with the different works and genres within rabbinic literature.

I would like to go back to the issue of Tanakh study. I believe that Jewish education should aspire to instill in students a great love for and appreciation of Tanakh. We would want them to have mastery of, and not only proficiency in, Tanakh. This has been the core element of Jewish education everywhere until the turn of the millennium, and mainly in the Sephardic world in later times. The Iraqi community has preserved a practice of completing the while Tanakh every year. In addition to the Torah reading, Nevi’im and Ketuvim were divided into units of 10-12 chapters which were read on Shabbat morning or afternoon. I have done several cycles of Tanakh with my grandfather, who would listen to me intently with his eyes closed, correcting me on Te’amim and pronunciation and challenging me with questions on textual oddities, contradictions, and ideology. No biblical stone remained unturned, including Job and Daniel, the latter even becoming racing grounds for me and my brother, as we were trying to see who can read faster the tongue-twisting Aramaic.

It is of course preferable to study Tanakh in Hebrew, and as one of the great non-Jewish Hebraists of the Renaissance once said, it is worthwhile studying Hebrew seventy years to be able to read one psalm in the original Hebrew. However, while we encourage students to master Hebrew, they should not delay in getting to know Tanakh, even if through translations. In a school setting, the curriculum should allocate age appropriate reading for each grade, with the aim of reading through the whole Tanakh by the end of elementary school. Parallel to that, starting perhaps in middle school, select parts of the Tanakh would be studied thoroughly and, yes, memorized (even if in English). The importance of memorizing texts is elucidated in the award-winning book How to Teach You Kids Shakespeare by playwright Ken Ludwig, and it should be applied to the study of Tanakh. A selective list should exclude censuses, genealogical lists, and details of battles and structures (the Tabernacle, Temple, and Solomon’s palace). Achieving mastery in the rest of Tanakh will enable students to have a “Blink” moment when they read a biblical text (to borrow a term from Malcom Gladwell), and they will be able to raise questions, make comparisons, and feel intuitively to which genre and style the text belongs. 

The Experts Weigh in

I would like to share with the readers some responses by experts on Jewish education. They demonstrate the urgency of bringing together available resources and fostering dialog between educators and administrators all over the world to provide students with a comprehensive yet flexible and individually adjustable curriculum:

The first is from Paul Shaviv, former head of school at RAMAZ and author of The Jewish High School: a complete management guide.

Shalom Rabbi Ovadia… I need to make some comments on your Jewish Education series.

B’kitzur nimratz (very briefly – H.O.):

1. Textbooks etc. – completely true, but no longer relevant.  Online material to be used as part of a curriculum package is now what is necessary.  But it is unlikely to happen for the following reasons (among others):

a. The cost is huge, and the market is simply too small by commercial standards.

b. The expertise to produce or even use such material is not there in the Jewish community.  Note that there is not a single Faculty of Jewish Education at any University in the USA! (I am not counting Azrieli, for all sorts of reasons).

c. The Orthodox community is against training and new research in the field of Jewish education, yet it provides most of thw teachers in Day Schools.  The antagonism towards University study and theory – including educational theory – means that the Jewish component of Jewish education remains at a comparatively primitive level.

2.  Hebrew:  You are again correct, but the reasons include:

a. The decline altogether in 2nd-language teaching in Anglophone schools.

b. The decline in teaching grammar in any language means that kids have little idea of what constitutes a noun, verb, adverb, masculine, feminine, tenses, conjugations etc.  Without that they can never learn Ivrit/Biblical Hebrew.

c. Again, the opposition to teaching Hebrew systematically in the Orthodox world (fears of Haskalah, Zionism etc.) means that by now most TEACHERS are only semiliterate in Hebrew.  As an aside, this includes Hebrew reading. Test your congregation…. Only one, tiny, training course for Hebrew teachers [exists] in the whole of North America….

​3.   ​Central resource center/hub for materials etc.:

There is no well-funded central agency able to coordinate or launch this.  Lookstein Institute of Bar Ian has some resources. Other sites have resources in different areas (Tanakh etc.).  It is also impossible to get schools to reach consensus on uniform formats, requirements etc., because the teachers have no uniform training.

4.  Agreed curriculum……   Of course. See last sentence of previous paragraph.  Incidentally – the orphan subject, paradoxically most desired and appreciated by students, is Jewish history – barely taught seriously anywhere.   

Kol tuv, Paul Shaviv

The second comment is from Dr. Saundra Sterling Epstein, director of BeYachad – Bringing Jewish Education and Best Educational Practices Together

Hoping this finds all well with you.  I want you to know that I have spent the better part of my career — about 25 years as a curriculum consultant addressing exactly this and helping communities to define and defend Jewish literacy, insuring development of skill sets, a knowledge base and a context for their Jewish knowledge as well as the ability to use foundational Jewish values (and texts) to integrate with the other aspects of their lives.  I worked with schools, including several in your area [Maryland and DC], to do exactly this with great success. For many years it worked and then something happened. The Orthodox world… well you and I know and agree with what has occurred there. As for the Community Day Schools I still hear feedback from time to time about the positive results from schools throughout the US and Canada with whom I worked.

No one is putting money, time or energy into this PROCESS (and that is precisely what it is) any longer, it appears.  How sad. This is a much longer conversation if you ever want to have it — but I have an entire room filled with materials that I created and invested many schools and populations in using.  They bring together Jewish knowledge and text with proper pedagogic development, including for example:

A year by year Hagim curriculum, based on developmental aspects of a given age, the curriculum in the school and the Expanding Horizons Model of Social Studies Curriculum from general education.

Grids bringing together units of Jewish and General Social Studies, e.g. Kashrut alongside Science units on Healthy Eating; Tza’ar Ba’alei Chayim alongside Social Studies units on animals; Creation and Science alongside Environmental Sustainability, etc.  (if you want to see some of these pieces, check out www.canfeinesharim.org)

Sophisticated study of Tefillah, with explanations and serious study alongside learning of Tefillot.

A year by year Parshat HaShavuah Curriculum based on themes that are carried through all subjects.

Coordination with State/Commonwealth requirements of given schools based on where they are located. 

and so on.

Thematic Curriculum – The Image of God

Perhaps the most revolutionary idea of Judaism is that humans are created in the image of God. It is the basis for monotheism and social justice, and it is central to the message of Shabbat and the exodus. It is not a simple idea to process, however, and that might be the reason that it is usually glossed over at the lower grades of elementary school. In first and second grades, teachers tend to focus on the details of creation, mashing up the narratives of the first and second chapter, and then segue into the stories of the flood and Abraham’s travels. In third through fifth grades, the books of Shemot and VaYikra take center stage, often with an obsession over the architecture of the Mishkan (a perfect opportunity to create models and dioramas), and the details of the sacrifices. The concept of Tzelem Elokim – the image of God, might surface in middle school but seriously discussed only in high school, and that is truly unfortunate. This is of course a very general description, and I am sure that many of you had a different experience, especially if you had an inspiring teacher (like the many students of R. Ezra Labaton Zt”l), and I believe that this message should be made accessible to all students in Jewish school as early as possible. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, we should not talk down to children, and we need not shy away from introducing complex ideas to them. The introduction to the idea of the Image of God could be done in stages:

The first stage would be to open a conversation with a single verse from the Torah, independent of the discussion of the general story of creation. Present this text: וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם – Elokim created humanity in His image, in the Image of God He created him, male and female He created them. Then develop a discussion around the understanding that our visible physical character traits are not the image of God, since we immediately distinguish between male and female in the human species. God is therefore neither male or female, and His image is something deeper which connects us all. 

