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October 28, 2016 / 26 Tishri, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Jewish Education’

An Ignorant Student

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

It is almost as if he were responding to my post from yesterday. Rabbi Yonason Goldson who teaches at Block Yeshiva High School in St. Louis agrees that there is a problem with Jewish education. But he seems to be going in the opposite direction of what I have perceived to be the problem.

In an article on Beyond BT he laments the fact that there are so many students who have gone through “the system” ( including a year of study in Israel) at an estimated quarter million dollar expense – and yet feel that they are ignorant of Judaism (as was reported in the case of one student written about in a Jewish Action piece).

He ultimately blames this phenomenon on the “dumbing down” of Jewish education by lowering expectations. Here is how he puts it:

Unfortunately, Jewish schools and educators have not been immune to the lunacy sweeping the educational enterprise—suppression of competition, safeguarding students’ feelings at all costs, promoting self-esteem over academic achievement and dumbing down coursework to the level of the least-capable student. What has been lost is the insistence on excellence, an aggressive curriculum of core subjects (both Jewish and secular) and devotion to hard work.

It is quite surprising to see that kind of evaluation of Jewish education in light of so many educators who have published articles lamenting just the opposite: That there is too much emphasis on academic achievement, too aggressive a curriculum, and too much hard work.

And yet I think I understand where he is coming from. So how can there be such a contradiction? How can we on the one hand be overly aggressive and competitive to the point of allowing less intelligent or motivated kids to fall through the cracks and become at great risk for going OTD or worse? And on the other hand dumbing down education to the lowest common denominator?

I think it depends on the school and the environment. The OTD problems that occur because of the pressure to excel definitely exists in both the Charedi world and the Modern Orthodox (MO) world.

It is a rather well known phenomenon that Charedi schools are becoming ever more selective in who they accept leaving out a great many students who are relatively bright but simply do not measure up to the highly competitive standards of the school. And these schools are constantly pushing the envelope of Torah learning in an effort to “outgun” the competitions as the top school in Limudei Kodesh (which consists almost exclusively of Talmud study).

The same is true of many MO schools where the push for excellence in secular studies puts tremendous pressure on students – many of whom simply can’t hack the pressure. And yet parents push their kids to the limit – and beyond – so that they will qualify for entry into a prestigious ivy league school or the like.

There is no dumbing down in these schools. Just a lot of pressure.

But I understand that there are parents who do not want their kids to be so pressured. I cannot count the number of times I have heard a parent complain about their child’s long day in a Yeshiva High School… saying it is too much for them… that they should be given a little more free time – perhaps eliminating night seder so they can relax and be more refreshed for the next day.

School administrators are not deaf. Especially in smaller towns. If the majority of parents want a lighter day and/or curriculum, they will respond to them. Or close.

Rabbi Goldson must be experiencing this kind of school. Cities with relatively small Orthodox populations do not have the kind of pressure cities like New York and Lakewood have. The parent in St. Louis does not feel the need to compete with or outdo the “the school down the block.” Because there is no school down the block.

But I don’t know that any of these paradigms sufficiently explain why the student described above felt he was ignorant of Judaism. While I agree that dumbing down education is a bad move and can contribute to that student’s feelings. I don’t think that explains it.

Making the curriculum harder and more competitive without examining what the actual curriculum just means that a Charedi school for example will increase the amount of time their students will study Gemarah.

In the MO school it might mean increasing the secular curriculum and/or workload. In my view both scenarios will not give the student in question any better insight into his Judaism. It isn’t only how hard one studies, butwhatone studies.

What needs to be done in both cases is to broaden the curriculum to include the study of Judaism itself, not just Gemarah or secular studies. Yeshivos need to introduce studies like Jewish philosophy, Jewish history and Jewish ethics. Mussar, Navi, Machshava, and Hashkafa, are sorely understudied in most institutions if they are studied at all. There ought to be some time taken off from Gemarah study in Charedi schools and from secular studies in MO schools to make room for these very important parts of Judaism.

This is what is lacking most in the academic life of that ‘ignorant’ student. I doubt that it had as much to do with his curriculum being dumbed down as it does by what his lack of a fuller Jewish curriculum. I doubt for example that he did not spend his year in Israel in intensives study. But it was probably exclusively Gemarah if his experience was typical. So he may end up knowing a lot about the amount of damages one must pay if his ox gores another ox. Or how to return lost objects to their owners. But when it comes to the meaning of Judaism he will be the one who is lost.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Harry Maryles

There’s Still Something Wrong with this Picture

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

There is a new Charedi girls’ high school that has made a bold move to advance the education of Charedi girls in Israel. According to an article in Ha’aretz (republished at Failed Messiah) Darkei Sarah requires their students to take the standardized matriculation exams that all Israeli secular and National Religious high school students take in order to graduate.

