A Jewish father teaching a child in 19th-century Podolia.
A Jewish father teaching a child in 19th-century Podolia.

Jewish education (Hebrew: חינוך, Chinuch) is the transmission of the tenets, principles, and religious laws of Judaism. Known as the "people of the book",[1][2] Jews value education, and the value of education is strongly embedded in Jewish culture.[3][4] Judaism places a heavy emphasis on Torah study, from the early days of studying the Tanakh.


Jewish education has been valued since the birth of Judaism. Abraham is lauded for instructing his offspring in God's ways.[5] One of the basic duties of Jewish parents is to provide for the instruction of their children as set forth in the first paragraph of the Shema Yisrael prayer: “Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and your gates” (Deut. 6:6-9). Additionally, children are advised to seek the instruction of their parents: "Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations; ask thy father, and he will declare unto thee, thine elders, and they will tell thee" (Deut. 32:7). The Book of Proverbs also contains many verses related to education: “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your mind retain my commandments; For they will bestow on you length of days, years of life and well-being“ (Prov. 3:1-2).

Elementary school learning was regarded as compulsory by Simeon ben Shetah as early as 75 BCE and Joshua ben Gamla in 64 CE. The education of older boys and men in a beit midrash goes back to the Second Temple period. The importance of education is stressed in the Talmud, which states that children should begin school at six. The rabbis stated that they should not be beaten with a stick or cane, that older students should help those who were younger, and that children should not be kept from their lessons by other duties.

According to Judah ben Tema, “At five years the age is reached for studying Mikra, at ten for studying the Mishnah, at thirteen for fulfilling the mitzvoth, at fifteen for studying Talmud” (Avot 5:21). Mikra refers to the written Torah, Mishnah refers to the complementary oral Torah (the concise and precise laws dictating how the written Torah's commandments are achieved) and Talmud refers to comprehension of the oral and written law's unity and contemplation of the laws.[6] The term "Talmud" used here is a method of study and is not to be confused by the later compilations by the same name. In keeping with this tradition, Jews established their own schools or hired private tutors for their children until the end of the 18th century. Schools were housed in annexes or separate buildings close to the synagogue.

Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (in his Meshech Chochma) observes that God's statement "[Abraham is blessed because] he will instruct his children and his house after him to follow in God's ways to perform righteousness and justice" (Genesis 18:19) is an implicit mitzvah to teach Judaism.[citation needed]

Rabban Gamaliel, the son of Rabbi Judah Hanasi said that the study of the Torah is excellent when combined with Derech Eretz, worldly occupation, for toil in them both keeps sin out of one’s mind; But [study of the] Torah which is not combined with a worldly occupation, in the end comes to be neglected and becomes the cause of sin.[7]

Formal Jewish education

Sex segregation

Sex segregation in education was traditionally the norm, although many contemporary Jewish schools do not segregate students, outside of Orthodox or Ultra Orthodox communities.[8] Historically, education for boys in yeshivas was primarily focused on the study of Jewish scriptures such as the Torah and Talmud, while girls obtained studies both in Jewish education as well as broader secular studies.

Primary schooling

The Talmud (Tractate Bava Bathra 21a) attributes the institution of formal Jewish education to the first century sage Joshua ben Gamla. Prior to this, parents taught their children informally. Ben Gamla instituted schools in every town and made education compulsory from the age of 6 or 7. The Talmud attaches great importance to the "Tinokot shel beth Rabban" (the children [who study] at the Rabbi's house), stating that the world continues to exist for their learning and that even for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, classes are not to be interrupted (Tractate Shabbat 119b).

Jewish children of a "cheder" in Sana'a Yemen, 1929
Jewish children of a "cheder" in Sana'a Yemen, 1929

The yeshiva


In Mishnaic and Talmudic times young men were attached to a beth din (court of Jewish law), where they sat in three rows and progressed as their fellow students were elevated to sit on the court.[citation needed]

After the formal court system was abolished, yeshivot became the main places for Torah study. The Talmud itself was composed largely in the yeshivot of Sura and Pumbedita in Babylonia, and the leading sages of the generation taught there. Until the 19th century, young men generally studied under the local rabbi, who was allocated funds by the Jewish community to maintain a number of students. The Hasidic masters and the Lithuanian rabbi Chaim Volozhin both founded centralised yeshivot; see Yeshiva#History.