This discussion will eventually lead to a discussion about the unique characteristics, roles, and definitions of each gender, as well as of body image, self-esteem, and bullying. These are issues that are of great concern to young children, and it easy for teachers to misstep and hurt someone’s feelings. This introductory unit should be therefore developed with great caution, under the guidance of experts in education and psychology, and perhaps training sessions should be offered. 

In later stages, the Image of God can be discussed as a rejection of ancient paganism. Since all humans are equal, and all are created in the image of God, no one can claim, as ancient kings did, that he or she are descendants of the gods. This in turn should serve as a springboard to discussing paganism in general: What were the pagan cultures around Ancient Israel? What were their creation stories and understanding of human life (think about human sacrifices)? Why is the Tanakh so concerned about paganism? What was the nature of Greek and Roman paganism? Is Paganism prevalent in modern times, and is it limited only to the religious realm (American Idol…)? 

Another topic which stems from the Image of God is that of Shabbat. In the ancient world, the idea of Shabbat did not make sense. You were either a free and wealthy man who could rest whenever he wanted, or a slave who had to work around the clock. Only through the idea of equality, based on our shared Image of God, can the Torah suggest that everyone deserves a day of rest, including servants, slaves, and the weaker classes of society such as the sojourner and the needy. Of course, Shabbat, Slavery, and Social Justice, all deserve to have their own dedicated curriculum units, but it is important to inculcate a perception of interlocking pieces, from narrative, Halakha, and theology, which create a comprehensive and inspiring worldview.

There are many more texts, from different genres, which relate to the theme of the Image of God, and I hope to present some of them in the next article.

Image of God, Part II

The texts are presented here in the order they appear in the bible and in later Jewish literature. When considered for inclusion in an elementary or high school curriculum, they should be edited and presented by measures of difficulty and relevancy.

Biblical Texts:

1.  בראשית ט:ו: שֹׁפֵךְ֙ דַּ֣ם הָֽאָדָ֔ם בָּֽאָדָ֖ם דָּמ֣וֹ יִשָּׁפֵ֑ךְ כִּ֚י בְּצֶ֣לֶם אֱלֹהִ֔ים עָשָׂ֖ה אֶת־הָאָדָֽם

Gen. 9:6: He who sheds the blood of man, by the hand of man his blood will be shed, for man was created in the image of God.

This verse lays the foundation to the Torah’s insistence on establishing a judicial system, a theme which will be revisited in the encounters of the forefathers with evil kings, Moshe’s dealings with the Israelites in the desert, and the many laws surrounding the judges and their mode of operation. It is extremely important to note that the first law which the Torah discusses is that of a capital punishment for murder, and that the rationale is the creation of humans in the image of God.

The Torah makes here two statements: 1) A murderer must be punished by a human court, and his sentence cannot be relegated to the divine court by saying “God will take care of it.” 2) The murderer denied the right of another person to live, and thus negated the idea of the image of God. By doing so, he also lost is entitlement to that image and therefore must die. As Prof. Moshe Greenberg has shown, the biblical demand for capital punishment for murder stands in stark contradiction to the laws of the Ancient Near East, where it was customary to exchange the life of the murderer for the life of another, perhaps more “dispensable”, person. 

Understanding the first statement can be used to develop a discussion about the death penalty in Judaic sources, and about the role of the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government. The ancient law rejected by the second statement might seem preposterous and impossible to the modern mind, so it should be clearly explained first, and then compared to contemporary dilemmas. The students can be asked to imagine an ancient village or nomad clan in which each person has a designated and vital role, and which constantly struggled for survival. Now, in if such a society the baker, for example, killed the blacksmith, there would have been those who would argue that executing the murderer will not bring back the blacksmith and will rather leave the people with no bread. That would have led to the creation of a system which allows exchanging the life of the perpetrator for that of another person or for money (כופר – see Numbers, 35:31). 

A modern court most certainly will not spare a murderous pastry-man, but what will it do if it found that a leading scientist in the pharmaceutical industry is a murderer? Will he be punished, or will his life be spared so he can keep on saving people? And is it possible that courts are more forgiving when the accused is a person of power or fame? The question of exchanging lives also has ramifications in the field of organ transplants. What used to be a speculation of Sci-Fi writers has now become a harrowing reality in China, where reportedly prisoners are executed for petty crimes and their organs harvested. This is a result of valuing the life of one person more than that of another.

These are just few examples of how the concepts of human equality and responsibility can be developed in class. 

Image of God – Respecting the “Other”

Here is another important biblical text which can be discussed, at different levels, in association with the theme of the Image of God:

ויקרא, יט:יד: לֹא־תְקַלֵּ֣ל חֵרֵ֔שׁ וְלִפְנֵ֣י עִוֵּ֔ר לֹ֥א תִתֵּ֖ן מִכְשֹׁ֑ל 

Lev. 19:14: You shall not curse a deaf person, nor put a stumbling block in front of a blind person. 

The Torah shows here sensibility to the needs the deaf and the blind and warns people against treating them as lesser human beings. Traditionally, there was more respect towards the blind then the deaf in most societies, and this is reflected in Halakha. Click here for an article about giving an Aliyah to a deaf-blind person. 

On the other hand, the biblical requirement that the Cohanim must be physically perfect can be understood as discriminatory. I believe that it is important to discuss this issue in class, including the opinion of Rashi who says that this is like an imperfect sacrifice. Teachers and students can discuss the different perception of physical perfection in the past and today and compare this to the Greek perception of the body and to the divide between Sparta and Athens. I struggled with this law for many years and have finally found a way to reconcile it with the Torah’s concern for the image of God and human dignity. Click here to read the article.

I will conclude this discussion with a poignant story from Rabbinic literature: 

מעשה ברבי שמעון בן אלעזר שבא ממגדל עדר מבית רבו, והיה רוכב על החמור ומטייל על שפת הים, והייתה דעתו זחוחה עליו. ראה אדם אחד שהיה מכוער ביותר. אמר לו: ריקה! כמה מכוער אתה! שמא כל בני עירך מכוערין כמותך? אמר לו: ומה אעשה? לך לאומן שעשאני ואמור לו כמה מכוער כלי זה שעשית. כיון שידע רבי שמעון שחטא, ירד מן החמור והיה משתטח לפניו. אמר לו: נעניתי לך, מחול לי. אמר לו: איני מוחל לך, עד שתלך לאומן שעשאני ותאמר כמה מכוער כלי זה שעשית!

