Monday, October 05, 2009

New Periodical: Meorot September 2009/Tishrei 5770

There is a fascinating special issue of Meorot (formerly The Edah Journal), guest edited by R. Nathaniel Helfgot and focusing on Modern Orthodox education (link). What follows are rough notes that are even less reliable than my normal summaries:

  • Symposium on Modern Orthodox Day School Education
    R. Scot Berman -- Discusses why there is a leadership shortage in Jewish education and why there is reason to think it will change. It is important that leaders model the Modern Orthodox values they are trying to instill in the students.
    R. Todd Berman -- To prepare students for the college experience, high schools need to stop focusing on issues of faith and spend more time on the social realities of life on campus. Students should also be taught to reach out to local rabbis and high school rabbis should visit campuses. And students should reach out to other students and support them religiously.
    R. Shlomo Brody -- Stop focusing on creating the ideal graduate and concentrate on allowing each student to progress appropriate to his background and circumstances. Emphasize Talmud and Tanakh over other subjects, given current limitations. We need to change the reality of limited religious observance among graduates and one place to start is in the summer camp experiences that often lack religious seriousness. More talk about boy-girl relations.

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    R. Yitzchak Etshalom -- Too many if-then statements to allow for summarizing.
    Dr. Yoel Finkelman -- We need data.
    R. David Flatto -- Need to simplify Modern Orthodox ideals and teach them along with a basic foundation of traditional texts and methodologies.
    R. Zvi Grumet -- Basic principles of Modern Orthodoxy need to be continually reinforced. They are: 1) Man is an active partner in the creation and maintenance of the world, 2) Halakhah is not the sum total of Judaism, 3) Intellectual pursuit and intellectual honesty are an integral part of striving for truth, 4) Religious passion is necessary for Jewish life to thrive, 5) The study of Torah needs to be a lifetime pursuit.
    R. Naftali Hacsztark -- We need curricula that reflect interdisciplinary, this-worldly engagement with Torah texts and to develop a cultural norm of hasmadah.
    Mrs. Rivka Kahan -- Create a religious dialogue between teachers and students and develop a vibrant, reflective religious culture in school. Use an organized, multi-curricular approach to teaching Modern Orthodoxy in high school. when teaching halakhah, make it clear was is law, custom and extra-halakhic religious identity. Expose student to Modern Orthodox great Torah scholars, in person and in writing.
    Mrs. Miriam Reisler -- Introduce the Israeli role of "mechanekhes" -- sort of a spiritual mentor.
    Rabbi Jeremy Savitsky -- More engagement with non-religious Jews and non-Jews. Cheaper schools like the Charedim.

  • What Should a Yeshiva High School Graduate Know, Value and be Able to Do?
    Prof. Moshe Sokolow -- An extremely detailed list of texts and skills.
    R. Jack Bieler -- Less specific texts, more appreciation of wider area of knowledge.
    R. Yaakov Blau -- The list is only for the high-level classes and reaches beyond what is feasible in the existing time constraints.
    Dr. Erica Brown -- A list like this is valuable but doesn't address the question "Why be Jewish?"
    R. Aaron Frank -- Jewish history has the power to connect many different areas for students and help them realize why all of it is relevant to them.
    R. Mark Gottlieb -- Textual literacy is important but there is no one-size-fits-all standard. Different students will find different things interesting and will have different intellectual abilities. Not enough emphasis on Talmud.

  • The Economics of Jewish Education
    Allen Friedman -- Communities must fund schools, not just parents. Cost cutting is important but won't solve the problem. Government assistance cannot be counted on.
    R. Saul Zucker -- There are two problems - 1) an economic crisis facing schools due to lower fund availability because of the economic downturn, 2) a tuition crisis facing parents. Cost-cutting, creative fundraising and community funding will help schools survive but will not lower tuitions. More creative fundraising, online learning and no-frills schools will help lower tuitions.

  • Striving for Cognitive Excellence by R. Jack Nahmod -- We need to do more to teach our students to think for themselves and evaluate ideas.

  • To Teach Tsni'ut with Tsni'ut: On Educating for Tsni'ut in National-Religious Schools by Tamar Biala -- An article dripping in what I perceive to be anti-establishment feminist attitudes and rhetoric. Even if the problems she found are real (and, frankly, the only Religious Zionist responsum I can think of on "spilling the seed" is actually quite lenient; she is also clearly failing to distinguish between Chardal and Dati Le'umi rabbis), I see no salvation in an approach based on attitudes I see in this article (e.g. that traditional approaches are "destructive" and "oppressive"). Maybe it's just the language and without the rhetoric I would see the real problems (many of which I don't doubt exist) and real solutions being offered.

  • Life Values and Intimacy Education: Health Education for the Jewish School by R. Jeffrey Kobrin -- A review of a sex ed curriculum that encompasses much more and is therefore called a "life values" curriculum. From all I've read and heard, this is a fabulous success.

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