Lou Newman (On teaching human worth in non-Orthodox Jewish schools)



Introduction *

Meaning is Not a Given *

Cloning: Good and Bad *

Cloning for Human Worth: A Framework - Four Tracks in Education *

Subjectivity, Diversity and Opacity *

Idiosyncratic Diversity: Revelation and the Origin of Halakhah *

Essentials for a Human Worth Program in the Extreme Positions *

The Second Track in the Secular Setting: "Halakhah or its Substitute" *

Track Three: Natural Competencies for Responsible Independence *

Illustrative school tasks are: *

The Knowledge Track: Mutual Concern *

The school will not use any kind of morality rating device such as "mitzvah points." *

Non-Orthodox Intermediate Positions *

Educators Need Clarification *

Attempts at Resolution *

Other Issues *

Conclusion *


Bibliography *

Bibliographic Note: An earlier version of this essay appeared in "Curriculum, Community, Commitment: Views On The Jewish Day Schooling in Memory of Bennet I. Solomon." Ed. Dr. Daniel J. Margolis And Rabbi Elliot Salo Schoenberg, Behrman House, Inc., 1992. ISBN: 0-87441-545-4.


I got to know Bennett one summer in the early sixties when he approached me to talk about his interest in doing graduate work in curriculum construction. Over the years we met occasionally and talked shop, especially when we both found ourselves in the greater Boston area. Our last professional conversation was about teaching tefillah.

Bennett strengthened my faith in educators. Without exception, every parent and teacher whom I met, who had contact with his school, spoke of the unique positive difference which his leadership contributed to the way his students learned to be Jewish.

What follows is one perspective (adapted from a forthcoming work, "Education for Human Worth"), with its opinions and convictions, limited to a narrow band of the Jewish educational spectrum. I would have tested it out on him.

[Heb]Yehi Zikhro Barukh

Meaning is Not a Given

This is a plea for non-Orthodox schools that are designed to be fair to the student. It is concerned with the ultimate Jewish educational goal of commitment to human worth, the process of "cloning" by educational institutions, and the need for theological and educational goal clarification so educators may serve more effectively.

The beginning orientation for the non-orthodox Jewish educator must be the awareness that all religious and philosophical positions about cosmic purpose and human worth are subjective choices. They are anchors dropped in a sea, a space where place and boundaries are ultimately indeterminable. There is no one generally accepted way of deriving goals for living from the universe. Because the cosmos is morally incomprehensible, the "good" of the one may be the "evil" of the other. The religious faith of the one may be the "abomination" of the other.

For the religious Jew, evil is what is most difficult to understand; for the investigator of human nature, altruism is most difficult. For the investigator, the human may be no more than a "survival machine" for a long existing gene;1 for the religious Jew, the human is God's partner in the task of perfecting the world. In this cosmic uncertainty, we Jews cling to our Judaism, or Jewishness, with varying ideational justifications and identities. We hold, however, one faith position, or commitment, in common: a conviction of the inestimable worth of the human being, with its correlate, the imperative to care for others. This position values the person but transcends self-centeredness with a sense of mutual obligation. Powering this ideal are different, idiosyncratically determined, ideological ascriptions of its impelling force. These facts, the indeterminacy of life's meaning with its consequent subjectivity of outlook and simultaneous unyielding devotion to human worth, challenge non-orthodox schools particularly. Basing themselves on the scholarship which seeks to understand the origins, meaning and functions of our received religious texts and practices, different schools' sponsors operate with different ascriptive positions. This is possible because the scholars strive to ascertain history, not theology. Scholarship offers a passageway from which individuals can move onto different theological paths. The various directions to which ideologies advance lead to weighty consequential differences in children's education. With awareness of this variety, the most important ethical question for the educator is whether to replicate her/his perspective onto the learner, or whether to teach the learner how to determine her/his own. This is the issue of this paper.

On the school's level the problem is this: Once it has determined to respect the human worth of the student, while it educates for human worth in general and generates an active concern for peoples' welfare, it requires an educational design which will reconcile the group with the individual. The school wants to transmit its particular ideological motivation but must contend with its own recognition of the growing student's right to develop for her/himself a basis for the commitment to human worth.

How are the young to be treated with regard to this issue? In contrast to independent adults who are presumed to be competent and free to choose for themselves among religious and philosophical views, the youngster is neither independent nor competent. Obviously, the student does not have the experiential and intellectual wherewithal to choose among ascriptions. S/he is dependent upon the institutional provision of deliberate education. The educating community, accordingly, must decide whether to offer a program which promotes and inculcates the ideal of human worth while advancing the student's competence to choose, in time, from existing justifications of this commitment.


Cloning: Good and Bad

This challenge is not unique. It is one instance of the moral tension that arises when any group which values the integrity of the human being tries to "clone" its ideal image of itself onto its growing children.

