Family & Education

Let’s Talk Schools: Childen need an emotional bond with learning

The priority for Jewish education should not be introducing knowledge tests but enhancing spiritual development


Chagigat Hachumash (celebration of presentation of Five Books of Moses) at Immanuel College

The article by Jo Rosenfeld in the in the JC a fortnight ago presented a view of Jewish educational development based on the belief that Jewish skills and knowledge, taught in a better and more modern way, would reignite Jewish pupils’ interest in Judaism and their Jewish education.

In addition, there have been many calls for a standardised Jewish curriculum. However, introducing a standardised framework that is solely focused on measurable outcomes will come at a significant risk of orientating schools towards shallow learning outcomes, while spiritual development which is inherently process-orientated, will very quickly fall by the wayside as it cannot be measured in the same manner.

A wide-ranging study, undertaken by Zvi Grumet in 2018 to understand the religious life of Orthodox post-high school graduates in North America, revealed that it was their perception that the school system had not focused on helping them to develop their personal Jewish identity and their connection to God. Furthermore, while the respondents felt that the schools prepared them best for functioning as Jews in purely Jewish contexts, they felt unprepared for functioning as Jews on campus and the workplace.

These findings correlate with the findings of the UK Jewish Lives Study. Its subsequent report (UJIA 2016) found that although most students graduated with good levels of Jewish knowledge, many had left school without a strong love of Jewish learning or the cultivation of any connection to God.

The present generation of children is a savvy generation, unwilling to accept imprecise answers to their deeper Jewish questions from imprecise rabbis.

The following is a typical quote from an Orthodox parent responding to the Jewish Lives study. “I think it’s been really poor. I think that the major thing the school is missing out on is they do not teach any of the children any sort of love of Judaism or purpose of it. There are a few facts but there’s no warmth and there’s no love and there’s no nice message behind any of it.”

And the same study reported: “While most students graduated with a very positive attitude to their Jewishness, some felt that, despite leaving (school) with a reasonable Jewish knowledge, the school had not cultivated in them ‘a strong love for Jewish learning.”

It is clear that this sentiment is widespread and a new approach designed to develop students’ inner world, identity and commitment through connection to Torah texts — spearheaded by the Lifnai V’lifnim programme under the guidance of Rav Dov Singer of Yeshivat Makor Chaim in Israel — is quickly gaining momentum.

With some 20 schools in North America, Canada and Australia taking part in Lifnai V’lifnim, it is evident that educators there recognise that as well as ensuring their students’ learning impacts their understanding of Judaism, they have a responsibility to support them in their quest to develop a deep connection to God. Underpinning the approach is the belief that connecting to each other, forming a group committed to ongoing growth, will enable the Divine presence to appear among those friends who are involved in authentic and open discourse.

Thankfully, due to the foresight of PaJeS and support of UnitEd, a UK pilot group has recently been created to learn the pedagogy and philosophy of Lifnai V’lifnim in the hope that UK schools can join a movement cultivating deep connections among a new generation of Jewish learners.

In order to flourish in a Jewish society, our children need to find an emotional connection to their learning, and recognise its personal relevance. If they do not find this, everything they learn, including knowledge and skills, will remain detached from their lives.

Jeffrey Leader is a former director of Pikuach and Rabbi Pearlman is principal of Broughton Jewish Cassel-Fox Primary School

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive