Book Review: Cultures and Contexts of Jewish Education. Authors: Barry Chazan, Robert Chazan, and Benjamin M. Jacobs


Source: Journal of Jewish Education, 85:2, 229-235 


There has long been a need for a short survey of the emergence and current condition of American Jewish education broadly conceived. Written in clear and untechnical language, accessible to lay and professional readers alike, this brisk and engaging volume fills that void very successfully. This book reaches far into the Jewish past to chart the interaction between two Jewish educational and social visions.

The authors are three leading scholars of Judaism and Jewish education: Barry Chazan, a highly regarded Hebrew University and Spertus Institute philosopher of Jewish and Israel education; Robert Chazan, a renowned New York University historian of medieval Jewry and founder of its PhD program in Jewish education; and Benjamin Jacobs, a George Washington University expert in experiential education and current chair of the Network for Research in Jewish Education.

Founded on rabbinic interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, the first of these visions thrived as the dominant form of Jewish life among premodern communities in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe from the destruction of the second Jerusalem Temple in the first century through the beginning of the 19th century. It has continued in one form or another among a minority of Jews to today. The second vision discussed in the book emerged in the United States beginning with the first Jewish settlement in North America in the mid-17th century. Responding to the crises of premodern Jewish life brought on by the rise of modernity in Europe, it has become the primary form of contemporary American Jewish life.

We owe a profound debt to the authors of this engaging assessment of the contexts and cultures of American Jewish education for inviting us to consider these issues crucial to the future of the Jewish people. It turns out that the broad title of this little volume, which appears to pertain to the challenges of Jewish education worldwide, not merely in the United States, is quite apt. Their rich description of the history and philosophies of Jewish education that have informed this influential Jewish community has provided an occasion for considering many of the most pressing issues facing Jewish education around the world today, not only in America. This important book is essential and highly recommended reading for anyone concerned with these issues, lay and professional alike.

Read the entire review at JJE.

Updated: Jul. 11, 2019