Rabbi Shimon Ben Elazar, after visiting his master at Migdal Eder, was riding his donkey along the coastal road, feeling exuberant. He encountered a man who seemed to him extremely ugly. He said to the man, you are so ugly, are all the people in your town as ugly as you? The man responded calmly, what can I do? Go tell that to the craftsman who made me!

Upon hearing that, Rabbi Shimon Ben Elazar realized that he had gravely sinned. He disembarked the donkey and prostrated himself before the man, begging for forgiveness, but the man insisted: “I will not forgive you, unless you speak with my maker”. 

The “ugly” man’s reply could be understood as one of acceptance: “This is who I am, and this is how God created me. Just as I have accepted my condition, you too, who are much more fortunate than me, should accept me.” Or, it could be seen as a call on the Rabbi to change his perception of the human condition. The man is not talking out of self-pity but out of pride, and he does not regard the rabbi as better, wiser or luckier. The man Rabbi Shimon Ben Elazar encountered drew upon the wisdom of Job who said, in reference to the weak and the poor: “Did not He who made me in my mother’s belly make him? Did not One Creator form us both in the womb?”

What the man was telling the rabbi was that they were equals, and that the same Creator who created the rabbi in his image also created the “ugly” man. The word יוצר in Hebrew means both Creator and potter, so this is a direct reference to the story of Creation in Beresheet.

This story can be used to discuss diversity, body-image, bullying, and other themes usually reserved for social studies and counseling. Teachers might need training to discuss them properly and to handle students’ reaction, but it would be well worth it. Think of that story as leading to aa discussion about who is a truer image of God? Can superficial concepts of beauty be attributed to God? How much better would the world be if we looked at people and thought first of what we have in common with them instead of analyzing how they differ from and are therefore inferior to us?

Teachers could lead the conversation towards the realization that we are human beings, created in the image of God; we talk and communicate, smile and cry, laugh and get depressed. We feel pity at the sight of a helpless animal and frustration when we can do nothing to help. When we realize how similar we are, the road is open for understanding and for appreciating the unique gifts and talents of every human being. 

Image of God – Chosen People

The idea that the Jewish People is the chosen people has its roots in the bible and has been extensively developed in rabbinic literature and liturgy. In medieval times, Jewish philosophers spoke of five levels of the physical world: inanimate objects, plants, animals, non-Jews, and Jews. They were even those who went further and said that the same degree of separation exists between each level and the next one. According to that approach, the difference between Jews and non-Jews is as fundamental and unbridgeable as the one between animate and inanimate objects. 

The belief that Jews are genetically superior to other nations has permeated our theology, liturgy, and Halakha. That superiority is perceived as either physical, mental, or related to the Jewish soul, which some believe is cut form a different fabric. Whether a school adheres to this ideology or not, it is imperative to address this issue, as our society becomes simultaneously more diverse and more divisive.

This theme could be explored collaboratively by the Judaic and social studies departments of the school. The Judaic studies faculty would analyze biblical passages, midrash, liturgy, and related laws such as commercial interaction with non-Jews, saving a non-Jew on Shabbat, or inviting a non-Jew to the Seder table. The social studies faculty would expand on manifestations of racism in antiquity and in modern times, including the race theories of the 1800’s, the eugenics movement, and current cases of ethnic cleansing around the world, all to show that the belief that one race or religion is superior to others is universal and usually has tragic results.

An important text to study in that context is the following Mishnah from Pirkay Avot, the Teaching of the Fathers (3:14):

הוא [רבי עקיבא] היה אומר, חביב אדם שנברא בצלם… חביבין ישראל שנקראו בנים למקום… חביבין ישראל שניתן להם כלי חמדה

Rabbi Akiva used to say, humans are God’s favorite, because they were created in his image… the Israelites are God’s favorites because they are called His sons… the Israelites are God’s favorite because they were given the precious treasure with which the world was created. 

Rabbi Akiva’s words are presented in ascending order, and he clearly feels that the Israelites have a higher status that that of other nations, but this superiority is not intrinsic but rather a result of being chosen. The sign of being chosen is receiving the Torah, which has changed the nature of the Jewish people and the course of its history, and which eventually should be shared with the whole world. Rabbi Akiva first states that all humans were created in the image of God, which makes them equal in sharing a very noble quality. He then says that the Israelites have a special connection with God, one like the relations between parents and children, and he closes his argument with the fact that the Torah was given to the Israelites. The verse with which he supports the statement that the Israelites are God’s children is immediately succeeded in the Torah by referring to them as the chosen people, so his two statements regarding the Israelites are technically one. The key word in this second verse (Deut. 14:2) is סגולה, and the same word is used before the giving of the law on Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:5-6), where the Torah refers to the Israelites first as סגולה, and then as ממלכת כהנים. We understand that סגולה means chosen, and the second term, a kingdom of priests, explains the responsibility of being chosen. Just as the Cohen is the teacher to the rest of the people, so the Israelites are charged with teaching the rest of the world. 

This understanding could serve as a wonderful opening for a discussion of the importance of the Torah’s values to all of humanity. I have spoken in my classes in elementary and high schools about the gifts of the Torah, among which I count: Shabbat, the idea of the Image of God, rejection of slavery, social justice, the emphasis on learning and education, the importance of history, the rejection of idolatry and placement of the word of God in the center of our worship and holy objects, and yes, care for the environment. In American schools, teachers could also discuss the deep affinity the founding fathers had for Judaism and Hebrew and that the constitution was based on biblical values. 

Another interesting point in that context is made by psychiatrist Joshua Halberstam in his book Schmoozing, the Private Conversations of American Jews. Halberstam argues that because the Torah puts such an emphasis on education, but also encourages procreation, the Jewish people kept protecting, promoting, an in effect breeding intelligence, by granting the greatest scholars the conditions they needed to live well, create a family, and keep learning. In the Christian and Muslim societies, by contrast, the most intelligent people were bred out by being relegated to life of loneliness and celibacy.   

Circling back to Rabbi Akiva, I believe that he was uniquely positioned to make these statements, since he traveled extensively throughout the Roman Empire and personally oversaw the conversion of many capable and devoted non-Jews. This brought him to the understanding of the universality of the image of God and to the power of the Torah to alter one’s personality and trajectory. 

Another angle of the Image of God is highlighted by the following text, from Avot de-Ribbi Nathan (ch. 30), a Geonic compilation expanding of Pirkay Avot, the Teaching of the Fathers: 

כשהיה הלל יוצא למקום, היו אומרים לו להיכן אתה הולך? לעשות מצוה אני הולך! מה מצוה הלל? לבית הכסא אני הולך! וכי מצוה היא זו? אמר להן הן, בשביל שלא יתקלקל הגוף.

When Hillel would go to a place, they would tell him: where are you going to?

He would answer: I am going to perform a Mitzvah!

Which Mitzvah, Hillel?

I am going to the bathroom!

What kind of a Mitzvah is that?

He said: it is a mitzvah. I am taking care of my body!

