December 18 2001
3 Tevet 5762
Volume 1 6
Moderator: Solly Kaplinski
Towards personal and professional fulfilment:
Learning to become a Jewish Educator in and for a pluralistic environment
Tamar Rabinowitz and Shlomo Kaye (see MIFGASHIM December 9 and December 16
1. Rabbi David Bernstein: Dean, Pardes Institute, Jerusalem
In response to Shlomo Kaye's comments to Tamar’s article:
I cannot answer the questions about pluralistic schools; I have never worked
in one. I hope that someone from such a school will respond.
Regarding the question about why postgraduate students might need a "safe"
Bet Midrash environment let me first say that Pardes does not consider
itself to be a pluralistic institution. We view ourselves as an halachic
institution, and a safe place to explore the tradition.
Why "safe?" It is important to recognise that not every postgraduate student
is interested in a Jewish learning environment, which demands behavioural
compliance with halachic norms (e.g. dress). By offering the opportunity
for postgraduate students to learn the classical Jewish texts in a serious
way, without imposing halachic behaviour on them, Pardes is able to expose
them to authentic Torah, and authentic Torah role models, without forcing
them to change their lifestyles.
In this way, the conflict between "personal values" and the "values of the
institution" is generally defused. Pardes students understand where their
teachers are coming from, but for the most part feel that they are given
their own personal autonomy as well. We do not feel "undermined" if a
student does not keep Shabbat, or expresses reservations about kashrut in
class. In an atmosphere that accepts diversity in its students (both coming
in and leaving us), it is not threatening for us.
Red lines? We do have them, and they include things like respecting the
kashrut of our kitchen; and while people have the right to disagree, they do
not have the right to denigrate others.
We do offer opportunities for spiritual growth, but we do not force it upon
our students (e.g. tefilla). We believe (and know from 28 years of
experience) that our adult students generally come away much more literate
Jews, who love Torah, and find their own ways of increasing their Jewish
commitment and lifestyle.
Is this for everyone? Certainly not! But for many Jews, it is the
best/only entryway to intensive Torah study, and ultimately, a more
educated and committed Jewish life.
2. Abbi Adest: Pardes Educator
In response to the following statement by Tamar
“Pardes' s Beit Midrash provides a safe environment to tackle and
struggle with Jewish texts and challenges our previously held conceptions
of what is authentic”
Shlomo Kaye asks the following question to which I would like to respond:
What exactly does a safe environment mean and why do postgraduate students
have to feel safe and protected?
Tamar did not say that postgraduate students need to be "protected". There
is an obvious confusion between the terms "safe" and "protected". This
confusion was also in evidence in your attack on pluralistic school
The Jewish people today, for better or for worse, are cracked into many
different denominations, beliefs and viewpoints. The choices are to break
off into our little communities and only talk to and learn from people who
think exactly us or we can get together and talk and learn from people who
hold different and even contradictory viewpoints. The latter is the essence
of pluralism. It doesn't require being "lazzeiz faire", as you put it. It
requires a safe *unprotected* environment, where everyone expresses their
beliefs without filters, without apologies or fears. The safety comes from
knowing that you will be heard and you will be accepted, DESPITE THE FACT
that not everyone will agree with all or any of your beliefs.
In a pluralistic environment, no one is molly coddling or protecting any
high school, college or postgraduate students. If anything the school with
the single Jewish philosophy is "molly coddling". In that school, you don't
have to think and struggle to create a personal hashkafa because you are
not confronted by different beliefs- your belief is handed to you on a
plate. I've seen students from these kinds of schools enter "the thrust and
parry of the real world" and it's not pretty.
The goal of pluralism is to try to build whole Jewish communities, where
Jews actually listen and learn from each other, instead of criticising or
judging each other.
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