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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 Seven: Education, secularism and religion in Eretz-Israel



Education, secularism and religion in Eretz-Israel

Features of Jewish modern education

Contradictory aspirations of religious and secularists led to general discontent and were strongly reflected in educational system which had to pass through numerous transformations during the first decades of the twentieth century1. Two essential distinctions should be made between modern secularist education in Eretz-Israeli Jewish society, the ‘Hebrew education’, and the traditional trends. The first one concerned attitudes towards reformulation of educational axioms or, more precisely, the measure of legitimation given to modernism. Should it be totally excluded from educational sphere, as was the conception of the orthodox current, should it be tolerated only as necessary contribution of skills, such as providing basic of calculation for commercial purposes, an approach which tolerated technical mastery of skills provided they would not be followed by any complementary interpretation or philosophical discussion? More open orthodox were ready to tolerate such limited opening to general knowledge. On the contrary, secular point of view considered modernization as superior to traditional wisdom and thus a substitute for it. This last position was ready to accept the Torah and other Jewish traditional heritage as mere bases of data, elaborated according to totally alternative educational methods than the older ones and allocated with completely new set of values, ← 125 | 126 → reinterpreting Judaism as national and not as religious entity. This view considered the presence of religion in the public arena as outmoded and detrimental.

A good illustration...

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