A 21st Century Kaplanian Vision of Jewish Education
For two years now a group of Rabbis and Educators have immersed themselves in Mordecai Kaplan’s seminal chapter on Jewish Education in his 1934 Judaism as a Civilization. We did so in the spirit of the “after the colon descriptors” of the renamed Reconstructing Judaism Movement: our goal is to always be deeply rooted and boldly relevant. With that in mind, we seek to reclaim elements of Kaplan’s vision that can still inspire us today. At the same time we seek to drink deeply from the wisdom of the best in contemporary educational innovation as we reconstruct other elements.
The Road Map
Three Contemporary Affirmations drawn directly from our re-read of the chapter:
- The Jewish community as a whole educates. School as well as camps, synagogues, youth groups, Israel experiences and Jewish community centers are the acculturating vibrant centers for this educational process.
- Jewish educators do indeed need to serve the whole Jewish family and not just the children in front of them in their educational environments.
- Educators need to be living, growing Jews. They need to transmit and inspire based on their Jewish passions and convictions. The more educators have wrestled with how they belong, behave and believe Jewishly, the better they will be able to guide their students.
Al Regel Ahat / On One Foot
Making spiritual meaning is the heart and soul of Jewish life for the individual Jew and engaging in the spiritual work of tikkun olam – making the world a more humane, ethical place – is the heart and soul of our collective life.
Peoplehood is the prozdor, the preliminary pathway propelling us to move forward in both these holy, educational tasks.
The Guf / Body of the Vision
The Educational Shlemut of Kaplan’s Vision
We affirm that, over the long run, any effective educational enterprise should contain the five elements that Kaplan outlined in his chapter on Jewish Education.
Our capacity to:
- Understand and appreciate Hebrew Language and Literature
- Practice Jewish ethics and Religious Life
- Participate in Jewish life
- Give artistic expression in Jewish values
- Cultivate Jewish ideals and role models
remain reliable measures of an effective Jewish education.
The best of our program will include all these elements within them, although different educational venues will put an emphasis on one element or another.
Commentary & Challenge
The d’rash mode of PaRDeS teaches us to invite commentary on and response to the vision. We are invoking a holy partnership between the Kabbalists – who speak of PaRDeS – and John Dewey, who often observed that educational evaluation derives from two different Latin roots which gives us two different evaluation tasks. One root reminds us that to evaluate is to praise and appreciate. The other challenges us to question and hold to the highest possible standard of educational excellence.
We invited some rabbis, educators and scholars to study the Vision. We have incorporated many of their reflections and insights. Our 21st Century Kaplanian Vision for Jewish Education will continue to evolve as we receive additional responses.