The Student as the 'Other' and Teacher Responsibility: Teachers' Ethical Dilemmas in National Religious Education

Oct. 03, 2013

Source: Dvarim - October, 2013


In philosophy, the Other is a separate, defined entity. Otherness was placed at the center of the philosopher Levinas' thought. Levinas' major moral concept— responsibility — stems from the Other. In the present article the Others are the students, and the teachers are those undertaking the burden of responsibility to them.


The article is based on a study whose aim was to understand teachers' ethical world in national-religious education in Israel by examining their stories which reflect ethical dilemmas in teaching. The methodology was qualitative. The research population included 52 teachers teaching in a variety of State-Religious schools in Israel. The research tools were semi-constructed in-depth interview and documents. The teachers' stories repeatedly addressed the basic tension between traditional-religious educational education and modern democratic education.


The teachers lean towards more open and flexible education. The teachers' considerations resonate with various moral approaches, the most prominent among which is the ethics of caring. According to this approach moral problems are issues of human relationships, and the emphasis is on responsibility based on caring, termed 'affective responsibility'.


Levinas' theory discusses this type of responsibility, a responsibility of compassion, which characterizes a more feminine approach. According to Levinas, the responsibility is towards the other's sensitivity (Levi, 1996), and the feminine is the origin of the term 'responsibility' (Levinas, 1995). According to the findings of the present study, the teachers tended to use 'affective responsibility' ethical considerations towards their students. However, they did this mostly intuitively. In order to deepen the "moral and ethical understanding", it is recommended that 'moral case studies' be given to teachers as a basis they can lean on and learn from.

Updated: Mar. 03, 2014