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American Jewish Committee Reports on Study of Jewish Religious Textbooks

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Findings of a pioneering study of religious textbooks and other teaching materials used in Jewish schools were made public here today in connection with the opening session here tomorrow of the two-day annual meeting of the national executive board of the American Jewish Committee, top policy-making body of the organization. The study revealed the following major conclusions:

1) Jewish religious textbooks and other teaching materials are more “introverted” they refer to outside groups less frequently–than Christian teaching materials.

2) Jewish teaching materials tend to avoid doctrinal comparisons with Christianity, describing Jewish-Christian conflicts as interactions between peoples rather than as clashes of faith, and they write about non-Jews more in terms of ethnic or national identity than of religious identity.

3) When doctrinal differences are discussed, Jewish textbooks tend to be somewhat more critical of other Jewish groups than of Christians.

The study was conducted at Dropsie College here by Dr. Bernard D. Weinryb and Dr. Daniel Garnick. It is the third of a series of self-studies of teaching materials of the major faith groups, stimulated by the Committee over a period of years, dating back to the 1930s. Completed surveys of Protestant textbooks, undertaken at Yale Divinity School by Dr. Bernhard E. Olson, and of Catholic textbooks, undertaken at St. Louis University under the direction of Rev. Trafford P. Mahar, already have led to significant revisions of textbooks and other teaching materials.

The Dropsie study analyzed a sample of 220 teaching materials, including books — pupils’ textbooks and teachers’ readers — plays and periodicals to determine the extent of both inter group and intra group content, and whether prejudice was to be found in the materials. Sentences or pictures, used as units of measurement in the quantitative study, were scored as prejudiced, anti-prejudiced, or neutral.

The 220 items analyzed in the Dropsie study covered materials published by more than 40 groups, including the official “branches” of Judaism — Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform–Yiddish, Zionist and independent publishing houses, central community organizations and bureaus of Jewish education. They had been grouped into eight “publisher types” by Drs. Weinryb and Garnick.

While finding the textbooks relatively free of prejudice, the authors pointed out that there is a repeated emphasis in Jewish history textbooks on the themes of persecution and of the contribution of Jews to the larger societies in which they live. The authors also raise questions for the consideration of Jewish educators regarding the inter group and intragroup emphases in, and quality of, Jewish textbooks. Drs. Wcinryb and Garnick report that the overwhelming majority of references to out groups in Jewish textbooks are non-directional, that is, neither prejudiced nor anti-prejudiced. When directional assertions are made, the proportion is overwhelmingly positive. The occasional prejudiced statements tend to be historical in context, castigating former or contemporary persecutors. Most of the negative references to out groups are generally found in fictional stories from popular Yiddish writers, reflecting the attitudes of the oppressed Jews of Eastern Europe of their time.

EXTENT OF PREJUDICE IN JEWISH TEACHING MATERIALS ANALYZED

When Christianity is discussed in terms of secular power, including the punitive or restrictive legislation it has imposed on Jews, the image of the Church as persecutor emerges in lesson material. Where Christianity is discussed as a body of faith, the general tone is found to be affirmative and lacking in he stility. And almost all publishers made an effort to soften the image of the Church as an oppressor by giving examples of Christian laymen and clerics who opposed the persecution of Jews, and who sheltered or assisted them.

In addition to studying inter group content, authors Weinryb and Garnick investigated the writings of various Jewish groups about one another. Ideological and ethnic differences among Jews, the study points out, are not as important today as they were in past generations, because of the consolidating effect on Jews of the Hitler period, and the rise of American-born generations (three quarters of all Jews living today were born in the U.S.). Consequently, less than 9 percent of all lesson materials show intragroup preoccupation.

However, where the materials do show positive or negative bias, there is a slightly higher degree of negative bias in dealing with other Jewish groups than with non-Jewish groups. For example, Orthodox Jews, who consider themselves as preservers of the Jewish faith and view their tradition as identical with Jewish tradition, are highly critical of modifications of this tradition. Occasionally, they accuse other Jews of assimilationism, irreligiousness, and sometimes even moral dishonesty.

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