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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 4Reorganization of State Education and the Rise of the Day Schools 167


Chapter 4 Reorganization of State Education and the Rise of the Day Schools Anglo-Jewish education underwent a major transformation in the late 1960s and the 1970s. As we have seen, for most of the twentieth century, formal Jewish education took place chief ly within the framework of Sunday and/ or after-school classes – colloquially referred to as Talmud Torah, Hebrew, or cheder classes. These classes, attendance at which rarely extended beyond Bar/Bat-Mitzvah age, sought to instil the ability to read Hebrew and follow the synagogue service, familiarity with festivals, and a basic knowledge of Jewish history, Bible stories and religious rituals. Though complaints about the teachers, pedagogy and curriculum abounded, most parents showed little interest in giving their children a solid Jewish education. Yet as the 1960s came to a close, enrolment at supplementary schools was falling, while the demand for Jewish day-school education, both primary and secondary, had begun to rise.1 By the late 1970s, the number of children enrolled in supplementary classes had dropped by almost a third, whereas Jewish day- school enrolment more than doubled.2 Although Hebrew classes were still the dominant provider of Jewish education, their heyday had passed; within a decade, the day schools would overtake them. In May 1965, the number of students attending Jewish day schools was just under 10,000; by January 1977, it had reached 12,790. The number of 1 The shrinking percentage of children attending supplementary schools also ref lects the growth of the fervently Orthodox population within British Jewry....

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