How is "cloning" used here? It designates the effort to reproduce in the young a group's axiomatic ideal principles and behaviors, be they helpful or harmful to others. The axioms constitute the essential insurance for the community's continuity. For groups which value decency and compassion, no logical argument, by itself, compels, or is necessarily conducive, to principled behavior. When a group's intent is to achieve, by whatever educative habituation processes are available, specific attitudes and behaviors in the young that will be most resistant to change, the process is here called educational cloning. In deliberate education, it would refer to the part of the normal program which seeks to inculcate the strongest possible predilections for, or aversions to, specific categories of behavior.

In positive form, cloning is recognizable in those spontaneous "do-gooders" who do not offer a philosophical and/or religious compelling reason for their actions. For them, their behavior has become the obvious natural way without doubt or hesitancy. In negative form, it may drive or restrain behavior in a particular situation as it hinders the application of otherwise available, competent intellectual and/or emotional sensitivity. Oft observed instances are the self-elevated "good-citizen" sub-cultures whose ideal cloning incorporates the disvaluing of some out-group because of ethnic origin, color, religion or economic status.

Clearly a culture cannot avoid a cloning effort. Though ideally, "the individual and society have to be conceived as means and ends to each other,"2 some thinkers will assert that the individual is intended to serve the group's purpose or destiny. Others will maintain that ultimately the organized community is justifiable only as an instrument for the welfare and dignity of its members. In a forced choice context, where reality cannot be fitted into the ideal, the weight assigned to each of these positions in the design of an ideological and behavioral cloning pattern will depend upon each group's perception of the comprehensiveness and specificity of its empowering or compelling mandate.

When cloning succeeds as part of the socialization process, then, for better or worse, it automatically diminishes the individual's autonomy. It involves some loss of flexibility and freedom. (This decrease has been termed, not pejoratively, an "encumbrance."3 It may also be termed, more neutrally, "permanent cargo.") The group which wants to guide itself Jewishly is obliged to balance its tendency towards imposition by respecting each individual's worth. Such respect should press it to delimit the cloning of idiosyncratic affirmations to the minimum it deems necessary for its integrity and continuity. In the final analysis, a school must make compatible its version of ascription with its commitment to autonomy and choice.


Cloning for Human Worth: A Framework - Four Tracks in Education

For any community to transmit its reason for the ideal of helping humans while it values the individual being educated, its educational program must contain certain categories of information and experience in a deliberately formed pattern. No matter how little the time available, the school's vision of educating for human worth should be comprehensive. Then, when situationally determined reductions or modifications must occur, all pertinent factors can be considered.

As it responds to the variables in its immediate context, the adequate school's pattern must operate simultaneously on at least four interdependent tracks:

  1. Cultivating in students whatever latent general disposition each one has to care for people, i.e., cloning for caring, compassion and mutual concern.
  2. Habituating an enduring symbolic-ceremonial maintenance system, "permanent cargo," that nurtures and sustains the caring disposition. This is the halakhah or its modification and/or its replacement.
  3. Advancing within the learner the development of the two natural competencies necessary for responsible independence:

    a) the unrestrained use of mind on the materials to be understood and events experienced, and

    b) access to messages of feeling from within oneself, i.e., emotional health

  4. Transmitting several categories of knowledge. Five kinds of knowledge must be delivered at appropriate stages:

a. The meaning and comprehensiveness of the concept, mutual concern.

b. The ideational-verbal knowledge about the skills for implementing this concern: the "how-to" in words.

c. The enabling experiential knowledge about the skills for implementing this concern: the "how-to" in practice.

d. Knowledge of the school's goals and strategies.

e. Knowledge about ascriptions, their bases in texts and/or nature; the motivating, energizing and/or compelling force to which the value of the human is ascribed.

Since the last item, ascription, may allow much or little mental space for individual conviction, it determines much of the content on all tracks which must be consistent with it. (It also determines the guiding principles for the teaching of texts, practices and concepts, e.g., Bible, halakhah, prayer, covenant, and reward and punishment. But these are not the focus here.) An immediate result is that the greater the non-forbidden mental space available, the greater the possible modification of, or departure from, traditional halakhah.

The relationship of ascription to other educational content is different for each of the three large groups in American Jewish life: the orthodox, the secular and the non-orthodox religious. From an orthodox perspective, the revelational ascription of Torah and Oral Law determines most of the human-worth-program's content. Believed revelation operates as "fact." Individual freedom of thought and behavior is to be found within the boundaries of halakhah.

In the secular view, where an ascription does not proclaim the various contents, they must be searched for pragmatically. In between this Orthodox-secular polarity, the religious non-Orthodox theological-philosophical positions need much clarification to be of educational use. New initiatives are needed.

The tension resulting from the conflict within each admittedly idiosyncratic ascription among a multiplicity of ascriptions, together with every non-Orthodox group's valuing of autonomy, ought to evoke from the school educator some general and some very specific questions about the implementation and ancillary goals of a human-worth-program. On the general level, for instance, what is the long-term goal in an optimal program of education, e.g. after a student experiences its ten-year curriculum? Will the school regard itself to be successful only when the student affirms the ascription of the group, or, will the student's deliberate decision either to move into another Jewish group or to withhold an ascription stance also be seen as a sign of the school's success?

