This work describes a vision of educating students of the Modern Orthodox
school system to be equipped with a strong and broad knowledge base of basic information
about Judaism and Jewish topics. As viewed by teachers in the post-high school seminaries
in Israel, graduates of the Modern Orthodox high schools exhibit a lack of basic Jewish
knowledge that is assumed they would learn in high school. The aim of this project is to
determine areas of weakness in basic knowledge of Jewish topics, among graduates of Modern
Orthodox high schools in America. This paper attempts to determine where (in what areas)
and why this knowledge is often found lacking, and to propose a solution to fill in the void.
It has been observed that even among those recently graduated from Modern
Orthodox high schools, those who have been through greater than twelve years of day school
education, yeda clali does not seem to be part of their knowledge base. The yeda clali
discussed here consists of basic facts and information about Judaism. It includes the
building blocks that future learning is based upon, and the skills needed to continue
learning. To give a more defined picture of what is intended by yeda clali of Jewish
topics, included in the paper is an outline of topics and examples demonstrating what
might fit in to those topics.
Some of this information may actually be taught as part of the elementary
or high school curriculum. Unfortunately, the students do not retain a good part of it.
When one stops to think about how much information one does recall (much of it unimportant)
it becomes apparent how little of it consists of basic knowledge about Judaism. Yeda clali
must not only be taught, it must also be made relevant to the life of the student. In
this way, the student will learn the information and internalize it and the material will
be better retained.
A question is raised concerning the necessity to know basic Jewish facts
and chronology, or personalities in Jewish history. Perhaps it is sufficient, and even
preferable, to equip students with bottom-line, practical halakha. There are actually a
number of advantages to having a knowledge base of yeda clali. It is not merely for the
sake of knowing, as an intellectual pursuit. Increased knowledge of Torah and Judaism also
affects the consciousness of the knower. The broad knowledge base will give him an
appreciation of where he stands in the greater span of Jewish history as well as the
foundation to enable him to further his knowledge and awareness. It will enable him to
think and to speak about these topics and will, hopefully affect his actions, as well.
Interviews of educators at post-high school seminaries in Israel were
conducted to more precisely determine specific areas of basic Jewish knowledge that Modern
Orthodox high school graduates don't know. The post-high school seminaries are a gathering
point for a high percentage of graduates from various Modern Orthodox high schools in
America. Teachers in these institutions are most aware of the information and skills,
which with their students are not equipped. The purpose of these interviews was to find
out from those 'in the field' what, if anything, is lacking from the high school
education of their students.
Educators from six different seminaries were approached. They concluded
that students are arriving at the post-high school programs without a lot of basic,
background information that it is assumed they would have. There was a general consensus
among the teachers regarding the subject areas found to be the most problematic, and these
areas are described in detail in the paper. The comments of the educators surveyed
revealed that the deficit lies not only in the actual information that is missing from the
knowledge base. There is also a lack of learning skills and training in critical
analysis, as well as a problem in the general attitude towards learning. Differences
in preparedness were noted among students from different schools, but overall the
Beit-Yaakov schools seem to successfully instill their students with both, a lot of
Jewish knowledge, as well as love of Torah. The common feeling amongst the educators
interviewed is that the Modern Orthodox high schools do not sufficiently promote a
positive attitude towards Torah learning, and do not stress to the students the
importance of remembering the yeda clali that they are taught.
Following the analysis of the interviews, there is a description of
factors contributing to this situation. (1) There is a lack of time. The high school
administration and curriculum planners have a lot that they would like to accomplish in a
limited amount of school years. (2) The high school teachers have not necessarily set out
to teach skills and a knowledge base. The agenda is often only the assigned curriculum.
(3) The basic Jewish knowledge is being ineffectively transmitted to the students, and it
is, therefore, not being retained.
The author then discusses the issue of vision as it relates to the
inclusion of yeda clali in the high school curriculum. The following questions are posed:
Do the schools each have a vision? Does it include imparting basic Jewish knowledge to the
student? Do they periodically re-evaluate to determine if they are successfully achieving
the vision? The assessment of the post-high school teachers revealed in the interviews
indicates that the concept of yeda clali of Jewish topics has not been included in the vision
of the schools. In the case where it is included in the vision, it is not being successfully
achieved. Because of this many graduates of the schools are not well equipped in basic
Included in this work is a proposal consisting of an adaptation of the
current high school curriculum to include yeda clali. The four general rules underlying the
proposal are : (1) that information be taught in an interesting manner; (2) that it must be
taught in its proper context; (3) that it should be repeated and reviewed, both in class and
on exams and; (4) that its importance and relevance must be stressed. Using these guidelines
it will be possible to include in the existing high school curriculum much of the basic
Jewish knowledge that should be taught. In this way, the material is taught in context and
incorporated into existing subjects, and it becomes more relevant to the student. The
relevance of the information increases the likelihood of the student remembering and
internalizing the material. After a number of repetitions the student will remember the
material and it will become incorporated into his knowledge base.
Potential obstacles in implementing the vision are also discussed. The
main obstacle is the attitude of the high school. Only if the schools are willing to assess
what they have achieved and honestly evaluate what is still yet to accomplish, can they
successfully implement a vision of education. Most schools are reluctant to evaluate the
current success rate in obtaining their educational goals, if they have set these goals at
all. Furthermore, they are unwilling to adapt the existing curriculum when change is
recommended. The teaching staff must be willing to change methods of thinking and teaching
to adapt their respective syllabi to include 'yeda clali' data into class material.
Needless to say, the teachers themselves must be adequately knowledgeable in these areas.
Another factor working against successful implementation of a vision such
as this is human nature – people tend to forget. Often, even with excellent teaching methods
and interesting material students will forget what they have been taught.
Suggested areas of follow-up, including discussions with students, and high
school teachers to determine their opinion of the situation, are also mentioned in the paper.
The study concludes with a discussion of the underlying cause of the lack of
yeda clali and how it is actually a symptom of a problem facing Modern Orthodoxy at large. The
reason that the students do not know and retain this information, and that it is not
necessarily a priority agenda for the schools, is because its importance and impact on daily
life is not realized.
It was reported that graduates from Beit Yaakov schools have learned and
retained significantly more yeda clali of Jewish topics than their Modern Orthodox
counterparts. In the Beit Yaakov school system there exists an atmosphere of ahavat Torah
that does not seem to be present in the Modern Orthodox schools. The basic Jewish facts are
part of the knowledge base of the students, the language they speak and the way they behave.
The pivotal item that needs to be addressed is how to transfer this
positive attitude towards Torah and Judaism into the Modern Orthodox community. The most
important step towards increased yeda clali of Jewish topics among the Modern Orthodox would
be to decrease the apathy and cynicism in the community and to increase excitement and love
for Torah. With this change in attitude, students will want to remember these facts. They
will find relevance in what they learn as it relates to everyday activities and thoughts.