Curious, often humorous, misconceptions of Jewish life and Jewish history on the part of Jewish school children were revealed as a result of the Jewish History Achievement Tests given this year in religious schools in various parts of the United States. These tests, prepared by Dr. Julius B. Maller and Rabbi Jacob B. Pollak, both of New York, were given this year to some 7,000 children, ranging from the third grade through the high school department.
“Anti-Semitism in modern times has been caused by the attempt to bring Jews and Christians closer together.” “The Zionist movement caused many Jews to come to this country.” “In the year 586 B.C. the Jews were exiled to Rome.” “The Israelites received the Ten Commandments at Jerusalem.” “The orthodox synagogue does not have music in order not to disturb the people in prayer.”
These and other misconceptions are contained in the answers to the tests which have been published by the Department of Synagogue and School Extension in Cincinnati. Dr. Maller’s book, Testing Achievement in Jewish History, which will be published soon, deals with the subject of the tests and their findings.
AVERAGE RATING LOW
The average score of the children on the tests was 37 per 100 questions. This is regarded as a surprisingly low average, inasmuch as only items which were being taught in the religious schools were included in the tests.
The boys scored higher in history than the girls, despite the fact that the attendance of the girls was higher and more regular. This fact, according to Dr. Maller, may be interpreted to mean that girls may be less interested than boys in the subject of history, or in that phase of history included in the tests.
Some of the quaint answers given by the children to test questions were:
Laban was designated by some children as the home (instead of the father) of Rachel and Leah.
PALESTINE VARIOUSLY DESCRIBED
Palestine was described as the “land of the lame and the blind” by a few, and as “the land of Jerusalem” by others. In the test covering the period from the Division of the Kingdom to the Destruction of the First Temple, one young man had the idea that the Jews were exiled to Deuteronomy. Many children thought that the name of the prophet who encouraged the people by his words towards the end of the Babylonian exile was Moses.
One child, to whom the name Ezra was apparently unfamiliar, stated that Jesus read the Law of Moses to the people on their return from Babylon. Another question pertaining to Ezra, “Mixed marriages were objected to by. . . . . .,” was filled in “Christians,” “pious Jews,” “Rabbis” and “Mormons.”
Chaim Weizmann was called the leader of the Reform Jews and the leader of the Radicals; only 11 percent of the children recognized him as the leader of the Zionists. Josephus, the great historian of the first Christian century, was named as a Jewish member of the Supreme Court of the United States. The statement “Joseph H. Herz is the chief . . . . . . of England” was filled in with the words: “of police;” “Zionist,” etc.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.