What is the future of religious education for our children?

Our children should be exposed to the greatest scientists, writers, musicians and artists who have excelled without sacrificing their adherence to their religion.

BY SEPARATING our children into two camps, we are doing them a tremendous disservice (photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)
BY SEPARATING our children into two camps, we are doing them a tremendous disservice
(photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)
‘Education at the lowest point in history” stated a headline in The Jerusalem Post on August 5. The reasons given were that school was irrelevant to children during the pandemic, because of “political feuds,” the lack of thousands of teachers, etc.
Learning is a lifelong adventure that begins in early childhood. From birth, a child learns from its mother’s songs, the games she plays, the feel of splashing in the bath, the food she tastes. Every day, the baby’s understanding of language expands, along with a knowledge of the world in which the child lives and participates.
This process continues throughout kindergarten, primary school and high school. The lessons we learn are like building blocks, taking us on to higher and higher elevations.
But it is not just the necessary secular education. Since my own four children began school in Israel, way back in 1971, I have been concerned with the way the Jewish religion is being taught in our schools, and if – in some schools – it is being taught at all.
Everyone has an opinion on the growing polarization between the secular and the religious in Israel, which in too many cases is turning into actual hatred. People are stereotyped according to the color of their clothes (black being very far from beautiful), the size and material of their kippot and, of course, their lack of them.
I feel that the biggest disservice done to our religion was the dividing of our school system into Mamlachti (State) and “Mamlachti dati” (State religious). It begins the process of polarization and “us” and “them” from the most tender age. It teaches mutual distrust. The accent is on the things that divide, rather than the many things that unite us. The secular regard the religious as primitive and superstitious; the religious regard the secular as immoral.
I believe there should be only one educational stream, but that it should offer the best available in both worlds of learning, with highly motivated, tolerant and excellent teachers. Neither the religious children nor the secular should feel threatened by the other. Judaism and Bible should not be taught as subjects but as a treasured heritage, the ideals of which are perfect, even though sometimes men cannot measure up to them and often pervert them.
OUR CHILDREN should be taught that there is something we all share as Jews, from those who wear fur-trimmed shtreimels to those who go bare-headed. We share a mystery. We share a pride. We share a common heritage and a future destiny. We may choose to express our identity in different ways, but it is the same identity. We are more than a religion or a state of mind. We are a people, a nation, a race, a family, all descended from the first Jew, Abraham, and one tribal house, Israel.
And we should teach our children from skeptical families that far from being a series of legends and superstitions, every day archaeology and science are validating the writing of the Bible. We should introduce them to the work of such great scientists as Dr. Gerald Schroeder, who holds a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and who now lives in Jerusalem.
Schroeder is the author of Genesis and the Big Bang: The Discovery of Harmony between Modern Science and the Bible (published by Bantam Books), which explains, for example, how a clock at the edge of the universe would measure the passage of one minute, while Earth-time experienced a million minutes. Surely there are many things written in the Bible that today might seem like miracles to our limited understanding, but which tomorrow a superior intelligence may translate for us in a way that we can comprehend and not need only to accept on faith, although faith itself is a most wonderful possession.
Our children should be exposed to the greatest scientists, writers, musicians and artists who have excelled without sacrificing their adherence to their religion. The world – and particularly Israel – is teeming with such role models who would inculcate respect from both sides of the religious divide.
By separating our children into two camps, we are doing them a tremendous disservice. We are denying those from secular families the opportunity of knowing at least the basics and beauty of Judaism before they decide to reject it. This is their right as adults. However, by not teaching them an alternative as children, we are taking away their chance of making an informed decision. We are also denying our religious children the excitement of an interchange of ideas, which surely is what education is all about.
The writer is the author of 14 books. Her latest novel is Searching for Sarah. [email protected]