For a long time previous to my going to Liverpool, I had had definite ideas on the teaching of Torah and when I went to Liverpool my aim was to try and put these ideas into practice. Whilst I was staying in the Lachs’ house, I began to write out some of my courses. I told Henry Lachs the lines I was working on and he seemed to like them.
The principles I used to construct my programme are detailed in the Introduction to my book “Teach Them Torah” which I brought out in the Summer of 1972:
On taking over as the Director of Jewish Education at the King David High School, Liverpool, I found that great emphasis had been placed in the Jewish Studies curricula on the translation of texts.
Investigations soon showed that lesson after lesson of translation was of very minimal benefit to the type of pupil found at this School, and had in fact caused a reaction against Jewish Studies in general. It was thus obvious that a radical re-organisation of the curricula was necessary.
In planning such a re-organisation the following factors had to be born in mind:
1) nearly ninety per cent of all the Jewish pupils in Liverpool attend the King David High School.
2) the majority of the Jews in Liverpool are unfortunately not observant in all the Mitzvot in the Torah, and hence rely heavily on the School for the Jewish education of their children.
3) a very limited amount of time is allocated in the timetable to Jewish Studies.
It can thus be seen that the effectiveness of the Jewish Studies programme in this School could be a major factor in determining the state of the Liverpool Jewish community in the coming generation.
In planning the new curricula, I have therefore used the following principles:
a) to cover as wide a range of subjects as possible, within the limited time allocated to Jewish Studies,
b) many of the observances of Judaism (which in an observant society the pupils would learn and see at home and Synagogue) must be incorporated into the Jewish Studies lessons at school. For these pupils a teaching of Yiddishkeit is an integral part of the teaching of Jewish Studies.
c) great emphasis must be placed on the practical aspects of each subject and much less emphasis on the translation of texts. (All “parrot-like” translation must disappear completely.) Thus courses in practical Dinim, in which one stresses and demonstrates the practical aspects of religious observances are being introduces into the first three years. The use and translation of texts has been smoothly blended into the various courses.
d) the use of audio-visual aids, which today are very important and valuable tools in education. The aids which we intend to use come from Israel, U.S.A. and this country, and a number, including a sound tape library, are being prepared in the school. I am constantly combing catalogues etc., in order that the latest suitable audio and visual aids can be incorporated into the courses. Each course in fact starts with a list of the books and materials which are required for that course.
e) the King David High School being comprehensive [I should have written “bilateral”] has both grammar and secondary modern streams and generally speaking different courses have been prepared for these different streams. Alternatively more time has been allocated for a secondary modern stream to cover a course than for a grammar stream….
f) ethical teachings have been introduced into courses for all the years and it is hoped that teachers will discuss these teachings in class with the pupils.
g) Gemara forms an important part of the Rabbinics course in the third year,
h) passages and subjects dealing with the importance of the Land of Israel have been incorporated into these courses and it is hoped that this will add to the pupils love for Israel and encourage them to go on Aliyah.
i) the various subjects within the field of Jewish Studies do not operate completely independent of one another but link-ups are arranged between the subjects…
Generally speaking, suitable text books have not been available for the needs of these curricula and so detailed courses have been written….
Every course I wrote was designated by three symbols. The first designated the year for which the course was written, the second the level of the group (e.g. top group, slow learners) and the third, the subject of the course. The subjects taught included, Chumash, Nach, Rabbinics (Gemara, Mishnah, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch), Siddur, Practical Dinim. Jewish History, Cycle of the Jewish Year, Reading, Problems confronting a Jew today, Barmitzvah, Eshet Chayil, Scripture Knowledge for public examinations.
Whilst I was at the School, I tried various methods of streaming the pupils for Jewish Studies. One year, I began by asking the staff of the Primary school, from where virtually every pupil came, for their assessment. Others years I either examined the pupils when they entered the High School or after a term’s study. For one of the years, the first year remained unstreamed.
In the first year the programme included Chumash, Siddur, Rabbinics, Jewish History, Practical Dinim, Cycle of the Jewish Year and Barmitzvah or Eshet Chayil. The slow learners had reading practice instead of Rabbinics.
