The Impact of the National Religious Identity of Talmud Teachers in Yeshivah High Schools on their Professional Identity
Source: International Journal of Jewish Education Research (IJJER), 2013 (4), 122-146
This paper is based on findings of a study of the changes in Talmud instruction in high-school level yeshivot and ulpanot (religious schools for boys and girls, respectively) in Israel. The research question was: How do Talmud teachers perceive the changes that the subject has been undergoing in institutes that combine both Jewish studies with general and scientific studies.
In this paper we present possible connections between these teachers' professional identities and their national- religious identities. Findings from interviews with 16 Talmud teachers revealed that their professional identity is related to and influenced by the tension between their traditional religious and national identities (or between the “national” and the “religious”).
Teaching Talmud as a subject for matriculation exams, according to a prescribed curriculum, is a new, modern, national development, which began in 1936. The study of Talmud, which is the heart of the traditional yeshiva, has been transformed, based on a new institutionalized curriculum founded on principles and rationales which are new to conservative-traditional yeshiva education. This makes it is possible to study the challenge of maintaining traditional cultural identities within a constantly modernizing scientific world. Our findings reveal a steadfast determination to maintain the subject's traditional form alongside a desire to revive and update it so it can be adapted to contemporary culture (Gribetz, 1995; Meir, in print).
This article presents teachers' professional narratives, as the people who have guided the experience of teaching Talmud over the years, regarding the balance between preservation and innovation. Our analysis reveals polarities in the teacher's attitudes, between an emphasis of traditional teaching and a tendency to modernize and revitalize the teaching process.
The article compares the teachers' perception of the Talmud teaching as part of the traditional religious education, and the need of a modern-national education. The findings show that there is an affinity between teachers’ religious and national identity of the teacher and their perception of Talmud teaching.
The findings show that most of the teachers try to find the balance between the traditional yeshiva-style Talmud studies and the demands of a high school which prepares students for matriculation leading to higher academic studies. Finally, the study acknowledges the difficulty in defining today’s Talmud teacher as a rabbi in a yeshiva or a high-school teacher.