As stated earlier, there is an even more fundamental question: Is it the school's first goal to be a means toward the individual's competent Jewish ideological independence including his/her ability to make responsible choices, or is it to make the student a means to the perpetuation of its own institutional ideology?

The school, of course, must anticipate the educator's quandary with a decisive conviction on the autonomy-ascription polarity along with the development of an educational process in harmony with its stand.

Subjectivity, Diversity and Opacity

To develop a human worth program for a particular school-community, the non-Orthodox educator must overcome two serious obstacles: the wide range of subjective theological pronouncements and the insufficient clarity of these pronouncements to serve as guidelines for teaching. Arguably, every religious school teacher should be confronted with a minimal introduction to these impediments in order to sense the nature and size of the task.

Towards this end, a sample of the diversity of views and their opacity for educational work follows:

Though all Jewish ideologies are based on ideas from the traditional texts and Jewish history, in some small or large measure every non-Orthodox view is a negation of, and a distancing from, the view which is common to all versions of Orthodoxy, namely, that both the Torah, as we now have it, Torah min HaShamayim, and the Oral Tradition are totally of divine origin.

To the believer, empirical data and reason are not pertinent to the facticity of the Orthodox assertion. As one modern Orthodox scholar put it, "Torah min HaShamayim...means that the Pentateuch as we have today is identical with the Torah revealed to Moses at Mount Sinai and that this expression of God's will is authentic, final and eternally binding on the Jewish people."4

Another says, "To submit the mitzvot to any extraneous test - whether rational or ethical or nationalistic - is to reject the supremacy of God, hence in effect to deny Him as God."5

The non-Orthodox groups - religious and secular - take exception to this position. They assert that the Torah we now have is not identical with that revealed to Moses at Mt. Sinai. These views range from the one which only somewhat lessens the Orthodox view on divine revelation of the Pentateuch and halakhah, to those which do not accept any instance of revelation at any time, anywhere. However, all the positions accept the need to inquire into the historical development of the Pentateuch and halakhah in order to understand them fully. The result is that with broad-ranging inquiry exploiting all pertinent disciplines, non-Orthodox subjectivity becomes salient and, as stated above, moves adherents along diverse paths of theological understanding and different commitments to halakhah and tradition.


Idiosyncratic Diversity: Revelation and the Origin of Halakhah

The many individual ascriptions are bewildering to any serious seeker of a position with which to identify, and the teacher of the young is no exception. The assertions are made with different mixtures of theological components that are not simple to arrange in an order. The thinkers do not always state precisely their ascriptive views.

As an example, however, with regard to the origin of the commands of the Torah, the possible beliefs can, in fact, be stated simply:

  1. All are God's words.
  2. Only some of the words are God's.
  3. None of the words is God's, but rather all are a human product in reaction to some form of revelation. (One notes that at least three groups in this category claim a substantially different process of revelation and use different terminology:
    1. "An encounter" with God
    2. God's "self-disclosure"
    3. God's "inspiration".
  4. None of the words is God's; there is no revelation. It is altogether a human product.

With respect to halakhah, one ordering of positions among the non-Orthodox is:

  1. First position
    1. The halakhah is from God for eternity, but where "human elements" are identified, it may be modified  
    2. The halakhah is from God for eternity, but to keep Jewish law viable under changed conditions, rabbinic authorities are obliged to modify it.
  2. Second position
    1. The halakhah is a totally human enterprise that has value as a guiding tradition, but it can and should be modified by the community to render it viable.
    2. The halakhah is a totally human enterprise that has value as a guiding tradition and can be selectively modified for personal use by individuals.

    For the teacher, the viewpoints of the non-Orthodox groups, from the most traditional to the secularist, can be arranged in different ways, each according to a different component. Two of these will be outlined below. (For the questioning teacher- and others, of course - similar orderings could be made for other religious issues, such as: the functions of prayer, the concepts of covenant and of reward and punishment.)

    For the present purpose, it will suffice to classify thinkers' views on Judaism and Jewishness around several nodal points: three are religious revelationists, one is religious naturalist-humanist, and one is secular naturalist-humanist.6 Between these nodes and beyond them at one extreme are many other variant groups and individuals which will not be described: the seclusive religious Orthodox, the orthodoxy of the anti-religious, combinations of mysticism and rational empiricism, and yet others. The views, incidentally, which will be introduced, are not necessarily congruent with the ideological boundaries of our organized religious movements, since each is pluralistic and provides for intellectual-emotional-intuitional space for maneuvering within it. Unfortunately, each of the movements still contain large lacunae for the educator working with children.

    Essentials for a Human Worth Program in the Extreme Positions

    Beginning with the most traditional non-Orthodox position, one finds in the Conservative Movement's pluralistic constellation one conception that diminishes Orthodoxy least and is very much like it, yet is not within it. It maintains that revelation is "the personal encounter between God and human beings...that God actual words... [R]evelation's content is immediately normative as defined by rabbinic interpretation. The commandments of the Torah themselves issue directly from God."7 However, "beliefs about revelation are faith assertions... . [T]hey are outside the purview of empirical evidence... Even if one accepts the assumptions common to all biblical critics... one can still view [the biblical text] as a unity because of the way it was accepted in subsequent Jewish history... One can be a traditionalist without being a fundamentalist."8

    The diminution from Orthodoxy is in the conviction, based on empirical evidence, that the Torah as we now have it, although revealed, shows evidence of composition by different humans and that the contents reflect influences of social processes and religious ideas from neighboring cultures.

