Date and Place: 13 Marcheshvan 5768 (1907), Yafo
Recipient: The rabbis of the Secretariat of “Mizrachi” of the Western Countries. They had many questions for Rav Kook about the state of education in Eretz Yisrael. The ones he answered, we present in numbered form, as he did.
Body: In all of the old [yeshiva] schools of the Ashkenazic community in the Holy Land, the accepted system of translation is into the jargon (Yiddish).
I must point out that a light is starting to shine in the positive direction here in this matter. There is one cheder (religious school) that was founded by laymen who possess Torah and fear of G-d, and they want their sons to have an education that fits the needs of the time. Most of them live in the part of the city [of Yafo] that is called “Achva.” There the cheder’s main language is Hebrew pronounced with an Ashkenazi accent. (Those who follow the new approach to education choose specifically the Sephardi pronunciation even though they are Ashkenazim. This sometimes causes tensions in families and in synagogues.) At this time, things are progressing at a proper pace. An educational supervisor has been selected who has a PhD and is formidable in Torah, fear of Hashem, and secular knowledge. His name is Mr. Zeliger, and he comes from Austria. This cheder is merging with the local Sha’arei Torah institution, which has been operating totally with the old curriculum. As time goes on, this unification can grow and provide “proper fruit.” Of course, there will be a need for much to be fixed and renovated. However, we see the rays of hope, that the dedicated Judaism will be established with a foundation of the needs of life as they continue to develop in the Holy Land, may it be strongly established.
Section II [Modern Schools] – 1. There are many schools throughout the Holy Land for secular studies and for learning trades. I cannot list them, for almost every new school opened is a secular school. Here in Yafo, we have begun to establish a department for training in various trades, and it is connected to Sha’arei Torah. The matter is in the early stages of development, and we can use strengthening and a lot of both moral and material support. Then it can be of great help for the situation in the Holy Land and the raising of the value of reliable Judaism.
2. The spoken language is Hebrew (with a Sephardic pronunciation) in several new schools, and teaching Hebrew takes up a significant portion of the school day. Most of the new schools have curricula, written and even published, so that one can see the details of what is being studied. (I do not know if the schools are fully following the curricula.)
4. Among the families who belong to all of the different [religious] political parties, there are those who send their children to the new schools, and only those who are distinguished in their observance of Torah and fear of G-d stay away from them. The latter avoid them because of the new schools’ weakness in matters of religion. There are also those who do not send their children to the new schools because they are afraid that the administrators of the kollelim (the organizations that many European Jewish communities had to financially support those who lived in Eretz Yisrael) will withhold their funds. As lowly a concern as this is, this consideration brings benefit in the problematic situation that exists now. This group of students comes from both the cities and the agricultural settlements.
5. The teachers and principals are the members of the boards of education in these schools, and they are the educational supervisors.
6. Some of the teachers have academic degrees, and some are just clever people who have picked up what it is that they need to know to do their work.
We continue with other elements of Rav Kook’s report next time.