Modern yeshivas

Yeshivot have remained of central importance in the Orthodox community to this day; see Yeshiva#Contemporary Orthodox yeshivas. Presently, there are numerous yeshivot - particularly in the US and Israel, but, in general, wherever there is an established Orthodox community. In the 20th century, Hesder (Israeli Religious Zionist) and Modern Orthodox yeshivot were also founded. In all of these communities, yeshiva study is common, with young men (and women in a midrasha) spending several years post high school studying Torah. In the Haredi / Hasidic communities, this study often spans decades; see kollel.

Non-orthodox streams have yeshivot also, although these are intended (almost entirely) for Rabbinic preparation. Their syllabi similarly depart from the traditional.

Secular education emphasis

In the 21st century, critics in both the United States and Israel have protested that (some) Haredi and Hasidic yeshivas are teaching religious studies to the exclusion of secular subjects such as mathematics and science. This Haredi aversion to secular studies manifests differently in Israel and outside Israel.

In America, some yeshivas of Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox), but non-Hasidic (Lithuanian) identity, offer state-compliant secular education curriculums. For example, Yeshiva Torah Vodaas runs a "NYS Board of Regents certified High School"[9] with a contemporary curriculum "in compliance with the latest Common Core standards."[10]

American Hasidic yeshivas, however, from elementary to high school levels, have a long history of shying away from all but the most rudimentary exposure to secular studies. For example, when several decades ago Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam of the Bobov Hasidic dynasty was met with intensified calls for higher-level secular education from Hasidic parents of Bobov-affiliated yeshivas, Halberstam rejected their pleas and stated that on principle he would not compromise "even if it means that I will have no more than one student."[11] Critics such as Naftuli Moster have worked to promote the adoption of national or state standards on secular subjects by such yeshivas.

The educational philosophy of Hasidic and most non-Hasidic Haredi yeshivas in Israel is largely similar to that of their American counterparts, i.e. opposed to secular studies, no path to attaining a Bagrut certificate. As of 2017, percentage of Haredi girls taking matriculation exams was 51% (up from 31% a decade prior; however, for boys it was only 14% (down from 16%),[12] since Orthodox yeshivot mostly ignore core subjects. About 8 percent of Haredi students pass the exam. Miriam Ben-Peretz, professor emeritus of education at the University of Haifa, and winner of the 2006 Israel Prize notes: “More and more Israeli students don’t have any foundation of knowledge, any basics — not in math, not in English, not in general...things have to change." Some Israelis who have been educated in Haredi yeshivas have established Leaving for Change (LFC), an organization seeking to sue the government for alleged failure to enforce Israel's law for compulsory education. There is a similar organization in America called YAFFED (Young Advocates for Fair Education).

Jewish schools

The phenomenon of the Jewish day school is of relatively common origin. Until the 19th and 20th century, boys attended the cheder (literally "room," since it was in the synagogue, which historically was a building with a bet midrash being the only room) or talmud Torah, where they were taught by a melamed tinokos (children's teacher).

The first Jewish day school developed in Germany, largely in response to the higher emphasis in general on secular studies. In the past, an apprenticeship was sufficient to learn a profession, or alternatively several years in a gymnasium could prepare one adequately for university. Rabbis who pioneered Jewish day schools included Rabbi Shimson Raphael Hirsch, whose Realschule in Frankfurt am Main served as a model for numerous similar institutions. Jews have also been disproportionately engaged in the building of academic institutions of education and in promoting teaching as a professional career. Three of the past four presidents of the American Federation of Teachers have been Jews: starting with Albert Shanker, her successor Sandra Feldman, all the way to current AFT president, Randi Weingarten.