As pupils went up the school, the number of periods devoted to Jewish Studies, sad to say, decreased. The subjects covered in the second year were similar to those covered in the first year. In the third year the subjects taught included Tenach, Rabbinics, Siddur, Jewish History and Practical Dinim,
For the 4th and 5th years, I wrote the syllabus for both the O-level and CSE examinations in Scripture Knowledge and in the CSE, I even set the examinations. (This is discussed in detail in another chapter as is the sixth form programme.)
Due to an arrangement which had been made by my predecessor with the Head of Modern Hebrew, Jewish Studies in the fourth year had almost disappeared for the higher group pupils. What was left was utilised to begin teaching the above syllabuses and also Jewish history, general Jewish knowledge and for questions and discussions with the pupils.
The fifth year was largely taken up preparing for the O-level and CSE Scripture Knowledge public examinations. I did however put in other subjects such as Modern Jewish History and for a number of years we had weekly talks by Rabbi Chaim Farro, who was in charge of education at the Manchester Lubavitch.
I had been at school with Rabbi Farro and when I heard of his position, I went to visit him and asked if he would be willing to come down each week and give a talk to the 5th year. He happily agreed and this went on for several years. One year just before Pesach, he turned up with some hand baked Matzot and wanted to distribute a piece to each pupil to eat at his Seder. I did not agree since I was sure that some pupils would put it in their lunch boxes together with all their Chametz sandwiches and in the end they could be eating hand baked Matzot spiced with bread crumbs at their Seder. I said I would give them to the pupils to eat at the model Seder held at the school and this way they would at least learn what hand baked Matzot tasted like.
Towards the summer of 1972, I finished writing my programmes. This was before the era of home computers. All my manuscript was handwritten and I needed a typist to type it on to a stencil. I (or the Headmaster) asked the Foundation to provide one. They sent a woman to the school and, with some old typewriter that we found, she begun typing. I could hear from the speed, or more accurately, from the lack of speed of her typing her “proficiency” in typing. Sadly, her accuracy matched her speed. After a day or so, she said she wanted to do the typing elsewhere, which she did, on a typewriter in which the style of letters did not match the previous typewriter! After she had finished, I started proof-reading - it was torture! I had to correct and correct and correct. I then ran off the stencils on a duplicator, sorted out the pages and stapled them together. It was then time for the binding. I consulted with the arts and crafts teacher and he advised me how to do it. From the stock of different colours of manilla card he had in his stock room, I chose a pink colour. I cut the card to the correct size and used plastic glue to bind it to the spine of the book. Finally I stuck a label on the cover of each book with the title I had chosen - “Teach Them Torah.” The book, which contained about 125 pages, was now ready!
I gave copies of this book to my staff, the Headmaster, the Chairman of the Governors, etc. I also sent copies to prominent people in Jewish education, including the Chief Rabbi, for their observations.
A few months later, the Chief Rabbi paid a visit one Sunday to Liverpool. Amongst his programme was a meeting with the Ministers and lay leaders of the community, at which I was present. He praised the book highly and said that he had read it from beginning to end.
A number of leading figures in Jewish education wrote to me about this book. Here are some extracts from the letters they sent me:
Moshe Davis - Director of Education of the JNF: The Chief Rabbi has shown me your book “Teach Them Torah,” which you have just produced. Permit me to say how very impressed I was by the concept, design and detail. I think it is extremely helpful and could well serve as a guide to all those active in the field of Jewish Education.
Harold Levy - Inspector of the Central Council of Jewish Religious Education in the United Kingdom: I am very much impressed by its comprehensiveness.
Isidore Fishman - Director of Education of the London Board of Jewish Religious Education: I have studied your programme carefully and wish to congratulate you on the depth of its contents. You have obviously given a great deal of thought to every detail and I am confident that teachers, as well as senior pupils, will be amply rewarded by a careful study of your valuable comments on the various aspects of Judaism.
