Education is the process of preparing a person to achieve certain goals, be they short term or long term, technical, physical, mental, or spiritual. Worldview, cultural and social order, economic conditions, and tradition strongly shape educational aims, contents, and methods. In the case of a minority—and its characteristics and relations with the majority— the tensions between isolation, assimilation, and different role models all have a role in shaping education.
For most of the last six hundred years, the roles of individuals in the Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa were gender based, as they were in the surrounding Muslim society. Men were in charge of spiritual and temporal communal affairs and provided for the family through work conducted mostly outside the home. Women were responsible for managing the home from the inside: maintaining the household; caring for the young, feeble, and old; and preparing food for all. Women also had an important role in forming the values of household members through proverbs, parables, and stories. The different roles played by men and by women required different educations. As a result traditional Jewish educations, especially until the midnineteenth century, were gender based, differing in place, content, methods, and teachers. Social, economic, and political changes in the region, as well as European involvement, influenced daily life, including the education of both the majority population and the Jews. Changes did not come simultaneously to the whole region or even to a whole community. Differing amounts of contact with the authorities and with the West, as well as socioeconomic status, age, and gender, all were factors that influenced the timing and scope of changes in education as part of overall lifestyle.