In 2007, there were over 750 day schools in the United States and 205,000 students in those schools.[13] Beyond those students, hundreds of thousands (~250,000) of Jewish children attend supplementary religious, Hebrew, and congregational schools.[13]

Girls' education

See also: Hashkafa § Gender roles, Women in Judaism § Views on the education of women, and Midrasha

It was also in the 19th and early 20th century, with the advent of public education for all, that an emphasis was first placed on girls' education. Before this, particularly in Eastern Europe, girls received their Jewish and Hebrew education at home, and were often illiterate in Hebrew. In the 19th century, public education was made compulsory in most of Europe, and in order to maintain educational control over the Jewish children, Jewish schools became a reality. It was as a result of the initiative of Sarah Schenirer, that the first Jewish girls' Bais Yaakov school opened in Kraków in 1918.[14] Girls in the United States at this time were often educated at public schools together with boys, and they received their Jewish education through programs at synagogues and Sunday schools, because Jewish day schools were less common.[15]

In the Jewish society, women were not allowed to participate in most synagogue prayer, and they only allowed to engage in communal prayer. During the nineteenth century, women could only read Yiddish. Parents should have sent their sons to the primary school, so that their sons could have learned the Hebrew language and the Torah text. Some wealthier parents even employed private tutors for their sons at home. However, some girls in the wealth family may be given the opportunity to learn Jewish vernacular and Hebrew as well. Many girls remained illiterate during the old times. Women stayed home with their family or worked jobs such as maids and seamstresses. After the World War II began, more and more women were used as spies, couriers, nurses, and some even became soldiers. Until the end of World War II, women had transformed into Jewish studies research and teaching in the twenty-first century. The balance of women and men made great strides in equality in Jewish schools.[16]

Informal Jewish education

Youth groups

Recent[when?] studies estimate a population of 650,000 Jewish middle and high school students.[dead link] Most of these attend Jewish youth groups or participate in activities funded by Jewish youth organizations Jewish youth organizations. Many of these are Zionist youth movements. The various organizations differ in political ideology, religious affiliation, and leadership structure, although they all tend to be characterized by a focus on youth leadership.

The Conservative movement has USY - United Synagogue Youth. The Modern Orthodox movement has NCSY - formerly National Conference of Synagogue Youth. BBYO is a non-denominational group, though most Jews associate it with the Reform movement. The North American Federation of Temple Youth, known as NFTY, is the organized youth movement of Reform Judaism in North America. Funded and supported by the Union for Reform Judaism, NFTY exists to supplement and support Reform youth groups at the synagogue level. About 750 local youth groups affiliate themselves with the organization, comprising over 8,500 youth members.

Summer camps

Jewish summer camps are a tool for creating ties with a particular denomination of Judaism and/or orientation to Israel. Camps are sponsored by the Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform movement, by Jewish community centers, and by Zionist movements such as Young Judaea, Betar, Habonim Dror, Hashomer Hatzair and B'nei Akiva. Over 70,000 campers participate in over 150 non-profit Jewish summer camps, especially in the United States. In addition, the Foundation for Jewish Camp estimates that these camps are staffed by over 8,500 Jewish college-aged counselors. American-style Jewish summer camps can also be found in other countries, such as Camp Kimama in Israel. Outside the United States, similar camps are generally organized by various philanthropic organizations and local Jewish youth movements.

The Camp Ramah network, affiliated with Conservative Judaism runs camps in North America where youngsters experience traditional Shabbat observance, study Hebrew and observe the laws of kashrut.

The Union for Reform Judaism runs the largest Jewish camping system in the world, the URJ Camp & Israel Programs. They operate 13 summer camps across North America, including a sports specialty camp, teen leadership institute and programs for youth with special needs, as well as a number of Israel travel programs. Participants in these programs observe Shabbat, engage in programming about Jewish values and history, and partake in typical summer camp activities including athletics, creative arts and color war.

Student organizations

Much informal Jewish education is organized on university campuses. This is often supported by national organizations, such as Hillel (United States) or the Union of Jewish Students (United Kingdom), or by international organizations such as the World Union of Jewish Students and the European Union of Jewish Students.

The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute in partnership with The Chabad on Campus International Foundation, manages the Sinai Scholars Society, an integrated fellowship program for college campus students comprising Torah study, social activities, and national networking opportunities.