This teaching is presented as a dialog between Hillel and his disciples. Hillel is considered one of the greatest sages in Jewish history, a scholar whose reach was beyond the halakhic realms. There are many stories in rabbinic literature about his patience, humility, devotion to Torah, and concern for the welfare of others. In this segment of the story, Hillel conveys the message that keeping the body healthy and well-maintained is a Mitzvah. The disciples’ baffled reaction portrays the novelty of Hillel’s approach, and it is important to consider it within the historical context. Personal hygiene, in the past, was a privilege reserved for the rich, while poorer people lived in squalor. Hillel tells his disciples that taking good care of one’s body is a Mitzvah, and there for it pertains to everyone. And the story continues: 

איכן אתה הולך הלל? לעשות מצוה אני הולך! מה מצוה הלל? לבית המרחץ אני הולך! וכי מצוה היא זו?. אמר להן הן, בשביל לנקות את הגוף. 

Where are you going to, Hillel?

I am going to perform a Mitzvah!

Which Mitzvah, Hillel?

I am going to the bathhouse! 

What kind of a Mitzvah is that?

He said: it is a mitzvah. I am cleaning my body!

The first segment spoke of a necessity, while this one speaks of what was considered, back at the time, luxury. Hillel explains that cleanliness is not a luxury but rather mandatory. Today, cities across the U.S. which try to eradicate homelessness start the process by building makeshift bathrooms and showers for the homeless, to help them restore their sense of dignity. The story concludes with an a-fortiori argument, a קל וחומר:

 תדע לך שהוא כן! מה אם איקונות העומדות בפלטיות של מלכים, הממונה עליהם להיות שפן וממרקן המלכות מעלה לו סלירא בכל שנה ושנה, ולא עוד אלא שהוא מתגדל עם גדולי המלכות, אנו שנבראנו בצלם… על אחת כמה וכמה

Here is the proof: the statues found in royal palaces are taken care of by a special appointee, who cleans and polishes them. He is paid by the government and holds a seat among the royal dignitaries. 

How much more so should we be rewarded for taking care of our body which was created in the image of God…

Just as the statue at the palace represents an important personality, the human body represents the Image of God, and taking constant care of the body is understood as a Mitzvah with great reward. Beyond the simple analogy, Hillel wishes to say that each human has a much greater potential than what meets the eye. That great potential can sometimes be obscured by something as trivial as lack of personal hygiene, and it is concealed not only from others but from the unkempt person himself. As with the sense of guilt which cause one to feel unworthy, lack of personal hygiene causes one to perceive himself as somewhat lower than human. He then demands less from himself and sees himself as less responsible to those around him. 

Hillel therefore does not say that the Image of God is physical, but rather that proper care of maintenance of the physical vessel allows us to bring forth the spiritual, intellectual, and emotional potential which is representative of our divine spark.

Teachers could develop a discussion in class about the importance of understanding the body and its functions and encourage students to lead a healthy lifestyle, but they could also stir the conversation, in the higher grades, towards the issues of human rights, cruelty to prisoners, waterboarding etc. The connection might seem insubstantial, but author Steven Pinker, in his recent book The Better Angels of Our Nature, provides convincing evidence that the bodily hygiene and cruel punishments are tightly related. He shows that rising awareness in medieval Europe to the dignity of prisoners and criminals, who in many cases were poor peasants unable to pay their debts, corresponds closely to the publication and dissemination of manuals of table manners and guides of personal hygiene.

This idea can take us back to the Torah and its demand that even in the battlefield human dignity would be observed (Deut. 23:13-15):

והיה מחניך קדוש ולא יראה בך ערות דבר ושב מאחריך

Your encampment shall be holy, lest He see shame in you [literally: nakedness of a sort] and abandon you!

According to the Torah, a soldier must carry a small shovel with his gear. This shovel is to be used to dig a hole in the ground which will serve as the soldier’s personal “port-a-potty”. After relieving himself, the soldier must make sure that everything is well covered in dirt. If he does not do that, the verse admonishes, God will abandon the camp, an act associated in the Bible with definite defeat in the battlefield.

Why is the Torah so adamant in its rules of body hygiene in the camp? There are two reasons: 

Throughout history, many military campaigns failed because of diseases which were spread due to lack of hygiene in the camps. The Torah wants to prevent this problem, and since soldiers tend to neglect this requirement, it presents it as a holy duty.

But more importantly, soldiers on a military campaign, who are given a license to kill, are in a grave danger of losing their reverence of human life and their respect for mankind who was created in the Image of God. They might become drunk with the power to determine the fate of other humans or become indifferent to pain and suffering, seeing no value in anyone’s life, especially after losing comrades. The Torah therefore demands that even as one wages war against the enemies, care must be taken to respect the Image of God which is embedded in all humans. As psychologists and sociologists have proven, an awareness of one’s own bodily needs, and an adherence to high standards of hygiene and table manners, can reduce violence and make people treat each other with greater respect and dignity.

I think that it would be worthy to mention here, as well as in the classroom, the question of the military ethical code, and in that context, study the ethical code of the IDF, with an eye towards the Torah and Judaism value incorporated into it. The subject cold also be utilized to discuss the ongoing campaign against the IDF, and the accusations that Israeli soldiers have little regard for the lives of their enemies. Though it is almost impossible to be at war or to handle a powerful weapon without compromising our respect for human life, I believe that anyone who has served in the IDF (myself included) can vouch for its high ethical standards. There can always be isolated cases of unnecessary violence and abuse of power, as the shocking pictures from the Abu Ghraib prison reminded the American public and the whole world, but as an entity, the IDF takes extreme care to not use unnecessary force and to protect civilian life. As a matter of fact, Israeli military personnel are currently saving Syrian refugees and bringing them for medical treatment in Israel.

I believe that the ethical code of the Torah has influenced the Jewish people throughout history, and in modern times deeply impacted the IDF. Another classic text to study in that context would be the historic speech of Menachem Begin on the day of the Declaration of Independence, in which he conceded to the Hagganah and warned against civil war, but this is a matter for another discussion.

Image of God in Contemporary Halakha Literature

As mentioned above, it is important to convey the message that the moral values presented in the Torah are not abstract concepts but are rather translated to action. This concept is the essence of the commandment והלכת בדרכיו – follow the pathways of God, and in the call of the author of Psalms בכל דרכיך דעהו – know God in all your ways. The study of Torah is intended to constantly guide and calibrate our behavior, not as a rigid set of laws, but as a system of beliefs, knowledge, and awareness, which we refer to almost subconsciously and which helps us refine our behavior and create a better society.

Here are some examples of the usage of the concept of the Image of God in contemporary halakha. 

