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The Tradition of Jewish Education

The term "Jewish Education" means different things to different people. Likewise, "Orthodox Jewish Education" has a perplexing array of connotations. The two most popular and fastest growing Jewish educational institutions in America since the Second World War (1939-1945) have been the Hebrew day school and the traditional yeshivah (or "Talmudical Academy", as it is often referred to). The two share similar functions: to impart a Jewish education and ensure Jewish survival. Superficially, the two often share the same name and labels, and often appear to have similar curricula and purposes. Searching a little deeper, there are significant and fundamental differences in emphasis, approach, aims and results.

What is a "yeshivah" supposed to be? Literally, in Hebrew, the word "yeshivah" means "sitting", or "rest", denoting a school, academy, or council. "Me zitst un lernt" is an oft-used Yiddish expression meaning "one sits and learns", referring to the activity in the yeshivah. William B. Helmreich in a much acclaimed work: The World of the Yeshiva: An Intimate Portrait of Orthodox Jewry (1982), has provided a look into the workings of the yeshivahs in America. In chapters such as "Yeshiva Students: Who Are They and Why Do They Go?", "A Self-Enclosed World: Life in the Yeshiva", "Making It in the Yeshiva", and "Preparing for Life Outside the Yeshiva", he provides information based on interviews and observations. He writes primarily from the perspective of a sociologist, albeit one sensitive to the subtleties of the yeshivah phenomenon. His "portrait" is rich in detail and goes a long way towards filling the gap in the history of the yeshivahs in modern America.
Helmreich provides a brief history of traditional yeshivah education in his Preface, and in the chapters: "From Jacob's Tents to America's Cities", "An Ancient Tradition in a New Land", and "Why Has the Yeshiva Survived?". He does not deal deeply with the historical and political events of the war and how they in turn changed Jewish education. He focuses mainly on the yeshivah itself as it grew in America. He does not deal with the cultural apathy, political cynicism, the horrors of war and the notion of "kiddush ha-shem", the callous "stabs in the back" of European Jewry, and the sheer miraculous nature of the yeshivah leaders' and Hasidic rebbes' survival on the same scale as we have dealt with in this thesis. He avoids much of the "dark side" of reality that contributed, in the strangest of ways, to the rise of Orthodoxy and the growth of Jewish education in America.

However, Helmreich's references to the war years in his work are worth scrutiny. He writes of the centrality of the Second World War in the history of Jewish education in America, and gives it a context. Helmreich states that the fact that yeshivahs have been in existence for centuries would probably be enough to justify studying them. "How many social institutions can lay claim to having survived for 2000 years?" he asks, and says that : "It was not always so. Until World War II, advanced yeshivas were few in number." It was the outbreak of World War II that had "a lasting impact on the development of Jewish education in America". Thus, "new yeshiva day schools were begun to meet the needs" of the post-war generation now inundated with European survivors:

The outbreak of World War II permanently altered the nature of these institutions as rabbis and students died by the thousands and those able to escape, mostly via Vilna, Lithuania, eventually made their way to Israel and the United States. One of the most productive eras in Jewish scholarship and leadership ended in the flames of Hitler's holocaust against the Jews. But the flight of the survivors and their determination to preserve their heritage meant that the long and ancient history of the yeshiva would continue in still another country. 1

Thus, in the section, "The Postwar Period: A Time of Unparalleled Growth", Helmreich states that with the Allied victory over the Nazis in 1945, "a new era began for the yeshiva world. Between 1947 and 1951 almost 120,000 Jews arrived in the United States." This group had a considerable impact on Jewish education:

The death of thousands upon thousands of yeshiva leaders and students during the Nazi era represented an intellectual and spiritual loss to the Orthodox community that is incalculable. Yet those who came to America to rebuild the yeshivas were a priceless asset to those interested in reinvigorating Orthodox Judaism. They brought with them not only knowledge, memories, and experiences, but a Weltanschauung that challenged and ultimately overcame the prevailing trend towards compromise with secular American values that existed in the Orthodox camp. Although their uncompromising positions often polarized the community, they succeeded in raising the level of debate concerning its future to one that had not been present before. 2

Thus began an era of building yeshivahs, day schools, and kehillahs. Helmreich is accurate in saying that the "Holocaust uprooted them and turned them into reluctant immigrants". Bland "Americanization" did not appeal to a group of people who had survived the phenomenon of "Auschwitz":

Those who survived the Nazi horrors and retained their faith must have been even more determined not to allow their standards of religious life to disappear or even be eroded in America. As Rabbi Yaakov Kamenecki put it: "Post-Holocaust parents were not satisfied with the quality of Jewish education they found when they came here. They came from the land of the gedolim." 3

The "gedolim", literally means the "great ones", the phenomenal rabbinic scholars who headed Orthodox Jewry in Europe and were usually also the heads of the yeshivahs. The war did not halt the history of the yeshivahs, it did however change their primary geographical location. What lay at the "heart" of the yeshivah that gained it the loyalty of those who were part of it, in spite of a world war? The answer to this, would be the same as to the question: "What is a yeshivah?"

A yeshivah is a place where a Jew studies Torah which is its primary curriculum. For the Jew it was axiomatic that this was the same Torah that God gave the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai as recorded in Exodus 19-20. The Torah consisted of: The "written" Torah or law (the "Pentateuch") or the first five books of Moses (meaning, recorded by Moses), called in Hebrew Torah SheBechtav; And the "oral explanations" or Oral Law, in Hebrew: Torah SheBe'alpeh, which was subsequently written down and recorded in the Talmud, which contained the Mishnah and Gemorah.

