Editors’ Thoughts: A Transformative Time for Jewish Education

The face of Jewish education is constantly changing in today’s world. The style of education that yeshivah day-school students of this generation receive is markedly different from the models experienced by our parents. Teaching methods have changed, and the role of the teacher has evolved. With the introduction of Smartboards and other technologies to the classroom, new and dynamic methods of relating knowledge and instilling values are being discussed every day in online forums of Jewish educational professionals. Experiential education is on the rise, women have access to new and exciting learning opportunities, and Yeshiva University is in the process of “reimagining,” an attempt to consolidate and reform the educational framework of its undergraduate institutions.

Yet recently, Jewish education has been at the forefront of our community news for not entirely positive reasons. Due to the financial crisis and the consequent the increasing number of families who must request scholarships because they cannot afford the rapidly rising tuition, schools are struggling to stay afloat. Talk of charter schools, a more affordable option, has led to a debate over the value of the traditional day-school education.

While yeshivah day-schools do have much to offer, there has also been a number of failures and points of contention concerning these schools. Tens, even hundreds, of thousands of dollars have been spent by many Jewish families on yesshivah tuition, the results of which are often, nonetheless, a lack of fluency in Hebrew language, frustration with the system, and most disconcerting of all, apathetic Jewish teens whose teachers, intent on merely relating knowledge, fail to inspire them. We battle with many questions, most of which do not have clear answers: Is there a way to teach tefillah without alienating the many students who simply cannot connect to the words? Is co-ed or separate-sex education more conducive to maximum growth for students? With limited time, priorities of which subjects to teach and how to teach them are constantly under review.

These issues have not gone unnoticed or unaddressed. There are now many organizations working with school administrators to solve these problems. Curricula are being revamped, and the standards and expectations for teachers are being raised.

Our era is a time of introspection in the world of Jewish education, as we question what has been done in the past and what should be changed for the future. It is a subject of vital concern to many of us, as it ensures the strong continuity of our people. In this issue of Kol Hamevaser, we investigate and survey a number of issues relating to Jewish education, and we hope that you will join us in our exploration.

One aside: We, the editors of Kol Hamevaser, would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the return of Gilad Shalit to his family. In our discussion concerning the continued revitalization of our nation’s future, we felt it essential to address this event and some of our complicated emotions in its wake. Jews all over the world struggle to understand the significance of Israel’s prisoner swap with Hamas, torn between happiness for Gilad’s return and safety, the terrible price Israel may have paid for him, and pride in the astonishing value our state places on life. In these pages, various aspects of this matter – halakhic and otherwise – are addressed in an article by Wexner Kollel Elyon member Yosef Bronstein. We hope that it will shed light on this complex issue.