Study is among the most important values in Jewish Life. Jewish tradition contemplates Study as a normal part of the preparation cycle from early childhood, traditionally focused on religious texts (Guemara, for example). On the other hand, life in society requires skills, knowledge and formation which are beyond the scope of the traditional curriculum
The debate about the “right” balance existed all along Jewish history, while the responses were varied. Still, even if traditional solutions could guide us, Barcelona is different than the traditional scenario in two aspects: We are a small community trying to preserve its identity in a modern world the tensions are exacerbated.
Size makes a difference: Smaller communities lack the critical mass to maintain an independent Jewish education system are obliged to propose original solutions. Barcelona is an illustrative example: The need to maintain a critical mass at the Jewish local school had significant consequences: The inflow of non-Jewish students brought about a natural erosion in the Jewish contents in the program of study the students are obliged to comply with. The question is whether the loss of Jewish content justifies the effort
Modern world produces another challenge: First, the ever demanding labor markets demands relatively long period of formation and full dedication. Even a full time student has no guarantee to find a decent job in accordance to his skills. In such scenario, the community must dedicate time and effort to motivate youngsters to deal with topics which for a secular eye are “non-practical”. In addition, the modern constant flow of information and distraction have evaporated the notional walls that gave some sort of protection to young people. Youngsters are exposed to values and questions which they lack the tools to understand and judge. Can we lock them? Is it feasible at all?
The challenge is not to build walls but to bridge between the youngsters’ world and the Community’s mission to preserve Jewish life. One of the main interesting propositions was that Jewish traditional education is after all a positive component in a modern formation process.
Generally speaking, the traditional Jewish study points not only to the accumulation of knowledge per se but mainly to the development of critical analytical thinking capabilities. In an era of unlimited and free access to “raw” knowledge the main relative advantage shifts to the capacity to elaborate the knowledge, to mark between priorities and to distinguish between real and fake information. In other words, despite the apparent image of “non-practicability” Jewish education values have a lot to contribute to the youngsters. The big challenge remains how to make them understand that.