Jewish Education: Goals, Values, and Challenges
Moses’ words were well heeded. From ancient times, the Jews were the only nation where education and literacy was the norm rather than the privilege of an elite. Sixteen and a half centuries before Frederick, just before the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans, a High Priest named Joshua ben Gamla ordered every Jewish community to establish schools for underprivileged children, supported by a communal tax. “A community that has no public-school teachers,” the Talmud ruled, “shall be excommunicated.”
And so it was that the Jews managed to stay an educated, literate class in the darkest of times. “A Jew, however poor,” wrote a 12th century monk, “if he has ten sons would put them all to letters… and not only his sons, but his daughters.”
As would be expected, Jewish educational methods were far ahead of anything the rest of the world had seen. The Mishnah and the Talmud demanded critical-thinking skills. The practice of studying in pairs and learning out loud taught the art of dialogue. A good student was one who asked good questions and “made his teacher wiser.”
Then something bizarre occurred: As the walls of the ghetto fell, Jews began to opt for the relatively neophyte educational institutions of the gentiles. For many, Jewish education become a wayside operation, after regular school hours, taught by those who couldn’t get a job elsewhere.
In the last 20 years, however, that trend has dramatically reversed. Jewish day schools are popping up everywhere today like mushrooms and Jews are pulling their kids out of public school to enroll in them. What happened? Here are some weighty factors:
Educating the Whole Child
A child is more than a data processor. And life demands more than knowledge and marketable skills. Parents want their kids to have some spiritual and ethical basis to their lives — something that public schools are prevented from providing in many countries by law. Jewish traditions are the basis of ethics in our society and they are rich in spiritual inspiration.
Give Your Child an Identity
In a confusing world, Jewish identity provides solid ground to grow from. Identifying as a member of the most resilient nation in history with roots four thousand years deep, a child is imbued with confidence and pride to face the world and make a difference.
The Best For Our Kids
We have a long tradition of teaching people to think for themselves and yet be firmly grounded in tradition. And as Jews, we can’t think of anything more valuable in life than ensuring our children will receive the best and strive for the best. That’s why Jewish day school students on average score much higher in all subjects than the general population.
Join the Community
Parents who enroll their children in a Jewish school find their lives enriched as they become part of a vibrant, growing community. They learn, they make friends and they grow.
Our Children, Our Future
We’ve had a rude awakening. We’ve seen first-hand that without Jewish education there can be no Jewish people. Enrollment in a day school, especially at the secondary level, turns out to be the major factor in whether a Jew will marry a Jewish spouse. Those Jews without a formal Jewish education are most often lost to their people.
Where do I start?
Talk to your local Chabad rabbi about starting your kids off in Jewish studies. He’ll help you make an educated decision about which is the best school for your family. He also may have access to scholarship funds or advice on how to apply.