It was viewed as the religious obligation and function of each and every Jew to acquaint himself with the Torah to the best of his abilities and transmit it to his son and the next generation. Rambam (Rabeinu Mosheh Ben Maimon) known as Maimonides (1134-1204), in his halachic magnum opus, the Mishneh Torah, declared unambiguously that: "Every man of Israel is obliged to learn Torah, whether he be poor or rich, healthy or sickly, . . . ". It was essentially the father's task to transmit Torah to his children. Thus the family was the "primary", and even sole, educational "institution" for a great part of Jewish history. When it became evident to the Jewish sages that this was no longer possible, it became the duty of teachers, rebbaim, to take over a function which primarily belonged to the father. Hence the birth of yeshivahs as primary transmitters of the Torah heritage. It was thus the function of the traditional yeshivah to continue the transmission of Torah in its purest and most elevated form.

For the traditional yeshivah in the modern era, education began in early childhood, continued through adolescence, into manhood, which should have ideally been carried over by the graduate into married life, middle age, and down to the last days of life. An aim of lifelong Torah education was to create that level of Torah consciousness called da'as, meant to denote intellectual maturity, acumen, and the awareness of God's greatness. The Torah cemented the unity of God and the Jews. Thus, Israel, Torah, and God became "One". Indeed,Helmreich writes that the shema ("Hear 0 Israel the Lord is Our God, the Lord is One"), one of the holiest Jewish prayers, states succinctly: "And these words . . . thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children . . . " (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). This exhortation, and others like it, "was presented by Moses in the name of God to the Israelites, . . . the commandment to learn was of divine origin, as was knowledge itself." 4

Judah Pilch in A History of Jewish Education in America (1969), has noted that the Talmudical Academies in America concerned themselves primarily with the teaching of "talmudic literature". Pilch places on record that most of these schools were so organized as to afford opportunities for traditional Jewish studies on the elementary and secondary levels for large numbers of students and "rabbinic training" for the graduates of the mesivta (the secondary department) who manifested an interest and capacity for advanced talmudical studies. Pilch correctly points out that "the chief aim of these academies is 'lernen', the study of 'Torah for its own sake' (Torah lishma) ." 5

Alvin I. Schiff in The Jewish Day School in America (1966), has presented the curriculum of the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School and Mesivta, an early established traditional yeshivah. 6 What emerged was the emphasis on Talmud--Torah SheBe'alpeh, as the heart and core of the traditional yeshivah curriculum. Helmreich goes into some detail concerning the formal function of the yeshivah in the chapter: "In the Path of the Lord: Teachings of the Faith", which includes "mastering the Talmud", "content and method of the Talmud", "the purpose of Talmud Study", "the teaching of ethics", and "prayer and meditation". 7 In an earlier section he sums up the main characteristics of the advanced yeshivahs as:
1. Having programs in which the students spend most of their time in talmudic study. Subjects such as ethics and Bible also being taught.
2. Having goals, such as the transmission of tradition "at the highest levels", training rabbis and teachers, bringing Jews closer to Judaism.
3. Having a hierarchy, with a rosh yeshivah at the head of each institution.
4. Having "European antecedents".
5. Having leaders who "tend to move in the same social circles, sharing a common system of norms and values." 8

However, the broad world of Jewish education in America contained types of formal educational institutions that differed greatly from the pattern outlined above. Frequently, schools that were established in America after the Second World War differed radically from the time-honored traditional European models. What emerged in America was a grouping of schools. one strongly identified with the traditional models and generally called "yeshivahs" (or mesivtas), and another under the label "Hebrew Day Schools". Both groups shared similar goals, and often shared a symbiotic existence. But, there were major differences in methods, educational policies, and results. Jewish education in America remained a multi-dimensional domain.

The Second World War and the Growth of the Day Schools

The period 1940-1964 has been called the "Era of Great Expansion" in Jewish education by Alvin I. Schiff in The Jewish Day School in America (1966). When Europe was at the threshold of its darkest hour, America was about to witness a rapid increase of Jewish all-day schools. Schiff has noted that the year 1940 marked the beginning of the period of phenomenal growth for the Jewish day school movement. "Two hundred and seventy-one yeshivot, 91 percent of all existing day schools, were established after this date. In 1940, at the beginning of the Era of Great Expansion, there were thirty-five yeshivot with an approximate enrollment of 7,700 pupils . . . . By 1964 the enrollment grew to approximately 65,000 students in 306 schools and departments." 9 Helmreich has updated these figures to 613 schools catering to 100,150 students, including high school students, in 1978. 10

Prior to the Second World War, Jewish immigrants relied primarily on the American public schools to provide a general education, which was viewed as an essential steppingstone and key for entry into American life, business and culture. Jewish education was provided in separate institutions, mainly in the afternoons and Sundays at Talmud Torahs or hedorim. The roles of the synagogues, temples, and the family as educators were weakened, and even neglected, when compared to the emphasis placed on secular education. At the higher education level, there were few Jewish institutions that provided anywhere as intensive a program of Torah education as could be found in Europe.

The public school curriculum, and the system as such, was too powerful a force for the average Jewish child. The Talmud Torahs had the unenviable task of playing "second fiddle" to the public schools. The result was massive alienation from Jewish roots. Norman Podhoretz in his autobiographical work Making It (1967) has described the workings of this process upon himself. He describes the immigrant Jewish milieu from which he derived as "having been driven by an uninhibited hunger for success". The first step towards success was to receive a broad public education. It was in high school that Podhoretz came under the tutelage of an English teacher, "Mrs. K.", who "was also famous for being an extremely good teacher". From the age of thirteen to sixteen Podhoretz was her "special pet", as an intense relationship developed between them:

She flirted with me and flattered me, she scolded me and insulted me. Slum child, filthy little slum child, so beautiful a mind and so vulgar a personality, so exquisite in sensibility and so coarse in manner. What would she do with me, what would become of me if I persisted out of stubbornness and perversity in the disgusting ways they had taught me at home and on the streets. 11

