A Manifesto of Jewish Education

by Aryeh Ben David

We’ve hit a wall in our delivery of Jewish Education. We have made great strides in teaching basic Jewish literacy – in explaining Jewish texts, educating the mind and disseminating information. Jewish educators have excelled at this during the last 25 years.

But preserving the past will not get us to a better future.

The time has come for the next phase of Jewish Education: Personalizing Jewish wisdom. Bringing Jewish wisdom into our hearts and into our lives. Allowing Jewish wisdom to make us better Jews and transforming us into our best selves. This is the key to our future.

25 years ago Jewish knowledge was restricted to a tiny fraternity of rabbis and scholars. Today, we have witnessed an explosion of access to Jewish information and texts: Israel study programs, Limmud programs, vast online resources, Melton Mini-Schools and adult education classes. People joke about consulting Rabbi Google. Plus just about everything has been translated. The battle for disseminating and acquiring information about Judaism is over. We have won. We know how to preserve the wisdom of our past.

As educators, we’ve become so expert in the way that we deliver Jewish education that we’re afraid to move out of our comfort zone of teaching information and into the vital task of fostering transformation. We’re stuck in our success.

Today – it’s not about information – it’s about transformation.
Today – it’s not about knowledge – it’s about wisdom.
Today – our educational goal should be not only to preserve our voices of the past, but to enable and encourage our own authentic voices to be heard.
Today – it’s about personal and spiritual growth.
Today, we must ask:

  • How can we use the explosion of information to teach for transformation?
  • How can we bring this mass of Jewish wisdom into our hearts and lives?
  • How can Jewish education enable us to become better, kinder, more compassionate, idealistic, and authentic Jews?

We need not forego our past successes, but we must wake up to the need for a different model of Jewish education. The Jewish world, like the general world, has evolved over the last 25 years.

We must understand that education for transformation is a wholly different paradigm than education for information.

We know how to convey information. Learn the material, present it in a clear and interesting fashion, with sincerity and caring for the students, toss in a few jokes and some personal charisma and voila – strong chance of having a successful class. We can test and evaluate to see how well we’ve done.

But how do we educate for transformation? How do we evoke the soul and foster a student’s unique path? How do we elicit a response, rather than thrust data? How do we enable people to find their own authentic inner voice and to share it?

There are five core components to transformative education. Five elements that foster personalizing wisdom, that allow it to make us better people and discover our own authentic best selves.

The Components:

  1. A learning environment of safe space with supportive kindred spirits
  2. Sources of Jewish wisdom
  3. Time for reflection and processing
  4. An opportunity to personally verbalize the learning experience
  5. Self-prescribed small steps of integration and application of the learned subject.

Our past improvements in Jewish education were necessary to preserve Jewish continuity. Now, we must move ahead and make the improvements necessary to create a vibrant Jewish future.

If we want to become a Holy nation, a light unto other nations, then continuity is not enough. Information alone will not transform us into our better selves. To fulfill our destiny and centuries of dreams, we must find the resolve and courage to open the door to the next level of Jewish education … and then walk boldly in.

Aryeh Ben David is the Founder and Director of Ayeka: Center for Soulful Education. Ayeka developed a unique educational approach and curriculum to enable adults to personalize Jewish wisdom and enhance their lives.