DISCUSS THE MAIN CHARACTERISTICS OF JEWISH EDUCATION
Jewish education is the transmission of the tenets, principles and religious laws of Judaism. Education remains one of the highest precepts in Judaism and the value of education is strongly embedded in Jewish culture. Due to Judaism’s heavy emphasis on Torah study, many have commented that Judaism is characterized by “lifelong learning” that extends to adults as much as it does to children.
The tradition of Jewish education goes back to biblical times. One of the basic duties of Jewish parents is to provide for the instruction of their children. The obligation to teach one’s children is set forth in the first paragraph of the Shema Yisrael prayer: “Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and your gates.” (Deut 6:6-9).
(Deut 32:7). The Book of Proverbs also contains many verses related to education: “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your mind retain my commandments; For they will bestow on you length of days, years of life and well-being.“ (Prov 3:1-2).
Elementary school learning was regarded as compulsory by Simeon ben Shetah as early as 75 BCE and Joshua ben Gamla in 64 CE. The education of older boys and men in a beit midrash goes back to the Second Temple period. The importance of education is stressed in the Talmud, which states that children should begin school at six. The rabbis stated that they should not be beaten with a stick or cane, that older students should help those who were younger, and that children should not be kept from their lessons by other duties. According to Judah ben Tema, “At five years the age is reached for studying the Bible, at ten for studying the Mishnah, at thirteen for fulfilling the mitzvoth, at fifteen for studying the Talmud.” (Avot 5:21). In keeping with this tradition, Jews established their own schools or hired private tutors for their children until the end of the 18th century. Schools were housed in annexes or separate buildings close to the synagogue.
Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (in his Meshech Chochma) observes that God’s statement “[Abraham is blessed because] he will instruct his children and his house after him to follow in God’s ways to perform righteousness and justice” (Genesis 18:19) is an implicit mitzvah to teach Judaism.
THE MAIN CHARACTERISTICS OF JEWISH EDUCATION
Once children reach school-age, parents are faced with another important choice: to send them to public, private or Jewish day school. The day school movement, once limited to the Orthodox community, has grown by leaps and bounds over the last twenty years. According to the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE), an organization dedicated to strengthening day school education in North America, there are currently 700 Jewish day schools in North America with an enrollment approaching 200,000 students.
While almost half of these schools affiliate with the Orthodox movement, the other roughly 350 include independent, non-denominational schools, Jewish Montessori-style schools, Solomon Schecter schools (affiliated with the Conservative movement), and Reform day schools. (The Reconstructionist movement is also currently planning its first day school.) While most of these schools are located in major metropolitan areas, some smaller Jewish communities, in modest-size cities like Reading, Pennsylvania, are building day school options.
Parents who send their children to supplementary (afternoon and Sunday) schools for their primary Jewish education are often quite surprised to discover that these institutions are very much changed since their own childhood days. Jewish educators are working hard to find the most effective ways to provide a Jewish education in only two to six hours per week and making strides towards creating innovative, effective models for Jewish learning. Many schools are turning towards more experiential education, in which students learn Jewish studies through the creative arts. Other schools take students for overnight Shabbatons (Shabbat retreats) several times during the year, immersing them in a Jewish learning (as well as social) experience.
Recent studies estimate a population of 650,000 Jewish middle and high school students. Most of these attend Jewish youth groups or participate in activities funded by Jewish youth organizations Jewish youth organizations. Many of these are Zionist youth movements. The various organizations differ in political ideology, religious affiliation, and leadership structure, although they all tend to be characterized by a focus on youth leadership.
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