Podhoretz writes that in retrospect, he is struck by "the astonishing rudeness of this woman to whom 'manners' were of such overriding concern". His assessment is that "good manners" meant only one thing to "Mrs. K.": "Conformity to a highly stylized set of surface habits and fashions which she took, quite as a matter of course, to be superior to all other styles of social behavior." The real purpose of this education was meant to achieve an acknowledgement of the superiority of "a better class of people". "I had to signify by my general deportment that I acknowledged them as superior to the class of people among whom I happened to have been born. That was the bargain--take it or leave it." 12

And what of Podhoretz's parents and home environment? They were immigrants from Eastern Europe who were raised in "fanatically Orthodox homes". His father, whilst "not especially observant himself . . . respected observance in others" and encouraged it in his son. He was a "Jewish survivalist, unclassified and eclectic . . . . outraged by any species of Jewish assimilationism, whether overt or concealed." 13 There was thus the inherent drive for self-preservation that sought to somehow accommodate itself to modern life in America:

The point was to be a Jew, and the way to be a Jew was to get a Jewish education; never mind about definitions, ideologies, justifications. There were, to be sure, limits; he would not, for example, yield to his father-in-law's demand that I be sent to a yeshiva: had he cut off his own earlocks in order that his American son should grow a pair? And his son, make no mistake about it, was and would be an American. On the other hand, he was determined not to settle for the usual course of instruction leading to an ending with the bar mitzvah ceremony at the age of thirteen. 14

Thus the home that was committed to things Jewish and therefore ensured "Hebrew school" extra-curricular education, also relished that general education which would create an "American". For the average child this was, and has in many instances remained, an intolerable conflict of "interests". As Podhoretz writes: "I didn't mind going at first, but after a while I began to resent what more and more seemed a purposeless infringement on my freedom. Everyone else could fool around in the streets after school and on Sunday; why did I alone have to miss out on all the fun?" 15 For a child this was a powerful question, and as the history of that age shows, Jewish education suffered. In the face of "Mrs. K.'s" cultural offensive, parental vacillation about Jewish education, and the attractiveness of "fun" on the streets, Jewish "afternoon-schools" were doomed in the long run.

Given that predicament, and following in the aftermath of the Second World War, new impetus was given to revise prevailing attitudes towards Jewish education. Men such as Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, a leading figure in the yeshivah of Torah Vodaath in Brooklyn, founded Torah Umesorah during the war years. This "National Society for Hebrew Day Schools" was dedicated to the aim of establishing a day school in every town and location that had a Jewish community. As Rabbi Mendlowitz had envisaged, the curricula of day schools were ideally meant to imitate those of the traditional yeshivahs. In reality however, this was not as simple as it may have sounded, for the cultural forces described by Podhoretz were still predominant.

Thus, even though Jewish day schools grew and even flourished all over the United States, Canada, and Mexico, to over 600 schools with over 100,000 full-time students--each was unique. Many of these schools named themselves, "Yeshivah", or "Mesivta", or "Jewish", or "Hebrew", but very fundamentally the Jewish curriculum varied from school to school. In many cases, the Torah and Jewish studies curriculum was very far removed in both content and intensity from that of the traditional yeshivah. It is ironical that whilst the elementary and high-school divisions of traditional yeshivahs fall under the broad label of "day schools" they are vastly different to the usual day schools found in America's Jewish communities.

The day school movement has been curtly analyzed by Helmreich, precisely because the average day school is greatly different from the traditional yeshivah. Helmreich states: "Only a minority of children in the day schools are observant (just how many is not known) or continue in religious high schools, and an even smaller number go on to advanced yeshivas." Calling the high-school division of the traditional yeshivah "mesivta", he concludes that "it is the day school and the mesivta that provide the basic education for almost all of those who study at the beis medrash level." The beis medrash referring to the post-high school division of the traditional yeshivah. He adds that there has always been a good deal of "crossing over" between schools characterized as "modern" and those that are "traditional": "Parents may find a particular emphasis not to their liking at the elementary school level and compensate for it by sending their children to a different type of high school." 16 There is thus a fundamental difference in types of day schools. Those day schools that seek to emulate the traditional yeshivahs differ greatly from more "modern" day schools.

Several writers have noted that it was the advanced yeshivahs that played a crucial role in the development of the day school movement. As stated by Helmreich:

It was their leaders who anticipated both the need for and the importance of such education to provide a steady stream of students to the higher schools. The National Society for Hebrew Day Schools (Torah Umesorah), which is involved in almost every aspect of day school education, is staffed primarily by graduates of advanced yeshivas, and is strongly influenced by a board of rosh yeshivas with respect to policy matters. 17

It was during the height of the European catastrophe that the push for day schools began in earnest. In 1941, Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz (1886-1948) fulfilled a long sought dream: He established a school called Esh Das (the "Fire of Faith") which would be dedicated to the development of a type of Torah worker who would make the self-sacrifice of exclusive devotion to the perpetuation of Torah in America. Rabbi Mendlowitz chose a select group of students to spearhead this movement. They were to play a key role in fulfilling another of his ideals: the establishment of Hebrew day schools throughout America. The operation began in earnest in June 1944, when "at a conference of leading religious- and lay-leaders at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, Torah Umesorah, the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools, was born." 18

Samuel C. Feuerstein, a lay leader of Torah Umesorah has written of Rabbi Mendlowitz's vision and "blueprint" for a "national agency" of Jewish education:

The war in Europe was over. The allies were victorious. . . . Our defeat was written large in the smokestacks of the crematoria and in the devastated Torah centers of a European community . . . which for a thousand years gave us scholars, saints, and sages.....

And now that link . . . was in the balance.......

