Chinuch Begins at Home
Having served in the field of formal Jewish education, both as a teacher and a principal for over twenty years, I would like to add another perspective to those presented by the eminent group of scholars in the spring edition of Jewish Action (“Chinuch: Is It Really Working?” [spring 2010]).
First and foremost, a Jewish school must be a place where children love to go. If children enjoy their school experience, they are much more likely to identify with the overall message of the school. If, however, they hate school and their teachers, there is a strong likelihood that they will come to hate what the school stands for.
Schools also have to find a way to convey the profound difference between limudei kodesh and limudei chol; this difference should be emphasized in every school, without diminishing the critical importance or academic integrity of either. Both are important, but they are not the same. There were often years in which I taught both Torah and math subjects. I would always tell my math students that my measure of success is mastery of the material and good performance on the exams; it didn’t matter to me if they never wanted to look at a math book again. I would tell my Chumash or Mishnah students that my goal was to instill a love of learning so that they will want to continue to open these books and study them for the rest of their lives.
But beyond the school, it is critical that both family and community play key roles in reinforcing what we expect our educational institutions to be teaching. A number of Jewish Action articles referred to tefillah in the day school curriculum. Yet none of the writers suggested that if we want our children to learn to pray in a meaningful and inspiring way, shuls must serve as a model. If talking is prevalent in shul during davening, what message about the sanctity of the bet haknesset are we conveying to our children?
It is also critical that yeshivah students—certainly those in the upper grades—be able to open a siddur to almost any page and pray and comprehend most of what they are saying. Yet sadly, this is far from the case. How many children can relate to the profound message of “vehaer einenu be- Torahtecha vedabek libenu bemitzvotecha,” the berachah before Shema, if they have no idea what the words mean? Very few schools devote time to sharpening Hebrew skills to the point where the prayers really speak to the children.
The ultimate values of our way of life are all in the siddur; the tefillot contain ideas such as our responsibility toward God, our concern for our fellow man, our devotion to Torah, and our connection to Eretz Yisrael—all are there. Our daily tefillot should help us focus and reset our moral compasses each day, setting the tone for our social and business interactions. The fact that many children and adults pray regularly in a foreign language, not fully understood, is to me the ultimate failure of Jewish education.
I was happy to see such a thorough evaluation of the current Jewish day school system. At the same time, I was disappointed that not one of the writers mentioned the biggest factor affecting our children: the Jewish home. We can refine the educational system as much as we want, but if students go home every night to hours of Facebook and television, no amount of money or type of curriculum can counteract that.
Long Beach, New York
I recently had the opportunity to read the latest edition of Jewish Action [summer 2010]. This edition was courageous and deeply engaging! Jewish Action truly has its finger on the pulse of the Jewish community. Issues addressed are done so in a frank, open but respectful manner. The ahavat Yisrael that pours forth from the pens of various authors (in this edition, Mr. Savitsky and Rabbi Lichtenstein, to mention a few) is truly moving and inspiring!
Keep up the great work!
In last issue’s letter to the editor by Rabbi Michael Broyde, we inadvertently edited out the quote below from Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s pesak. This omission could lead one to the erroneous conclusion that Rav Moshe believed that one can argue with a Rishon even if the opinion contradicts the undisputed opinion of the Shulchan Aruch. This, however, is not the case. Rav Moshe maintained that one cannot argue with a Rishon if the opinion is encoded in the Shulchan Aruch, as seen from Rav Moshe’s pesak below.
And even if one’s decisions sometimes go against those of eminent latter-day rabinic authorities, so what? We are certainly permitted to disagree with latter-day authorities [Acharonim], and sometimes even with medieval authorities [Rishonim] when one has valid proofs, correct reasoning in particular. On matters like this, our Sages stated, “A judge has but only what his eyes see [before him], ” (as explained in Bava Batra 131a; see Rashbam there)-so long as one does not contradict the undisputed opinion of the Shulchan Aruch and commentaries which have been widely accepted in our community, on these types of matters.