The Israel Conundrum in Jewish Education: Teaching Israel Without Preaching Politics

November 24, 2015 Agencies
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Teachers specialising in Jewish education have a lot on their plate. Judaism, Jewish philosophy, Jewish history, and contemporary Jewish life provide both tremendous breadth and depth to this field of study, combining elements of both ethnic studies and theology. And as is typical in ethnic studies, Jewish education invariably reflects upon the relationship between homeland and diaspora.

Understanding the Israel Connection

HUJI_AD_400-300-pixelFor Jewish education in the Diaspora, however, the subject of Israel is complicated by current events and heavily polarized political attitudes. Teaching the Israeli dimension of Jewish education without proper preparation can for both educators and students alike feel akin to navigating a minefield.

But the difficulties entailed in addressing the subject are merely the symptom of a larger problem. Obviously Israel is an important fixture in global Jewish identity. That fact, however, has obscured the question of precisely how the former influences the latter. In a sense, because the Jewish state is so clearly tied today to Jewish identity, the nature of that relationship is rarely given a proper assessment. What is Israel in the minds of non-Israeli Jews? A political entity? A homeland? A religious center? A safe haven?

Digging Deeper

For years, the educational establishment offered little guidance for the vexing problem facing Jewish Ed. teachers. Recently, however, the academic world has begun to recognize and address the issue. The creative staff of the Melton Centre for Jewish Education at Hebrew University of Jerusalem has taken up the challenge of creating an institutional framework for properly incorporating Israel studies into Jewish education.

This is one of the important reasons why the Melton Centre has opened its one-year M.A. program in Jewish Education to overseas students, enabling participants outside of Israel to study online before completing the degree with a six-week on-campus summer semester. Along with general topics in education, the program offers teachers the specialisation in Jewish Education needed to prepare them for the complexities of teaching it back home in the Diaspora, including helping them tackle the Israel question.

As one of the areas of concentration, the programs courses on Israel Education teach participants how to separate the complex political aspects surrounding the State of Israel and to address the core features of the historic Jewish homeland and modern state that will enhance rather than distract from understanding Jewish history and identity. Understanding how and why Israel influences Jewish identity the world over is a sorely lacking prerequisite to any Jewish studies curriculum, and as such it is one of the subjects emphasised by the new Melton Centre degree track, alongside such traditional areas of focus such as Jewish identity and philosophy.

For more information about the MA in Jewish Education see www.majewisheducation.net/article

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