Thursday, January 11, 2007

Knowing your Bible

So Yuli Tamir, the Minister of Education here in Israel, is moving ahead with the idea of giving a more central focus to Tanakh in Israeli public schools. I think that it is a great idea. I am fascinated time and again when secular Israeli politicians of the older generation quote fairly obscure pesukim in order to make a point in a debate or an interview. It is part of their cultural heritage. They are not trying to "score points" with anyone (like American candidates who toss out a word or two in Yiddish when visiting one neighborhood, Spanish in the next and Chinese in a third), they are simple making use of imagery that makes them who they are. When I moved to Israel and the Meretz party was part of the coalition, Shulamit Aloni – an avowed secularist – was on the radio regularly. I don't think I ever heard her speak without quoting a pasuk or referring to a midrash. (Aloni has since retired from politics.)

The younger generation of Israeli politicians do not share that cultural heritage. They do not use biblical imagery, nor do they think in those terms – something that is sorely missing. Any plan to bring Tanakh back as a focus of educational endeavor, seems like a worthwhile effort to me.

Reading this makes me think about the state of Tanakh instruction in the Diaspora. I recently presented one of my doctoral research findings to a group of aspiring young American educators. I had collected surveys from several hundred students on one-year Israel programs and among the questions I asked was "Is the modern State of Israel a fulfillment of nevu'ot of our prophets?" Only about 15% agreed or strongly agreed to that statement. In contrast to this, a recent Pew Report found that almost 60% of white evangelical Protestants agreed or strongly agreed with a similar statement that was presented to them. When I asked my audience why they thought this might be true, the suggestion that struck me was "Well, the Christians actually know what the prophecies are – our students don't!"

Who is looking out for Tanakh studies in day school classrooms in the Diaspora?

1 comment:

  1. A friend of mine did an informal study when he was in Yeshiva, he asked about 15 kids all of whom had grown up in various Yeshiva systems to name all 24 books of Tanach, only 1 could (For the record I got 22, and I'm a BT with no jewish education background)