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MIFGASHIM  December 2001

MIFGASHIM December 2001

Subject:

MIFGASHIM

From:

Solly Kaplinski <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

MIFGASHIM LIST <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 30 Dec 2001 23:21:26 +0200

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (423 lines)

MIFGASHIM

December 30 2001
15 Tevet 5762
Volume 1 Number 7
Moderator: Solly Kaplinski


CONTENTS:

1. Notice Board: Pardes Educators program graduates seek employment for
Fall 2002


2. The pluralistic school /environment debate: Four further responses
 (See MIFGASHIM December 9, 16, 18 & 23)

Stuart Zweiter: The Lookstein Center
(Moderator’s note: Stuart is the Director of the Lookstein Center)

Jack Bieler: Assistant Principal, Hebrew Academy of Greater Washington,
Silver Spring, MD

Mark Smiley: A Schechter Day School Director (Detroit)

Michael Gillis: Academic Director, Senior Educators Program
Melton Centre for Jewish Education, Hebrew University, Jerusalem


--------------------------------------------------


1. Notice Board

Pardes Educators program graduates seek employment for Fall 2002

Attention: All Principals and Directors

The first cohort of the Pardes Educators Program will be graduating in June
2002, and will be seeking employment at Jewish Day Schools across America.
They are all committed to teach in Jewish day schools in North America for
a minimum of three years, beginning this coming September. We would like to
provide you with the opportunity to meet with and recruit our students to
teach at your schools, and to provide our students with the opportunity to
learn about your institution.

Almost two years ago, in response to the current need for high quality
Jewish educators in the Diaspora, the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem in
conjunction with the Avi Chai Foundation created the Pardes Educators
Program. Students in the Educators Program are a select and diverse group
of men and women from all streams of Judaism and from a variety of
backgrounds. Upon completion of the Educators program, each student will
have:

1. Two to four years of intensive textual study in the Pardes Beit Midrash

2. An M.A. in Jewish Education from the Hebrew University

3. Hebrew proficiency (all have passed the Hebrew University "P'tor" exam)

4. Two months of supervised student teaching experience in North American
Jewish day schools

Pardes educators graduate having achieved extensive textual skills and
knowledge, pedagogical training from master teachers and keen insight into
important educational issues. We believe our students embody the unique
values of Pardes: Talmud Torah, Jewish passion, and openness.

To that end, we invite you to meet with and interview our students here in
Israel. If you are visiting Israel during the course of this year, please
provide us with the dates so that we can facilitate the meetings. Our
students will also be student- teaching in North America during the month
of February.

We would also like to provide our students with a resource containing
detailed information about the various American day schools. If you are
seeking teachers, and would like your school's information and employment
opportunities to be included, please email Dr. Dodi Tobin, Director of
Student Affairs at [log in to unmask] - and she will email, fax or mail the
Day School Information Form to you.

We are excited to see our dream become a reality. We look forward to
working with you in advancing quality Jewish education.

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions you may have.

Sincerely,
David I. Bernstein, Ph.D.               Rabbi Zvi Hirschfeld
Dean                                     Director, Pardes Educators Program
[log in to unmask]                     [log in to unmask]

Tel: 02-673-5210 Fax: 02-673-5160

Email: [log in to unmask]
Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies
P.O. Box 8575   91084 Jerusalem, Israel
tel. 972-2-673-5210, fax 972-2-673-5160

www.pardes.org.il


--------------------------------------------------





2. The pluralistic school /environment debate: Four further responses
 (See MIFGASHIM December 9, 16, 18 & 23)


2.1 Stuart Zweiter:The Lookstein Center

 I too was impressed by Tamar Rabinowitz’s articulate statement regarding
her studies and her preparation for work in pluralistic day schools. I was,
however, a bit puzzled by Shlomo Kaye’s series of questions regarding her
statement. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines pluralism as: a state of
society in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social
groups maintain an autonomous participation in and development of their
traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common
civilisation and a concept, doctrine, or policy advocating this state.

