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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 3Supplementary Schools 133


Chapter 3 Supplementary Schools Anglo-Jewish education underwent a major transformation between 1958 and 1979. The number of children participating in Sunday and or after- school classes – popularly called Talmud Torah, Hebrew, or cheder classes – dropped by almost a third, almost all this loss being due to enrolment at day schools.1 In 1958, 12, 618 children were enrolled in Hebrew classes, by 1978 this figure had declined to 9,067. During the same period, day- school attendance rose from 3,890 to 8,196.2 Although, in terms of numbers, Hebrew classes remained the chief channel for provision of formal Jewish education, the gap was small, and closing quickly: it would take less than a decade for the day schools to overtake Hebrew classes.3 This chapter will contextualize and explain this shift in the delivery of Jewish education, and explore the history, pedagogic philosophy, and logistics of the Sunday and afternoon school framework. 1 Private lessons will not be included in the discussion of Sunday/afternoon schools, as there is little documentation. But they were not a negligible phenomenon. In Redbridge, e.g., about 6 per cent of Jewish children received most of their Jewish education from private lessons; see Kosmin and Levy, Jewish Identity, 20–1. 2 The figures for day school attendance are from J. Braude, ‘Jewish Education in Britain Today’, in S. Lipman and V. Lipman (eds), Jewish Life in Britain 1962–1977 (New York: K. G. Saur), 121; for Hebrew class attendance in 1958, from Fishman and Levy, ‘Jewish Education’,...

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