    One does not know precisely what believers of these statements would do as an educational community. A reasonable speculation is that for this group, as for the Orthodox, the most appropriate action in appreciation of the inherent worth of young people is to inculcate in the student the Jewish ideological essence: belief in God and Torah as revealed at Sinai and obedience to His commands.

    This ascription includes total concern for the individual. There is no reason for any ascription-autonomy tension. Halakhah is obeyed because it reflects the Jewish community's understanding, through its religious leaders, of God's will. Autonomy is applicable only within the bounds of halakhah and whatever freedoms it permits outside of them. Thus, in a school of this ideology, all that halakhah requires will be appropriately placed in its human worth program: texts, halakhah and generative principles within halakhah. Additionally, it may include without limit all secular knowledge and practice that does not violate halakhah.

    The one "unknown" which might be acknowledged in this position, where unrestrained inquiry with relevant scholarship would be encouraged, is that of the historical development of our religious texts. To understand them most adequately, one needs to know all that one can about the pertinent sociological conditions and intellectual environments within which Torah traditions were transmitted and rabbinic interpretations and decisions emerged.

    Two items distinguish this position from the Orthodox: first, the presumed date at which the Torah became the text we now have and, second, the religious body which today is the acceptable determiner of halakhah.

    Whether practice is consistent with ascription, I do not know. Since this view has a substantial number of adherents, however, their educators ought to have ideological positions available to them on some specific issues. Some of these will be listed after other views have been described.

    At the opposite end of theological convictions is that of the Jewish secular humanist-naturalists whose motivational pattern functions without a concept of God. Their ascription is bound to the one empirically observable deliberate concern for humans: the recurring caring behavior of some people for others. To raw nature, they do not attribute intention. It is judged neither good nor bad--just indifferent. With awareness that there is no compelling reason for compassion, they may attribute their decent behavior to an impelling feeling and/or to the pragmatic view that decency is the most rewarding road towards enlightened self-interest.

    The Jewish secularist pattern appears in several guises to convey their ideals: Zionist, Hebraist, Yiddishist or Jewish ethnic. The land of Israel, any of the languages which Jews have used, and cultural forms are valued as carriers of the culture --taken alone or in combination. From the "community memory"9 all the secular variants retain - in desacralized form - the ancient conviction of human worth and the imperative to help people.

    To educate and impassion those who are committed to achieve their aspirations, they extract from classical texts and modern Jewish thought--in widely disparate ways--expressions of human worth and group responsibility. Jewish history yields for them, as it does for all Jews, exemplary individuals and communities which actualized these ideals.

    What the many varieties of schools actually do is not readily available in print, nor are the long-term maintenance strategies with which each sub-group looks to the future. But the attachment to a Jewish identity obliges each to teach and preach its own distillation of relevance from the Jewish past. If we envision beyond the cloning process for human worth, one can project different programs which Jewish secular humanists would justify. One such school would be pluralistic, committed to the tradition of Talmud Torah. It would offer the full range of Jewish studies in depth and provide opportunities for students, because it respects individual dignity, to observe, examine and participate in prayer and experience other halakhic practices in home and synagogue. It would encourage and enable every student to examine carefully the complete ascriptive spectrum and select a position, or construct her/his own.


    The Second Track in the Secular Setting: "Halakhah or its Substitute"

    To pursue the human-worth program outlined above, secularists, more than the religious non-Orthodox groups, are deficient in the resources for the second track, the one for "habituating an enduring symbolic-ceremonial maintenance system that nurtures and maintains the caring disposition"--their necessary substitute for halakhah and its offshoots. For this task, secularists have not developed a stable pattern.

    They need an institutional carrier of their values - a Jewish law for them without theological sanction. They need ceremonial instruments by which the young can appropriate the relevant past, observe and participate with peers and adults as the latter express their commitments.

    Secularist schools now depend mostly on what they can improvise for each occasion. Thus, regularly, Hanukkah and Passover lend themselves easily to the freedom theme. Ideally, their schools would have ready for use, in desacralized form if necessary, the humanist and self-discipline components which they have combed out of all traditional thought and practice.

    With respect to the rest of the program, what follows can be used by secularists and any Jewish group, subject only to the ideological censorship it deems necessary, plus its own ascriptive emphasis.


    Track Three: Natural Competencies for Responsible Independence

    In the third item of the outline, the track for "intellectual competence and emotional health," one would expect to find the special emphases of any serious human-worth program. Here, too, it would diverge from schools with a "fixed" ascription by insuring the presence or absence of certain practices.