While this doesn’t sound like much to those of us in America where the majority of even Charedi high schools have a relatively decent general studies department – it is nonetheless a step forward for Charedi Israel. Most Charedi girls’ high schools do not have those standards. Although they do teach a variety of secular subjects they have purposely avoided teaching the girls ‘too much’ so as to avoid the the “Michshol” (stumbling block) of university. They consider much of the subject matter taught there at best inappropriate and the environment to be anti Torah.

But at least the girls get some secular education. Charedi high school boys have none! They spend every educational minute on Torah – mostly Gemarah. Secular studies have little value to them. It is considered Bitul Torah (a waste of the precious “Torah learning” time) to study secular subjects.

Charedim may not agree with the Torah U’Mada principle that secular studies have intrinsic value – but what about the men preparing for Parnassa – earning a living?

Not necessary, they say. Their wives will be doing that. That’s why the girls have any secular education at all. So that they can eventually support their husbands! But even for the girls, they must not be taught too much lest they end up in college.

I guess necessity is the mother of change. Charedi schools like Darkei Sarah now realize that the Charedi family can no longer survive on the kinds of menial jobs women can get without a decent education. Here is how Sima Valess, the principal of Darkei Sarah put it:

“These girls will one day support their families [while their husbands study Torah and Talmud]…”

But in the same breath she adds:

“…in a way that could not possibly suggest that they will follow independent careers.”

As the article points out she had to add that they have not departed from the Charedi Hashkafos of not making career women out of Kollel wives.

I guess she wants to have her cake – and eat it too. I’m not sure what she means by a career. But these new standards are definitely designed to give Charedi families a better means of support. And that usually means a career in one of the fields studied at a university level.

I don’t know whether this will catch on in other schools. My guess is that it won’t. But there does seem to be some basic common sense among a few Charedim who can see the handwriting on their wall of increasing poverty… at least enough to enroll their daughters in that school.

Is the view of educating women so they can support their “Torah learning” husbands the right one for Judaism? I don’t think so. One of the most basic ideas expressed in both the written and oral law is the idea of a man earning a living: B’Zeyas Apecha Tochel Lechem – By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread – God tells Adam.

This theme is repeated throughout Shas. Ein Kemeach Ein Torah; Yaffa Torah im Derech Eretz. The Mishna in Avos tells us that if there is no income the end result will be Bitul Torah anyway. It is also obvious from the Gemarah the sages worked and supported their families. This too is the case with the Rishonim. Two of the greatest – the Rambam and the Ramban – were both doctors. That is how they supported themselves. There is no evidence that either of their wives worked.

So how did we get to the current Charedi paradigm of men not working at all? The idea stems from another concept mentioned in Shas: Talmud Torah K’Neged Kulam . Torah study is the most important Mitzvah one can do. All energies should therefore be put towards that goal. If one can find a way to learn full time, he must do so.

What about people of the past like the Rambam? Why not follow his example? As I recall, Rav Moshe Feinstein mentioned the reason for that. He says something along the lines that we have so much Torah to learn today as a result of the volumes written on Torah subjects throughout history – that even if we devoted our entire lives to it – every waking moment – we would still not be able to fully cover all of it. In our day it would therefore be impossible to learn all of the Torah properly – certainly if we had to put in a full day’s work. Says Rav Moshe – the Rambam’s example can therefore no longer be followed.

I am not one to argue with Rav Moshe. But I still have to ask, how can we ignore our own history? How can we just reject the values the Torah itself posits? And the example the sages and the Rishonom set for us? On the other hand, how can we ignore the rationale Rav Moshe gave us for putting all else aside – including Parnassa –so that we can learn as much as possible?

For me the answer is quite simple. Not everyone is capable of being “Rav Moshe.” One needs not only the high intelligence he had, but his determination and diligence. There not too many people who can fill that bill. For those who can become great in Torah knowledge, yes they should spend their full time in learning Torah.

Whether they should learn Mada or not is a separate issue. But even for those who say it isn’t necessary, they should admit that not every person who sits in front of a Gemarah will end up being a Rav Moshe – or even anything close to that. They will never cover all the Torah that Rav Moshe said we need to know. At best they will only scratch the surface.

That does not free people from trying. But in my view the majority of people who are not cut out for it should follow the directives of the Torah SheB’Ksav and Torah SheBal Peh… and get a job! And then try and learn Torah by establishing fixed times for it. What about producing Torah scholars lie Rav Moshe? The cream will rise to the top. Those who have the potential for greatness in Torah will do so. And they should be supported. A lot better than they are supported now. The rest should “by the sweat of their brow – eat bread”!

