Category: Jewish Education


The focus of rabbinical school training has often been on how we can attract more Jews to Judaism. But the secret is this: Jews are attracted to Judaism — the unadulterated, complex and nuanced, powerful Jewish tradition. We just don’t have enough teachers out there who can speak their language and transmit the beauty and intricacy of Jewish tradition to those hungry for some meaning in their lives. We have been working so hard to pull people back from complete repudiation of Judaism — or worse, apathy — that we don’t know how to meet the demand of those finally interested in the conversation and looking to own it themselves.

Elie Kaunfer, “The Real Crisis in American Judaism”, The Jewish Week (7 April 2010), 14.

We do not have the luxury of assuming that Jews will feel engaged in the Jewish tradition just by experiencing a few inspiring programs. Jews must become self-directed translators of the Jewish tradition — for themselves and their peers. This means less focus on “experiences” and more focus on the building blocks of educational discovery. This is not about religious indoctrination. This is unlocking the power of Jewish heritage.

American culture supports so many forms of creativity and experimentation — but this rarely extends to Judaism. We believe that an education must include Shakespeare, Joyce and knowledge of the Civil War, yet not the Mishnah or Psalms. What would it take to promote a deep engagement with the building blocks of the Jewish tradition and to make this pursuit an acceptable pre- or post-college endeavor?

Elie Kaunfer, “The Real Crisis in American Judaism”, The Jewish Week (7 April 2010), 12.

The Jewish community is doing remarkable work on campus. Jewish groups of the left, right and center are investing tremendous resources to bring a diversity of opinion and Israel education to campus. If students are still unengaged, uneducated and uncommitted Jewishly, it’s only because the college years are too late to start.

The young people who are the Jewish leaders on campus did not emerge overnight. They come from homes that value formal and informal Jewish education. They share a common language and common experiences that strengthen their sense of belonging to a global community and a historical people. Young people need to have immersion in meaningful, joyful Jewish life as early as possible.

Jeff Rubin, “It’s Jewish Education, Stupid”, The Jewish Week (10 January 2014), 28.

Harnessing technology to create efficiencies and revolutionize education hasn’t had the intended impacts in the past. In part that’s because we ascribe a magical quality to it and try to force it into paradigms that it was never designed to do. Technology should be a method of enhancement, never a cost-efficient replacement for face-to-face learning experiences, or a smokescreen to distract from other cost-efficiencies.

No amount of artificial intelligence or blended learning or Smart-this or i-that is going to be able to replace the pedagogical benefits of a highly trained educator who can help students gain and apply knowledge (Judaic or otherwise) to help them make sense of the world in which they live. Trying to harness technology to supplant these professionals in search of some perceived vast savings that has yet to be realized is a fool’s errand.

Russel Neiss, “Jewish Ed Tech Macher Says Tech Is Not – NOT – the Answer to Affordability“, eJewish Philanthropy (19 May 2013)

How much time in our synagogue schools has been spent on helping students cultivate their sense of the sublime? How much time has been spent providing an immersive and reflective experience of different mitzvot as possible responses? How much time has been spent on coaching them in the performance of those regularized practices so that they become a normative aspect of their life? To take an example from outside Judaism, when Jews are serious about undertaking yoga or Bhuddist meditation, they don’t learn about it. They take it on as a discipline that must be practiced regularly with a teacher that can help them develop their ability to perform properly.

Bill Robinson, “The Religion You Don’t Believe In, I Don’t Believe In Either”eJewishPhilanthropy (3 November 2013).

A fundamental flaw with much of Jewish education in America is that it forces us to view Jewish identity within a vacuum. The goal of imparting students with as much Judaism as possible often leads teachers and administrators to ignore equally — if not more — discussions about focusing on the challenges of living a Jewish life in a predominantly non-Jewish world. What we ignore is the importance of teaching our children how to engage as “a Jew among the nations.” This doesn’t mean abandoning Jewish particularism; it just means supplementing it with a more holistic approach. Our children should graduate the Jewish educational system with pride in their inheritance, humility in what they know (and how much more they could know), and the knowledge that their Judaism provides added value for negotiating modern life.