R. Yitzchak Yehudah Shmelkis (Galicia 1827-1905) speaks of the Image of God as the foundation to all commandments. In the introduction to his book Beth Yitzchak his son-in-law writes that these were not mere words:

שו”ת בית יצחק הקדמות מחתן המחבר, פתח הבית: כאהבת ד’ אשר מלאה כל חדרי לבו, כן הגה רוחו הטהור אהבה לבני אדם… כי שתי האהבות לה’ ולאדם תתאחדנה ותהיינה לאחת, ואהבת אדם הנברא בצלם אלקים, מוצאה מאהבת ד’ ועל ברכה נולדה… מו”ח הגאון הצדיק זצלה”ה אהב ד’ בכל נפשו ומאודו, ויאהב את כל האדם ויקרבם לתורה ולתעודה

Just as the love of God filled his heart, so the love for all human beings was constantly on his mind… those two loves, towards God and towards people, unite and become one, and the love for humans created in the image of God originated from the love of God and was brought up on its lap… my righteous father-in-law loved God with all his soul and being. He also loved all people and encouraged them to study and to find a purpose in life…

R. Shmelkis himself writes (צלעות הבית, דרוש ב):

ואמרו שהכלל הוא תן כבוד להרוחני ותראה כבוד הרוחני בכל מעשיך בין בחיוב בין בשלילה. ובזה נכללו כל המצות שבין אדם למקום, לאשר הקדוש ברוך הוא הוא הרוחני האמתי. וכן מצות שבין אדם לחבירו, כי החיוב עליו לתת כבוד לאיש הנברא בצלם ולו נפש הרוחנית, ואסור להנותו ולגזלו ולהעיד עליו שקר כי הוא רוחני כמוך ואין לך יתרון עליו… ע”כ אמרו חז”ל כשאמר הקדוש ברוך הוא אנכי וכו’ אמרו אומות העולם לכבוד עצמו הוא דורש, כיון ששמעו מצות כבד חזרו והודו… והכונה דאם הקדוש ברוך הוא צוה לכבד אותו יתברך, אם כן נכלל במצוה הזאת לכבד נפש המשכלת חלק אלוה ממעל. ועל ידי כן ישמעו כל חקותיו ומצותיו שבין אדם לחבירו, ולא זאת כבוד עצמו אך כבוד כל ברואיו

It is said that the rule is that one must show respect to the spiritual element in all his decisions, whether passive or active. This includes all the Mitzvot between us and God, because God is the true essence of spirituality. It also includes the Mitzvot which govern our behavior towards other people, because we are obligated to give respect to those who were created in the Image of God. We are not allowed to harass, deceive, or rob them, because they are spiritual just like us and we have no advantage over them… 

The Midrash says that upon hearing the utterance אנכי יי אלהיך – I am HaShem your God, they said that God is interested in His own glory, but when they heard כבד את אביך ואת אמך – honor your father and mother, they acknowledged that God is giving the Torah for the well-being of humans.

The meaning of the Midrash is that the commandment to honor God includes the obligation to treat all human with respect, since human intelligence is an extension of the Divine. By heeding the commandment to honor God, people will follow all the Mitzvoth, thus honoring not only God, but all His creation.

In these beautiful words of Rabbi Shmelkis hides an extremely powerful theological idea, which has an immediate application to the daily observance of Halakha. Many observant people tend to be very strict when dealing with בין אדם למקום, but seem to have their guard down when it comes to בין אדם לחברו. From my experience, research, and conversations with people, I believe that this has mostly to do with fear. When debating whether a certain food is kosher, or whether a certain Berakha is necessary, we are afraid of doing the wrong thing and being punished, so we opt for what we think is the strict extreme. We don’t want to think of a scenario where God is suing us. 

When it comes to actions which impact others, however, we tend to be lax, usually ruling leniently with our interest in mind. We are not afraid of making a mistake, because if that happens, we will have to face a human like us, and we believe we can argue our way out. Therefore we are fine with rounding corners or bending laws governing traffic, business ethics, or interpersonal relationships.

R. Shmelkis argues against this approach by using the concept of the image of God. He explains that the laws of the Torah are not meant to benefit or to impact God, but rather to educate mankind to treat each other with respect. The purpose of the Mitzvoth between us and God is to instill us respect and reverence for the Divine and the spiritual, and then apply those same values to our fellow men and women. It is also important for teachers to point out, as they teach these passages in class, that R. Shmelkis chose a Midrash in which the nations question the purpose of the Torah and then acknowledge that it is the well-being of all humanity. All humans were created in the Image of God, and all deserve respect and dignity.

R. Benzion Meir Hai Uziel used the Image of God as an argument for granting voting rights to women. Teaching this discussion in high school can be tied to the suffragist movement in the U.S. and Europe, and it would it be worth to note that it predated them.

משפטי עוזיאל, ד, חושן משפט ו: אין הדעת מקבלת לשלול מהנשים זכות אישית זאת, כי הלא בבחירות אלה מרכיבים אנו אלופים לראשינו ונותנים יפוי כח לנבחרינו לדבר בשמנו, לסדר את עניני ישובנו ולהטיל מסים על רכושנו, והנשים בדרך ישר או בדרך אי – ישר מקבלות עליהן מרותן של נבחרים אלה, ונשמעות להוראותיהן וחקיהם הצבוריים והלאומיים, ואיך אפשר לתפוס החבל בשני ראשין: להטיל עליהן החובה המשמעתית של נבחרי העם, ולשלול מהן זכות בחירתן 

Denying women this personal right is inconceivable. The elections are meant to appoint representatives who will speak for us, legislate, and tax our property. Women, whether willingly or unwillingly, accept the authority of those representatives. We cannot grab the rope on both ends: obligate women to obey the representatives but deny them the right to elect the representatives. 

Rabbi Uziel then refutes the arguments of those who say that women should not vote because they are intellectually inferior to men:

המציאות מטפחת על פנינו ומראה לנו שגם בעבר וגם בתקופתנו זאת, נשים בנות השכלה ודעת הן כאנשים, לישא וליתן למכור ולקנות ולנהל את עניניהן באופן הכי טוב

Reality opposes those people and shows us that in the past, as well as currently, women can achieve the same intellectual level and wisdom as men, and they can deftly negotiate, trade, and manage all their business affairs in the best way possible. 

The important element in R. Uziel’s rationale here is that it is rational! It does not seek precedents because there are none for the case of democratic elections for women, whether as voters or as representatives. An analysis of the government system proves that women deserve an equal share, and an observation of reality brings us to the conclusion that there is no difference between the abilities and knowledge of men and women.

R. Uziel also rejects the argument that voting together at the poles transgresses the boundaries of modesty.  

ומשום פריצות? איזו פריצות יכולה להיות בדבר הזה, שכל אחד הולך אל הקלפי ומוסר את כרטיס בחירתו, ואם באנו לחוש לכך לא שבקת חיי לכל בריה, ואסור יהיה ללכת ברחוב, או להכנס לחנות אחת אנשים ונשים יחד, או שאסור יהיה לישא ולתת עם אשה משום שעל ידי כך יבואו לידי קרוב דעת, וממילא גם לידי פריצות, וזה לא אמרו אדם מעולם

Immodesty? How can the act of walking to the poles and depositing the ballot be considered immodest? If this is a concern, life will become impossible! It will be forbidden for men and women to walk on the same road or to enter the same store. People will also argue that men cannot do business with women because that brings them to closeness and promiscuity – and such a claim was never made.

Here again we encounter the usage of logical tools but, unfortunately, fanatic factions in Israel and abroad were able to promote the agendas which the rabbi called “unheard of”. There are today cities and communities where men and women are required to walk in the street, ride the bus, and go shopping separately.