There were comments that the pupils were studying too many subjects in Jewish Studies. I, however, personally preferred this method so that everyone would have something that really interested him. I also saw when I visited other schools and studied their Jewish Studies curricula, that they too had a large variety of subjects in their curricula.
In his published report to the Foundation the Headmaster wrote: “In Religious Studies, Rabbi Simons introduced entirely new syllabuses which have, in the main, proved very successful. They will be further adapted in the light of experience.”
Indeed for the following year, in the light of my experience in the teaching of these courses, I brought out a seven page booklet with amendments to my courses. Further small amendments were made in subsequent years.
Let me now give a few examples of the contents of courses which I wrote for the Jewish Studies lessons whilst I was at the school. I have taken these examples from material which I still have in my possession on these courses.
In the first year Chumash course, the stress was on the context and not on translation. The passages in the Torah which were studied, dealt with Shabbat and Festivals and we also utilised a chart entitled “The 39 Forbidden Labours of Shabbat.” A comparison was made of the versions of the Fourth Commandment in Shemot and in Devarim. The laws appertaining to the Festivals were studied from the book of Vayikra. This course also included the passage in the Torah dealing with the Shmitta year - the Shabbat of the soil of Eretz Israel.
This course was linked with the Rabbinics course in which selected paragraphs from the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch on the laws of Shabbat were covered and the Cycle of the Jewish Year course where the Festivals were studied. There was a further link to the Practical Dinim course, where the subject was Kiddush and Havdalah on Shabbat and Yom-Tov. One of our teachers, who had a good singing voice, had made tape recordings of the various Kiddushim made on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Models such as a glass which was the minimum size of a Kiddush cup, spices that can be used for Havdalah and a plaited Havdalah candle were utilised in the lesson. One must remember that in the houses of the majority of the pupils, Havdalah was not made. A record of “Sabbath in the Home” had then recently come out. This included many of the zemirot giving us the opportunity to teach the pupils some of these tunes.
In Jewish History, the aim was that by the time the pupils reached the end of the High School, they would have covered a bird’s eye view of Jewish History from the Creation to the present day.
Ethical teachings were included in the courses during the various years. These included visiting the sick, making peace between people, not taking revenge or bearing a grudge, reward and punishment, and kindness to animals. Particular emphasis was placed on how to bring these things into the pupils’ daily lives and to accomplish this, the teacher had to invent situations which illustrated these topics.
In the second year Siddur course the stress was on familiarity with Siddur. Pupils would have to find which passages in the Siddur were in Aramaic or where Mishnayot are introduced in the Siddur. Twice a week the pupils had a Shacharit assembly. In order to familiarize them with the service, the second year pupils studied the first part of the service from the Siddur. The remainder of this service was studied in the third year.
In the second year the top stream boys would begin Gemara and this continued in the following years gradually introducing first Rashi and then Tosafot. (Initially I began teaching Gemara only in the third year but later I advanced it to the second year.) Each year, I chose a particular masechet such as Berachot, Megillah and Rosh Hashanah. The boys in the lower streams learned Chumash with Rashi. At the same time, the girls were learning subjects such as Pirkei Avot and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch.
I don’t think Henry Lachs was too happy with my having introduced Gemara into the school curriculum, since he remarked to me that the place for teaching Gemara was the Yeshivah. He also commented that I had separated boys and girls in some of the Jewish Studies lessons, which hadn’t been the Governors’ policy. Actually there was nothing particularly novel about this separation. Apart from having separate classes in P.E., which for High School age pupils is understandable even in a council school, the boys in the King David were put into woodwork and metalwork classes whilst the girls were learning cookery and needlework.
Despite his comments, the Gemara classes continued, as did the separation of boys and girls.
I sent a copy of one of my Gemara examination papers to the NUHT for their assessment and received this reply:
My colleagues and I [the Director of Education of the NUHT] have studied carefully your Gemara examination paper.
We would like to compliment you on the carefully prepared paper and also for ensuring that such an important area of Jewish learning is finding a place within your school curriculum.
