An Ethos of Empowerment

Spring, 2012

Source: Jewish Educational Leadership. Spring, 2012


This paper highlights two aspects of the culture of empowerment that held sway in the yeshiva, the modern Talmudic academy that developed in Eastern Europe in the nineteenth century. The first aspect is the adversarial atmosphere that reigned in the classroom, and the second aspect is the joint endeavor of peer-teaching. The author's choice of these two features is guided by the sense that to varying extents they are not employed in our day school systems, but could foreseeably be included in the teacher’s toolbox.  

Cooper uses numerous primary sources to describe student empowerment modes in famed Eastern European Yeshivot, such as Volozhin, Telz and Kamenets.  

He shows the success attained by the two programmes of empowerment: students continued debating finer points of our tradition even in their free time. The ethos of empowerment had been imbibed.  

He concludes:
"As we earnestly strive to empower our students, these two features of the yeshiva that promoted an ethos of empowerment – the adversarial spirit and the ḥaburah – should be considered, mutatis mutandis, by teachers today."

Updated: Sep. 27, 2012