Jewish education

"Chinuch" redirects here. For the book, see Sefer ha-Chinuch.
A Jewish father teaching a child in 19th-century Podolia.

Jewish education (Hebrew: חינוך, Chinukh) is the transmission of the tenets, principles and religious laws of Judaism. Known as "People of the Book", Jews value education. The emphasis and value of education is strongly embedded in Jewish culture.[1][2] Judaism places a heavy emphasis on Torah study.


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).[3]

(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).[4]

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.[5]

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.

Formal Jewish education

Sex segregation

Sex segregation in education has traditionally been the norm. As of 2012, education in the Haredi community was strictly segregated by sex. The education for boys was primarily focused on the study of Jewish scriptures, such as the Torah and Talmud, while girls obtained studies both in Jewish education as well as broader secular subjects.[6]

Primary schooling

The Talmud (tractate Bava Bathra 21a) attributes the institution of formal Jewish education to the first century sage Joshua ben Gamla. Prior to this, parents taught their children informally. Ben Gamla instituted schools in every town and made education compulsory from the age of 6 or 7. The Talmud attaches great importance to the "Tinokot shel beth Rabban" (the children [who study] at the Rabbi's house), stating that the world continues to exist for their learning and that even for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem classes are not to be interrupted (tractate Shabbat 119b).

The yeshiva

In Mishnaic and Talmudic times young men were attached to a beth din (court of Jewish law), where they sat in three rows and progressed as their fellow students were elevated to sit on the court.

After the formal court system was abolished, yeshivot became the main places for Torah study. The Talmud itself was composed largely in the yeshivot of Sura and Pumbedita in Babylonia, and the leading sages of the generation taught there. Yeshivot have remained of central importance in the Orthodox community to this day. Until the 19th century, young men generally studied under the local rabbi, who was allocated funds by the Jewish community to maintain a number of students. The Hasidic masters and the Lithuanian rabbi Chaim Volozhin both founded centralised yeshivot.

In the 21st century, critics in both the United States and Israel, such as Naftuli Moster, have protested that some yeshivas are teaching religious studies to the exclusion of secular subjects such as mathematics and science. They are promoting the adoption of national or state standards on secular subjects by the yeshivas.[7][8]Israel's Ministry of Education’s statistics from 2014 show that only about 22 percent of Haredi students take matriculation exams, since Orthodox yeshivot mostly ignore core subjects. About 8 percent of Haredi students pass the exam. Miriam Ben-Peretz, professor emeritus of education at the University of Haifa, and winner of the 2006 Israel Prize notes: “More and more Israeli students don’t have any foundation of knowledge, any basics — not in math, not in English, not in general...things have to change."[9]Some Israelis who have been educated in Haredi yeshivas have established Leaving for Change (LFC), an organization seeking to sue the government for alleged failure to enforce Israel's law for compulsory education. [10]

Jewish schools

Cheder in Meron, 1912

The phenomenon of the "Jewish Day School" is of relatively common origin. Until the 19th and 20th century, boys attended the Cheder (literally "room," since it was in the synagogue, which historically was a building with a Bet Midrash being the only room) or Talmud Torah where they were taught by a Melamed tinokos' (children's teacher).

The first Jewish day schools developed in Germany, largely in response to the higher emphasis in general on secular studies. In the past, an apprenticeship was sufficient to learn a profession, or alternatively several years in a gymnasium could prepare one adequately for university. Rabbis who pioneered Jewish day schools included Rabbi Shimson Raphael Hirsch, whose Realschule in Frankfurt am Main served as a model for numerous similar institutions. Jews have also been disproportionately engaged in the building of academic institutions of education and in promoting teaching as a professional career. Three of the past four presidents of the American Federation of Teachers have been Jews: starting with Albert Shanker, her successor Sandra Feldman, all the way to current AFT president, Randi Weingarten.[11]

Today, there are over 750 day schools in the United States and 205,000 students in those schools. and hundreds of thousands of Jewish children attend religious, Hebrew and congregational schools .

Girls' education

It was also in the 19th and early 20th century, with the advent of public education for all, that an emphasis was first placed on girls' education. Before this, particularly in Eastern Europe, girls received their Jewish and Hebrew education at home, and were often illiterate in Hebrew. In the 19th century, public education was made compulsory in most of Europe and in order to maintain educational control over the Jewish children, Jewish schools became a reality. It was as a result of the initiative of Sarah Schenirer, that the first Jewish girls' Beis Yaakov school opened in Kraków in 1917.

Informal Jewish education

Youth Groups

Recent studies estimate a population of 650,000 Jewish middle and high school students.[12] 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.

The Conservative movement has USY - United Synagogue Youth. The Modern Orthodox movement has NCSY - formerly National Conference of Synagogue Youth. BBYO is a non-denominational group, though most Jews associate it with the Conservative or Reform movements. The North American Federation of Temple Youth, known as NFTY, is the organized youth movement of Reform Judaism in North America. Funded and supported by the Union for Reform Judaism, NFTY exists to supplement and support Reform youth groups at the synagogue level. About 750 local youth groups affiliate themselves with the organization, comprising over 8,500 youth members.[13]

Summer camps

Jewish summer camps are a tool for creating ties with a particular denomination of Judaism and/or orientation to Israel. Camps are sponsored by the Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform movement, by Jewish community centers, and by Zionist movements such as Young Judaea, Habonim Dror, Hashomer Hatzair and B'nei Akiva.[14] Over 70,000 campers participate in over 150 non-profit Jewish summer camps, especially in the United States. In addition, the Foundation for Jewish Camp estimates that these camps are staffed by over 8,500 Jewish college-aged counselors. Outside the United States, similar camps are generally organized by various philanthropic organizations and local Jewish youth movements.

