The Philosophy of Informal Jewish Education

Apr. 05, 2003

Source: The Encyclopedia of Informal Education


The author explores the meaning of informal Jewish education and examines its significance for contemporary Jewish life. He argues that informal Jewish education is not confined to a place or a methodology but rather is a well-defined philosophy of how people should be educated, what the goals of Jewish education are, and what its contents should be. He urges a recognition of the seminal contribution informal Jewish education can make.


In his conclusion, the author writes:

"The bifurcation of education into formal and informal is in many ways artificial, and in terms of Jewish education, inefficient and even harmful. While we begin the twenty-first century with formal and informal Jewish education, this state of affairs is not irreversible. In the decades, years, and century ahead we may yet succeed at restoring the organic unity that once was. We should work hard to correct the notion that informal and formal Jewish education are separate entities. In fact, they should be seen as partners in the overall goal of developing knowledgeable and committed Jews. Each has much to learn from the other: Formal Jewish education can learn to be more person-centered and participatory and informal Jewish education can learn to be more literate and rigorous. We should be talking about “the deformalization of the formal” and “re-formalization of the informal” rather than opposing philosophies. The time has come to unite these two critical worlds.


Informal Jewish education, as an approach that maintains that people learn by being actively involved, is a good fit with the diversity, mobility, and longevity that characterize the twenty-first century Jewish world. With its emphasis on experience and values, informal Jewish education seems uniquely equipped to help people on that most important of human endeavors—the search for personal meaning. The twenty-first century warmly welcomes an education that reaches out to each of us as unique human beings and helps us grapple with the search for answers to life’s big questions. The days of informal education being “supplementary” or “extra-curricular” are over. Informal Jewish education is ready to assume a major new educational role in twenty-first-century Jewish life."

Updated: Aug. 05, 2009