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Establishment of World Ministry for Jewish Education Urged

August 16, 1962
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Establishment of a World Ministry for Jewish Education, and a special Teachers College at the Hebrew University for Jewish education in countries outside Israel, were proposed here today by Dr. Mordecai Kaplan, of New York, founder of the Reconstructionist movement. He was one of the principal speakers today at the six-day World Conference of Jewish Education which has been meeting here since Sunday, with 500 lay and professional educators attending from 32 Jewish communities around the world.

The special Teachers College, Dr. Kaplan proposed, would train prospective Jewish teachers from countries outside Israel. The “ministry,” with headquarters in Israel and bureaus in various parts of the world, would form part of a cooperative process whereby, the speaker said, “each trend in Jewish life, or version of tradition, would attain the maximum of what is desirable, on its own terms.”

The proposed college, said Dr. Kaplan, would help alleviate “the critical shortage” of Jewish teachers around the world and would, at the same time, assist toward developing “the spiritual solidarity of the Jewish people.” The institution would also aid the growth of Jewish adult education which needs additional teaching manpower.

The steps he advocated, Dr. Kaplan declared, would result in a cooperative undertaking which would be compatible with the various elements and groups in Jewish life. They would be instrumental, he held, toward establishment of broad Jewish cooperation in education. The world-wide agency would, “wherever needed or feasible,” administer the educational activities in Jewish communities outside Israel, Dr. Kaplan said.


How serious the teacher shortage is in the Jewish educational field was indicated in another address, by Dean Eisig Silberschlag, of Hebrew Teachers College of Boston. In the United States, he said, where the Jewish community needed a minimum of 800 new teachers last year, the small Jewish teachers colleges graduated only 150.

The majority of Jewish teachers in Britain, said the Bostonian, are “ill prepared for their task.” He noted that Jews’ College, at London, had only 35 students last year, while the three teachers schools in France produced “fewer graduates than you could count on both hands.” In Latin America, Dean Silberschlag said, “the Jewish seminaries struggle toward achievement of their financial and educational goals — neither of which is too high.”

Dr. Silberschlag stressed the “paramount obligation in the Jewish communities, concerning education,” and warned against expecting Israel to solve the spiritual and intellectual needs of Jewish education outside Israel. He also urged the use of improved techniques to help spread the learning of the Hebrew language.

An Israeli speaker, Dr. Ernest Simon, professor at the Hebrew University, held a similar view regarding teacher training in Israel. He told the conference that the preparation of Jewish teachers for locales outside Israel be carried on in their own countries “where they would be familiar with the specific conditions of their own areas.” These trainees, however, he advised, should spend a year or two of training in Israel, where they would receive “the necessary knowledge of living Hebrew and its content.”


A resolution characterizing the Jewish all-day school as “the crucial point” for the continuity of Jewish life in countries outside of Israel, was presented last night at the Conference. The resolution, which was prepared by a group of educators participating in a workshop on Jewish day-school education, also urged that communities outside of Israel be encouraged to give maximum support to day schools.

“The focal point of Jewish day school education,” the educators declared, “must be the study of the sources of Judaism and the culture of Israel through the generations and in the Hebrew language wherever possible.” The participants also stressed that such educational institutions must be established in accordance with the laws of the respective states and nations to provide graduates with recognized degrees of scholarship.

In a report on day school attendance, it was noted that 53.6 per cent of the 189,000 youth enrolled in Jewish education in the free lands outside of Israel and the United States, attend day schools. This figure, however, includes the 7,000 students attending day schools in North Africa and Iran where no other schooling is available for Jewish children.

Otherwise, only South Africa, whose 12,000 Jewish pupils are about evenly divided between day schools and supplementary Jewish education, has more than one-third of its students enrolled in yeshivot or their equivalent. In the United States, the report declared, there were 50,000 day school students enrolled in 290 schools in 102 communities.

Dr. William Brickman, professor of education in the Graduate School of Education of the University of Pennsylvania, urged financial support of yeshivot by the organized Jewish community, but insisted there must be no “unnecessary control” of their administration, curricula or “internal spirit” by the secular leadership of the community.

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