Teaching Approaches of Beginning Teachers for Jewish Studies in Israeli Mamlachti Schools: A Case Study of a Jewish Education Teachers’ Training Program for Outstanding Students

Jun. 01, 2015

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, Volume 81, Issue 3, pages 285-311


This article presents findings from a longitudinal qualitative study that examined teaching approaches of neophyte teachers in Israel during their 4-year exclusive teachers’ training program for teaching Jewish subjects and first two years of teaching. The program wanted to promote change in secular pupils’ attitudes toward Jewish subjects. We found a high incidence of teaching using positivistic approaches of knowledge transmission and the teachers adopted a particular teaching approach early into their training program that they continue to employ. Can teaching oriented in the transmission of central cultural value knowledge, with pupils as passive receptacles, create a meaningful encounter?


The present case study examines a university program for training outstanding students to be high school teachers for Judaic studies subjects in Israeli public nonreligious secondary schools. This teacher training program emphasizes preservice teaching.


The purposes of the present study are (a) to examine the teaching approaches adopted by teachers-in-training in a university program for training outstanding students to be high school teachers, as revealed through the teaching methods they apply in the classroom; and (b) to examine the transformation in these approaches throughout the training period and during their first years of teaching. Hereafter the term neophyte teachers denote the research participants from entering the university program through their 2nd year of professional teaching.


The discussion of the findings in this article focuses on the suitability of the teaching approaches practiced by the neophyte teachers who teach Jewish subjects to promote meaningful identity construction processes among pupils in Israeli state-secular (Mamlachti) schools.


The case study that is discussed in this research article examines the training program “Revivim,” which began in October 2000 in The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in cooperation with a number of departments from the Humanities faculty, the Institute of Jewish Studies, the Melton School for Jewish Education, and the teacher training department at The Hebrew University. Several foundations established to further and nurture Jewish education, with the Avi Chai Fund at the helm, joined together to establish and support the program including providing substantial fellowship grants to its students.


The program was founded as part of the implementation of the recommendations made by the Shenhar Committee (Shenhar Commission, 1994), that determined that “there is a requirement to train teachers with a pluralistic-critical worldview so that they will be significantly familiar with the entirety of Jewish and general humanist fields of knowledge” (Shenhar Commission, 1994 pp. 24–25). Presented in the program founders’ vision, was the hope that: “teachers will be trained in order to constitute agents of change in the public educational system. … The change in treatment towards Jewish content in schools in Israel—the aim of this program—relies on charismatic teachers, with high motivation, intelligent, and personally devoted to the teaching occupation” (“Revivim,” internal document, 1999, p. 4).


Approximately 25 students are accepted into the program each year. The candidates are screened to ensure they are gifted both in academic and leadership skills. The academic skills are assessed according to the student’s psychometric admission exam grades and their high school matriculation certificate grades. The program has elevated admission requirements, similar to the entrance requirement standards of the Law faculty and other prestigious departments. The social skills are determined by third party recommendations and personal interviews that indicate “a deep personal devotion to Jewish education, a high level of motivation, excellent interpersonal skills and leadership skills and high achievements in the past” (“Revivim,” internal document, 1999).


Of the 24 students that began the program in the first cohort, 21 completed their studies. The students were comprised of 14 women and 10 men, their ages ranging from 22 to 26 when they entered the program. Most of the students (85%) had at least one parent with a university degree, which from an educational criterion correlates to the upper-middle class of Israeli society.


The graduates of the program receive a master’s degree in Jewish education or Jewish studies and a teaching certificate license. The educational and teacher training studies in the program differ from the accepted method of training teachers in colleges and universities in Israel and include three elements: (a) academic studies in two fields of Jewish sciences (Biblical studies and Jewish thought); (b) complementary enrichment studies that include tours, partner self-study, theater and similar activities; (c) internship approach educational learning, which places, at the heart of the training process, from its beginning and throughout the process, the practical experience of an actual classroom. This approach that has become the leading approach in Britain’s teacher training system, assumes that teacher training should be treated as an experiential process that must be conducted in the actual teaching context, just as doctors and lawyers are trained. Therefore, in the course of the training that takes place in the classrooms, the program’s students are required to take full responsibility as required of their role as teachers, and to practice real teaching that is accompanied by pedagogical instructors.


In a longitudinal study, using a qualitative-constructionist methodology suited to the examination of beliefs and experiences that cannot be examined by isolating variables, the teaching-learning approaches of 13 neophyte teachers were examined over the course of 6 years—4 years of training, and the first 2 years of professional teaching.


The research followed a multicase study strategy, in which each of the “cases”—each of the 13 neophyte teachers—represented experiences of a common nature. As mentioned above, all of the research subjects were participants in the first cohort of an exclusive teacher training program for the teaching of Jewish studies in secondary public schools.


The findings of the study reveal that the majority of neophyte teachers preserve in their teaching a teacher-curriculum-centered transmissive approach, throughout their training period and after they enter the workforce. Only a few of the neophyte teachers adopt approaches, at the beginning of their training, which accord the pupils an active role in the teaching-learning process. Yet, these too, after a brief trial period in teaching, end up adopting more conservative approaches and using them over the years, as do most of their other colleagues, uniformly, in respect to the entire classroom.


Since most of the graduates of the training program for teachers in Jewish studies perpetuate the prevalent and accepted mode of transmissive-content-centered teaching, one can assume that as far as teaching approaches are concerned, and as long as the training program is not directed to pupil approach and constructivist approach, the hopes that were placed on this cadre of neophyte teachers—that they would instigate change and help to alleviate the ongoing crisis in Jewish studies—are not likely to be realized.


Teaching whose hallmark is the rote learning of contents by pupils, in order to display it in standardized exams, such as matriculation exams, might perhaps contribute to the acquisition of knowledge, but is limited in its capacity to create a deep involvement and personal, complex, and interesting encounter between pupils and Jewish sources. Such learning does not involve any significant experiential process, in which sovereign pupils with autonomous choices may produce new and challenging knowledge and deliberations in regard to their Jewish-Israeli cultural identities.

Updated: Oct. 07, 2015