Childhood and Education
Traditionally, raising and educating children was one of the most important components of Jewish family life. How did children and education fare in these times caught between the winds of traditional, preindustrial society and the onset of early capitalism. Jewish tradition places tremendous emphasis on the value of education. According to curricula, boys first learned to read Hebrew and then continued to study Torah, rabbinical commentaries, Mishnah, and halachah, or Jewish law. The most advanced students would proceed to Talmud with commentaries. Education for girls was less well defined, but in some German communities girls also studied in schools, focusing on biblical and rabbinic texts that had been recast into Yiddish. Traditional literature prescribes how children should be encouraged to study with love and how adults, especially males, should devote part of their daily routine to study as well. According to these directives, parents should lovingly escort young boys to the open arms of the devoted tutor; both the days and years of study were long; and parents of newly married couples gladly supported the grooms so that they could continue their studies without economic concerns.1
But the reality was quite different. Children often did not like to attend classes, many teachers did not like to teach, and some were not particularly knowledgeable. Parents often sought to remove adolescent boys from school and send them into the workplace, while communities insisted on boys remaining in school, fearing the extra economic competition. At times, smaller communities whose members lacked the necessary funds even refused to hire a teacher or at least hotly debated the issue.
Expanding the educational framework in German lands to accompany the growing Jewish settlement did not come easily. Neither demographics nor economics lent themselves to the cause. In most areas, establishment of educa