Reb Feivel Mendlowitz . . . took this vision and planted it in the soil of the practical dimensions of the American community. 19

Through Torah Umesorah, Rabbi Mendlowitz ensured a link between the larger traditional yeshivahs, and the variegated day schools which were springing up. There was thus also a link between what was lost in Eastern Europe and the new educational institutions founded in America. This linkage took on greater proportions with the arrival of men such as Rabbi Aharon Kotler (1891-1962). Rabbi Kotler exerted direct influence on all major developments of Torah Umesorah and on its founder. During a war-time encounter between the two men, Rabbi Kotler is reported to have convinced Rabbi Mendlowitz that "in view of the on-going annihilation of European Jewry, he should reorder his priorities. Hitler was destroying Torah centers of Europe and systematically wiping out their leaders in the process . . it was time for America to seriously plan on producing its own outstanding scholars to create in America and to maintain for the entire world the highest possible levels of Torah scholarship." 20 The day schools were only the means to such an end.

There was a national climate that made such goals seem possible. Marshall Sklare in America's Jews (1971) asks how can the rise of the day school be explained? He replies that one significant influence is the character of the Jewish immigrants who came to America as a result of World War II. The Orthodox Jews who came to America did so out of necessity rather than choice:

In fact, their version of the American dream was that they should have the freedom to reestablish the way of life they had enjoyed before the Holocaust. Thus without hesitation they proceeded to organize their own schools--schools that would give primacy to Jewish culture and shield their children and others from the influence of the secularism of the public schools. 21

In addition to this, adds Sklare, there was widespread disillusionment with the results of "Hebrew School education", the Talmud Torahs and hedorim, on the part of "moderate and centrist Orthodox elements, as well as some traditionally minded adherents of Conservative Judaism." 22 Alvin Schiff in The Jewish Day School in America (1966) confirms this view, providing a brief summary of the reasons for the growth of the Jewish day schools:
1. Pioneer efforts of earlier institutions.
2. Inspired Orthodox leaders who were devoted to the ideals of intensive Jewish education.
3. The changing.international Jewish scene, particularly the destruction of the European Jewish community, and the establishment of the State of Israel.
4. The changing American Jewish scene, namely the nature of post-World War II immigration and the rise of native American yeshivah exponents. There was also the deterioration of supplementary Jewish education as provided by the communal Talmud Torahs and the afternoon Hebrew schools.
5. Changes in the general community with a wartime and postwar upsurge in religious sentiment, and prosperity. However, conditions in the public schools worsened with the increase of "blackboard jungle" conditions.
6. There were special features, such as the prestige of private schooling and the advantages for working mothers of the all-day school.
7. Organized promotion by Torah Umesorah, the National Council for Torah Education of the Mizrachi (Religious Zionists), the Lubavitchers, and others.
8. Encouragement from Jewish leaders; amongst the lay and even non-religious Jewish personalities.
9. Good timing and motivation, which meant that underlying the individual factors that encouraged the expansion was the unique combination of the right circumstances: "The need for intensive Jewish schools, the readiness of many sectors of the Jewish community to accept and support the day school idea, the proper timing of the pioneer efforts, the continuing external forces catalyzing the development, and the stubborn zealousness of Jewish Day School leaders." 23

No historical phenomenon can be attributed to one factor. There are always a number of factors at work on various levels and in various dimensions. The establishment and growth of Jewish day schools in America has been no exception. The factors which contributed to growth, were also the ingredients of complexity and conflict within the day school program.

Resistance to Total Jewish Education: Dissonant Configurations

Alvin Schiff has stated that there are no hard-and-fast rules to categorize the various types of day schools: "Although the Jewish Day Schools are generally regarded as communal schools with a traditional program, it is not good practice to consider them as one group of schools or one form of education." He stresses that even the majority-type Orthodox-oriented day school is divided into a number of categories. In general terms there are two broad Orthodox groups:
1. European or traditional, including Hasidic, day schools or yeshivahs.
2. Modern or modified,often co-ed,Hebraic day schools or yeshivahs. 24

Concerning the second group of more modern schools, Schiff cites a study involving parents by Louis Nulman: "The Reactions of Parents to a Jewish All Day School" (1955). The study showed that many parents did not have a complete understanding of the school program. Very few of the parents had attended an all-day school themselves, and they were confused "as to their own positions regarding Jewish belief and practice". One group of parents were found not fully accepting of the day school's emphasis on the teaching of ritual observance. Another group were parents "who do not usually exhibit strong Jewish identification and activity...Although they do not object to the school's teachings, they endeavor to transmit to their children the idea that the home and school operate in two unrelated spheres." 25

Even though Schiff concludes that it is impossible to generalize from the results of one study, for there are a wide variety of "characteristics and interests", there is still the problem of the home and school having to "operate in two unrelated spheres". The notion of two elements of a broader configuration, in this case home and school, conveying two different "educations", is dealt with by Lawrence A. Cremin in Public Education (1976). He states that "the relationships among the institutions constituting a configuration of education may be complementary or contradictory, consonant or dissonant." 26 In the case of the modern day school's, albeit moderate, emphasis on "ritual observance", as opposed to the home environment's indifferent, and often hostile, attitude towards religious practice, a "dissonant" and even contradictory configuration arises.