But that is not the current Charedi paradigm in Israel. There is no concept of preparing for a job. No matter how ill suited an individual is for the task of dedicating their lives to full time Torah study.

That is in fact increasingly becoming the paradigm in America as well. All Charedi men are encouraged to learn full time here too. Secular studies are discouraged – and even disparaged – becoming increasingly marginalized even in those Yeshivos that have them.

The burden of supporting a family has shifted to women. B’Zeyas Apecha Tochel Lechem has been transferred to them!

I’m glad that at least in one Charedi school women are being better educated. Maybe this trend will catch on. Who knows…? But that does not change what I see is an Olam HaHafuch – a world turned upside down from what the Torah itself intended. A world that existed from the beginning of time until the post Holocaust 20th century.

Visit the Emes Ve-Emunah Blog.

Harry Maryles

Reverend Samuel Myer Isaacs – Champion of Orthodoxy (Part II)

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Unless otherwise noted all quotations are from The Forerunners – Dutch Jewry in the North America Diaspora by Robert P. Swierenga, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 1994.

Last month’s column sketched the life of Reverend Myer Isaacs, concentrating primarily on his efforts to preserve and foster Orthodoxy in New York City, where he served as the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaaray Tefila from its founding in 1845 to his passing in 1879. Reverend Isaacs’s sphere of influence was not limited to New York. His efforts encompassed a broad range of activities throughout America designed to strengthen Orthodoxy in its battle against the Reform movement.

“In 1857 Samuel Isaacs carried the fight against Reform to the wider Jewish community by launching a periodical, the Jewish Messenger, which he made an effective organ for Orthodoxy. He set the tone and established his themes in the initial ringing editorials, ‘Mammon Worship,’ which condemned materialism; ‘Our Divine Law,’ which commended true religion as the ‘boon and boast of Israel throughout the dispersion’; and ‘The Want of Union,’ which advocated a super board to safeguard Judaism in democratic America. The Jewish Messenger also promoted unified Jewish charities, day schools and seminaries, and orphan asylums. The rabbi turned journalist enlisted in the struggle his sons Myer, Abram, and Isaac as writers and assistant editors.”

In addition to editing The Jewish Messenger, Reverend Isaacs was a contributor to the Jewish newspaper the Asmonean as well as to Isaac Leeser’s monthly Jewish journal the Occident. Many of his articles criticized those who wanted to introduce reforms into religious practice that were against halacha. Reverend Isaacs began his article “The Reform Agitation” with:

In an age like the present, when the most startling theories are mooted, the most pernicious doctrines disseminated, and the strangest systems propagated regarding our religious polity, it becomes every man in whom the latent spark of religion is not extinct to employ all the means in his power to prevent the theorist from putting his visionary schemes into practice, to thwart the worldling in his dangerous doctrines, and to counteract the copyist in his onward course. Carrying out this principle to its fullest extent, I take up my pen, not to exhibit the “cacoethes scribendi” [insatiable desire to write], nor to cater to the taste of the innovator, not for self-aggrandizement, nor for fleeting popularity; but for the sole aim and purpose of demonstrating to the Judaic world that the system we have followed in our dark days and our brighter ones has performed all it was destined to accomplish; and to adduce evidence to prove that reforming our system of worship as regards its spiritual affairs, will entail danger on our nationality, and mainly tend to remove the landmarks which were erected by prudence and caution, and which hitherto have been sufficient to guide the pilgrim of hope to the regions of immortality. [The Occident, Volume II, No. 6]

Jewish Education

Samuel Myer Isaacs realized the future of Judaism depended on Jewish youth receiving a meaningful Jewish education. However, the reality was that during his lifetime most Jewish children were educated in public schools.

“In 1842 Isaacs converted his congregation’s afternoon school into an all-day English and Hebrew school, the New York Talmud Torah and Hebrew Institute, with the Dutch-born Henry Goldsmith as teacher of Hebrew. Although the school began strongly with 80 boys and was one of only three in the entire country, it failed within five years because of financial difficulties. Isaacs was not easily discouraged. In 1852 his congregation again founded a day school, the Bnai Jeshurun Educational Institute, which boasted an enrollment of 177 pupils within a year; but it too had to close after three years (1855) because of insufficient students.”

These attempts to maintain a day school were undermined by the New York state legislature having secularized the public schools. Christian textbooks were eliminated and local school boards could choose daily Scripture readings. In predominantly Jewish neighborhoods, only passages from the Jewish Bible were read. The result was that Jewish parents sent their children to public school where they received no Jewish education. Reverend Isaacs correctly “considered this an unmitigated tragedy.”

