Download the evaluations of the first year of the Beit Midrash in action.

Beit Midrash as an 
Alternative High School

A Proposal for Jewish School Innovation

IT HAS LONG BEEN OUR CONVICTION that innovation and reform in Torah education require us to articulate a vision of the ideal. Instead of tinkering with what currently exists, we may be better served by thinking about what might be possible, and we must stretch our imaginations in doing so. Jewish day schools in the Diaspora, as well as in Israel, generally follow a fairly rigid model. With certain variables (e.g., all kodesh in the morning, or interspersed throughout the day), the rhythm of school life is fairly standard for all students.

Imagining new structures for Jewish schools may break open rigid molds, and may enable us to develop alternative models

There may be very good reasons for this default option, economic considerations being not least amongst them. Still, we contend that imagining new structures for Jewish schools may break open those rigid molds, and may enable us to develop alternative models. Since thinking about how education ought to happen is a prerequisite for education happening well, ATID has invested much energy in order to develop the proposal we present herein.

In part, our proposal is a response to particular problems that exist in the current system. There is a perceived crisis in Jewish education both in Israel and in the Diaspora, which manifests itself in a lack of observance, weak commitment to Torah learning, and a lack of text skills and knowledge in our students. However, we also believe that the suggestions we present here are potentially effective, irrespective of any particular problem the system may be experiencing. Our tentative conclusions are that the beit midrash is a model that has long served the Torah learning community, and we would do well to adopt and modify it for our high school students. We believe that a high school beit midrash can be invigorating for certain students. It can develop their text skills, and-more significantly-encourage them to find Torah study to be meaningful and worthwhile. We have developed a school model that concretizes and exemplifies the type of learning that we would like to see in high schools. While based in part upon some traditional ideas, our proposed models are new to contemporary Jewish education.

A beit midrash can be invigorating for certain students, and encourage them to find Torah study to be meaningful and worthwhile.

In preparing these models, we have visited schools in Israel and North America; we have grappled with the literature from relevant academic disciplines; and we have met with thoughtful educators and struggled with their comments on our ongoing work. Our proposed model is admittedly radical, but we have also offered some more moderate suggestions that might impact on more conventional schools. Still, we believe that the more radical model can indeed be implemented. While no responsible educator would put forth a proposal claiming to be a magic solution for all students (ours clearly is not), we believe that this proposal can improve Jewish schools, Torah learning, and religious life for many.

While based in part upon some traditional ideas, our proposed models are new to contemporary Jewish education.

In September 2004, ATID launched an experimental track in an Israeli high school in order to implement, test, and evaluate the ways in which these ideas can work in practice. Ultimately, ATID would like to establish a new school along this model. We hope that these initiatives can serve as a model and launching pad for others. In Jewish education this has often proven to be the most effective way of introducing change. Success, should we achieve it, will bring imitators.

At this stage, we are making this draft proposal available to select educators and policy makers, in order to elicit feedback and critique. We hope that you will share your reactions, comments, and criticisms with us. Please do not hesitate to contact our office for any further information.

To download the proposal, click here...

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