Religious Studies — Judaism

When this assignment came up, we were told to choose a religion to which we did not belong and consider their perceptions of education. I chose Judaism.

Some of the earliest adult education in Israel began after the Romans obliterated the Jewish Temple in AD 70 (Greenstein, 2006). People suddenly found themselves without any way to reconcile their sins with God according to the long-established system of sacrifices. As a result, rabbis were trained to take care of the spiritual and intellectual needs of the people. The rabbi was considered the Torah in person (Greenstein, 2006).

In those earlier times, there were no schools. Young men gathered to study together, but that did not last long. Soon, a rabbi-in-training would find a master to tutor him one to one. The oral tradition covered not only the Torah but also how to debate religious issues. Interpretations had to be mastered, and the student was expected to emulate the teacher in all aspects of life (Greenstein, 2006). This continued to be the pattern for quite some time even after the Jewish people dispersed throughout the world.

After World War II, when the nation of Israel was formed again, schools were modeled off the patterns in Germany, Great Britain, and America (Davidovitch & Danziger, 2005). Although the Western model was used for organization purposes, the schools maintained the Israeli character. Universities were intended for research, but that research had to have a practical application for addressing societal needs (Davidovitch & Danziger, 2005).

This push for usefulness extends down into children’s education as well. An increasing number of Jewish schools are embracing characteristics of Montessori education. Montessori prides itself in being spiritual without espousing a specific religion, so it has been adapted to teach children not only the usual core subjects but also the practicalities of Jewishness such as how to observe feast days, kosher rules, Torah, and reading Hebrew (Coates, 2011).

An issue is coming up, though, that causes much concern among Israelis. Many see the benefits of maintaining democracy including allowing people to follow their religion of choice. There is a group of Jews known as the Haredi. These are ultra-orthodox Jews who study the Torah to the near exclusion of all else and believe in following the guidance of their religious leaders with absolute obedience. This obedience is trained into them from a young age and continues through adulthood. There is an ongoing debate about whether this sort of intense training is appropriate or harmful for the nation (Howard, 2003).

While the Haredi are finding greater meaning to life through intense study, many others are finding that Judaism is not useful for adapting to the modern world (Ackerman, 2008). Others, like the Haredi, feel that study in Judaism is a necessary facet of their lives (Schuster & Grant, 2005) but seek greater balance in studying other subjects as well.

I am not Jewish myself, nor have I had much opportunity to travel. When I was going through pre-service teacher training, my cooperating teacher was a Jewish man. We worked in a public school, so I did not really expect to see much difference in educational strategies due to religion. In fact, I did not recognize the influence of his faith until much later when I learned more about modern Judaism.

Regarding adult education, he showed me that all education was valuable, but the most valuable were things that could be put to practical use. His views on other education matters were consistent with the expectations of Jewish education’s focus on wise stewardship of resources, taking care of oneself, and ensuring a peaceful community (Coates, 2011). He also believed in educating the entire person, the intellect and the spirit (Greenstein, 2006), although as a public school teacher, the spiritual education had to be done in a neutral way. Because a student is to follow the teacher in all aspects (Greenstein, 2006, Howard, 2003), he once told me that having me in his class as a student teacher encouraged him to mind his own choices more carefully so he would not convey unfortunate practices or mindsets.

I find that the practical applications my cooperating teacher shared with me are agreeable with my own perspectives. I think the removal of the spiritual aspects from education has been a catastrophic mistake. Educating the mind and exercising the body without supporting the soul will not serve the student the best. I would not have thought that this could be done without specifically teaching a religion, but I learned from a Jewish man how it could work.


Ackerman, A. (2008). Individualism, nationalism, and universalism: the educational ideals of Mordecai M. Kaplan’s philosophy of Jewish education. Journal of Jewish Education, 74(2), p201-226. doi:10.1080/15244110802105206

Coates, M. (2011). Judaism and Montessori. Montessori Life. Retrieved from

Davidovitch, N. & Danziger, Y. (2005). Who are students of physical therapy? A case study: The academic college of Judea and Samaria and the Ben Gurion University. Higher Education in Europe, 30(3-4), 412-441. doi:10.1080/03797720600624880

Greenstein, D. (2006). “To the land that I will show you”: Training Rabbis for the future. Teaching Theology and Religion, 9(2), 97-102. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9647.2006.00269.x

Howard, D. (2003). Education for autonomy, education for culture: The case of ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel. Philosophy of Education. Retrieved from

Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Schuster, D. & Grant, L. (2005). Adult Jewish learning: What do we know? What do we need to know? Journal of Jewish Education, 71(2), 179-200. doi:10.1080/00216240500179090


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