He was not deterred by failure, however, and in 1857 established a Hebrew high school where he served “as principal and Hebrew teacher for many years. The school thrived as a boarding institution and offered a college preparatory curriculum.”

Dr. Yitzchok Levine

When Yeshiva Day School Is No Longer A Viable Option

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

The day school tuition crisis is not new. It has been brewing for years. School costs continue to rise while unemployment and underemployment remain high. And one also needs money to live in a neighborhood with shuls and mikvehs, to buy kosher food, to make proper simchas, to cover Yom Tov expenses, etc.

It seems that somewhere along the line it became mandated that in order to be frum you have to be rich – or at least extremely well off.

And of course you must keep your children in private day schools – or else, we are warned, you are putting your children’s Jewish future at risk.

We are told to sacrifice as much as possible in order to provide a Jewish education for our children. Give up vacations, cars, home renovations. Stop drinking coffee. Don’t send your children to camp. Don’t buy anything. Give all your tzedakah to the schools your children attend.

Give up everything that might bring you joy because there is no joy greater than your children’s Jewish education. This, we are told, will guarantee that our children will remain safely in the Jewish fold.

But what of families who have already sacrificed everything? What of families who are receiving financial assistance from the schools and still have trouble making those monthly payments? What of families forced to decide each month which bills to pay and which to ignore? What of families who risk losing their home to foreclosure or having their car repossessed? What guarantees do they get?

In an ideal world, families in need of tuition assistance would receive it and remain anonymous. In the real world, especially in smaller communities, this is impossible. The scrutinizing, the judging, the criticism of families who receive financial aid is intolerable and should be unacceptable. Those paying full tuition are frequently – and quite publicly – resentful, accusatory and spiteful.

The benefiting families are made to feel like a burden on their community. God forbid someone sees them eating at a restaurant. Heaven help them if someone notices them at the movies on Motzaei Shabbat.

Some parents no longer wish to be a burden. They want to pay bills when they are due without worrying where they’ll find the money for tuition. They want to save something for college or retirement. So they make the difficult decision to remove their children from day school and place them in public school. Other families opt for a Hebrew language charter school.

Here in South Florida, a number of Ben Gamla charter schools have opened in the past few years. The advantage of a Hebrew language charter over the local public school is that Israeli culture is taught alongside the language. So while the children cannot daven at school or study religious texts, they can learn, for example, about Chanukah and how the Maccabees fought and beat the Greeks. Just don’t mention the miracle of the oil.

Far from being ideal for frum families, the Ben Gamla charter schools offer an intermediate solution: free secular education for your children, with the added benefit of Hebrew language and Israeli culture and history, taught by Sherut Leumi (National Service) girls.

But what about Judaics?

You tell yourself you’ll send your children to the local Talmud Torah, but then you learn they no longer exist, at least not anywhere near you. You think you’ll hire a teacher from a local day school to tutor your kids a few afternoons a week – until you discover that not a few day schools have told their teachers not to tutor children who have transferred from day school to public school.

So these wonderful educators, who as it is are underpaid by institutions heralding Torah, mitzvot and midot, are threatened with job loss by those very institutions.

Perhaps the rabbis in the community would like to advise parents on finding tutors? Maybe they would like to facilitate a group-learning opportunity for the many children now in public schools due to the tuition crisis?

Some community rabbis seem to believe the majority of families with children in public school do not care enough about Judaics. I beg to disagree. For families who pull out of yeshiva for financial reasons, the cost of private tutors (if you can find one) is too high. For them, the idea of a communal Hebrew school program, geared specifically toward kids who began life in day school, is an attractive one. Something local, affordable and communal. A program like that will cost less per child, and even if it begins with just a few children the likelihood is it will grow in numbers as people see it working and parents are happy with what is being taught.

Vanessa Brooks

Camp Ramah Founder Sylvia Ettenberg, 95

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Sylvia Cuttler Ettenberg, a veteran Jewish educator and founder of Camp Ramah, has died at age 95

Ettenberg was the first female senior administrator at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and was recognized as a dean emerita.

The Brooklyn native was at the forefront of many Conservative Jewish educational initiatives, including the Prozdor Hebrew High School program and the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at JTS.

Ettenberg was best recognized as a founder of Camp Ramah and for incorporating the institution into JTS, a move that helped it grow from a single camp in Wisconsin into a network of a dozen camps and several informal education programs in the United States and Israel.