    Following are some especially relevant items for the training for the unrestrained use of mind in this setting:

    1. Avoidance of the ideological cloning process which withholds information that might arouse doubt.
    2. Avoidance of cloning internalized intellectual censorship. No intellectual "DON'T TRESPASS" signs would be placed in the mind.
    3. Analysis of traditional Jewish texts so as to separate the simplest contextual meaning from midrashic interpretations--not using "creative philology" and imaginative additions to reconcile dissonance.
    4. Teaching, as soon as students can learn it, the specialized skill of reading for inquiry.
    5. Analysis, as soon as students have referents, of the meaning of recurring religious and philosophical terms: e.g., divine revelation, revelation through tradition, immanentism, empiricism, religious truth, Torah miSinai, Torah mi-Shamayim, etc.
    6. Imparting the skill to discriminate among implications of empirical observations, probability based on incomplete observation, and pure speculation.

    With regard to emotional life, in addition to following generally accepted principles and practices, a human-worth school would anticipate the conflicting strains of the students' growing simultaneously in intellectual independence and moral responsibility. These tensions normally emerge from the child's inexperience with autonomy and the uncomfortable pressure of duty.

    Illustrative school tasks are:

    1. Distinguishing between the purity of concepts and their unavoidable adjustments in daily life situations. Increasing the students' stamina to endure the stress of action decisions in moral dilemma situations, e.g., whom does one help first?
    2. Anticipating and ventilating the recurring conflicts and vacillation between self-concern and altruism. Informing students that decency always involves giving to, or serving an other--even in very small measure.
    3. Conveying that rewards of decency must be mainly intrinsic. Not every receiver offers thanks.
    4. Staying alert to the need for recognition and supportively helping students withstand out-group negative peer pressure.
    5. Providing behavioral science information which helps adolescents distinguish between critical and uncritical, i.e., "osmotic", internalization of identities.
    6. Indicating the possibility of displaced aggression via critical moralism.
    7. Illustrating that striving for meaning is a life-long endeavor. One lives with uncertainty by adopting a "provisional absolute."10

    The Knowledge Track: Mutual Concern

    The first item on the knowledge track, the concept of mutual concern, must be conveyed in its fullness, as must the consequent size of the demand it will make on our individual and communal resources. This includes the historically known, ever present, unsatisfied needs of people's physical and interpersonal security as well as representative social responses and enduring injunctive concepts from different civilizations and cultures.

    Jewish historical concerns through people-helping, "social security mitzvot" like the several tithes (ma'asrot [heb] ) and the gleanings, forgotten produce and the corner of the field (leqet, shikh'ah, pe'ah [heb] ), and all the mitzvot bain adam la-havero, must be taught alongside the recent responses of Israeli kibbutzim and Jewish community federations all over the world.

    This inheritance must be converted to people's situation here and now in the student's life-space: from concern for the one to concern for everyone--from the interpersonal courtesies at any moment to the borders of the "neighborhood" in which one is enjoined to "love thy neighbor."

    Generally ignored, but most relevant, are statistics which need to be regularly updated to be a discomfiting sight before the students' eyes. These would include statistics such as:

    1. population in the world without the political forms of democracy.
    2. population of the world without sufficient daily food.
    3. levels of infant mortality in different parts of the world.
    4. annual income categories in the world by percentage of people at different levels.
    5. the percentile rating, on a world population basis, of the average income of the families whose children attend the school.
    6. the number of homeless in one's city, state, and country.
    7. knowledge and observation of the practical aspects of the administration of justice through court visits.

    Knowledge of "how-to" implement human-worth activities in words and the planned experiences of the "how-to in practice" to match them are commonplace in the realm of education. But here a caveat is in order. Such programs may boomerang when they are perceived by students as childish. To avoid this, the content should include:

    1. experience by children in independent planning and execution of helping activities that are recognized by adults as vital and substantial;
    2. knowledge of how government and private agencies help in cases of special need, e.g. health education, finance, emotional support, etc.

    The five "knowledge goals and strategies" (see number 4, a-e, above) which uniquely characterize the program must continually be reiterated to students and parents. New situations arising within the flow of changing circumstances may require unprecedented solutions. The latter are the best occasions for denoting the program's special purposes and tactics and for illustrating their application. The school must seize every opportune occasion to restate why it clones, how it clones, and why it patterns the human worth curriculum vertically and horizontally as it does.

    The school will not use any kind of morality rating device such as "mitzvah points."

    A counterbalance must be provided for the school's pronouncements. As a synthetic organized personality it must operate with humility. There must be a built-in mechanism for parents and students comfortably to ask questions and criticize.

    Finally, with regard to the fifth "knowledge goal", knowledge of ascription in a secularist school cannot be about one fixed ascription, but is rather about the sponsor's considered affirmation of the major Jewish value, that is, helpfully relating to all people. With respect to the student's right to self-determination in the school projected here (and since the affirmation is offered without a logically compelling reason), knowledge about all ascriptions, including the Orthodox, should be provided along with their bases in traditional texts and nature. Simultaneously, facts and questions with which individual ideologies challenge other views should be presented.