You will probably recall from studying the history of the period of the
Enlightenment, that in the United States a process of cultural pluralism
was espoused, a system in which each culture was encouraged to maintain its
own particular identity and as a result, society as a whole would be
enriched. On the European continent, on the other hand, one had to satisfy
particular societal criteria in order to benefit from the freedoms offered
by Emancipation. Voltaire, for example, in suggesting rights for the Jews,
maintained that they should essentially become like him, become a
philosopher, he declared, and the Jews would deserve rights like any other
citizen of France.

At the risk of oversimplifying this, I believe that pluralistic schools fit
comfortably into the American conceptualisation. Students from differing
religious and ideological perspectives can maintain their identity within
the confines of a common locale. This is quite different than the model of
a progressive modern orthodox school that welcomes students with different
backgrounds and perspectives but expects the student to perform within the
framework of a particular religious perspective. It seems rather clear to
me, that in a school where a pluralistic approach is taken seriously, not
only should there be no watering down or espousal of a laissez faire
attitude, but rather a compelling need for ideological clarification.

Regarding the issues of red lines and personal ethics and beliefs, it seems
to me that this question is no different in a pluralistic school than it is
in any other school. In all situations one must decide that he/she is
sufficiently ideologically comfortable in the environment in which he
works. I have been in co-ed modern Orthodox schools where more Haredi
teachers were perfectly comfortable and in modern Orthodox non co-ed
schools where they were not. It is always going to be particular to the
person and the school environment.

Regarding the issue of preparing students for the real world. I would hope
that indeed one of the goals of Jewish educators is to prepare students for
the real world. I would expect that the goal, however, would be not to
reinforce the insensitivity in the world but rather to educate students
towards trying to eliminate it.

--------------------------------------------------


2.2 Jack Bieler: Assistant Principal, Hebrew Academy of Greater Washington,
Silver Spring, MD


Regarding the discussion of a pluralistic Jewish educational environment,
it seems to me that another important variable that has to enter into the
discussion is the age of the students in question. What is appropriate for
a graduate student may not be for someone who is younger--how much younger
can also be a matter open for discussion.

An educational goal and commonplace is identity formation for the student,
and one can wonder whether Jewish identity formation is best served in
every context by offering a myriad of possibilities and positions. While
intellectually it might appear that this is the most equitable arrangement,
the literature dealing with cognitive dissonance, particularly as it
relates to the day school environment, i.e. some students have difficulty
in moving back and forth in terms of Judaic and general studies curricula,
assumptions, approaches, mechanical operations, etc., raises the question
of whether the environment is rendered all the more confusing when multiple
versions of practice, belief and approach are offered?

The extremes are easily made straw men, i.e., too many possibilities or
only a single one. What sort of reasonable balance is to be struck that
will broaden students and yet avoid confusing them to the point where they
will see no need to or be incapable of making personal commitments?


-------------------------------------------------


2.3 Mark Smiley: A Schechter Day School Director (Detroit)
(A response to my friends David Bernstein, Steve Israel)

Dewey once wrote that an educator needs to be prepared to create
environments for their own children/others that are vastly different to ones
that they studied in and know that their children will do the same. Steve,
your model like Dewey's is progressive and different from David's
interpretation of the Pardes mission in that you expect kids to take your
model of serious reflection, the importance of the needs of the individual
(heart/brain) and their need to choose their place in the spectrum of
Jewish life (or create their own). If I understood David's comments, they
are trying to either build or sustain communities that promote the
ideological home of the institution.

David is honest in sharing that Pardes is promoting the choice of a Halakhic
lifestyle. A Midrash professor from HUC is a hero at Pardes if he follows
Halakha and the opposite of a hero if he does not? It seems that the
community day school model including the pluralistic model found in Boston,
Atlanta and elsewhere would be hard pressed to hire a graduate of your
program if they are not somewhat grounded in the educational thinking that
Steve Israel suggests. Because if we are training people to work in a
pluralistic setting then we have to hire role models that may have a
secularistic, progressive outlook on life and Judaism and/or be respectful
and/or knowledgeable of the underlying assumptions of the alternative
philosophies. That is why Melton/Mercaz for example does a good job at
presenting a wide range of serious models for their students. (I agree that
day school communities for the most are turning in -away from the their
friends to the left and the right).

