Page 164 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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CAROLYN STARMAN HESSEL
Textbooks in Jewish Education
f r o m
e a r l i e s t
t im e s
the traditional Jewish texts have molded
the Jewish people and been the rock o f Jewish survival. I ro n ­
ically for the People o f the Book, the field o f elementary Jewish
education in America lacked p rop e r textbooks until the early
years o f this century, long af te r they had appeared in the Am er­
ican schoolroom. T h e Siddur, the Tanakh and the Talmud ,
in the identical form used by adults, were placed before chil­
dren . T h e texts were neither modified no r translated into the
vernacular. It was the mass immigration o f Eastern European
Jews at the tu rn o f the century, that created the dem and for
a sound educational system with suitable textbooks to serve as
instructional aids.
T h e textbook exercises enormous influence in shaping the
understand ings and practices o f American Jews, not unlike its
respective impact in the secular arena. Hillel Black, in
The Amer­
ican Schoolbook,
wrote:
. . . we spend more on dog food than we do on schoolbooks
— which may well have greater influence on shaping the thoughts
and values of the nation than all the mass media combined.1
In 1982, JESNA, the Jewish Education Service o f North
America, released an
Inventory of Texts in Supplementary Jewish
Schools.2
Within the subject area “Customs and Ceremonies,”
there appear over fifty d iffe ren t titles in use in grades 4 th rough
7. The books rep resen t the ou tpu t o f less than ten publishing
houses who thus assume considerable responsibility for the
transmission o f ou r heritage to the next generation. T h e pub ­
lications o f these agencies, designed for younger grades, p ro ­
1. Black, Hillel,
The American Schoolbook,
William Morrow, NY, 1967, p. 33.
2. Poliak, George,
Inventory o f Texts in Supplementary Jewish Schools,
Jewish Ed­
ucation Service o f North America, NY, 1982.
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