During the second and third years the Practical Dinim courses dealt with the observance of the various Festivals and we were fortunate in that a number of excellent filmstrips on the Festivals had recently come out. These were supplemented by ceremonial objects and models appertaining to the Festivals. For example, I had managed to obtain two horns from a sheep, one of which I boiled up in a saucepan of water in order to remove the bone. These were used when teaching about making a Shofar. When teaching about Pesach, I showed the pupils hand baked Matzot - very few of them had ever seen them. The pupils were able to examine a Kosher Megillah before Purim. I had also managed after some effort to have netillat yadayim facilities installed in the dining room. Netillat yadayim is not just splashing water over one’s hands! There is a definite way to perform this Mitzvah and the laws were demonstrated in our Jewish Studies room where I had had insisted that a sink be installed.
After a few years in the school, I decided to get a direct feedback on the courses from the pupils themselves. I would invite small groups of pupils from a particular year to my study and asked them to give their comments and criticisms on the various courses. I told them they could speak quite frankly and not be afraid of what they said. I found that pupils even of the 1st year were very mature in their answers.
On one occasion, a senior pupil said to me during one of these conversations. “I’m an expert in Jewish Studies. I went to the Talmud Torah until the age of 11, and since then I have been at the King David.” I envy this boy. I wish I could say that I was an expert in Jewish Studies.
[This also reminds me of what Dr. Goldberg, one of the “elder religious statesmen” of Liverpool, once told me. A person came to him complaining that the school children are taught Siddur. “I know Siddur backwards,” he said. I sarcastically answered, “Dr. Goldberg, that that is probably how he does know Siddur.”]
After I had written the curriculum, I wrote an article for “Hamoreh,” the Journal of the National Union of Hebrew Teachers. The article was entitled “A Torah Education Programme” and in it I put forward suggestions on how to approach the problem of teaching Torah to the type of pupil found in a school such as the Liverpool King David High School. A large part of my article restated my ideas from my book “Teach Them Torah.”
I also discussed the problem of when there is only a minimal time allocation in the timetable to Jewish Studies, as was the case in my School, and the Director of Jewish Studies thus has the invidious task of deciding of what to include and what to omit from his programme. I wrote: “One important point which he will have to decide on is the question of Hebrew Grammar. One could argue that the study of Grammar is not an end in itself but a means to understanding Tenach, Mishnah etc. and with sufficient time available for Torah Studies this objective should be achieved. However, in schools where far too little time is allocated to Torah Studies, the pupils are unlikely to reach the standard where they are able to utilise this grammar to understand texts. Surely then, this grammar learned is of very minimal value and also quickly forgotten and the very limited amount of time available is better deployed in teaching a subject such as Religious Knowledge which will be of practical use to these pupils. Is it not more important for these pupils to know the difference between Kiddush and Havdalah rather than the difference between a hiphil and a hophal?”
I would now like to digress for a moment. Years before I went to Liverpool, I read of or heard an official complaining that boys leave their Synagogue Hebrew classes at the age of Barmitzvah and girls even before that age. With the type of syllabuses they have, which consist largely of repetitive parrot wise translation, I would congratulate the children for sticking it out that long! When I was of primary school age, there were no Jewish schools where I lived and I thus went to these Synagogue classes. I can’t say I enjoyed them. I am sure that with my type of syllabus, children would not be so eager to leave.
Rev. Malits once related to me that one Jewish educator wanted to cut out Chumash from the syllabus. Taken at face value this might seem like heresy. But both Rev. Malits and I understood what this educator was saying. He obviously wanted to abolish the “parrot wise” methods being used to teach Chumash.
The use of audio-visual methods to teach Torah is not a new idea. The Talmud relates that there were three things which it was difficult for Moshe to understand until G-d showed him. They were the Menorah, what the new moon looks like and how to distinguish between clean and unclean creeping things and some add a fourth thing - the laws of Shechita. In another place in the Talmud it states that G-d showed Moshe the knot on the Tephillin.
In a report on methods used in a Talmud Torah in Jerusalem appears: “It was fascinating to see how the supposedly old-fashioned ‘Melamdim’ are using creative methods of demonstrating a Talmudic controversy, using models to teach their six and seven year olds. One ‘Rebbe, for example, was teaching about the damage caused by the goring of an ox with the aid of little animal models....”
