The western educational system (to the definition of western that includes Japan) today, especially in the United States, but also in other western industrialized countries is an adaptation of the Prussian education system. It seems that modern Cheder/day schools almost uniformly follow this kind of system, with characteristics like different teachers per student year, students divided by age groups, centralized curriculum, dictation and memorization focus, written tests and grading and similar characteristics. My observation is that this is true even in schools that do not teach any secular subjects.

Some religious schools branch out into other secular education ideas, such as Montessori, etc., again following the lead of the school and class structure of the secular world. A distinctively Jewish approach (chavrusa, zal, etc.) to learning doesn't seem to emerge until high school age or later.

However, the Talmud seems to describe a different system, focused on single teachers that last with the students for many years, and the Rambam (who even describes specific parameters of a school day and a school year differently than the current practice) seems to indicate the same thing.

Does anyone discuss this, and how appropriate the current system is vis-a-vis traditional practice and Halacha?

Has anyone tried to establish a school more modeled on how it "used to be done" (to however they understand it) before the general Prussian influence and establishment of secular public education?

[That may seem like two questions, but the second one is really to help the first - if someone tries such a thing, they will state their agenda and reasons behind it.]

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    If anyone has done so, it's got be Zilberman's.
    – Double AA
    Nov 14, 2013 at 23:35
  • Why do you seem to assume they were speaking about the only/best proper educational model, as opposed to best practices within the system in use in their times?
    – Seth J
    Nov 15, 2013 at 4:02
  • @SethJ, I'm not assuming anything, other than if you have something spoken about in Halacha, there would be a reason why it isn't done now. I'm not trying to prejudice the reason - I have no idea why.
    – Yishai
    Nov 15, 2013 at 4:22
  • 1
    It's probably because it's more practical. A kindergarten teacher has to have a different skill set than a 12th grade Gemara teacher. Schools are also bigger now than they used to be, and economy of scale dictate that the optimum (economically) school is a big one (less overhead). Once you have those two conditions met, you need to have standardized curriculum (or else some students will be far behind others, depending on the speed of the teacher). Nov 20, 2013 at 6:26

1 Answer 1


I don't have any documented sources for this, but as my family has been involved in Chinuch for generations, in Lita, the US, and Eretz Yisrael, I do have an oral tradition of how our system evolved.

Until the enlightenment, most of gentile Europe was fairly unschooled and ignorant. However, with the enlightenment came this idea that the one people that believed in equal opportunity education all along, was somewhat backwards in its approach to educational systems and methodology.

Another historical factor that brought change is the industrial revolution. The new automatic assembly line method for manufacturing affected our collective psyche to the point that we stopped relating to things on terms of what we invest and became increasingly utilitarian. Unfortunately, this transferred to our beliefs about educating our children as well.

The big cities were always the first to incorporate the new ideas because economics demanded larger schools. The traditional model of a one room cheder only survived in the villages.

The only system I know of that has tried to go back to the original model is the Zilberman family's school and its branches.

  • 7
    Baruch mechayeh meitim!
    – Isaac Moses
    Nov 20, 2013 at 5:12
  • 1
    I took a break from studying for finals. I'm almost done with the first semester of my first year of law school.
    – Yahu
    Nov 20, 2013 at 5:16
  • Ahhh so the teacher has become the teach-ee. Are your graduates aware of this irony? Behatzlacha!
    – Isaac Moses
    Nov 20, 2013 at 5:27
  • Welcome back (although I think you left before I came :) ) Nov 20, 2013 at 6:21

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