Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Judaism on education

Excerpt from my Erev Rosh Hashanah sermon, 2013/5774

To have the best chance of success, we are certainly going to need to be well educated – and Judaism has much to say about learning and study.  The obligation to teach one's children is set forth in the instruction to celebrate seder: "You shall tell your child on that day, saying, 'It is because of what God did for me when I came out of Egypt.'" (Exodus 13:8) . In the first paragraph of the Sh’ma, which is traditionally said every evening and  morning, we say: “Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deut 6:6-8).  Deuteronomy contains several other references to the duty to provide education: “Remember the days of old, consider the years of ages past; ask your father, he will inform you, your elders, they will tell you.” (Deut 32:7).  The Book of Proverbs also contains many verses related to education: “My child, do not forget my teaching, but let your mind retain my commandments; For they will bestow on you length of days, years of life and well-being.“ (Prov 3:1-2). 

We learn that Joshua ben Perachyah said: Provide for yourself a teacher and a study partner, and the sages said: Let the honor of your student be as dear to you as your own” (Pirkei Avot, 4:15).  It is hardly surprising that we place such emphasis on education: in my own family, my grandmother, father and wife are teachers!  And who did the government turn to, to review the Australian education system and its funding, but David Gonski, a member of The Emanuel Synagogue in Sydney!  Since both major parties have more or less agreed to these reforms, there may not be a major point of difference – personally I didn’t understand the rationale of cutting spending on universities to pay for improved school funding, but we will have to see what transpires, and hope that universities don’t pay the price.

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