Prayer Services in Religious High Schools for Boys in Israel-Teachers' Perspectives: Are They Listening to Students?


Source: Religious Education


This qualitative research aims to explore the experiences of teachers in the implementation of prayer services in religious high schools for boys in Israel. It is a continued research project following on from a study which focused on the experiences of students in the implementation of prayer services.

Using Lamm's model of educational ideologies the paper explores differences of educational perspectives between students, and teachers. It provides important data about teachers' views on prayer and spiritual development as compared to their students which can be of value to other religious denominations as well.

This study investigated the experiences of eighteen male high school teachers in four religious high schools for boys in Israel regarding school prayer. It focused on what they thought were the goals of school prayer, what challenges they had in school prayer, and how they thought they could be addressed.

Regarding the goals of school prayer, there was a range of responses. There were those who felt that it was basically formalistic and to be considered as the fulfillment of a religious Jewish requirement and part of the school day timetable in a religious school; some who emphasized prayer literacy; while others saw it mainly as an opportunity for students to grow spiritually and come close to God. This lack of goals clarification may be one of the factors that lead to confusion and challenges being faced. Teachers think that students already have “learned” the prayers and therefore focus time almost exclusively on prayer recitation while in fact students are not always knowledgeable of prayer content and meaning. The need to define specific knowledge, skills, and approaches for prayer in the Chemed system at the high school level is one important finding of this study.

This study has also shown how teachers hold different types of ideologies that drive, shape, and impact their educational practice. Inherent in these ideologies are considerations about the purposes of schooling, the teacher’s responsibility and role in pursuing these goals, and understanding what students are capable of achieving. In attempting to map different types of teacher beliefs that impact their teaching we identified three key teacher ideologies that inform their practice: (a) cultural ideology, (b) pedagogical ideology, and (c) milieu ideology (Deitcher 2016). Teachers are often in tension trying to balance between competing ideologies.

One of the major challenges teachers face is the lack of desire of students to pray. The debate between Steinsaltz (1996) and Simon (1996) is relevant. According to Steinsaltz, schools do not do enough in developing the inner spiritual world of the student. For Simon the issue is different. As the prayers are written in ancient Hebrew, this makes it difficult for students to understand or identify with the words and concepts being conveyed though the prayer.

The findings of this research indicate that the Simon/Steinsaltz debate is very relevant to the challenges faced by high school students in school prayer. Students and teachers seem to be taking different sides in the Steinsaltz/Simon debate. Students, in asking for greater emphasis on prayer literacy, seem to be within Simon’s camp adopting the acculturation ideology model, while many teachers in emphasizing a spiritual approach in developing the students follow Steinsaltz’s view and the individualization ideology approach. This is possibly somewhat surprising as one may have expected teachers to have a great emphasis on prayer literacy and students in spiritual meaning.


Deitcher, H.M. 2016 “Where Have All the Miracles Gone?” Religious Education 111(5):487–503. doi: 10.1080/00344087.2016.1110473.

Simon, U. 1996. “Teaching Siddur to Enhance Devotion in Prayer.” In Prayer in Judaism: Continuity and Change edited by G. H. Cohn and H. Fisch, 189–198. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc. 

Steinsaltz, A. 1996. “Education for Prayer.” In Prayer in Judaism: Continuity and Change, edited by G. H. Cohn and H. Fisch, 179–188. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc.

Updated: Jul. 15, 2021