Professor Cyril Domb wrote on this question: “Quite generally there is too much identification of Torah study with book learning. If you want to study Chulin, you must go to look at the insides of animals, if you want to study Kilayim you must go into the fields and so on....”
There is a story about a Rabbi who knew all the laws of terephot but only from books. One day he was asked a practical question of whether a certain animal was kosher or not. He looked at the organ under question and answered, “If it’s a heart it’s kosher, but if it’s a liver it’s treife!”
I shall now return to the school timetable. In addition to the Jewish Studies lessons, the pupils of the first three years had a Shacharit assembly twice a week at which boys who were above the age of Barmitzvah would lay Tephillin. These assemblies took place in the main hall. At the time when there were public examinations and the hall was in use, the assembly moved over to the gymnasium. There the pupils had to remove their shoes!
The services, which contained selections from Shacharit were taken by the pupils. One assembly was on Tuesday - a non-leining day and this was conducted by the Headmaster. The second was on Thursday - a leining day and this was conducted by the Deputy Head; I would do the leining and give a short talk on the Parashah. When Tuesday was Rosh Chodesh or Chanukah, I would come in to do the leining. We had some lightweight Sifrei Torah in the School, so there was no problem for pupils to do Hagba.
Whilst I was at the school, I developed a method to enable the pupils to follow the leining without having to bring in a Chumash. I first photographed the weekday leining on to a transparency film. I brought in a transparency projector and a screen and set it up in the hall. The leining was projected on to this screen and whilst I was leining, the Deputy Head would point to the appropriate word. He would use his cane to do so.
After the service, the equipment would be returned to its proper place. On one occasion, the cane was accidentally left in the hall. When later found, it had been broken in half. Obviously a pupil or pupils finding this cane lying in the hall, used the opportunity to break it! With no cane, there can be no caning. The Deputy Head was furious. I managed to find a similar looking cane but it wasn’t flexible enough for him. It didn’t have the same swishing power!
These Shacharit services were excellent tools for training the pupils to lay Tephillin, daven, take services and be called up to the Torah. The great pity was that the Headmaster would only arrange the services on two days a week, and then only for the lower school.
A school magazine can be another valuable teaching tool. Pupils writing for the magazine, whether or not their contributions are published, benefit from their research and composition, and if the magazine is interesting and incorporates educational puzzles, riddles, games, and the such like, the readers should greatly benefit.
Whilst at the school, I brought out two editions of a Jewish Studies school magazine together with the shaliach, Rachamim Taiar. The first edition came out in 1976 just before Rosh Hashanah. It contained contributions from pupils of classes ranging from the lowest to the top. The cover page which depicted a man holding a Shofar, was designed and drawn by a Jewish Art teacher at the School. Some of the articles were on the Tishri festivals and others were on Israel. It also included a quiz and a crossword puzzle. I contributed a humorous yet educational article on a “Do it yourself Shofar.” This article was very popular and when I came back to Israel, I translated it into Hebrew and incorporated it into a pupil’s workbook on Rosh Hashanah which I prepared.
The second, and sad to say last, edition of this magazine came out for the following Jerusalem Day and all the articles were connected with Jerusalem. One riddle in it was: Where in Jerusalem is the United States? The answer: In the middle - Jer-USA-lem. After bringing out our first edition, the shaliach was asked by the ZFET to put some Hebrew articles in the next edition. Some senior students wrote articles in Hebrew. Unfortunately, they were handwritten on stencils and were therefore not clear and I am doubtful whether many people actually read them. It was the tenth anniversary of the liberation of Jerusalem and I designed the cover page, which showed the Western Wall with a big figure 10 on it.
Whilst on the question of school magazines, let me relate an incident regarding a different type of school magazine. I had been in the school a short while, when I was approached by some senior pupils to give them an interview for a school magazine they were bringing out. The questions they asked, and to which they wrote a humorous account of my answers, were of the type, “What did I think of the Beatles?!” I don’t remember what I answered but I can say that I personally got no enjoyment from their performances.