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Jewish Education in England, 1944-1988

Between Integration and Separation

David Mendelsson

Today, the dominant model for Jewish education is the community-wide, technologically advanced day school, where the Judaic subjects are taught by professional educators using student-friendly, interactive methodologies. Not so long ago, however, most Jewish education consisted of rote repetition of prayers and biblical passages and their translation into awkward English by teachers with no formal pedagogic training, in classes – often located in synagogue basements – held on Sunday or once a week after ‘ordinary’ school.
This book explains the radical reconfiguring of Jewish education in England in historical and sociocultural terms. It explores the transformations that took place in every aspect of Jewish education: curriculum, religious/ideological orientation, school format (afternoon classes vs day schools), funding (private vs state), and more. The author shows that this dramatic transition directly reflects both changes in the socioeconomic profile and self-identity of Anglo-Jewry as well as demographic and cultural changes in British society in general. Tracking the shift from integration to separation, this book maps the effect of competing societal, personal and communal agendas, pedagogic paradigms, and pragmatic constraints on the rise of the Jewish day school in England.


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Preface xiii


Preface Overview Exploring the evolving profile of Jewish education in England provides important clues to Anglo-Jewry’s changing sense of identity, and how it chose to project itself to the wider society. As historians of education have amply demonstrated, schools provide a window onto a society’s self- understanding. In the case of minorities, attitudes to state education, and parental recourse to other educational options, ref lect deeply held views on the preferred relationship with the broader society, the two polar posi- tions being ‘integration’ and ‘separation’. In our context, separation entails social and cultural walls between the Jewish community and the broader society, with interaction limited chief ly to economic activity; integration entails rejection of such walls, merging into the broader society, and main- taining only a nominal or tenuous connection to the Jewish community. Anglo-Jewry overwhelmingly eschews the polar positions, and falls on the continuum between them. Yet the history of Anglo-Jewish education reveals movement along the continuum, first toward the integration pole, then away from it. As we will see, the latter movement does not attest to rejection of integration, but rather ref lects a new conception of the broader society, and what membership in that society entails. In multicultural Eng- land, many Anglo-Jewish parents are comfortable sending their children to Jewish schools, and do not fear that this stigmatizes them as insular, separatist, ‘unEnglish’. Research into the history of Anglo-Jewish education has until recently focused on the period at the end of the nineteenth century and the begin-...

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