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Secularism, Education, and Emotions

Cultural Tensions in Hebrew Palestine (1882–1926)

Yair Seltenreich

Secularism, Education, and Emotions: Cultural Tensions in Hebrew Palestine (1882–1926) aims to explore the sources of secularism, its social and emotional significances, its various expressions, and its thorny frictions with different religious environments during the first decades of modern settlement of Jews in Eretz-Israel (Palestine). Accordingly, this book develops four main concepts about secularism in Eretz-Israel: (1) Secularism was, in large part, a reaction against religion; (2) Secularism was not an isolated local occurrence but rather a product of the wider European cultural stage, influenced by ideas of contestation against religious dominance and nascent nationalism; (3) Secularism was essentially an emotional phenomenon in Europe and in Eretz-Israel likewise; (4) In the struggle between religious and secularists in Eretz-Israel, education occupied a major place as the main vehicle for the promotion of ideas.
Utilizing these four main concepts, Yair Seltenreich analyzes the general European frameworks of secularism. His studies illuminate secularist features within European Jewry and its subsequent translation into the Zionist movement and the Eretz-Israeli arena. Lastly, he examines the specific struggles between religious and secularist teachers in Galilee, where the culmination of tensions and of emotional expression allows a deeper understanding of secularism as a cultural issue.
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Chapter Ten: The secular teacher in Galilee moshava

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CHAPTER TEN

The secular teacher in Galilee moshava

The teacher as Zionist

The initial question about Hebrew education, why did teachers become secularists, should rather be reversed and phrased more accurately as ‘why did secularists become teachers?’ The teachers that laid the foundations for modern secular education in Eretz-Israel and in Galilee moshvot were those who taught before World War I. Many of them also stood later in the front line of battle against efforts by Hamizrahi to increase its influence in rural schools during the 1920s. The profiles of many secular teachers of the first generation, though far from stereotypical, nevertheless point to some significant similarities. It seems that many teachers were largely spared the contact with the oppressive spirit and narrow-mindedness of the Jewish East European community. Almost all families of origin must have been economically stable, making their fortune through commerce. For that reason the families, though orthodox, were open enough to the existence of modernism and recognized its advantages. They understood well that supervised openness to modernism would ensure their children greater economic and social opportunities while preserving their ties with religion. They saw modernism as a complementary culture, recognized but not adopted, tangential to Judaism without mixing with it, useful but not valuable. ← 175 | 176 →

Their preferred method of education was home schooling which those families could well afford. The main, and sometimes, exclusive opening towards modernism was in the acquisition of languages. Yosef Vitkin, future...

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