Monday, August 19, 2019

A young teacher (YT) is interviewing with an assistant principal (AP) for a job teaching Tanach:

AP: Tell me, what do you believe are some goals of Jewish education?

YT: Well, there are a number of ideas that drive my teaching. First of all....

AP: Actually, forget that. Answer me this: A woman living in Florida loses a parent who lives in New York. The parent is being buried in Israel and the daughter in Florida can’t make it to the Holy Land. Oh, and this woman is adopted. Does she sit shiva and if so, when does she start?

I hope this interview scenario seems absurd to most people. After all, what does answering a question about aveilut have to do with being able to teach? Yet, this analogy is a somewhat accurate depiction of what goes on in our schools. Most males who teach Limmudei Kodesh in Orthodox Jewish schools are trained rabbis, educated in fields and methods that have little to do with formal Jewish education. It is almost as if this is required. Yes, many Jewish educators are also trained educators with Master’s degrees, but is learning for smicha really the best use of time for a future m’chanech?

To be sure, smicha can be valuable for a Jewish educator. A teacher ideally should feel confident and connected to his field, not simply familiar with the material he or she has to teach. Receiving smicha and the resulting authority to decide (certain) halachic questions definitely goes a long way to creating this sentiment for the Musmach. Additionally, there is something nice about a shul rabbi or assistant who is also trained as an educator and teaches in the local school.

Even after taking all of this into account, I still cannot see the argument to encourage Jewish educators to study for smicha. Imagine if all that time spent studying was divided among more relevant pursuits. Imagine a future educator spending three years studying Tanach, Gemara methodology, Jewish history, relevant ancient history, archaeology and geography. This same educator might also choose to spend some of this freed-up time getting experience in a classroom and preparing for his or her career. All of these things should be more important to a Jewish educator than the halachot of basar b’chalav.

Although all of this seems obvious (at least to me), the opposite seems to be promoted by our community in general—at least passively. It is basically expected that a male Jewish educator is also a “rabbi.” Our post high school institutions are bifurcated; the Torah curricula operate with one set of goals while the graduate institutions operate with another. How great would it be for yeshiva students with an interest in education to start learning relevant material in an organized and directed manner right away? Does anyone really think this is a bad idea? You still want to grant the title “rabbi?” Fine. Have a smicha program for educators. They can take tests on more pertinent material instead.

Chinuch is not a career for those who want to keep learning. Nor is the purpose of Jewish day schools to provide day jobs for local rabbis. Jewish education is crucial to our continuity as a people, and should therefore be treated with the utmost seriousness. This means future educators should be learning with one goal first and foremost: how to be the best teachers they can be. You have a question about this? Ask your local Orthodox rabbi.

By Yair Daar