Sunday, February 06, 2011


Putting G-d in the Center
By Rabbi Yaakov Bieler

When thinking about where Orthodox Jewish day schools might place renewed emphasis both curricularly as well as experientially, I would advocate that God and the manner in which an awareness of His Presence should impact all that we do should be made the central theme of all religious education initiatives.

If Avodat HaShem is the ultimate purpose of Judaism and Jewish belief, I am not sure that day schools are presently doing enough to nurture such a sensibility. While a symptom of the problem is the quality of Tefilla (prayer) that the average day school student engages in not only within the school precincts, but also on Shabbat, Yom Tov and during vacation times - if a student sensed a personal closeness to HaShem, his/her Tefilla per force would have to be serious and heartfelt - I believe that the manner in which the subject matter of the Shiurim that comprise roughly half of the dual curriculum is approached, also contributes to spiritual aridity.

TaNaCh, Tora SheB'Al Peh, Halacha and Hashkafa must all be perceived by teachers and students as so much more than mere examples of ancient literature and commentaries that comprise Jewish culture and tradition.While wishing our students to achieve literacy with regard to the texts and concepts of our heritage is an important goal for our educational institutions, nevertheless I would maintain that literacy must be understood as little more than a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Even if a student upon graduation can competently read, decode, analyze and comprehend Jewish primary and secondary texts, if s/he is devoid of spirituality and a sense of having a relationship with the Divine, then literally and figuratively "Ikar Chaser Min HaSefer" (the essence is missing from the text).

I have always been inspired not only in my personal study, but also in my teaching by the insight of R. Chayim Volozhin in his commentary Ruach Chayim: on Pirkei Avot 1:1 : "For when one engaged in the study of Talmud and Codes and Tosafot, and in his research and dialectical discourse concerning them, he is attached (deveikut) to the Holy One for all comes from Sinai ... The Holy One and Torah are a unity, and he who is attached to His Torah is attached to Him."[1]
Placing God front and center in the day school experience is crucial to the viability of Orthodox day school education.

[1] Cited in R. Norman Lamm, Torah for Torah's Sake in the Works of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin and His Contemporaries, Ktav , Hoboken, NJ, 1989, p. 243.


Rabbi Yaakov Bieler is the Rabbi of the Kemp Mill Synagogue, SilverSpring, Maryland.


Blogger Ask Teacher Pam said...

Excellent post, RN. We've briefly touched upon this before in your discussion of would you want your child to be a day school/yeshiva teacher. I agree completely with Rabbi B. that we do not/can not want our young people to see Torah, et al. as "mere examples of ancient texts"--something Jews can "study" or even "learn" but which has no real connection to living. I this a SCHOOL ISSUE or is this a HOME ISSUE? I'm sure you agree with me that it's both--schools cannot teach in isolation, and values from the home must be supported, or amplified, or even re-evaluated. (When I first moved to NJ I thought that it was a little chutzpadick of the day schools to ask "Does your family own a tv?" Now I get it.) You have rally brought an important issue forward--thank you. I would like to see organized school/parent open forums on this topic--all across the country, with discussions being monitored and as many quantifiable questions as possible being discussed and tallied. Ira's comment about Chassidus is a valuable point. You do not have to be a great scholar to love HaShem and follow the mitzvot; you simply have to see and feel the joy of Judaism.

February 7, 2011 at 2:51 AM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Thanks Pam. I like how you see it clearly as an issue of home and school combined. Some in each of these sectors like to push all the blame onto the other. The truth is usually a combination platter. As head of Torah Guidance in my school I have suggested talks for parents and forums for students on our personal relationship with G-d. As Dovid HaMelech said, "Kirvat Elokim li tov." The key is closeness to G-d. I know many fine adults and teach many wonderful children who are not so academically inclined - there are other paths to G-d.

February 9, 2011 at 2:46 PM  

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