Another argument brought up by the opponents of voting rights for women was that letting women voice their opinion will cause marital strife. R. Uziel refutes this argument as well: 

אם כן נשלול זכות הבחירה גם מהבנים והבנות הסמוכים על שלחן אביהם… אין כאן מקום לאיבה, שחלוק ההשקפות מתבטאות באיזו צורה שהיא, ואין אדם יכול לכבוש את השקפתו ודעותיו. ואולם האהבה המשפחתית המיוסדת על העבודה המשותפת היא די חזקה, שאינה נפגמת במאומה מחלוקי השקפות כאלה

If this is a valid argument, adult children who are still supported by their parents should not vote… there is no room for animosity in the household because of different opinions, and no one should be forced to suppress their opinions. The familial love which is based on shared responsibility is strong enough to not be damaged by such disagreements.

Once again, R. Uziel uses logical analogies and an observation of the human condition, and he comes to his final argument. He refers to the words of Rabbi Dr. Ritter who said that in the Tanakh women were never considered a community or a congregation, never appointed as representatives, and never counted in the census. 

אכן נניח שאינן קהל ולא עדה ולא משפחה ולא פקידים ולא כלום. אבל, האם אינם יצורים שנבראו בצלם ובדעת

Even if we assume that all is correct, weren’t women created by God in his image and wisdom?

This is the worldview which guides R. Uziel in all his rulings. It was also probably the concept which led him to rule that a woman elected in a democratic process can serve as a judge and a leader:

שרי לקבלה בתור שופטת. כלומר: מנהיגה, ודנה כדרך שמותר לקבל אחד מן הקרובים, ולכן במנוי של בחירות שהוא קבלת הנבחרים עליהם לאלופים, מדינא יכולים לבחור גם בנשים

R. Eliezer Waldenberg (Jerusalem, 1916-2007), emphasizes that the Image of God is not dependent on physical or mental perfection:

ציץ אליעזר, י:מא:ה: …בצלם אלקים עשה את האדם! אין חילוק בין אדם שלם או אדם חסר ובעל מום

He has created man in His image! There is no difference between one whose body is whole and between one who is missing an organ or has a blemish.

R. Waldenberg also sees the Holocaust as a result of loss of respect to the Image of God:

שם, כב:ל: …חיות טורפות מהלכי שתים שפרקו מעליהם בשאט נפש את עול האמונה ואת רסן האנושיות, ושמו להם למטרה לכפות על כל העולם כולו לקבל את תורתם החדשה של שנאה ארסית להגזע היהודי… וכל האמצעים כשרים להם בכדי להוציאם לפועל, לחבל ולהשחית, להרוס ולנתוץ, ולהפוך את העולם לתוהו ובוהו ולהריקו מבלי שישאר בו שום רגש של כבוד להנברא בצלם, ושום רגש של חמלה ורחמים ושום ניצוץ של צדק ויושר

[the Nazis were] Human predators who maliciously rejected the yoke of faith and the restraint of humanity, made it their goal to force the world to accept their new ideology of venomous hatred towards the Jews… They used all means to carry out their mission of destruction and annihilation. They demolished the world and reverted it back to chaos and emptiness, making it devoid of all feelings of respect for humans who were created in the Image of God. There was no sense of compassion and mercy nor a spark of righteousness and justice.

R. Haim David HaLevy (Jerusalem 1924-1998) shows how the concept is used in the Torah’s approach to slavery:

עשה לך רב, ג:נז: כאן… ראה והכיר דרך חייהם של אנשים מהוגנים, כיצד עובד אדם ומתפרנס מיגיע כפיו בכבוד (צא והשווה את תנאי החיים בבתי הסוהר המתוקנים והטובים ביותר לחיי עבד עברי על פי תורת ה’)… מובן, שצורת עונש זו על גניבה שהטילה תורה, מותאמת לצורת החיים אז, ואין מן הכוונה להמליץ על חידושה… אבל הבאנו את זה כדי ללמוד את יסודות השקפת תורת ה’ על חירותו האישית ומעמדו החברתי של האדם הנברא בצלם אלקים, שאין זכות בידי הזולת לכלוא את רוח האדם, את חופש תנועותיו וחירותו, שהם קודש קדשים של כל הנברא בצלם, ושיש לתאם בכל דור ותקופה את עונשי פושעי החברה ברוח השקפת תורת ה’ בהתאם לתנאי החיים 

[by being sold to pay back his theft, the slave] becomes familiar with the lifestyle of honest, hard-working people (there is no comparison between the conditions of prisoners, even at the most advanced facilities which care about the prisoners’ well-being, and those of a Hebrew slave according to the Torah.) Obviously, this biblical punishment for theft corresponds to the reality of biblical society and I have no intention to recommend that it would be revived… however, I brought it up here to teach the foundations of the Torah’s ideology, which say that all humans are created in the Image of God, and are therefore entitled to have personal freedom and be recognized as part of society. No one has the right to imprison the spirit of another person, or to limit his liberty and freedom to act, which are the Holy of Holies of all who are created in the Image of God. Each era must define punitive measures to discipline and deter criminals, and those should be in line with the ideology of Torah and the conditions of contemporary society.

In these words, R. HaLevi speaks of the inalienable rights of all human beings and shows how they are rooted in the Torah. He also explains that slavery is not ideal or desirable, and that since that was a norm that could not have been changed in the past, the Torah utilized it to help criminals get on the right path instead of being caught in a vicious cycle. In modern times slavery is shunned and is almost abolished, but the values R. HaLevi mentions here are still valid.

There are so many fascinating texts on the Image of God and I was able to present here only a fraction, but this should serve as a model for creating a curriculum which revolves around major themes in Judaism. After this digression into the concept of the Image of God, I would like to return to Jewish Education and discuss several points which I believe are essential to any good educational system. These points are:

Play; Tinker; Positive experience; Listening to your child; Cultural empathy; Responsibility and not guilt; and the Amazon/Netflix Curriculum.

Play: 

Playing games, especially physical games, is not only important for developing social, but also, as the subtitle of the seminal book Play by Dr. Stuart Brown reads, shapes the brain and opens the imagination. Unfortunately, many schools do not afford their students enough playtime, either because of lack of space or because of a busy curriculum. In the case of several Jewish schools in Brooklyn, NY, it is because of both. In a very expensive real-estate market, and with a double curriculum, schools rely on limited open space, and in bad weather, on an even narrower covered space. My wife would come home on a stormy day telling me that her first-grade students didn’t have any playtime that day, and that it had a negative impact on their learning. If you don’t have time to read the book, watch Dr. Brown’s TED Talk.

It is important to note that enrolling your child in sport teams is a solution only for some kids, since many are not willing to be in a competitive environment. Martial arts, while very important for learning discipline and gaining self-confidence, do not provide the full experience of a rough and tumble play. But no worries, if you cannot find at school or in the neighborhood, you can provide it for your child. You will be surprised how much your child will enjoy a pillow fight or a wild goose chase around the house. Try it the next time you child refuses or delays in doing his or her homework.

