The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy




НазваниеThe Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy
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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:

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