April 14, 2024
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The Importance of Jewish Schools

I read Rabbi Rosen’s letter “A Well-Rounded Jewish and Educational Experience” (May 21, 2020), and found it to be a well-argued explanation for how the role of a Jewish school is so much more than simply teaching the subjects normally classified as Torah. I would like to add to his points another aspect that, while somewhat uncertain over whether it will in fact be an issue, is suggested by recent events.

As we all know, our access to many facets of Jewish life, most notably minyanim, has been limited by the actions necessary to limit the loss of life due to the current pandemic. The Torah places a high value on saving lives, and it is for this reason that our rabbis have been fully supportive of the government’s restrictions on gatherings, despite this religious cost.

One can easily imagine, however, a situation in which the need is not so dire, and nevertheless non-Jews, not understanding the importance of such practice, limit or hamper it for reasons of mere convenience or due to bureaucratic concerns. While our First Amendment rights limit this danger as far as actions of the government in general, schools’ control over their students’ activities throughout the day could potentially cause such issues to arise again. Even if they did not directly cause such interference, any problems caused by an individual employee (e.g. through laziness or a bureaucratic power-grab) would likely be resolved through a system that has no input from those able to understand the weight of the issues at hand, which creates a culture of non-accountability. In addition to the practical issues that would be caused by such a situation, such a disregard for the dictates of the Torah could potentially send the message (chas v’shalom) that Yiddishkeit is powerless and defunct, which would sabotage any attempt to instill proper values via a supplementary system.

A Jewish school, on the other hand, can (and must) ensure that all decisions and policies affecting religious practice are subject to overview by the rabbinic faculty and administration, and that if any issues impact on such practice, the process to deal with them will have, as its ultimate decisor, someone qualified to appreciate the importance of such practice. (There may be rare exceptions, such as on-the-spot decisions necessitated by security concerns, but even these can be subject to the oversight of rabbis who have had any relevant issues explained to them if necessary, and can then ensure that any long-term policies, decisions and cultures are in accordance with our religion and its values.)

May we all merit to enjoy the availability of Jewish schools that create a kiddush Hashem by handling any such matters in a manner that, by reinforcing the ultimate importance of Yiddishkeit, instills our values to the next generation.

Yitzhak Kornbluth
Teaneck
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