The differing interests of home and day school reflect the "dissonance" between the aims of the day schools' rabbinical pioneers, and the more entrenched Jewish population of the United States. Quite often even those American Jews who were receptive to the idea of all-day schools in the emotional aftermath of the Second World War, were not willing to accept the implications of total Jewish education. Jewish education as perceived by Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, the "father" of Torah Umesorah, meant that the ultimate objective would be to educate the young in becoming Torah-observant Jews. This was manifest in struggles over the day schools' curricula. Whilst rabbis and Orthodox rabbinical leaders urged an increase in the quality of the Jewish studies curriculum, specifically Torah and Talmud studies, parents emphasized secular studies and often denigrated Jewish studies. Cremin touches upon such a phenomenon when he writes that "the teacher may attempt to liberate (by proffering intellectual, moral, or vocational alternatives) at the same time as the parent attempts to constrain." He cites the countless instances in which parents prefer the immediate earnings of a dependent child to the continuance of a school career that would defer earnings." 27

It is not surprising that observers of day school education write in skeptical tones. Milton Himmelfarb's "Reflection on the Jewish Day School" (1960), faults the day school for not connecting with the rest of culture: "The general and the Jewish are at best put side by side mechanically, not combined organically." Himmelfarb therefore states that "I am not sure that they ordinarily provide a sound education". He faults the day school curriculum which aims to educate people "among whom talmide hakhamim may arise. Their curriculum, like their aim, is the one sanctified by tradition. . . . That will not do." Why? The answer is because "the children in the day schools are going to be well educated. . . . The air they breathe will be the air of the American variant of Western culture. The vice of the day school is that it ignores Western culture. " 28 Himmelfarb is therefore both skeptical and scornful of what he perceives to be the narrow and isolationist aspects of the day schools' Jewish curriculum.

Another perspective is that of Elchonon Oberstein in "Community Controlled Day Schools: The Way Things Are" (1977), who says that the average day school parent is "firmly acculturated and to a large extent assimilated into the mainstream of American life. Their yearning for tradition should not be interpreted as a willingness to adopt an 'alien' life style." Oberstein would no doubt indirectly reassure Himmelfarb that the child within its home setting is well entrenched in general American culture. Oberstein admits that:

One view frequently enunciated is that Day Schools will change communities, that large numbers of American Jews will become observant of halacha through their child's exposure to Torah Judaism from the ages of five to twelve years old. This is naive, unfounded, and simply a pipe dream. It demonstrates a condescending attitude towards other forces within the religious segment of the Jewish Establishment and ignores the sociological and psychological reasons for the present lack of mass orthodoxy in Judaism and indeed in all Western religions.

. . . In short,, there are two major handicaps faced by day school educators: the children leave the school

too soon; and even while they are in school, community and parental control of the curriculum make the dosage of Yiddishkeit weaker than would be necessary to offset changes. 29

Parents, represented by a school's chairman of the board or president, and Judaic teachers, represented by the principal or rosh yeshivah, are often locked in a struggle over school policy. More often than not, the laymen win because they control the instruments of power. There is therefore the great irony that whilst the Second World War spurred on the growth of day schools, it also thereby exacerbated a broader struggle between the secular lay leadership- and those Jewish educators whose primary roots were in the yeshivah world. It was a consistent, and even logical, reflection of the long-term historical struggle between haskalah and halachah--secular Enlightenment versus traditional Judaism.

The dissonance between different types of schools within the broader configuration of Orthodox education was another direct result of the traditional yeshivah's growth after the Second World War. Rabbi Meir Belsky, Rosh Yeshivah of the Yeshiva of the South, Memphis, Tenn., has stated that "a growing hostility between the day school and the mesivta high school is discernable; reminiscent of the early hostility between.the day school and the community, with the same language being used." The mesivtas or high school divisions of traditional yeshivahs, were seen by the day schools as too religious (frum), intensive, isolated, isolating and elitist, with the insinuation that "the mesivta gives the day school a bad image!", writes Rabbi Belsky in "The Day Schools in the U.S.: Another View" (1977). He outlines "two images of, and visions for, the yeshiva high school . . . that . . . are incompatible and irreconcilable. The claim to espouse both, speak for both, represent both, is one of those unhappy illusions that Jews have a propensity for." 30 Hence the polarization of two broad groups of schools: those more "modern", uncomfortable with a "yeshivah" image; and those more traditional yeshivahs embarrassed by having to be classified together with other "day schools".

The traditional yeshivahs themselves were also victims of unique dissonant configurations of education. William Helmreich has classified the quarter million strong American "Orthodox community" as:
1. The Ultra Orthodox;
2. The Modern Orthodox;
3. The Strictly Orthodox.

Amongst the "Ultra Orthodox" he places the Hasidic communities, such as Lubavitch, Satmar and other Hasidic groups of Polish and Hungarian origin. "They do not as a rule attend secular college and most are engaged in trades or business. Their social interaction with outsiders is minimal." On the other end of this communal "continuum" are the "Modern Orthodox" who "tend to send their children to coed, ideologically liberal yeshivas at both the elementary and high school levels, and attend synagogues which have a more modern and formal service." As a rule they prefer to send their children to secular college after high school. The third group, which Helmreich arbitrarily labels as "Strictly Orthodox", falls somewhere between the Ultra Orthodox and the Modern Orthodox....... It is from this group that the advanced yeshivas..... draw most of their students, faculty, and administrators. 31

As Helmreich stresses, since there is a "continuum" between all three groups, ("A highly complex system of norms exists within these sub communities that establishes the category to which an individual is assigned by others, and criteria for making that decision vary greatly from individual to individual. A good many persons have been reared with involvement in more than one community"); and since it is also true that the children of the "Strictly Orthodox" are sent primarily to "more Orthodox yeshivas, usually all-boys or all-girls schools" 32, the diverse backgrounds, often of one family, create situations of potential dissonance within the "Strictly Orthodox" educational configuration.

