Compartmentalization and Synthesis in Modern Orthodox Jewish Education

May 6, 2019

Source: Lehrhaus

This paper will examine how we instill and inspire Modern Orthodox identities within our students by analyzing three separate facets of the school system that serve to communicate our values: the structure of the school itself, the curriculum taught in the school, and the pedagogies employed by its teachers. Along the way, I seek to identify the factors within schools that reinforce the reality of compartmentalization, while also highlighting initiatives that may allow for a more integrated religious educational experience within Modern Orthodox day schools. To paraphrase Rabbi Lamm, I hope to both understand and suggest improvements to the way we “explain ourselves to ourselves.”

The issue of how to teach in a Modern Orthodox school is certainly the most expansive of the issues tackled in this essay, and obviously may take any number of forms. Yet it should go without saying that the modality of a classroom focused on project based learning or havruta study communicates a far different message about the nature of authority and the value of creativity than one in which a rabbi stands in front of the classroom and reads from a gemara. Similarly, the way we discipline our students and respond to their challenges (and mistakes) must also be part of our thinking about how we help them recognize and embrace the responsibilities and conflicts that they must navigate in their encounter with the world. Democratic educational approaches – often the mark of “progressive” schools – which focus on student empowerment, autonomy, and responsibility within the classroom, are another potential avenue for creating and modeling an authentically Modern Orthodox discourse within our schools. In truth, this type of dialogue is the legacy that Hazal imparted to us in pages of Talmud filled with running disputes, attempted resolutions, and continuous inquiry. And if we are to successfully inspire our students to embrace this heritage, then, Talmudic discourse shouldn’t only be encountered in the classroom – it needs to be modeled in our hallways as well. Mahloket and dialogue are not just the hallmarks of our tradition; they must be the watchwords of our movement, along with a wariness of simplistic answers, and a recognition that we may not always find resolutions to our many questions.

At the end of the day, then, I’d argue that Modern Orthodoxy isn’t about compromise – it’s about embracing dynamic tension and attempting meaningful harmonization. And, if we are to survive, we must build educational institutions that can inspire our students to engage in that process. To do so, we must think carefully about whether the structures in our school are designed to communicate these tensions, how our curricula provide students with the tools to navigate conflict, and whether we are sufficiently empowering them to find their own voices within these essential conversations. While no two schools will take the same path to build these systems, as a community and a movement, we need to do a better job of explaining ourselves to a generation of students who are wondering what role Torah learning should have in their lives and in the world around us.

Read the entire article at Lehrhaus


Updated: May. 20, 2019