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A Jewish father teaching a child in 19th century Podolia.

Jewish education (Hebrew: חינוך, Chinuch) is the transmission of the tenets, principles and religious laws of Judaism. Due to its emphasis on Torah study, many have commented that Judaism is characterised by "lifelong learning" that extends to adults as much as it does to children.


Biblical sources

There is no direct commandment amongst the 613 mitzvot to teach Judaism in itself. The only directly educational mitzvah (commandment) is "you shall rehearse [the words of Shema] to your children and speak about them" (Deuteronomy 6:7) and its paraphrase in Deuteronomy 11:19. These refer, however, specifically to the commandments to love God. The obligation to teach Judaism to one's children is therefore rabbinic in origin.

Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (in his Meshech Chochma) observes that God's statement "[Abraham is blessed because] he will instruct his children and his house after him to follow in God's ways to perform righteousness and justice" (Genesis 18:19) is an implicit mitzvah to teach Judaism.

Formal Jewish education


Primary schooling

The Talmud (tractate Bava Bathra 21a) praises the sage Joshua ben Gamla (1st century CE) with the institution of formal Jewish education. Prior to this, parents taught their children informally. Ben Gamla instituted schools in every town and made education compulsory from the age of 6 or 7. The Talmud attaches great importance to the "Tinokot shel beth Rabban" (the children [who study] at the Rabbi's house), stating that the world continues to exist for their learning and that even for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem classes are not to be interrupted (tractate Shabbat 119b).

The yeshiva

In Mishnaic and Talmudic times young men were attached to a beth din (court of Jewish law), where they sat in three rows and progressed as their fellow students were elevated to sit on the court.

After the formal court system was abolished, yeshivot became the main places for Torah study. The Talmud itself was composed largely in the yeshivot of Sura and Pumbedita in Babylonia, and the leading sages of the generation taught there. Yeshivot have remained of central importance in the Orthodox community to this day. Until the 19th century, young men generally studied under the local rabbi, who was allocated funds by the Jewish community to maintain a number of students. The Hasidic masters and the Lithuanian rabbi Chaim Volozhin both founded centralised yeshivot.

Jewish schools

The phenomenon of the "Jewish day school" is of relatively common origin. Until the 19th and 20th century, boys attended the Cheder (literally "room") or Talmud Torah where they were taught by a Melamed tinokot (children's teacher).

The first Jewish day schools developed in Germany, largely in response to the higher emphasis in general on secular studies. In the past, an apprenticeship was sufficient to learn a profession, or alternatively several years in a gymnasium could prepare one adequately for university. Rabbis who pioneered Jewish day schools included rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, whose Realschule in Frankfurt am Main served as a model for numerous similar institutions.

Today, there are over 750 day schools in the United States and 205,000 students in those schools.[1] and hundreds of thousands of Jewish children attend religious, Hebrew and congregational schools [2].

Girls' education

It was also in the 19th and early 20th century, with the advent of public education for all, that an emphasis was first placed on girls' education. Before this, particularly in Eastern Europe, girls received their Jewish and Hebrew education at home, and were often illiterate in Hebrew. In the 19th century, public education was made compulsory in most of Europe and in order to maintain educational control over the Jewish children, Jewish schools became a reality. It was as a result of the initiative of Sarah Schenirer, that the first Jewish girls' Beis Yaakov school opened in Kraków in 1917.

Informal Jewish education

Youth Groups

Recent studies Ref estimate a population of 650,000 Jewish middle and high school students. Most of these attend Jewish youth groups or participate in activities funded by Jewish youth organizations Jewish youth organizations. Many of these are Zionist youth movements. The various organizations differ in political ideology, religious affiliation, and leadership structure, although they all tend to be characterized by a focus on youth leadership.

Summer camps

Over 70,000 campers participate in over 150 non-profit Jewish summer camps, especially in the United States. In addition, the Foundation for Jewish Camp estimates that these camps are staffed by over 8,500 Jewish college-aged counselors. Outside the United States, similar camps are generally organized by various philanthropic organizations and local Jewish youth movements.

Student organizations

Much informal Jewish education is organized on university campuses. This is often supported by national organizations, such as Hillel (United States) or the Union of Jewish Students (United Kingdom), or by international organizations such as the World Union of Jewish Students and the European Union of Jewish Students.

Drama-based education

One of the earliest examples of drama-based Jewish education is the theatrical works of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto (Ramchal 1707-1746, b. Italy), who wrote plays with multiple characters on Jewish themes.[1] While the use of such plays was probably rare in traditional Jewish education, the Etz Chaim school of Jerusalem reportedly staged plays in the 1930s. One such play put King David's general Joab on trial for his various crimes. The students and faculty played the roles of judge, advocates and a jury, all based on extensive Biblical and Talmudic research.

In more recent times, drama is being further developed as an educational tool[3]. For example, Detroit, MI has an ensemble theater devoted to education and outreach.[4]. Programs such as Jewish Crossroads by Shlomo Horwitz provide educational theater in schools and synagogues in various English-speaking countries [5]. The Lookstein Center at Bar Ilan, a think tank geared to Jewish educators in the Diaspora, lists many drama-related programs on their website for use of teachers in the classroom[6].


External links

  • AJU American Jewish University
  • JESNA Jewish Education Service of North America
  • CAJE The Coalition for the advancement in Jewish Education
  • Lookstein The Lookstein Center for Jewish Education
  • Hartman Shalom Hartman Institute, Jerusalem
  • Mofet JTEC Jewish Portal of Teacher Education
  • FJC Foundation for Jewish Camp
  • PAIDEIA The European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden


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