In the chapter "Preparing for Life Outside of the Yeshiva" in Helmreich's book, we see the clash, or dissonance, between college attendance, and the primacy of religious study. Various solutions arose to solve this dissonance. Some yeshivahs allowed their students to attend college in the evenings. After the Second World War a large, and very vocal, group of yeshivahs arose that banned outright any college attendance by its students. At the forefront of this group stood Rabbi Aharon Kotler and his Lakewood Yeshivah with all its "branches". These yeshivahs were against college "because it detracts from involvement in talmudic study. The yeshiva believes that true Torah study requires total immersion, and that anything extraneous will dilute the quality of such study." 33

However, other yeshivahs have adopted a different solution to the inherent dissonance between college studies and Torah learning. Yeshivahs such as Torah Vodaath, Chaim Berlin, Ner Isarel, Chofetz Chaim, and at one point even the Mirrer Yeshivah, allowed their students to enroll at colleges concurrently. The basic rationale was that "college can be justified on the grounds that it will help the student to become financially self-supporting." As Helmreich accurately illustrates:

. . . The yeshivas draw upon numerous sources in the Bible and Talmud which view secular and pre-professional study as permissible only when necessary for one's livelihood. There is nonetheless, considerable variation in emphasis and approach to the issue among the different rosh yeshivas. Thus, Rabbi Shmuel Berenbaum of the Mirrer Yeshiva stated unequivocally, "The whole idea of college is terrible", while Rabbi Yaakov Ruderman took a more moderate position, saying "College gives a person parnoseh (a livelihood)." 34

Traditional yeshivahs, day schools, Orthodox Jews of every ilk, and any Jewish family in America concerned or involved with Jewish education of any sort--all had to face the inescapable reality of dissonant configurations of education. It was the Second World War that fanned the flames of Jewish education in America. Day schools, yeshivahs, and communities flourished, and a powerful communal debate commenced about how to educate and what to teach. The freedom of America allowed each group or school to achieve its own "consonant" and "complementary" modus vivendi. The broader questions remained unresolved.

The Influence and Contribution of Orthodox Education

There has been a crisis in education--both amongst Jews and society at large. Time magazine dedicated its June 16, 1980 cover story to the "multifaceted crisis of America's public schools". Noting that violence keeps making headlines, test scores keep dropping, a fifth of all Americans are functionally illiterate, and teachers are blamed for much of the trouble, the dean of Stanford University's School of Education is quoted as saying: "For the first time, it is conceivable to envision the dismantling of universal, public, compulsory education as it has been pioneered in America." 35 For Jews, as for all Americans, this crisis has contributed to a reassessment of prevailing assumptions. It has also been an important factor in the growth of day schools and yeshivahs. The question thus arises: What has been the contribution and influence of the largely Orthodox-oriented institutions to the Jewish community and society at large?

The answer is that for the Jewish community in particular, Orthodox educational institutions have created an alternative to the prevailing state of confusion, and even chaos. For American society at large, there is first of all, the direct and indirect influence of those Jewish citizens who have been imbued with what they have been taught. Secondly, there is the example set forth by the institutions to anyone searching for answers to the predicament of public education. Robert Ulich, in his Preface to Three Thousand Years of Educational Wisdom (1954), has written that: "We are fumbling around in education because we know so little about the future and do not bother to know enough about the past." His book "is an attempt to help in the rebuilding of the lost contact between the surface and depth of civilization . . . it is an attempt at general education . . . placing ideas of general human significance behind the often chopped up and atomistic activities of life." 36

How does Ulich hope to achieve such an aim? By returning to the primary sources. He provides selections from the "Great Documents" of the past in the hope of connecting present civilization with its "wellsprings". One of his primary "wellsprings" is the Judaic tradition: "Judaism is not only in itself one of the greatest expressions of mankind's religious spirit; from it also two other great world religions have derived their faith, namely the Christian and the Moslem." Ulich observes that Judaism is that kind of religion in which the practical and the theoretical elements are so closely fused, that "instruction was not, as it often is with us, a matter of individual promotion, but a sacred duty." 37 He cites the Bible, the Babylonian Talmud, Maimonides, and Moses Hayyim Luzzatto (1707-1747), as providing clear-cut and profound educational advice. All of these sources remain primary curriculum content in yeshivahs and day schools.

This would mean a very clear-cut "return to the basics". Lawrence Cremin has noted that it was Thomas Jefferson who stated in 1816: "Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day." However, Cremin notes that a century and a half later "we are less naive, perhaps, about the powers of popular enlightenment . . . . For popular education may not have guaranteed men freedom--Nazi Germany,after all, was one of the most literate nations in history." 38 Even though 'Cremin retains his personal faith in popular education, it is significant that he uses the case of Nazi Germany as an example of a highly literate nation that sank to the lowest level of barbarity. Education must create more than literacy and general enlightenment to achieve humanity. There is something more "fundamental" and "basic" that must be achieved: ethical and moral standards.

There has been some fresh talk in the academic community about the place and purpose of moral education in American education. Douglas Sloan has edited a work on Education and Values (1979) wherein the debate concerning moral education is widened by a variety of authors. In his Preface, Sloan writes that there is a need for the "university of the future" to take hold of "the connections between knowledge and human values". This applies to all elements of the American educational configuration. For Sloan, "It is not a question of values or no values, of morality or no morality, but of which values, which morality?" He holds forth Emerson's criterion by which every educational method and educational system should be judged for adequacy: "Not to accept degrading views". Sloan believes that there is "much in our education and in our sanctioned, orthodox views of the world--the various determinisms, environmentalisms, behaviorisms, scientisms--that degrade the human being, they seek to simplify the human problems, and thus, they reduce the human potential to something other and lower than itself." 39 What is needed as a remedy is a greater attention to the connection between knowledge and values. Clearly, there remains much that Jewish education can contribute.

Sloan subscribes to Jacques Ellul's notion that the central problem of Western civilization is "the betrayal of reason by rationalism". Reason has been "truncated" and "reduced" into narrow scientific and technological boundaries, divorced from religion, ethics, and metaphysical beliefs. There is a need for a "thorough transformation of our present conceptions of knowledge and knowing", because there is an "intellectual, moral, and spiritual vacuum" that is allowing "black-magic educators" to fill the present emptiness. Sloan cites the pathetic example of the "tragedy of the People's Temple in Guyana", where hundreds of people followed a false savior to their doom. 40 How much more so is there a need for a greater linkage between moral and general education in the wake of the Second World War!