Another added advantage of physical play is that kids prefer it over screen time. I know it would sound surprising and even unbelievable to many parents who sometimes need a crowbar to separate their children from the screen, but research has proven that when children are given a concrete choice between staying at home with the screen or playing, physically, with their friends, they choose the latter. However, if your children would not detach themselves, no matter what, it would be a good idea to seek professional advice. 

Tinker:

Tinkering is almost a lost art, and one which is essential for developing creativity and problem-solving skills. Steve Jobs’ father was a mechanic, and the many hours young Jobs spent watching and joining his father tinkering have a crucial role in the way he revolutionized the music, computers, movies, and phone industries. A research conducted by NASA also points to the importance of tinkering. Several years ago, the agency had a round of hiring as many of its veteran engineers retired. NASA was frustrated to find out that despite the stellar resumes of its new employees, most of them were not able to solve problems. After almost a year of research and analysis the conclusion was that the advantage of the few problem-solvers over their peers was that during their childhood they were tinkerers. 

If your children’s school does not offer carpentry, mechanics, engineering, or similar workshops, create it for them at home. Let them take apart old clocks and devices, let them build and shape, and let them use their fingers (yes, you use your fingers when you make slime, but it’s not tinkering). This is a lot of fun, and it will help solve problems and detach themselves from the familiar screens. 

Playing and tinkering in Jewish Education:

Playing and tinkering should be present in any school, and though they do not have to be tied to Judaic studies, doing so will give an added dimension. Some of my children’s more creative teachers would ask the students to create displays of the Ten Plagues using any medium and any method they like, build models of the Tabernacle and the Temple, or bake matzah. The best results from among all these activities came from groups where the teacher gave only general directions and let the students be creative and responsible. 

Positive experience / Listening to your child

If your child does not want to go to school, you should be worried. Kids love learning. They are voracious learning machines, constantly processing information and exploring the world. Yes, once in a while a child could be tired and want to stay in bed, or just take a break from a school for a day, but if the reluctance to go to school or attend extracurricular classes is consistent, you should listen to your child and investigate the matter. Here are some examples.

As a child, my wife took piano classes at the conservatorium in Qiriat Gat. On her first day the teacher, who was educated at the USSR, yelled at her for not knowing which key to strike, and even as she started learning he kept verbally abusing her. She told her mother that she does not want to take classes anymore and her mother promised to investigate it. She indeed came with her to the next class and eavesdropped behind the door. She heard the barrage of insults and, horrified, called the principal who fired that teacher. She then started studying with a loving and kind woman and has never since left the piano.

When my oldest son was four we moved to Bogota, Colombia, where my wife and I taught at the Hebrew school, Colegio Colombo Hebreo, or CCH. There were about 800 students at the school, most of them Jewish (the others were staff and diplomat’s children), and it had families of Israeli teachers, yet many Jews chose to send their children to the American School, Colegio Nueva Granada, or CNG. My son’s years in Pre-K and KG went peacefully, as he started reading Hebrew when he was 3.5 and was now busy acquiring two new languages, but when he started first grade it all changed. The structure of the classes and the teaching methods were very rigid and archaic, and as a result, he refused to go to school. We could have fought with him or force him to go, but because we knew he was a knowledge thirsty boy who always loved going to school, we decided to do some research. We heard from friends of Fundación Alberto Merani (the link is for the Spanish speaking readers who might be interested), which tested children’s learning abilities and heralded a theory called conceptual pedagogy. 

The test showed that the reluctant child had an IQ which was above average, though the results were approximate because the tests were conducted in Spanish, which was not his native tongue. They suggested a more challenging and engaging curriculum. Armed with that knowledge we approached the Judaic studies principal of the school, an Israeli with a PhD, and asked for help. His first reaction was (typically Israeli) to dismiss us with a wave of his hand and the statement “everyone thinks their child is a genius.” We insisted, and he finally agreed to help and suggested to give the child double the amount of classwork and homework. Our response was that he does not need more of the same but rather a completely different approach. The principal answered that he will investigate it in the following schoolyear, but we decided that without concrete plans we are not going to risk our child’s future. We took him out of CCH and registered him to CNG. He was placed in an advanced track where he did 5th grade math in 3rd grade, built rockets, and learned to play clarinet. The one class activity he missed was a field trip to the Amazon river, which my wife, like a good Yiddishe Mame, would not let him attend. 

Though my son did not develop his math skills, and the Kanoun and Oud eventually pushed the clarinet and saxophone aside, the three years he spent in an engaging environment, where his thirst for knowledge was appreciated and not squashed, were of unimaginable value. At CNG there were 1400 students, only 400 of them Jewish, and only one with a Kippa (guess who), but when we moved to Israel and then to the United States my son was still excited about learning and he enrolled himself in the best yeshivot (R. Feinstein Yeshiva in Staten Island and Hevron in Israel). He is now learning to become a dayyan, and I believe that if we would not have listened to him and would have tried to force him to attend a place where he was not happy, his life would be different, and not for the better. 

My advice is: listen to your children! Attend their classroom. Walk the corridors of the school. Monitor their behavior, and work with the assumption that they should be excited to learn, and if they are not, something is wrong. Don’t accuse them of being lazy or stubborn, but first check their learning environment. Sometimes the school is excellent, but one teacher or classmate is a problem, while in other cases there could be learning challenges. Don’t rush to administer medicine before you verify your child learning abilities and interests and listen to Ken Robinson or read his books.

Cultural empathy:

I came up with the term when I started writing the series, and I thought I’d tell you that, but I first googled it and it turns out that it is an educational concept, so I am glad for that as they say in Hebrew: ברוך שכוונתי לדעת גדולים.

Before talking about that term, let me take you to the world of architecture. The Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World defines vernacular architecture as:

…comprising the dwellings and all other buildings of the people. Related to their environmental contexts and available resources they are customarily owner- or community-built, utilizing traditional technologies. All forms of vernacular architecture are built to meet specific needs, accommodating the values, economies and ways of life of the cultures that produce them.

Education and architecture have much in common. We use construction metaphors in education, most notably the concepts of “strong foundations” and “structure”, and in Hebrew the root חנכ means both education and the inauguration of a new structure. It is worth it, therefore, to consider vernacular architecture, which uses local materials, traditions, and technologies, as a model for education.

There is an essential difference between transmitting knowledge and educating. The transmission of knowledge does not always require an instructor, as the student can use books or other methods, and even when an instructor is present he is not necessarily an educator. An educator is someone who serves as a role model and who cares about the student beyond the simple task of transmitting knowledge. This is true not only regarding Judaic studies which revolve around morals and ethics, but with all subjects. For a teacher to be an educator instead of an instructor, he or she should be excited about what they teach, whether it is history, math, chemistry, or astronomy. They should be concerned about the mental and emotional well-being of the student. And they should behave ethically and honorably. 

