Torah Umesorah – National Society for Hebrew Day Schools
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Torah Umesorah – National Society for Hebrew Day Schools (or Torah Umesorah תורה ומסורה) is an Orthodox Jewish organization that fosters and promotes Torah-based Jewish religious education in North America by supporting and developing a loosely affiliated network of 760 independent private Jewish day schools catering to more than 250,000 children, yeshivas and kollelim in every city with a significant population of Jews. The previous executive vice-president of Torah Umesorah was Rabbi Joshua Fishman, a disciple of Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner (1906–1980). Rabbi Fishman retired in June 2007, and the current Menahel ("principal") is Rabbi Dovid Nojowitz, who returned to the U.S., after serving as Rosh Kollel in Melbourne, Australia for a quarter century.
The first national Jewish organization that pioneered Jewish day schools in the US in 1944 at a time when the United States was at war with the Axis Powers and Europe's Jews were facing the genocide of the Holocaust by the Nazis. Yet it was precisely at that time that the call went out, challenging the prevailing mood of the times, to establish a totally new network of Jewish day schools across North America. Torah Umesorah was founded by Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz and Rabbi Aaron Kotler.
The originator and leading personality of this new idea was the Hungarian-born Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz (who insisted on being addressed as "Mr. Mendlowitz") who was then serving as the head of the Yeshiva Torah Vodaas in Brooklyn. He was supported, encouraged and guided by a group of colleagues (mostly leading Eastern European-born and educated rosh yeshivas ["deans"]), and aided greatly Rabbi Aharon Kotler (1890–1962) the rosh yeshiva of the Lakewood yeshiva in New Jersey. The first full-time Director, Dr. Joseph Kaminetsky, was selected in 1946, and was given the mandate to fulfill the vision of the founding rabbis.
At the founding of Torah Umesorah, the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools, there were very few Jewish day schools, let alone authentic yeshivas or Beis Yaakov schools in North America. Whereas by the end of the twentieth century, there were over 600 yeshivas and day schools in the United States and Canada with over 170,000 Jewish students. The organization's motto is "the children are the future" or in Hebrew, יש עתיד.
Planning Torah Umesorah's contributions to Jewish education
The founders of Torah Umesorah wanted to establish a different model of education that was not based on the up-till-then accepted practice whereby Jewish parents sent their children to government non-sectarian public schools during the day and then in the afternoons or on Sundays would send their children to Cheder or Talmud Torah-type Jewishly-run schools as had once been done in Europe—but which now in the modern New World were failing to transmit Judaism in a compelling and lasting manner to students who arrived tired in the afternoons, and who were also subjected to the secularizing forces in general American society and culture in public school, on the street, and at home.
Thus the rabbis envisioned the birth of dual-curriculum Jewish day schools that would provide both a Judaic (Jewish or Torah religious) education for half the day and a good secular education all under one roof in one building or complex. Ideally, each new school was to be guided by an ordained rabbi who would serve as the headmaster or principal and who would also recruit a "general studies" associate principal (also known as the "English principal"), preferably someone who was also loyal to the traditions of Judaism, who would then recruit, assist, supervise and guide teachers who would be teaching the same secular subjects taught in the public schools.
Factors favoring Torah Umesorah's establishment
However, there were enough parents who were sold on the idea particularly as the shock of the enormity of the Holocaust (of World War II) set in and since over half a million United States Jews had served in the US armed forces and witnessed the horrors of anti-Semitism for themselves many were sympathetic to the rabbis' calls for a moderate Jewish education, at least until the Bar Mitzvah age (12-13) of their children.
Another important factor at the time was the highly emotional Jewish pride that was felt by many Jews following the establishment of the new State of Israel with the United States being the first to recognize the new Jewish state. Many American Jews now felt that they needed to provide the means for their children to learn the Hebrew language connected with the core of Judaism, that would connect the children and their families with pride in being Jewish, and simultaneously promote secular education as well.
The new Jewish days schools were seen as the perfect means to serve as the educational vehicles to accomplish the new goals of all-day Jewish schooling—or, all-day schooling under Jewish religious auspices—whereas in the past the Cheders and Talmud Torahs were judged to be failures because they did not manage to adequately inspire and prepare the Jewish children who attended them for Jewish religious adulthood. (Once Torah Umesorah was established, and its affiliated schools were attracting students, the same criticism would be leveled at parents who withdrew their children as they reached adolescence and were then sent to government-run public school high schools rather than making the sacrifices of attending Jewish high schools.)