    Very important, too, is a confrontation with the world. The late Professor Abraham Heschel often said that Jewish schools frequently fail to convey the meaning of Torah because it is a response to questions and issues of which the student is unaware. In the cloning-of-ideological-ascriptions designs which generally prevail, a body of very relevant information is neglected or inadequately presented. It is made up of the stimuli to, and necessary ingredients for, thinking about cosmic organization and purpose.

    Examples are:

    1. The questions to which neither science nor religion offer an answer.
    2. The human potential for beneficence and maleficence.
    3. Nature's bounty and beauty.
    4. Mutual help and carnivorous nature among fauna.
    5. Representative samples of the regularities of nature, i.e., the "laws" of science.
    6. The unavoidable natural catastrophic cataclysms, e.g., tornadoes, earthquakes, lightning.
    7. The known percentage of genetic flaws which limit normal development in humans.
    8. The range of individual genetic differences in physique and bodily functions, the several dimensions of mental powers, and the various dimensions of creative potential.
    9. The moral incomprehensibility of the universe.


    Non-Orthodox Intermediate Positions

    A second prominent, revelationist view focuses on divine inspiration. It asserts that the people who wrote the Torah at various times and places "were...divinely inspired and therefore their words carry the insights and authority of God."11

    Held with individual differences among its adherents, this position sees the Torah as containing God's communication not in words, not in propositional content, but "verbal formulations by human beings of norms and ideas." The experience of revelation "through an ineffable human encounter with God,"12as reported by the human, provides the divine content of Torah. "God inspired human beings with a specific message."13

    This view is held by segments of the Conservative and Reform Communities. For some associated with this view, "[D]ivine inspiration continues on in the form of new interpretation of the Torah in each generation."14

    Another theological position, influential among Conservative and Reform rabbis, regards revelation, not as divine inspiration, but "as the disclosure of God, Himself. It is not the declaration of specific rules, but rather a meeting between God and man, in which they get to know each other."15

    One rabbi claims: " The event is self-validating in that its experience is so unique, overwhelming and transforming that the human partner emerges from it reconstituted in his own being and certain of its meaning. It is this meaning, this interpretation of the revelatory event, which the human partner then puts into words."16

    "The precepts of the Torah are binding...God did 'command' them, but not by direct communication...but through the historical experiences of the Jewish people." The Torah was given "not so much to Israel as through Israel."17 (Conservative rabbis identifying with this view are loyal to halakhah but with individual qualifications.)

    Most distant from Orthodoxy among religious views is the naturalist humanist religious position. No revelation is assumed. Shared by most Reconstructionists, some Reform and even some Conservatives committed to a halakhic system, it says that "God inheres within nature and operates through natural law," but is not a discrete supernatural Being."18 Their religious faith arises from an awareness of the self and of nature and its processes, of human aspirations and of serviceable nature. >From anthropocentrism they construct and have faith in a theocentric principle. Some even believe that the capacity and tendency to transcend selfishness through compassion and altruism is a manifestation of divine immanence in people. Stated differently, the faith is that humankind is not doomed to an eternal animal-eat-animal existence.

    In his critique of the naturalist religious view, one scholar declares, "No inequity, regardless of its horror, proves that ideals are false or cannot succeed...Moral the fitting response to the problem of evil."19

    Much like "encounter" believers and very different from the secular naturalists, the religious naturalists have structured approaches to Jewish living through synagogue services and home rituals. Innovating practices in both areas, some, preferring to stay within the halakhic realm, appropriate from tradition via their individual communities and identify themselves as halakhists, while others use the term, tradition, and urge their adherents to choose maximally what appeals to each individual.

    The incompleteness of the revelationist conceptions, a fact of enormous consequence in an educational program, has been acknowledged by critics and adherents of non-Orthodox positions. For example: "To hold... that Torah admits of some human elements and then to offer no way of determining where divine initiative ends and where human interpretation enters, is to avoid the heart of the question. To proclaim that revelation occurs without commitment to follow what revelation demands, or to proclaim the will of God without offering grounds for distinguishing true from false revelation, is to offer a vacuous form--revelation without content or criteria."20

    And another rabbi concedes: "We are quite properly asked to explain by what principle one can affirm revelation and yet deny some of the commandments and much of the outlook of the sacred texts in which that revelation is presumed to be recorded.

    The plain truth is that there is no clear dogmatic answer...

    We must say: God exists and He has revealed himself to man through the sacred texts of the Jewish tradition, and yet the individual must be free to make his choices as to what he will affirm as value and what rituals he will obey as representing, for him, authentic commandments."21

    Educators Need Clarification

    Without either the total revelation conviction, on the one hand, and the total non-theological conviction on the other, the educator who must "deliver" the "mixes" of belief and empiricism, without criteria to separate them, needs much specific information about a school's broad vision and guiding principles for curriculum construction.