Indeed, as Sloan reports in "The Teaching of Ethics in the American Undergraduate Curriculum, 1876-1976": "World War II helped touch off a renewed surge of interest in the movement" of "general education". In other words, "general education" as the formation of "ethical discernment and capacity for action must extend throughout all education and all of life." However, the launching of Sputnik in 1957 renewed the march of scientific and technological interests. Thus, natural science, one of the branches of knowledge, was reinforced in its general acceptance during this century "as the one and only valid mode of knowledge". 41

Russell Kirk, writing in the Modern Age (Winter, 1978) on "The Necessity of Dogmas in Schooling", is more specific than Sloan. Kirk defines "dogma" as "a settled opinion: a principle, maxim, or tenet firmly established . . . received an authority--as opposed to one based on personal experience." He says that "dogma" is derived from a Greek root meaning "that which seems good". Kirk admits that "nowadays no word seems to frighten schoolteachers more than this word 'dogma'. 'We're not propagandists!' a representative teacher of the social sciences may exclaim indignantly, on hearing the suggestion that they ought to try to impart to their pupils some notions of moral worth and social obligation." Teachers hold that their responsibility is to "present the facts". As Kirk wryly observes:

Children must make up their own minds upon questions of order in the soul and order in the commonwealth. Would you prefer to be the burglar, or the burgled, Johnny? Look at the "facts" and make up your mind; develop your own "value--preferences". One trouble with such a concept of "objectivity" is that, in the short run at least, it may seem distinctly more pleasant to burgle than to be burgled. 42

Kirk states that a dogma is not a "value--preference", but rather "a firm conviction, received on authority." He stresses that any society lives by dogmas because private or public action must be founded upon certainties. He maintains that dogmas "grow out of the ineluctable necessity for a core of common belief, in church, in state. Private judgement, unattached to dogmas, is insufficient for the moral order or the social order." This is the main problem with "teaching about values", it can be interpreted as a personal preference. A primary resource for time-honored dogmas is religion, as Kirk says he prefers "proverbs", such as "Thou shalt not commit adultery", "Thou shalt not bear false witness", "Thou shalt not steal", to the "clever paradoxes" of the men of science. Kirk is dismayed by the diminishing of religious schools "or by their virtual absorption into the climate of opinion (or of non-opinion) which prevails in the public schools". In short, Kirk concludes: "I subscribe, however unfashionably, to the dogma that two and two make four, and to the dogma that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. In our time, the fear of dogma is the ruin of wisdom." 43

Some Orthodox leaders have been very explicit about the need for greater moral education in public schools. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson, has urged that "a simple, brief, non-denominational prayer" be introduced to be recited by children at the beginning of each day, "affirming their belief and trust in God". Rabbi Schneerson maintains that "sincere, honest words . . . . will go far in inspiring children to live up to the standards set by the Bible." In an address, which was largely directed at President Reagan following the attempt on his life, Rabbi Schneerson sought to stress that: "Education is not, as some suppose, the mere acquisition of skills and knowledge. More importantly, it is the inculcation of ethics and morals with which to equip children to be decent and productive citizens. An amoral, value-free education can lead to an egocentric, self-centered lifestyle, resulting in a dangerous indifference to one's obligations to society." 44 It is a great irony of history that a Hasidic Rebbe who was brought to America by the tides of the Second World War should urge Americans to pursue moral education.

Rabbi Schneerson maintains that the role of the Presidency, no matter who holds office, is "to strengthen the basis of our very existence. That basis is stated on every dollar bill printed in the U.S.A., and is the foundation upon which this country was born--'In God We Trust'." He openly states that "in the U.S. the state is responsible for the education of its citizens. It is thus the responsibility, and indeed privilege, of the public school system to instill in their charges the knowledge that God is not only the Creator of the World, but a Being in Whom we trust. It is this knowledge which is the foundation for a life of productivity and decency." 45 To what extent this message was heard by the President or members of government is difficult to know. What remains on the record is stated by D. Goldberg in The Rebbe: Changing the Tide of Education (1982):

Over the course of several years, representatives of the Rebbe in various cities had made close contact with high-placed members of State and Federal governments and legislatures. These Lubavitcher emissaries felt that the Rebbe's emphasis on education can be of great benefit for the wider public of the United States and, indeed, the world. As a result, the U.S. House of Representatives declared that year as a national "Year of Education". But the emissaries still felt that something more permanent and far-reaching could truly realize the enormous potential of this theme for the American people. The following year (1978), both the House of Representatives and Senate passed a resolution naming the Rebbe's birthday as "Education Day, U.S.A.", an annual national event. 46

The rise of Orthodoxy in post-war America, has therefore meant that American society at large was bound to receive the "feed back" from that growth. Though most Orthodox leaders have continued to urge the teaching of ethics from conventional sources, there have been some interesting alternatives proposed by primarily non-Orthodox circles. One method has been the advocation of "Holocaust Studies" in public schools. Henry Friedlander, in "Toward a Methodology of Teaching about the Holocaust" (1979), presents arguments on "why, how, and to whom the Holocaust ought to be taught". He proposes that one reason, "is to understand the present"; another, "is to understand man and his society". This requires a study of "the intellectual milieu that made genocide possible", as well as "the causes, the limitations, and the dynamics of anti-Semitism." Other approaches include investigations of: "how the impulse to persecute or exterminate is generated"; the social and psychological roots of twentieth-century unreason; and technology and mass murder. A final reason for teaching the Holocaust, says Friedlander, "is that its lessons can help us teach civic virtue." 47

