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Jewish Educators Urged to Scrap Misconceptions, Make New Start

March 21, 1966
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The present crisis in Jewish education requires a willingness on the part of curriculum planners and administrators to “scrap all cherished preconceptions and start all over again, ” a professor of history told 250 delegates to the national conference on Jewish Education, which concluded its four-day session here today.

Dr. Irving Greenberg, of Yeshiva University, speaking to the fifth national conference of the American Association for Jewish Education, said that the first consideration for the educators to determine is what is the purpose of remaining Jewish. “If Judaism is nothing but democracy or brotherhood, why not practice these in the original form?,” he asked. He suggested as an experiment, the reversal of the current practice by starting Jewish education at 13, or bar mitzvah age, so that the student can begin his Jewish studies when he is mature. “In fact, ” he declared, “a good idea would be to scrap the entire bar mitzvah ceremony with its Haftorah ritual, a procedure which has in the past wasted thousands of man years.”

“Since the synagogue has taken a central role and in effect, the religious school often wags the tail, ” Dr. Greenberg said, “the result is that Jewish education suffers. We must challenge the laymen who now use the synagogue as a comfortable shelter, and adopt an idea proposed by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch — to close the synagogues for 100 years, so we will have to develop the home. ” Perhaps we can be a little less radical, ” Prof. Greenberg added, “and close the synagogues for one year, informing the rabbis that their new function is to teach, resulting in forcing their erstwhile congregants to learn and think.”


Recognition of the complaints of Jewish adolescents that the curricula of Jewish schools are often inferior, and their instruction dull, was given today in the unanimous adoption by the conference of a resolution authorizing the creation of a national youth commission, to look into the situation as it exists in Jewish educational institutions of the United States and Canada.

The resolution urged the Commission to make a survey “to diagnose the problems of Jewish youth and to suggest improvements that must be adopted to attract and retain Jewish students in both the elementary and secondary school categories. ” The Commission will utilize the services of outstanding scholars, psychologists and sociologists as well as educators, in its studies, and in the drafting of recommendations.

The conference also voted the creation of a manpower commission to study and deal with the serious shortage of teachers which confronts Jewish schools throughout this country and Canada. Another resolution called on member agencies of various Jewish welfare funds to give primacy in their allocations to Jewish education, and asked for bold new financing of the Jewish school system which trains 600, 000 children and employs 17, 000 part-time and full time teachers annually. The association delegates also urged the seeking of new and large gifts for schools from foundations.

Dr. Isadore Breslau of Washington was reelected president of the association, with Samuel H. Daroff of Philadelphia renamed as chairman of the Governing Council. Mrs. Edith Hyman of New York City was elected secretary; Harry Meresman of New York City, treasurer; and Isador S. Turover of Washington, associate treasurer.


A major step toward unity and coordination in the field of Jewish education was effected last night when three lay leaders of major congregational groups confirmed their organizations’ support of the AAJE as the representative body in this field.

Speaking at the association’s annual dinner, the leaders of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jewish groups hailed the association as the central agency to deal with both formal and informal aspects of Jewish education on all age levels in the United States and Canada. The association represents 15 constituent national organizations. The confirmations of support for the AAJE were voiced by Joseph S. Wohl, for the Conservative movement; Earl Morse on behalf of American Reform Jewry; and Max Etra, for the Orthodox community.

At the dinner, Mr. Daroff presented citations to 14 founders and past presidents who have been active in the association for the past 27 years. The awards were given to Mrs. Frank Cohen; Judge Jonah J. Goldstein; Joseph Goldstein; Prof. Horace M. Kallen; Joseph Kohn; Abraham Krumbein; Judge Louis Levinthal; Philip W. Lown; Charles J. Rosenbloom; Dr. Albert P. Schoolman; Judge Simon E. Sobeloff; Harry Starr; Michael A. Stavitsky and Isador S. Turover.

At another session, Philip Bernstein, executive vice-president of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds, called on the conferees to concentrate on action to be taken following the sessions — action, which, he said, must be adopted without weakening any other community services offered to the Jewish community. He pointed out that education must be more than a transmittal of knowledge, an instrument calculated to build character, strengthen the family ties and aid society.

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