Drama-based education

One of the earliest examples of drama-based Jewish education is the theatrical works of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto (Ramchal 1707-1746, b. Italy), who wrote plays with multiple characters on Jewish themes. While the use of such plays was probably rare in traditional Jewish education, the Etz Chaim school of Jerusalem reportedly staged plays in the 1930s. One such play put King David's general Joab on trial for his various crimes. The students and faculty played the roles of judge, advocates and a jury, all based on Biblical and Talmudic research.

In the 20th century and the present, drama is being further developed as an educational tool.[17] Programs such as Jewish Crossroads by Shlomo Horwitz provide educational theater in schools and synagogues in various English-speaking countries.[18] The Lookstein Center at Bar-Ilan University, a think tank geared to Jewish educators in the Diaspora, lists many drama-related programs on their website for use of teachers in the classroom.

Sports-based education

Sports is another vehicle to connect Jewish youth to Judaism and Israel. Bring It In - Israel offers a sports volunteering program in Israel that cultivates a cadre of young leaders who return to their communities to promote interest in Israel and Judaism. The perceived role of sports as a historical avenue was crucial for Jewish people to overcome social, religious and cultural obstacles toward their participation in secular society (especially in Europe and the United States).


  1. ^ Quran - 22:17
  2. ^ John L. Esposito, ed. (2014). "Ahl al-Kitab". The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acref/9780195125580.001.0001. ISBN 9780195125580.
  3. ^ "A Jewish Fight for Public Education". Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  4. ^ "The Jewish Americans". PBS. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  5. ^ "Genesis 18:19". Bible. For I have known him, to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice; to the end that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him.
  6. ^ Moses ben Maimon, Maimonides. Mishne Torah. Vol. Laws of Torah Study 1:13.
  7. ^ Pirkei Avot 2:2
  8. ^ Gorsetman, Chaya Rosenfeld; Sztokman, Elana Maryles (2013-10-01). Educating in the Divine Image: Gender Issues in Orthodox Jewish Day Schools. Brandeis University Press. ISBN 978-1-61168-459-9.
  9. ^ "About – Yeshiva Torah Vodaath". www.torahvodaath.org. Retrieved 13 December 2020.
  10. ^ "Mesivta Torah Vodaath". Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. 31 July 2020. Retrieved 13 December 2020.
  11. ^ Rabbi Aharon Perlow in Biographical feature The Divrei Shlomo, Harav Shlomo Halberstam, the Bobover Rebbe, Zy"a: Marking his 20th yahrtzeit on 1 Av, Hamodia Newspaper, Weekly edition, July 22, 2020 (Vol. XXIII, No. 1119), p. 7 of newspaper's "Community" section: "parents began complaining that the children were not being taught English on a high enough level, and as a result, they would never be able to find jobs. More parents joined the chorus, until the issue was brought to the Rebbe. He... said, 'I want you to understand that even if it means that I will have no more than one student, I will continue following the path that my father taught me. I will not compromise on these principles!'"
  12. ^ Malach, Gilad; Cahaner, Lee. "2019 Statistical Report on Ultra-Orthodox Society in Israel: Highlights". en.idi.org.il (in Hebrew).
  13. ^ a b Wertheimer, Jack (2007). Recent Trends in Supplementary Jewish Education (PDF). The AVI CHAI Foundation. p. 8.
  14. ^ Chizhik-Goldschmidt, Avital (October 22, 2013). "The ultra-Orthodox Seamstress Who Determined the Fate of Jewish Women". Haaretz. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
  15. ^ Ingall, Carol (2010). The Women Who Reconstructed American Jewish Education, 1910-1965. University Press of New England. p. 7. ISBN 9781584658559. They understood that Jewish day schools were not an option, being more appropriate for the Old World and the ghetto. Jewish education in the United States would have to be retrofitted around public schools.
  16. ^ Miller Helena Grant D. Lisa Pomson Alex (April 25, 2011). International Handbook of Jewish Education. New York: Springer; 2011 edition. ISBN 978-9400703537.
  17. ^ John, Krug. "Education: A Role for Creative Drama and Theater". www.daat.ac.il. Retrieved 12 December 2020.
  18. ^ "Jewish Crossroads FAQs". jewishcrossroads. Retrieved 12 December 2020.