When teachers, Jewish or not, observant or not, are found out to be corrupt, immoral, or promiscuous, their students are devastated, and in many cases lose interest in the material taught by those teachers. This is clear to most principals, and when they hire new teachers, they try to make sure this does not happen. But what principals sometimes miss is the notion that if a rabbi, a Talmud teacher, berates a student in front of his classmates, chances are that the student will detest the Talmud, even if the rabbi was a maestro of logical analysis (trust me, I know more than one of these students.) 

Unfortunately, in many Jewish schools, the teachers and the students do not come from the same socio-economic or religious background. When a teacher who lives frugally and is part of an ultra-orthodox society works with children on affluent and more religiously relaxed families, there is a natural tendency to hold the children and their parents in contempt. Even if the teachers do not seek to impose their values on the students, there is always a subliminal message of “you are not good enough”. 

The solution to this problem at the level of the workforce is usually not up to individuals but rather up to schools, communities, and sometime countries (Finland, for example). What we can do, as parents, is resume our role of educators. The school is important, and so are Summer Camp, extra-curricular activities, and of course the omniscient and omnipresent screens, but no one (hopefully) is closer to our children emotionally and culturally than us parents. We must find the time to talk to them about values and ideals, answer their questions ourselves instead of referring them to Wikipedia (and study if we need to), and serve as role models.

It is interesting to note that the first public schools’ system was established in Israel almost 2,000 years ago, the first in the world. It was built upon the foundations of the Torah’s commandments: 

Teach the words of Torah to your children… answer your children’s questions… ask your parents about your history…

Responsibility, not Guilt!

Guilt is a very powerful and necessary emotion, but as everyone who has ever been guilt-tripped knows, it could also be easily abused. Without guilt there would be no remorse and repentance, and it is therefore vital for the healthy functioning of society, but the ideal is to eliminate guilt, and that could be achieved when there is no wrong-doing to feel guilty for. This is of course impossible, a utopia of messianic times, but just because the ideal is far from us we don’t have to stop dreaming and aspiring to reach it. 

The simplest way to use guilt positively is by shifting the weight to the positive concept of responsibility. A good example could be the attempts of Reuven and Yehuda, in the book of Genesis, to convince Yaakov to let Binyamin travel with them to Egypt. Reuven said that if he does not bring Binyamin back Yaakov could kill Reuven’s two sons, while Yehuda said that if he fails to return Binyamin: וחטאתי לאבי כל הימים – I will be held a sinner in your eyes forever. Yaakov rejected Reuven’s offer and accepted Yehuda’s, even though the former committed himself to a terrible and physical punishment while the latter bound himself with only an abstract moral feeling. That is because Reuven suggested that failure will make him guilty, but the guilt balance could be wiped clean by the sacrifice of his two sons. Yehuda, on the other hand, demonstrated his sense of responsibility, saying that he is so committed to bringing Binyamin back, that if he fails he will have to live in eternal guilt, which he is not willing to do. Yaakov then understood that for Yehuda failure is not an option, while Reuven is anticipating it and is planning to pay for it.

Hopefully, as parents and teachers, we will face less dramatic dilemmas than those of Yaakov and his children, but we can nevertheless make the shift in our thought patterns and speech, and instead of making children guilty after the deed, make them feel responsible and help them avoid the deed. For example, instead of yelling at children because of a messy classroom, give them tasks and make them responsible for the cleanliness and appearance of the room. Compliment them for their actions and show that you are proud of their achievements, even if they are not perfect. This attitude will create a positive atmosphere in the classroom. I would think that there is no need to say that shaming a student in front of his peers has disastrous consequences, but unfortunately some teachers still use that method. Parents and students should know that this kind of behavior is intolerable, and teachers should be held responsible for that. Shaming a student is abusing guilt in the worst way possible, it turns off the will to study or to be socially involved, and it could cause irreversible damage. 

I know that many of us were raised on a robust diet of guilt for breakfast and remorse for dinner, and that some will reject the approach offered here by saying that kids must get tougher, so I ask parents to just run it as an experiment and try talking to their children for one month not from a perspective of guilt but rather from one of responsibility. 

There is much more to talk about education, and I want to present here only one more concept: 

The Amazon/Netflix Curriculum

In the past weeks two records were broken. Jeff Bezos has become the richest man in modern history, and Netflix received more Emmy nominations than HBO. There are many factors for which to credit the dazzling success of Amazon and Netflix, but I believe that one of the most important features in both is the ability to “predict” what a customer might be interested in. The two internet behemoths, as well as other companies, present this feature in different ways (customers who bought this also bought… ), because they do not wish to freak us out with their knowledge of our habits, preferences, and status (Target once sent coupons for maternity wear to a pregnant teen whose father was unaware of her situation.) But whether the data is culled from one’s shopping experience and the websites he visits, or it is based on the shared experience of people who read the same book or watched the same movie I did, the suggestions made by Amazon and Netflix save precious time and the frustration of starting and then dropping a book or a movie with disgust or boredom. 

Why can’t we apply the same approach to education? Why not build a literature, history, or Judaic studies curriculum as a user-based experience rather than contained units handed down by instructors? The main obstacle, obviously, is assessment. Let’s take literature for example. In an Amazon format, a teacher might list ten books, and ask students to read several chapters of each and then rate them. Based on their ratings, students will be assigned other books in the style of “if you like this… you’ll like that…”. At the end of the year, all students would have read ten books, but they could be ten different books for each one of them, and in a class of thirty students the teacher will have to keep track of 300 books, which is quite challenging. 

There are two solutions to this problem. One is changing the assessment process. Instead of having students write papers on each book they read, papers which in most cases have no major innovations or creativity, the assessment will be based on creative or free-style writing, which can serve as the best testament that the students read the books and were inspired by them. The other solution is peer- or colleague-sourced reviews. Instead of each teacher checking only his students work, teachers will evaluate papers on one or several books, written by students from schools nationwide.

Applying this approach to Judaic studies might be a little more complicated, because in many cases we do not teach full books but rather segments or snippets of Mishna, Talmud, commentaries, and philosophical works, but it is still feasible. We should reach out to educators and ask them to submit a list of their top ten (or 20, or 100) Judaic studies texts, which can range from a paragraph to a book. Those will be posted on a website and continuously tagged by users, thus creating a thorough system of categories and cross references. Students could be tasked with choosing one or several texts from each category and keep following the forks in the road of user-based suggestions. To maintain the atmosphere of joint learning, Havruta, or Beth Midrash, teachers could assign readings not to individuals but to pairs or groups. Assessment, as in literature, will be based on original papers, as students will be prompted to offer novel interpretations and analysis to known texts or themes.

While not so simple to set up, this approach would have several benefits including: 

  • Students will feel more connected to the texts because they chose them.
  • The texts will be more fitting to students’ interests and proclivities and will therefore be more engaging and intriguing.
  • This in turn will foster a healthier relationship between students and their Jewish background and identity and will extend their learning experience beyond high school.
  • Finally, encouraging students to be creative in the field of Judaic studied might help us overcome the current stalemate in Jewish leadership, where very few religious leaders are willing to tackle and solve real problems.

I hope that some of the ideas written here will have a positive impact on Jewish education, and I’d be glad to discuss them further with parents and educators.

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