‘Jewish heritage, tradition essential to our culture'

Does being religious enhance literary skills?

By JONAH MANDEL
April 7, 2010 06:58
2 minute read.
Shmuel Yosef Agnon.

agnon 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Does being religious enhance literary skills?

The Education Ministry on Tuesday released the breakdown of the latest results of matriculation exams (bagrut) in literature, for the school year 2007/2008, and seven of the 10 high schools with the best averages, including the top five, were religious institutions.

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Bar-Ilan University Prof. Ephraim Hazan, who also served as a supervisor over literature studies in the religious education system, was cited by Israel Radio on Tuesday as explaining that “the religious youth is more connected to the [Jewish] sources and the Hebrew language of the sources, while the secular youth is unfortunately disconnecting from it, in certain aspects.”

Ariela Zim agrees with Hazan’s thesis, but says that there is more to it. She would know, as it was her pupils in the Neveh Shmuel yeshiva high school, located in Efrat, who had the highest average score in the 2008 literature exams.

“When our students read Agnon, it really comes to life for them,” the jubilant teacher told The Jerusalem Post, referring to the Nobel laureate whose corpus is rich with references and allusions to the Jewish tradition and sources. “But you need to utilize the preliminary connection, to inspire the students, to impassion them.

“An important aspect is the method of teaching, which in our case, is a round table with all the implications – a group of us sitting together, debating, discussing, listening to one another – much like traditional Jewish scholarship,” Zim continued, contrasting that method to one in which a single authority puts forth a thesis.


“Our approach promotes the capacity to analyze and scrutinize texts, but more importantly, genuinely connects the students to the material. The students learn to ask questions, and to love the subject matter. It becomes part of their soul.”

Zim also noted that since the students’ abilities are ultimately evaluated by a written test, she takes care to develop oral and written expression skills.

When asked by the Post if her pedagogic success could not be attributed primarily to good teaching methods in general, Zim had no doubts as to the central role Jewish heritage has in contemporary Israeli culture.

“Any attempt to sever oneself from the Jewish heritage and tradition, while suggesting an alternative secular culture or identity, is doomed to fail,” she said. “Without tradition constituting a significant facet [in our culture], we won’t be able to make achievements in fields considered secular, and not only literature.”


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