The Camp Ramah network, affiliated with Conservative Judaism runs camps in North America where youngsters experience traditional Shabbat observance, study Hebrew and observe the laws of kashrut.[15]

The Union for Reform Judaism runs the largest Jewish camping system in the world, the URJ Camp & Israel Programs.[16] They operate 13 summer camps across North America, including a sports specialty camp,[17] teen leadership institute[18] and programs for youth with special needs,[19] as well as a number of Israel travel programs.[20] Participants in these programs observe Shabbat, engage in programming about Jewish values and history, and partake in typical summer camp activities including athletics, creative arts and color war.

Student organizations

Much informal Jewish education is organized on university campuses. This is often supported by national organizations, such as Hillel (United States) or the Union of Jewish Students (United Kingdom), or by international organizations such as the World Union of Jewish Students and the European Union of Jewish Students.

The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute in partnership with The Chabad on Campus International Foundation, manages the Sinai Scholars Society, an integrated fellowship program for college campus students comprising Torah study, social activities, and national networking opportunities. [21] [22] [23] [24] [25]

Drama-based education

One of the earliest examples of drama-based Jewish education is the theatrical works of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto (Ramchal 1707-1746, b. Italy), who wrote plays with multiple characters on Jewish themes.[26] While the use of such plays was probably rare in traditional Jewish education, the Etz Chaim school of Jerusalem reportedly staged plays in the 1930s. One such play put King David's general Joab on trial for his various crimes. The students and faculty played the roles of judge, advocates and a jury, all based on extensive Biblical and Talmudic research.

In more recent times, drama is being further developed as an educational tool . For example, Detroit, MI has an ensemble theater devoted to education and outreach.. Programs such as Jewish Crossroads by Shlomo Horwitz provide educational theater in schools and synagogues in various English-speaking countries . The Lookstein Center at Bar Ilan, a think tank geared to Jewish educators in the Diaspora, lists many drama-related programs on their website for use of teachers in the classroom .

Sports-based education

Sports is another vehicle to connect Jewish youth to Judaism and Israel. Bring It In - Israel offers a sports volunteering program in Israel that cultivates a cadre of young leaders who return to their communities to promote interest in Israel and Judaism.[27] The perceived role of sports as a historical avenue was crucial for Jewish people to overcome social, religious and cultural obstacles toward their participation in secular society (especially in Europe and the United States).

See also


  1. "A Jewish Fight for Public Education". Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  2. "The Jewish Americans". Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  3. Jewish education
  4. Jewish education
  5. Jewish education
  6. "Israel: Selected Issues Paper; IMF Country Report 12/71; March 9, 2012" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-02-23.
  7. "Miller, Jennifer 'Yiddish Isn’t Enough A Yeshiva Graduate Fights for Secular Studies in Hasidic Education' New York Times (Nov 21, 2014)"
  8. Lapid cancels funding cuts to all yeshiva high schools Haaretz, 19 May 2013
  9. Will Israel’s achievement gap stall the start-up nation? The Jewish Journal, 4 February 2015
  10. Ex-haredim to sue state for depriving them of basic education The Jerusalem Post, 6 April 2015
  11. "A Jewish Fight for Public Education". Jweekly. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  12. "Brandeis Report" (PDF). Brandeis Report. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  13. "About NFTY". Retrieved January 9, 2012.
  14. Jewish summer camps
  15. "Camp Ramah - Beth El Synagogue Omaha, NE". Webcache. Archived from the original on May 10, 2010. Retrieved September 14, 2010.
  16. "URJ Camp & Israel Programs".
  17. "URJ 6 Points Sports Academy". Retrieved January 9, 2012.
  18. "Kutz: NFTY's Campus for Reform Jewish Teens". Retrieved January 9, 2012.
  19. "URJ Camp & Israel Programs Special Needs Programs". Retrieved January 9, 2012.
  20. "About the URJ Camp & Israel Programs". Retrieved January 9, 2012.
  21. Fridman, S. "At US Colleges, Students Explore Traditional Jewish Values". Chabad Lubavitch World HQ/ News. Retrieved April 30, 2009.
  22. Abraham, Zalman. "New Generation of Scholars Ponders Jewish Existential Issues". Chabad Lubavitch World HQ/News. Retrieved April 14, 2010.
  23. Novack, Rabbi Hershey (May 2, 2012). "Debate over campus anti-Semitism misses the point". St. Louis Jewish Light.
  24. Schwartz, Karen. "Undergraduate Scholars Head to Johns Hopkins for Jewish Symposium". Retrieved April 20, 2012.
  25. Schwartz, Karen. "Undergraduate Scholars Head to Johns Hopkins for Jewish Symposium". Retrieved April 20, 2012.
  27. Bring It In - Israel

External links

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