In this paper I attempt to determine whether the study of Jewish
Philosophy in the secular high schools influences the studentís feelings of belonging to his
Jewish heritage and to what extent the student identifies with its values and content.
The paper focuses on two planes, the theoretical based on various articles written on
this subject, and the practical plane consisting of the interpretation of statistics
garnered from questionnaires and interviews in one of the few secular schools where Jewish
Philosophy is taught.
From analyzing the articles it seems that there are three approaches which
enable students to create a bond between their own Jewish identity and the texts they study
in class: 1. The consciousness approach, 2. The intellectual approach, 3. The interactive
The goal of the first approach is to mold the consciousness and the
identity of the students and therefore it attempts not only to teach concepts, theology and
thought, but Jewish history and Jewish sociology as well. This approach teaches Jewish
consciousness directly to the students in order to insure that Jewish consciousness will be
instilled in the students. The goal is to create a student who is a link in the chain of
On the other hand, the assumption made by the intellectual approach is
that one must study the works of a wide variety of thinkers, and to teach concepts and texts,
in order to create a Jewish identity and by so doing to reduce their estrangement. According
to this approach, the more the student will know, the more he will identify with Judaism
and the more he will feel a sense of belonging. The goal of this approach is to create a
knowledgeable student, intellectual, and connected. Unlike the first approach, the goal here
focuses on the development of Jewish identity of the individual and less on group identity.
The interactive approach states that students do have a feeling of Jewish
identity, mainly with modern Jewish-Israeli culture (Hebrew songs, Lag Ba`omer), but not
to Rabbinic Judaism. The role that the study of Jewish Philosophy should have on the
student is to intensify his connection to his Jewish culture, a connection which already
exists, thereby to ensure that the culture does not stagnate. The ideal student according
to this approach is one who is connected to his culture and continues to create it.
After analyzing the questionnaires filled out by the 12th graders studying
in a secular school and conducting personal interviews with graduates of the same school
it was possible to draw several conclusions. Firstly, in response to the question posed by
this study, one is able to conclude from the interviews that there is great potential in
the study of Jewish Philosophy. The students interviewed completed their studies within
the last eight years, and all those interviewed expressed their appreciation and enjoyment
of these classes. The students felt that they came away from these classes with a treasure
that their secular friends didnít have.
From the questionnaires that were given out in the 12th grade, it was
possible to draw two additional conclusions: One, a number of students responded that this
subject didnít have any influence on them since it was too difficult. The curriculum
consisted of philosophical material that required of them a way of thinking that they didnít
possess. The curriculum wasnít adapted to weaker students, and since it is necessary to
create identification also among weaker students, it is important to seek an alternative
teaching method, or at least not to implement this curriculum as it is in weaker schools.
Secondly, some students wrote in answer to the question about whether
he would recommend that his friend from another school study Jewish Philosophy, that if
the student believes then itís better that he doesnít study this subject since the study
of Jewish philosophy breaks down oneís beliefs. It is possible that in certain schools
having youngsters from traditional backgrounds, with a naive, intuitive belief in their
Judaism, it is important to choose the texts that are studied very critically or at
least to be aware of the existence of this problem.
The last conclusion is a personal one, regarding that of a teacher who is
herself religiously observant. It seems to me that students are more suspicious of a
religious teacher, always examining whether he is trying to indoctrinate them with
information other than that in their curriculum. In order for the study of Jewish
Philosophy to have positive effects, the teacher must create a trusting environment between
himself and his students, and at the same time the secular community must train more
teachers to teach the subject of Jewish Philosophy.