In this paper, the author describes and reviews the current state of the
Orot Etzion school in Efrat with regards to the implementation of the Barkai method of
teaching. Orot Etzion was founded 13 years ago on the basis of the Barkai method. Currently
the school functions as a semiprivate K-8 school system with over 1000 students in 5
Description of the Barkai Method
The Barkai curriculum focuses on religious studies following the order
stipulated by our sages: “Bible at the age five, Mishna at age ten and Talmud at age
fifteen”(Ethics of the Fathers 5:21). At the same time, the program aims at achieving maximum
integration of secular and religious studies, broadening students horizons in all aspects
of life. The curriculum is centered on Torah study, both quantitatively and qualitatively.
The Barkai programs view is that secular subjects are to be integrated into the wisdom of
the Torah, in line with the ideas of the Rambam. The Barkai educational system is based
on precise linguistic analysis, providing students with sophisticated reading comprehension
tools. A key component of the program is review, using tradional cantillation melodies
(Taamei Mikra)- to enhance comprehension and provide students with a thorough and extensive
knowledge of the sources, deeply implanting eternal Torah values in their minds and
identity. Constant review enables the children to internalize what they learn, with the
idea that the music and review will stay with them forever.
Parents play a crucial role in the Barkai approach. In addition to
providing an over-all atmosphere love of truth and logic. Parents must imbue the values of
respect of the teacher as the transmitter of knowledge. Parents of the younger grades are
also expected to listen to their children recite on a daily basis.
The author interviewed Rav Dan Beeri (the founder of the Barkai method),
the director of the Barkai institute, several teachers, and principals, along with some
principals of the high schools where many of the students from Orot Eztion go after
graduation. He also sent out a questionnaire to both teachers (10 responses out of 40
questionnaires) and parents (20 responses out of 60 questionnaires).
The author did not attempt to give full pedagogical analysis of the Barkai
method, although he does cite some of the critiques of the method. The main criticisms
focus upon the Barkai method’s use of rote learning, memorization and in general a
teacher-centered approach to learning. There is an over-all feeling that the method hinders
the development of the student’s creativity.
The majority of the parents did not choose the school because of the Barkai
method, but for the religious atmosphere, the small class size and the emphasis on Torah.
The majority of the parents did not display a full understanding of the Barkai method
although they did understand their role in listening to their children’s recitation.
The teachers, in general, have a basic understanding the Barkai method,
although they differ in their description of the method. They consistently point out the
method of teaching Tenakh with recitation as a goal, and most mentioned the idea of
integration of general studies into Torah teaching. Most indicated that they could use
better training and more written educational materials (the materials do indeed exist).
The High school principals did not see an overriding distinction between
the graduates of the Barkai method and other students. Except for the attitude of “kavod
hatorah” (which might not be directly attributed to the Barkai method) and overall
confidence with which they approached the material.
Based on the author’s preliminary study, the following conclusions
- The parents, although somewhat aware of what the method requires of them, do not have
a full understanding of the method, and a complete sense of their role in implementing it.
- The teachers could benefit from more training and materials in order to properly
implement the curriculum.
- The Barkai method has high ideals, yet the translation from theory to practice has
not been fully realized. This causes problems in implementation.
- Based on the High School principal’s report there were no apparent academic or
cognitive benefits or disadvantages to the students who have gone through the Barkai