Teaching Children To Act As Their Own Internet Filters

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Tens of thousands of Jews filled Citi Field in Queens on Sunday and heard from haredi Orthodox leaders that the Internet should be avoided in the home at all costs and used sparingly at work, and then only with a filter blocking content that could be damaging spiritually.

Debate as you will what some may see as draconian edicts to protect the Jewish community from moral corruption. But at the heart of the matter is a question that should concern us all: How do we keep our children safe on the Internet?

We know we cannot work around the Internet. Research from the Pew Foundation indicates that 54 percent of children say they go to Google first when they have a question, as opposed to 26 percent who say they go to a parent and 3 percent to a teacher. Rather, we must figure out how parents and teachers can make this important tool work safely and effectively for our kids.

The difficulty is that even the simple solutions are incredibly complicated. Powerful filters can block illicit images and material, but those filters often block out the good with the bad and limit far too much useful information. This solution has been discussed and debated on our own campus concerning Internet access in dormitories.

Some yeshivot have considered avoiding technology altogether and sticking with books and blackboards. But that would leave students without the digital competence required to succeed academically in college and beyond, not to mention that it would rob teachers of increasingly exciting and effective educational tools.

The only real answer is that as parents and teachers, we must instill in our children a strong value system based on Jewish morals and traditions that allows our children to become their own filters when exploring the Internet. That would be far more powerful than any protective software.

The onus is clearly on us because it seems children will listen to our rules, at least when it comes to the Internet. Only three in 10 young people reported to a Kaiser Foundation survey that they are given clear rules about how much time they may spend using a computer, watching TV or playing video games. The average child with no rules spends more than three hours per day on such media. Those who are given rules spend considerably less time.

Yeshiva high school students said they would be receptive to rules. More than half of those surveyed by researcher Debbie Fox, director of the Aleinu Family Resource Center, a program of the Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, said that they would welcome more guidance from parents regarding Internet use.

These same students, in fact, said they would be far stricter with their own future adolescent children regarding responsible Internet use than their parents, and would monitor their children much more closely.

The dangers of the Internet are not limited to challenging content. A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study showed that about half of students in grades seven through 12 said they do their homework with media open that do not pertain to their task at hand. In other words, about 50 percent of middle and high school students are doing homework with divided attention. And while some kids may believe they are being more efficient, multitasking has been proven in adults to cause higher levels of stress and lower levels of efficiency.

While some kids can multitask well, it’s up to parents to actively determine if their children work more efficiently while doing so or while focusing on their work without interruption. Parents should collaborate with their children to test whether they are more efficient when not being interrupted or distracted, and then meter their background activity accordingly.

The greatest challenge of all, however, may be making sure that our kids completely separate from the Internet at times. According to the Pew Foundation, 75 percent of American teens prefer texting to in-person contact with friends. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that this generation’s empathy levels among adolescents are significantly lower than those of previous generations.

It may seem that adolescents in every generation feel isolated and tuned out at some point or another. But it turns out that their computer habits may be compounding the problem. Parents need to teach children that some of their relationships must include direct face-to-face interaction without the distraction of text messages and cell phone calls.

Dr. Eliezer Jones and Dr. David Pelcovitz

Torah Academy Of Boca Raton Dedicates New Computer Lab

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Torah Academy of Boca Raton recently dedicated its new computer lab. The lab and software were made possible by a generous donation by CIJE, the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education. Jason Curry and Joel Beritz, president and vice-president of the Gruss Life Monument Fund, Torah Academy faculty, staff and upper grade students all attended the dedication.

The centerpiece of the yeshiva’s new computer lab is the Pearson Education SuccessMaker software. This software assesses each student’s level of instruction and then engages the student in an immersive, multimedia lesson tailored specifically to individual abilities and level of mastery of math and language arts.

Computer lab dedication ceremony at Torah Academy.

Rabbi Reuven Feinberg, dean of Torah Academy, remarked, “We are privileged to host Mr. Curry and Mr. Beritz. The Gruss Life Monument Fund and CIJE have changed the face of Jewish Education. The programs and initiatives that that have been implemented with their help, guidance and support have touched the lives of tens of thousands of young people throughout the world and particularly here at Torah Academy in Boca Raton.”

The Torah Academy of Boca Raton is located at 447 NE Spanish River Blvd, Boca Raton, Florida. The school includes early childhood through sixth grade. Seventh grade will be added next year eighth grade the following year.

The school’s goals include promoting a lifelong commitment to and passion for Torah study and ethical growth, providing an outstanding Judaic and secular studies curriculum, and inspiring a love and commitment of the land of Israel.  For more information, call 561-347-1821.

Shelley Benveniste

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/torah-academy-of-boca-raton-dedicates-new-computer-lab/2011/12/15/

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