    Orientation for teachers must include, in addition to the questions mentioned above answers to questions like the following: Does the school aspire to clone its ascription, its theological view? Does the school aspire to clone each student's potential to value humans and train in the competence to do so? Will inquiry into the selected ascription be encouraged? Will there be any censorship, i.e., a limit on the use of mind and emotional sensitivity on any aspect of experience? If the school is in a pluralistic religious movement

      1. will the movement's pluralism be a determining factor in its total curriculum, with all movement views legitimated for adoption?
      2. will non-movement views, including orthodox and secular, be presented as options?
      3. will the adopter of a non-school view be regarded and treated as a mistaken innocent, a tinok-she-nishbah?

    Will the school present pertinent behavioral science data on how people develop social allegiances, personal identities, and form enduring faith, belief and behavior?

    Will the school maximize a curriculum of existential awareness? i.e., a confrontation with nature, its unknowns, its laws, "wonders," beauty and bounty, as well as its inherent cruelty to humans and animals?

    Will the curriculum convey the absence of objective guideposts to meaning in the universe?

    Will the school convey the fact of the moral incomprehensibility of the universe?

    Will the school convey that all religious-philosophical principles for living are subjective impositions of meaning on the universe?

    Will parents be informed diligently of what the school strives to clone?

    The answer to such questions should determine, within the school's total program, the content of several educational tasks in its human-worth-program. First, in its ascriptive track, the basic theological premises will be clarified. Specified would be what of eternal importance, if anything, is "known," i.e., revealed by God; what God has commanded in general or as specific halakhot; what are the conditions under which God has prescribed that any specific halakhah may be expanded, modified or nullified; by what criteria one can discriminate what is, and what is not, divine in Tanakh and halakhah.

    On its clear ascriptive base a school can choose and/or create a methodology in accord with its premises. It can select methods and materials for cultivating a caring disposition. One notes, however, that like the secularists, only much less so, the religious non-Orthodox are also seriously deficient on the track for transmitting a structured maintenance system. (This is true not only for the human worth segment, but for the whole framework of Jewish religious identity.) The "system" obviously consists of certain recurring events and unpremeditated events, from religious ritual celebrations at home and in school to special occasion school assemblies. It intends to infuse the "umbrella" symbol, Jewishness, into the child's consciousness by means of experiences that focus emotion-suffused attention. In a successful school, the student knows and feels that s/he is differentiated out of the nebulous surrounding culture and knows why. S/he subdues any sense of loss with an appreciation of gain.

    Every school is challenged to make the tradition functional. Religious schools have the resources to choose, in accord with their views, from halakhah, "traditional ritual" and/or customs. The secularists and non-halachists are likewise challenged to modify creatively the traditional structure so as to positively condition the symbol, Jewishness, in its many contexts, in order to achieve heightened awareness of what they value.

    On the remaining tracks, those for intellectual competence and awareness of emotions, and the five information categories, all that was listed above for a projected secularist school, should be used by every school within its ascriptive limits.


    Attempts at Resolution

    In part, the dilemma discussed here of non-Orthodox schools can be readily resolved. I know of at least one true school of Jewish religion (the emphasis is on school), a sixth to twelfth grade day school. It is a model which can readily be adopted to an autonomy-oriented religious school. With a charter to be an open-ended school, it fosters autonomy. Nothing from either an ideal orthodox curriculum or an ideal Jewish secularist view is, a priori, ruled out. What is forbidden is ideological coercion, direct and indirect. The school is not sponsored by any ideological group but by the community at large. Whenever possible it cooperates with the families and synagogues severally by taking into account the different views and practices and offering experiences that are in harmony with their individual ascriptions.

    To families which want to clone their particular outlook onto their children, the open-ended ideational atmosphere may induce a feeling of brink-walking. The young may move off their homes' ascriptive foundations. Understandably such parents may decide to avoid the risk.

    Such a school, however, is a model for only a partial solution. For better or worse, entering students have already been substantially influenced by a variety of formal and informal experiences. The school's conceptual ideological design and practice are relatively simple. The students have a base in referential knowledge and, though immature, are treated as aspirants for competent responsible autonomy.

    With younger students it does not seem possible to devise a practice which removes the autonomy-ascriptive tension in religious schools as they now operate. The really tough decisions for a school intent on minimizing ideological cloning are in kindergarten through grade five. It must choose the appropriate age level and create the setting for introducing the word, God, plus prayers and blessings, while avoiding even indirect adult coercion. Whatever its deliberate program, the school must also be ready with answers for spontaneous theology-related questions which children ask. Regretfully, for this age range, no one has created a comprehensive program which responds to these concerns.

    There are at least two options for schools which take the tension issue seriously.

      1. Institute a straightforward ideological and human-worth cloning program, religious or secular, in realistic recognition that not all ideal principles can be realized simultaneously. The school judges that it is in the best interests of the individual and community that the young carry its outlook through life as "permanent cargo."
      2. A second option for open-ended religionists and secularist is to include an ideological ascription with a built-in "visible escape hatch." The school offers first what every child everywhere should be offered. It tries through information, explanation, inquiry and participatory experiences to arouse and bring to awareness the amalgam of feelings and intellectually active wonder about one's relation to self, to others, to nature close at hand, and to the universe. "God-talk" is deliberately postponed until a planned experiential foundation has been laid. Only then is humankind's quest for ultimate purpose connected for the child to the school's Jewish ascription.