I actually think that the ideological based schools would be more serious if
they did open themselves up to a larger range of practices and beliefs. To
some degree, Steve I think you would agree your concern for mindless
ideology would be addressed in part if the educational process within an
ideology would be constructed on a reflection methodology (e.g. Melton
values curriculum) as it would give the students the skills to later in
life go out and think about their belief positions. When I was a student at
the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, I benefited when the School would
invite pulpit rabbis (at the time Orthodox and Conservative) to teach
courses in Jewish thought. The plurality of positions and approaches was
exciting and challenging. It is my belief that not one child who davened on
Sundays stopped and not one child who did not daven on Sunday started. But
it did openly expose students to people, students who later took their
Judaism very seriously.

In my school - a proud Conservative egalitarian school which has produced
more rabbis (men and women) for the Conservative movement than any other day
school in America, we try to expose our middle schoolers to the fact that
that there is a larger Jewish world out there. We currently have graduates
studying at Orthodox yeshivot in Israel, HUC Rabbinical School and JTS. At
a recent graduation, we had 3 rabbis (Yes, Conservative, Orthodox & Reform)
who gave the commencement address together. We prepare our students to
understand how Mitzvah works in the major movements and have Rabbis come in
a share their different approaches to ritual, prayer etc. Detroit is also
home to the humanist Rabbinical school that has some alternatives ideas.

We celebrate "our side" and yet respect the enterprises of the other voices.
Will some of our graduates found other schools? I hope so. Many (85%)
choose to send their children back to their alma mater. Maybe we will teach
them better how to reflect and choose in the second generation of our
school. We have over 60 second generation graduates (one parent was a
student). Our oldest second-generation graduate is 23 (teaching in a nearby
private school) and single but we are looking forward to her marriage and
hopefully the return of her children to her potential school of choice.

Steve, I think we need to take the progressive challenge seriously yet be
open to the richness and meaning of on-going evolvement of a committed
historical community.


-------------------------------------------------


2.4 Michael Gillis: Academic Director, Senior Educators Program
Melton Centre for Jewish Education, Hebrew University, Jerusalem


I cannot but agree with Steve Israel that “non-acceptance of one Jew by
another” is an evil that threatens the cohesion and even the future of the
Jewish people. One response to this problem is the development of pluralist
ideologies and the emergence of educational frameworks, such as community
schools, that are built on the inclusion of diverse streams of Judaism.

The philosophical working out of this kind of education is still struggling
with some basic questions. The first of these questions is how can two
contradictory views be considered true? How, for example, can someone
regard obedience to Halakha as the divinely commanded Jewish form of
service to God and accept a view which rejects a role for Halakha as no
less adequate as a Jewish way of serving God? One answer to this might be
that each is committed to serving God and this is what is really important.
They differ only as to the means to the end. Each finds a different route
to be more satisfactory as a way of achieving the same goal. The problem
with this response is that many who value Halakha as the way to serve God
do so because of a belief that it is a way of life which is, one way or
another, commanded by God. It is, therefore, not merely a matter of
personal preference. Pluralism seems to favour those whose commitments do
not arise out of a sense of commandedness and which do not entail any
particular way of living out these commitments. Pluralism is difficult for
the Orthodox but Orthodoxy is also difficult for pluralism because it is
difficult for pluralism to include a philosophy, which, by definition,
negates its alternatives.

These problems are not going to be solved merely by a magic verbal formula.
Those whose commitment to Jewish peoplehood prevents them from simply
throwing in the towel will continue to wrestle with the problems rather
than gleefully retreating into self-righteous isolation. One life approach
is to put the burning philosophy questions on one side and to seek
opportunities to share projects and above all to share learning. Here the
brilliant distinction made by one correspondent to this list between
a “safe” environment and a “protected” environment is very important.
Protection implies an avoidance of reality, safety relates rather to the
possibility of encountering others without the fear of physical or
emotional harm. When the rules of the game require personal respect,
assuming the best interpretation of what others say and an emphasis on
shared concerns, beliefs and activities, there may be said to be a safe
environment.

It is one thing, however, for mature individuals, who hold their ideas and
beliefs as a result of a long process of reflection and internalisation and
who ground their ideas both in their experience of life and their
accumulated learning, to engage in pluralistic opportunities for encounter
with other Judaisms and quite another to make such pluralism the basis for
the education of the young. Apart from a high degree of conviction and self-
confidence, it takes maturity to know that even our deepest held beliefs
and all that we can know cannot encompass all of reality and everything
there is to know; that indeed the wise person is the one who learns from
every human being. It is only maturity that makes possible such
reservations about ourselves without diminishing the strength of our
cherished commitments.

