The Future of the American Jew

By Mordecai M. Kaplan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO
THE AIM OF AMERICAN-JEWISH EDUCATION

"Jews in the United States" wrote a keen observer of American Jewry, "are not very much interested in evaluating American Jewish life. They seem to be satisfied with dollar Judaism. As long as a man contributes to his local Welfare Fund and to Jewish needs abroad, he considers himself a Jew. The wider aspects of Judaism are too broad and too deep for him because of the failure of Jewish education in America. Little has been done by rabbis and educators in this country to enable the average American Jew to understand that philanthropy alone does not constitute Judaism."1

This severe indictment of the rabbis and educators is not unwarranted, but to be altogether just it should include the lay leaders. No less responsible for the failure of Jewish education in this country are the boards of trustees of the religious and educational institutions. They have dictated the aims which they wanted the rabbis and educators to achieve. The traditionally-minded laymen have insisted on an Americanized replica of the old-world heder, which had been outlived even in the old world. The modern-minded laymen have sought nothing more than a Jewish replica of the Protestant Sunday-school, which even the Protestants consider inadequate. The only choice which the rabbis and educators have had has been either to yield to the wishes of the one or the other group or to exchange their calling for another. There can be no future to American Jewish life, unless both the lay and the educational leaders realize that they have been on the wrong track all these years, and together try to find a way to amend their common failure.

If we want the young of our people to accept the Jewish heritage of culture, religion and ethics and to make the most fruitful use of it, we have to re-think the purpose to be served by our transmitting that heritage to them. Changes in the social environment are reflected in men's ideas of the maximum or highest good worth striving for. Those ideas in turn determine the character and aim of the educative process. The kaleidoscopic changes that have taken place in the life of our people within recent years, have rendered the traditional conception of maximum good inoperative. This could not but weaken the interest of parents in the Jewish education of their children. To ignore this and to proceed with our educational efforts, without being clear in our minds

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