UK: How could the teaching of Judaism be improved in schools?

When we look to Judaism, we look to public acts of worship such as synagogue services and the use of Tenakh and Talmud in daily life. There is the worship in the home and private prayer, prayer in Jewish worship including amidah – the standing prayer and rituals such asbirth ceremonies; Bar and Bat Mitzvah; marriage; mourning rituals. Children are taught about Shabbat in the home and synagogue, the Jewish Festivals including Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. What is an effective education in Judaism for children in Schools? Here, one UK teacher criticizes elements of the curriculam and makes suggestions.

UK: How could the teaching of Judaism be improved in schools?

I think what we need is a more rigorous response to Judaism. It sometimes feels that Judaism is typified by teaching about the Shabbat meal in the primary school and then by looking at suffering and the Holocaust once pupils get to the secondary school. Even teaching on Shabbat can be too closely linked with a Friday night family meal – the peace of Shabbat is something that all can participate in, even if you are on your own.

All RE departments seem to have dreidels but to be honest, I never had one as a child and don’t really see them as central to the meaning of Chanukah. Chanukah for me is about keeping your identity, values and strength in difficult times and is a continuing theme for the Jewish people.

Teaching about kosher/treif food can just involve lists of what is acceptable and what isn’t. It could be linked more closely with the challenges of being religious in a secular society. Schools could explore the diversity of Jewish communities around the world and use images of black Jews and Sephardi Torah scrolls. They could show differences in seder meals, for example, from the Indian community. Links between Jews and other faith groups (such as the planned House of One place of worship in Berlin, for Jews, Christians and Muslims) could be explored:

The consultation for GCSE and A’level RE ( is heading in the right direction in terms of ethical teachings. Many Jewish people would see ‘gemilut chasadim’ (acts of loving kindness) and ‘tzedekah’ (charity) very central to their religion and culture. The concept of ‘pikuach nefesh’ (preservation of life) is a powerful idea.

Young people particularly have an affinity with the concept of tikkun olam – ‘repair of the damaged world’. Our RE should actively work to build good relationships between Judaism and other faiths and help fight stereotypes, racism and anti-semitism.

Anne Krisman
Anne Krisman is head of RE in a London Borough of Redbridge special school and is a member of the Expert Advisory Group for R

Shimon Waronker, the principal of Junior High School 22

Another school day starts: Shimon Waronker, the principal of Junior High School 22, on station outside school, which is overwhelmingly black and Hispanic. Attending to the details Mr. Waronker was greeted with near disbelief when he arrived in 2004 after his training in the Leadership Academy. In the classroom Mr. Waronker has helped attendance rise to 93 percent.

Source: The London RE Hub