Even if we think that we have worked through the problems of pluralism, if
not at the level of principle, at least in a pragmatic way, it remains
unclear if we can lead young people down the same road without the risk of
confusion. This, by the way, is not to overlook the countervailing dangers
of intolerance, bigotry and arrogance. It will be interesting to hear from
educators working in pluralistic settings on these points with examples of
how these dilemmas are overcome in practice.

Some of Steve Israel’s assertions about pluralistic education seem to me to
risk educational confusion. I agree that any education worthy of the name
should lead young people to think for themselves and not to accept as dogma
whatever their teachers assert. I do not believe, however, in the “still
small voice” which Steve suggests is within us voicing our “deepest most
authentic selves.” I am not sure about the idea of education as a means of
encouraging children “to discover who they really are.” I do not mean that
I am against sincerity or authenticity. My point is that Steve’s account
ignores the extent to which who we are is the result of our participating
in a tradition and not the expression of some inner essence given as part
of our genetic make-up. To an extent this is the same as the argument over
progressive education, which assumed that all that needs to be known is
within the child and the teacher is to act as a facilitator drawing forth
the potential within the child.

Part of growing up includes deciding on our attitude to the traditions in
which we have grown up but this requires the experience of growing up in a
tradition, which we can then accept, modify or reject. For this to work the
young person must experience the tradition as something objective, real and
normative. Only parents and educators who have such a commitment can convey
a tradition to a young person. If, from the very start, the tradition is
communicated as no more than a possibility or a personal preference it is
stripped of its power as a tradition.

Steve suggests that schools should act “as a neutral umpire.” I have
already argued that with respect to certain viewpoints pluralism is
intrinsically not neutral. It is not neutral towards positions that negate
pluralism. The problem, however, goes deeper. I suggest that even the most
pluralistic educator has limits. There will be some positions about which
neutrality will be unacceptable. Is the educator to remain a neutral umpire
when children weigh up the rights and wrongs of racism or genocide? It is
these points when the real agenda of the institution emerges and pluralism
is set aside. It is easier to be pluralistic about issues, which are not
cardinal for us. We tend to set aside pluralism when it comes to the
values, which are at the core of our moral being. Taking pluralism beyond
this point can result in the moral void evidenced by the Yale student who
wrote about the difficulty her peers have in taking a position on the mass
murders in New York and Washington.

Good teachers are not merely people who teach us stuff but those who by
their own being inspire what can be best described as a kind of love.
Irresponsible charismatic teachers can exploit this love in unethical ways
to enhance their own power. A good teacher knows that there is also a need
for restraint to leave room for the being of the student. A neutral teacher
seems to me, however, to be a weak teacher. When a controversial or
problematic topic is under discussion is it illegitimate for children to
ask what the teacher thinks? The teacher may decide, for pedagogical
reasons, to defer answering the question so as not unduly to influence the
discussion but should they refuse to answer altogether? Is not a good
teacher one many of whose attitudes and beliefs are understood by students
even without their being articulated explicitly? Can we and indeed should
we, avoid having these attitudes and beliefs of the teacher influencing
children’s attitudes and beliefs? Is not this kind of influence exactly
what parents and good teachers are there for from Plato to Hillel, from
Rosenzweig to Soloveitchik (not to mention Steve Israel)?

If, as Steve suggests, “pluralism in Jewish education is … the finest aim
of any education system..” we are in danger of such disempowerment of
tradition. Pluralism is in itself not anything. It depends on the existence
of diverse points of view, beliefs, loyalties, traditions and commitments.

Those who seek to maintain the power of tradition while also living with a
full awareness of the richness and variety of human choices face a
difficult problem. If we teach without conviction we deprive the student of
the possibility of acquiring a tradition, but if we teach as if we cannot
see the sense in other choices we risk untruth, which poisons education.
For myself, I have no simple answer to this dilemma but neither does
pluralism as such and alone provide us with a highroad out of these
entanglements.

-------------------------------------------------

__________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________

The Mifgashim List is a project of
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