At a recent meeting of a group of school Governors, the Chief Rabbi was asked about what he saw as the essentials of a good Jewish education.
He listed three areas which he saw as the bases for Jewish literacy and therefore the roles of Jewish schools. Not surprisingly, he identified textual knowledge and menschlikeit as two essential outcomes for Jewish schooling. Our schools currently score very high on values and menschlikeit, although they may vary in textual knowledge. At their best, they provide a strong depth of textual skills which is increasingly the case across the system. His first 'essential' however, touched on an area where we currently would score poorly. Without a fluency in Ivrit, he argued, we fail to build the common language that unites Jews across the world and we fail to stress the aspect of Jewish nationality and centrality of Israel. Our PaJeS Division, through the JCP, has been working hard to address this issue. The last three years have seen huge strides in Ivrit in primary schools and now, with the particularly generous support of the Maurice Wohl Charitable Foundation, we are about to launch a major programme for Ivrit in secondary schools. The question is, however, who wants this most? Going back to the Chief Rabbi's three 'pillars' it’s a fair guess that parents want Jewish schools to help develop their children's values, so menschlikeit would be a top priority. But so also would Ivrit, often in preference to Jewish texts. This is certainly a message PaJeS is hearing from a number of schools. And parents would almost certainly add a fourth basic, Jewish history, something most of our schools fail to offer. Part of PaJeS’ work currently is looking at exactly these issues as we address standards in Jewish schools. Our challenge is not just to help schools build Ivrit but also to help schools and parents work together to develop a broad and deep Jewish education. Central to this is ensuring we produce active, committed Jewish citizens who are fluent in 'how to talk Jewishly' whether that be Ivrit or, as the Chief Rabbi argued in one of his early books, arguing passionately for the sake of heaven.