    The introduction stresses the unknown, along with the sponsoring institution's religious explanatory "best guess," with a "remainder" still unknown. It assures the children that as they grow they will learn other views and may prefer one of them. They are advised and urged to start their quest for meaning with the "best guess" of their mentors as a "provisional absolute" - in their language - "a good way to live" while they grow and learn. Traditional symbolic rituals are offered to channel expressions of community feeling, gratitude, hope, sorrow and pain.

    Viewing Jewishness as the context within which the growing seeking person orients and stabilizes the self - the kind of context which every child everywhere should have - the school pictures itself to the students, and tries to be, a helper in a long-lasting desirable adventure. It avoids the common practice in which assertions are made about God, revelation and Torah that, in later years, have to be "undone" by the school with apologetic recourse to the children's earlier limited capacity for understanding.

    Other Issues

    Omitted in all that has preceded are the corollaries of different ascriptions in several curricular areas where clearly articulated positions are needed. Within some non-Orthodox positions, the traditional sense of covenant is not consonant with belief, the traditional sense of reward and punishment has lost its base, the traditional sense of prayer is not consonant with belief and "metaphoric prayer" is, for the most part, not understood.


    1. Because the meaning of existence is not a given, non-Orthodox Jews freely empower their commitment to human worth with greatly differing idiosyncratic metaphysical and/or philosophical doctrines about God and nature. To transmit this commitment which cannot be compelled by reason, they must - with or without ascriptive components - clone it onto the young. Consequently, any homogeneous ideological community faces a moral dilemma. Is its first educational task to clone for the valued behavior while helping students to become competent choosers among ideological alternative, or, is it to replicate itself onto the student by cloning both its particular ascription and the valued behavior?
    2. For educators, the statements of prominent thinkers are not clear and helpful on essentials needed to resolve the issue. Teachers - at a loss among the enormously divergent views on Revelation, Torah and Halakhah - need clearly formulated ascriptions and a structural program to guide them in cloning for decent behavior.
    3. A school needs to use its ascriptive base on which to create a comprehensive enabling program of information, skills and experiences with which to impel students to internalize a practical human worth disposition.
    4. I know of no non-Orthodox religious schools which respond to the issue of individual autonomy versus ideological cloning. At the junior and senior high school level, there is at least one community school which can serve as a model for an autonomy-concerned religious school. At the K-5 level, a curriculum responsive to the issue has yet to be created.


1 - Dawkins, Richard, "Selfish Genes and Selfish Memes", in Hofstadter and Dennet, The Mind's I, New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1981, pp. 124-144.

2 - Kaplan, Mordecai, in Commentary, Volume 42, Number 2, p. 108.

3- Bellah, R.N. and others, Habits of the Heart, Berkley: U. of California Press, 1985, p. 152.

4 - Jacobovits, Immanuel in Commentary, op. cit., p.105.

5 - Lamm, Norman in Commentary , ibid., p. 110.

6 - I have adapted the categories in Elliot N. Dorff, Conservative Judaism, ,pp.110-157, for this paper.

7 - Emet Ve-Emunah, Principles of Conservative Judaism, New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1988, p.20.

8 - Novak, David in Dorff, Conservative Judaism, op.cit., p.125-6.

9 - Bellah, op.cit., p.153.

10 - Potok, Chaim in Commentary, op.cit., p.126.

11 - Dorff, Commentary, op.cit., p.126.

12 Emet Ve=Emunah, op.cit., p.20.

13 - Dorff, op.cit., p.127.

14 - Ibid., p.126.

15 = Ibid., p.134.

16 - Schaalman, { } in Commentary, ibid., p. { }.

17 - Jacobs, Louis in Dorff, Ibid., p.137.

19 - Borowitz, Eugene B., Choices in Modern Jewish Thought, New York: Behrman House, Inc., 1983, p.113.

20 - Schulweis, Harold in Commentary, op.cit., p.140.

21 - Hertzberg, Arthur in Commentary, Ibid., p.100.


    A substantial variety of positions on theology and practice can be found in the following:

    1. Borowitz, Eugene B., Choices in Modern Jewish Thought, (N.Y., Behrman House, Inc., 1983).
    2. Dorff, Elliot N., Conservative Judaism: Our Ancestors to Our Descendants, (N.Y., United Synagogue of America, 1977).
    3. Four essays on "Mitzvah" in Gates of Mitzvah, (N.Y. C.C.A.R., 1979) pp. 97-115.
    4. Emet Ve-emunah: Statement of Principles of Conservative Judaism, (N.Y., Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1988).
    5. "Living with Reform Judaism's Pluralism" in Eugene B. Borowitz, Reform Judaism Today, (N.Y., Behrman House, Inc.) pp. 91-139.
    6. "The State of Jewish Belief: A Symposium" in Commentary, (volume 42, no.2) pp. 73-160.
    7. Theological Foundations of Prayer: A Reform Jewish Perspective, (N.Y., U.A.H.C., 1967).