However, teaching history does not always translate into good moral education. There are inherent difficulties in deriving "civic virtues" from "Holocaust Studies". Whereas the Bible, and conventional morality, can be transmitted on a universal basis, why should a general student audience pay heed to one ethnic group's calamity? Interestingly, Friedlander says:"I do not mean that the Holocaust should simply be used to teach conventional patriotism and accepted moral values." His notion of what can be learnt however, is not the same as the notions of Sloan and Kirk, and Orthodox leaders such as Rabbi Schneerson. Friedlander has other things in mind: ". . . Its lessons must be used to demonstrate the need for what the Germans have called Zivilcourage. We need to teach the importance of responsible citizenship and mature iconoclasm." 48

The derivation of "civic virtues" from the events of the European tragedy need not take the shape of "Holocaust Studies" in schools. The day schools, and yeshivahs themselves are the living memorials to a spirit that refused to be broken. They strive for a healthy view of the world not based on the events of a single historical event. If educators were to study the role of moral education in yeshivahs and day schools they would find a broader and richer resource for moral education in general. To disembody an event from history and present it as an abject lesson in morality, or amorality, is a lot more difficult than looking at a mature system of moral education that helped a people survive and what it can teach humanity.

Writing in 1953, Marvin Fox enunciated a much publicized set of guidelines of what Orthodox day schools could contribute to American education. "Day Schools and the American Educational Pattern" originated with an address to a PTA convention of day school parents and educators by Fox, then a professor of philosophy at Ohio State University. It was first published in the Jewish Parent magazine (September 1953), and has subsequently been reprinted in Gartner's Jewish Education in America (1969), Torah Umesorah's Hebrew Day School Education (1970), and studied in Schiff's The Jewish Day School in America (1966). It contains five basic observations and proposals:
1. The strength of the day schools lies not in their similarities to other schools, but in their differences. He urges day schools to "abandon unnecessary aping of other schools", because in fact, the degree to which they will develop "their own special genius is the degree to which they will be genuinely significant for all education in America".
2. The day schools must announce their opposition to "scientific naturalism" and to "value-free education". They must candidly and explicitly announce their commitment to a particular set of values rooted in Jewish tradition. By presenting an alternative they "can help to avert the dangers of the kind of intellectual totalitarianism" of naturalism "glorified by the name of Dewey".
3. Day schools should take pride in, and encourage, "high intellectual values and intellectual achievements" which are a part of Judaism.
4. Democracy has been distorted to mean "freedom from authority", consequently discipline is viewed as a "reactionary attitude". However, "Judaism has never seen any difficulty in reconciling human equality with reverence for authority". The day schools are "obligated to stand openly against the exaggerated notions of freedom from authority which endangers our young people".
5. The day schools should be seen as important bulwarks against the "terrible moral confusions of our time". It is "through the medium of the sacred writings in their broadest scope" that the Jewish schools seek to deliberately endow their students with "moral knowledge and, even more, to develop in them moral sensitivity". There should be "training of the spirit as well as the mind" which is "a truth all educators would do well to learn from the experience of Jewish educational institutions". 49

Schiff classifies the above as "potential effects", or a "potential force vis-a-vis the general American educational scene." The "actual effects" however, "cannot be measured in quantative terms". It is however safe to assume that there is an indirect influence. Schiff states that yeshivah education has shown that young children can master a foreign language, cope with a dual program of study, and be exposed to greater abstract and creative thinking much earlier than is generally assumed. In the "realm of educational philosophy" yeshivahs have shown the importance of "a sound core of values", and the need for an "intimate environment" for good learning to take place. Schiff stresses that "whatever influence the day school may have upon the general scene it is only secondary and incidental to its major purpose and function. The real vital impact of this institution is upon the Jewish community." 50

Orthodoxy's success in establishing educational institutions had far-reaching effects. Marshall Sklare in his classic sociological study: Jewish Identity on the Suburban Frontier: A Study of Group Survival in the Open Society (1979), records that "the growth of Orthodox day schools succeeded in placing the question of Jewish education high on the agenda of the Jewish community, necessitating a response by the Conservative movement." As Sklare makes clear, the Conservative movement was torn between the undeniable "superior knowledge of Jewish culture and of the Hebrew language achieved by day-school students", and, support for public schooling. To avoid a reliance on Orthodox schools, there was a need to establish all-day schools that could train "future leaders" of the movement, hence the birth of the "Solomon Schechter schools". There was the curious theory that "while the supplementary school would educate the children of the Conservative masses, the Conservative day schools would educate future leaders, both lay and rabbinic for the Conservative movement." 51

Marvin Fox has acknowledged that the Orthodox "Hebrew Day School" is the means of "insuring the Jewish integrity" of Jewish children "who are fully part of the American environment." In an address, published in The Jewish Parent (October 1964): "Character Training in the Face of Environmental Pressures", he says that in the day school movement "an incredibly powerful and indescribably sacred instrument for the preservation and elaboration of the highest Jewish values" has been created. It is because "our society has moved to a point in its history where the values which sustained it in the past are no longer operative and where new values are not yet clearly forthcoming" that the "prime objective of intensive Jewish education" must be "the development of moral qualities". Fox maintains that society's veneration of "material wealth and technical skill has resulted in moral obtuseness and insensitivity". The bitter truth is that "virtues such as love and honesty, kindness and charity, modesty, humility and self-effacement are no longer appreciated or sought after." 52

The influence and contribution of Jewish Orthodox education, as viewed by Jewish and non-Jewish scholars and educators alike, must revolve primarily around the place and purpose of moral education. No matter what the means, whether it be home, community, school, or place of worship, there remains a real and constant need for moral education as people look for direction and guidance. Even in the last quarter of the twentieth century, the ancient traditions of Judaism and its teachings have meaning for humanity.

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