Simon Klarfeld, “The Fundamental Flaw In Jewish Education”, The Jewish Week (20 September 2013), 20.

Most of the time, the texts of Torah she-be’al Peh—the Mishnah, the Tosefta, the Bavli, the Yerushalmi—provide the names of those Tannaim or Amoraim who hold a certain view, (and in doing so bring redemption to the world). But even in those cases where these sefarim don’t cite the name of the authority holding a particular view, Hazal go out of their way to track it down. This is particularly significant, since, at least in the case of the Mishnah, it was Rebbe who omitted the name of the Tanna in order to indicate that the Halakhah followed his view, and, as we know, the Gemara often notes that a particular mishnah does not follow the view of a particular Tanna. Thus, it is important to identify views that are not dominant—halakhah le-maaseh!

By ignoring the differences, the individual nature of each de’ah and shittah, we lose an important aspect of Torah.

Yaakov Elman, “Rava as Mara de-Atra in Mahoza”, Hakirah 11 (Spring 2011), 62.

In a statement repeated several times in Shas, Rava emphasizes the importance of an individual’s input in Torah study, that is, the process of making Torah one’s own. Let us look at AZ 19a, where this appears in the context of Rava’s ‘musar shmuess’ regarding Talmud Torah. … In other words, our task in studying Torah, if we merit it, is to put our own individual stamp on Hashem’s Torah by filtering it through our own understanding, as limited as that may be. The souls of Kelal Yisrael were all at Mattan Torah, and we each have our own portion of Torah assigned to us. Of course, that understanding, even if part of our ‘self’ contributes to it, must reflect true Torah values and modes of thought and argument. Clearly, this individual stamp on Torah learning applies to the Amoraim; after all, Rava was first and foremost addressing his own colleagues, who were Amoraim. Thus, we should expect that each Amora has his own individual understanding of various issues, and when they differ, seemingly isolated differences might be understood as expressions of a more general outlook.

Yaakov Elman, “Rava as Mara de-Atra in Mahoza”, Hakirah 11 (Spring 2011), 61-62

Just as the Rav commented that that it would be impossible today to (successfully) teach Talmud to students who are secularly educated if not for R. Chaim’s approach, something similar can be said regarding Tanakh. For those with a secular education, who have read great books, it is very difficult to connect to Tanakh without the new approach that has been developed in the last forty years or so. As R. Yoel Bin Nun puts in his preface to Helfgot’s book: “It is impossible to study Tanakh in the land of Israel as if we are still residing in Eastern Europe prior to the Holocaust.”

Marc B. Shapiro, “Answers to Quiz Questions and Other Comments, part 2”, The Seforim Blog (25 March 2012) {http://seforim.blogspot.com/2012/03/answers-to-quiz-questions-and-other.html}

One of the most venerable of Jewish book practices—Talmud study— has engendered a remarkable series of innovations by dint of the cascade of new media of the past century. These recent developments rest on a much longer history of practices centered on this core text of rabbinic Judaism. As scholars of the early modern period have noted, printed folios of the Talmud, first published in the late fifteenth century, expanded the engagement in rabbinic text study among jewish boys and men throughout the diaspora. beginning at the turn of the twentieth century, photo-offset reproductions of the 1880–1886 “Vilna Romm Shas” not only canonized this edition as definitive but also presented scholars with a daf of unprecedented standardization in both content and form. (The value invested in fixing the format of the daf is implicit in the “pin test,” in which yeshiva students are challenged to identify the words through which a pin, stuck into a page of the Talmud at random, passes on subsequent pages, a skill that relies on memorization of the text as well as knowing its placement on the page.) The standardized daf also facilitated the institution of Daf Yomi—inaugurated by Rabbi Meir Shapiro at the First World Congress of the World Agudath Israel, held in Vienna in 1923—as an international practice that both promotes and regulates Talmud study within a modular rubric.

Jeffrey Shandler, “The Jewish Book and Beyond in Modern Times,” AJS Review 34, No. 2 (November 2010), 382.