Other Orthodox efforts
In the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area, particularly in many areas of Brooklyn, various Hasidic and Haredi groups (such as Satmar, Bobov, Vizhnitz and many others) attracted many new supporters for yeshiva education that was more intensive than the Jewish day school model being promoted by Torah Umesorah to the American heartland. Notable was Merkos L'inyonei Chinuch, which was founded by the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson in 1942.
The impetus for the large growth evident in Orthodox Jewish Day Schools, came largely from Holocaust survivors who arrived in the United States during the 1940s and 1950s (such as the Lithuanian Mir yeshiva) who had no wish to emulate the educational goals of secular (Jewish) society. They therefore responded to calls to send their children to yeshivas (for the boys) and Beis Yaakovs (for the girls) that provided less intense secular education with most of the time devoted entirely to Talmud and rabbinical literature (for the boys) and study of Tanakh and Jewish laws and customs (for the girls) all combined with fervent and intense Jewish worship. The new institutions thrived in their own right and mostly followed the guidelines of their own rosh yeshivas and rebbes who did not necessarily look to Torah Umesorah for any curricular guidance.
Towards the latter part of the twentieth century, Torah Umesorah had teachers and rabbis from the Haredi and Hasidic schools beginning to look to it for training in improving classroom management, enhancing classroom discipline and learning up-to-date teaching skills and techniques that they may not have formally received during their yeshiva training.
Torah Umesorah has taken a leading role in breaking ground and finding the funding for the establishment of out-of-town kollelim ("post-graduate" Talmudic schools) in any community that is willing to set up the infrastructure and host such efforts. Some of the young rabbis and rebbetzins (their wives) have then subsequently taken full- and part-time positions as Jewish educators in the local day schools, as well as opting to serve in local Orthodox synagogues as "pulpit rabbis" and in some instances even founding and developing new Jewish day schools and synagogues of their own.
Relationship with Modern Orthodox groups
By the 1980s and 1990s there was a trend whereby some Modern Orthodox communities pushed for the establishment of day-school type high schools. However, Torah Umesorah's rabbinical board of advisers who are also the core of the Haredi Agudath Israel of America rabbinic leadership, do not condone coeducation beyond the beginning of adolescence (or earlier). Thus, since most Jewish day schools consist of both boys and girls as students, with some, but not all, classes conducted separately, the rabbis could therefore not give their approval to co-ed high schools. The desired model for the rabbis and the rosh yeshivas who guide them is for boys who graduate eighth grade to continue in all-male traditional yeshivas ("Talmudical academies") and for the girls to study at Beis Yaakov ("Beth Jacob") type schools. Some Modern Orthodox parents and communal leaders rejected this position and chose instead to create a network of Modern Orthodox Jewish day schools known as Association of Day Schools and Yeshiva High Schools.
Partners in Torah
Under the guidance of Rabbi Eli Gewirtz, Torah Umesorah began a new initiative to promote Jewish adult education. Partners in Torah matches day school educated Jews for study with less learned study partners in distant communities over the phone and, if possible, in person.
To date, this international organization has over 30,000 members, as documented in their new book, released in 2009.
In 2004 a division of Partners in Torah was launched in the United Kingdom - PaL (Phone and Learn) matches Jews who want to learn more about their heritage with a friendly, knowledgeable tutor for an hour a week of Jewish learning and discussion over the phone.
Under Project SEED yeshiva students (boys and girls in their teens and early 20's) are recruited and sent on two to six-week summer trips to far-flung smaller Jewish communities, where they teach classes or supervise children in summer day-camps, which may or not be accredited by a third party association such as the Western Association of Independent Camps or the American Camping Association. The experience is meant to benefit all participants by providing a Torah oriented experience in an environment where the campers and counselors are strictly separated by gender. Most participants are paid a stipend to defray much (but not all) of the cost of their stay at their destination, air-fare, room and board, trips and transportation.
- Publications for students, teachers, administrators, and principals
- Counseling for students and families
- Teacher training
- Annual conventions for rabbis who teach or are principals
- Job placement for rabbis and Jewish studies teachers.
- Teacher on-the-job training
- Principals organization, with professional training for outstanding candidates
- Beth din ("Jewish court of law") to resolve disputes
- Enrichment programs
- Financial assistance for some students
- Adult education via the Summer SEED program and Partners-in-Torah
- Help with establishing kollels ("post-graduate Talmudic schools") and new Jewish day schools and yeshivas where called upon
- Tutoring services (under the for-profit public benefit corporation)
- Zalman Schachter - former vice President in the organization.
* the Conservative Judaism day school association.
- Gewirtz, Eli (2009). Partners in Torah, Partners in Eternity: The Personal Stories, the Life-changing Encounters. Targum Press. ISBN 978-1-56871-505-6