July 22, 2024
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The Structure of Our Day Schools

The article “A Strategic Reset for Day School Finances” (April 8, 2021), brought to the surface some thoughts I have about the experiences and knowledge given over at local yeshivot. The author wrote: “While some of the all-boys high schools devote more time to Gemara and less time to Tanach than their coed counterparts, and a few all-girls high schools offer intensive Gemara while others do not, that’s about as far as the differences in our Judaic curricula go.”

This statement brought to the surface some thoughts I have about the structure and content of the modern day school yeshiva. The day school model that I was fortunate to be a part of and that, Baruch Hashem, my children benefit from today, has a Judaic studies framework based upon (although I try to avoid labels when describing paths of Judaism), the “Lithuanian” or “Ashkenazic” tradition. This a Godly and holy path.

There are many paths in our tradition. I suggest that schools open up to different traditions and paths that exist within Orthodox Judaism. I think every child should be given the best chance to open his/her heart to the holy ways of our people. During one day of “Zoom” school a few weeks ago, I heard my daughter’s class reciting the “Fir Kashes” in Yiddish together as a class! I was so impressed. I expected to hear this only in (again, please excuse the label!), a “chassidishe” cheder.

At Moroccan seders, there is custom of raising the seder plate above each participant’s head and singing “Bibhilu (in haste), yatzanu m’mitraim.” What a beautiful minhag! I think it would be great if this tradition would be taught at school. I also thought about the content that is presented at school. I think there should be more inclusion of machshava, chassidut and, yes, Kabbalah.

During COVID, a friend of mine suggested a great way to have chavruta learning. I started a weekly Zoom chavruta on “Partners in Torah” and we started learning “Daat Tevunot” from the Ramchal. From what we learned so far, the Ramchal is going to present a way to understand God’s plan for the world and how we as Jews are active participants in the plan. It is a work based on Kabbalah. We started talking about the word “Kabbalah” and how it has the connotation of being off limits to children. My chavruta mentioned that it isn’t so in Sephardic circles. He mentioned that in Sephardic cultures children learn about the anthropomorphic “sefirot” with which God creates and animates the world. Kabbalah, simply translated, means receiving, and this “sod” or inner aspect (penimiyut) of Torah was given to Moshe at Har Sinai. We should reclaim this part of Torah and include it in our children’s education.

There are many sources, such as the Ramchal and the Baal HaTanya, that make Kabbalah practical and accessible. It is essential that kids learn the “why” of their existence as they are active and essential participants in Hashem’s plan to perfect the world and bring it to its ultimate purpose. This will definitely empower our children and solidify their path to being inspired and committed Jews.

Yonah Heidings
Teaneck
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