Negotiating Tradition and Contemporary Education: An Enrichment Center for Jewish Ultra‐Orthodox Children in Israel


Source: Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 49(3), 230–245

This paper addresses the negotiations of Haredi (Jewish Ultra‐Orthodox) kindergarten teachers with contemporary educational understandings as these emerge in a Haredi Enrichment Center for kindergarten children. Using the prism of Thirdspace, a close look at the themes around which the Enrichment Center and its activities were organized reveals the cultural strategies involved in the amendments that contemporary ideas and practices must undergo in order to be conceptually accepted and practically implemented by Haredi educators.

The Haredi (Jewish Ultra-Orthodox) community in Israel shares with other traditional religious communities the wish to preserve and nurture its religious ways of life while partially adapting to the contemporary Western world. This aspiration has posed a conceptual as well as a practical challenge for this community in the past and present, since modernity, perceived as a breakaway from tradition and religion (Oden 1995; Schmidt 2006), is apparently in inherent conflict with the traditional religious way of life. This study is an interpretive ethnography based on fieldwork conducted at a Haredi Enrichment Center for kindergarten children by the first author of this paper. The purpose of the study was to address the complex attitude of the Haredi community toward Western educational notions, specifically exploring cultural strategies involved in the partial adoption of the latter as these emerged at the Enrichment Center. The Center was co-founded by a religious teachers’ college for women and a European charity foundation, and designed and run by graduates of the Haredi girls’ education system. As such, the Center served as a setting for observing the interface where Western educational perceptions coexisted with a religious way of life. This study joins the current anthropological quest to understand local “inflections of modernity” (e.g. Knauft 2002, 1) whereby traditional communities negotiate modern notions…

This paper describes the Enrichment Center in which Western educational ideas and practices and the Haredi way of life coexisted without an apparent sense of conflict. On the one hand it describes the teachers’ self-perception as “moving forward with the world,” while on the other, it focuses on the cultural strategies employed in order to ensure that religious principles would not be compromised in the process. These strategies of “Haredization” included processes of explicit pedagogy as elements, which were perceived as negating Haredi principles were removed from the adopted Western content, as well as processes of implicit pedagogy through three layers of “wrappings” in which the adopted content was presented. These strategies of “Haredization” resulted in new local versions of Western perceptions in which, for example, modern science could coexist with the religious belief in God’s creation of the world.

Updated: Sep. 03, 2018