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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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Chapter 1Education and Anglo-Jewry 1


Chapter 1 Education and Anglo-Jewry From the late 1960s on, British Jewry has increasingly embraced Jewish day schools as a preferred format for the delivery of secular education. This is so despite the fact that, beginning in the 1970s, government funding for the building and maintenance of these schools has been dramatically reduced, and the burden of financing the building has been borne almost entirely by the Jewish community. Yet when legislation that encouraged the build- ing of such schools – the Butler Education Act – was introduced in 1944, Anglo-Jewry showed little interest.1 This chapter will explore the pervasive feeling within the community, up to the mid-1960s, that the acceptable parameters of being Jewish in Britain did not include the ‘separation’ of Jewish children from their Gentile peers during the school day. To under- stand these issues, acquaintance with ‘the Cousinhood’, which established the first Jewish schools in Britain, is essential. The ‘Cousinhood’ and the founding of Jewish schools The Cousinhood was mainly composed of Jews of Dutch and German origin who had moved to England in the second half of the eighteenth century, hoping to improve their economic situation. The second and third generations sought not only financial opportunity, but also to overcome the social and political barriers to their integration into British society. 1 See B. Steinberg, ‘Anglo-Jewry and the 1944 Education Act’, Jewish Journal of Sociology 31(1989), 82; G. Alderman, Modern British Jewry (Oxford: Clarendon, 1992). 2 Chapter 1 Cousinhood members took their responsibilities to Judaism and...

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