Philosophy of Spiritual Education

Posted by Aryeh Ben David on August 25, 2004
Topics: Philosophy of Education, Spirituality, Jewish Education

“For education to be truly effective it has to penetrate into the depths of the soul of the student.”

The Disconnectedness of Standard Jewish Education

In my opinion there is a serious problem in Jewish Education a problem that will not be solved by a change in the syllabus nor by developing more knowledgeable educators. It is not a problem of pedagogy or content. It is a problem of disconnectedness students, from day school to advanced yeshivot, are not personally connecting to what they are learning.

Why does this happen? This situation is the product of a system that views education as a mind-to-mind experience, whose goal is to convey masses of content, oblivious of the degree to which the student emotionally connects or integrates this into daily life. It is an approach that does not emphasize personal relevance, personal meaning, or touching the hearts of the students. It is a mind-to-mind approach that inevitably results in a sense of disconnectedness the student has not become personally affected by what s/he has learned.

Integrating Mind, Heart and Body

There is another approach. An approach that was, in fact, favored by the Vilna Gaon, the masters of Kabbalah, the Hassidic masters, Rav Kook, the Aish Kodesh and Abraham Joshua Heschel. It is an approach that is based on the wisdom of the Kabbalah, on the understanding that for education to be truly effective it has to penetrate into the depths of the soul of the student. It is not a mind-to-mind approach, rather an approach of one whole person to another whole person, of mind and heart and body to another mind and heart and body.

How does this approach work?

First, the heart is engaged. The Talmud states, “A person only learns where his (her) heart is connected,” A safe and supportive environment is created; without cynicism or judging others. Only in a “safe space” will the student be able to personally engage with the material. Activities are designed to enable each participant to actively listen to him/herself and to others regarding the subject studied. This listening and subsequent sharing with others coheres the whole group as a whole and begins to foster a community of compassion openness.

Then, the mind is engaged. A subject is studied. Critical and rigorous thinking is involved. This has always been the strength of Pardes.

Then the body is engaged. An experiential activity then enables the student to take this mind/heart experience and express it through various media, including art, drama, creative writing, or movement. The goal here is not the performance. Rather the aim is to physically actualize what has been heretofore abstract and internal. This tangible experience serves to concretize what the mind and heart have previously experienced.

Impassioned Jewish Learning This experiential integration results in a deep personal connectedness to whatever subject has been learned, it creates impassioned learners. Students begin to realize that Judaism is not just about learning content, it is not just about knowing things, but that the deep wisdom of Judaism can impact and enhance their lives.

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