Other articles from this issue | Version in English | Version in French
A theology of Judaism: its relevance for teachers
M. J. Leddy
The conscientious teacher today is hard-pressed on all sides. To be effective, he must work within some type of educational institution, be it traditional or modern. At the same time, he is aware of the increasing clamor from society for « relevance ». Indeed, the day to day reality of the teacher is somewhat analogous to the tension in the Judeo-Christian experience between the institutional ministry and the prophetic witness.
The responsible teacher must admit to a formidable task: the education of persons for the « future shock » of a complex and changing world. In 1972, the mass media has its own graduates from the classroom without walls and we are perhaps more aware of the deficiencies, rather than the potentialities, of such an education. How easily mass media has become the teacher of the consumer culture, and its pupils are the Coca-Cola kids who speak an international language and the future inhabitants of the world apartment block. The reaction is close at hand in those who resist such a levelling influence — an influence more subtle than the negative aspects of integration or assimilation. There is the witness of the Black and the Jew in their struggle to be accepted in their uniqueness. How can the educator help the young to grow in flexibility and stability, in an awareness of others, the world, and with a sense of personal identity? How does one develop a maturity that is both creative and critical?
The way is not clear, even while the possibilities presented in the form of new educational materials and methods are many. A sense of frustration accompanies the search for relevance. Much of what appeared to be a new way, an answer to the dilemma of the present, has quickly become irrelevant. It was relevant only at a certain time, only in a certain place. It neither recognized the weight of the past, nor realized the future in a prophetic manner. In the face of this, what promise does a theology of Judaism from a Christian perspective hold?
Such a theology would seem to be of some import to catechists or teachers of religion, to those engaged in the ongoing translation of God's ways with men. Still, even the religion teacher may take the bland view that this is just one more theology to be added to the accumulation of theologies today. Closer examination is sufficient to give one pause, for what is involved is a radical (root) understanding of Christianity and the mystery of universal salvation. One can ignore it only at the price of being irrelevant in the deepest sense and of remaining unprepared for the Absolute Future.
However, the promise of such a theology is even broader. One of the main thrusts of Vatican II is that religion is related to life, to the world, just as surely as Catholicism is related to other world religions. The relationship, while it does not imply sameness, does include differences. In this context, theology is seen as an articulation of the deepest aspects of human existence, and if this is so, it has bearing on all facets of a true education. Thus, the essential structure of a theology of Judaism reflects not only the Church's self-understanding but also the self-understanding of teacher and pupil alike. As such it has ramifications for the whole educational enterprize.
The process of becoming an adult is a complex, as the many psychologies tell us, and suffice it to say that the last word has yet to be written on the subject. Nevertheless, some insights bear repeating in the present discussion.
Maturity involves a unique integration of one's past and present experiences, an integration greatly effected through the support of others. The key development occurs when the sureness of who one is coincides with a recognition of others and the Other, as genuinely distinct from, yet related to, the self. Only when the person has attained a certain fullness, and perhaps ultimately this is a grace, can he recognize and even love the other as a distinct person, not merely as a reflection of the self. This is the sureness which is both stable and flexible. Any teacher knows what insecurities give rise to playground cliques, to the tendency to exclude those « notlike us », and theologians are beginning to acknowledge that the Church's struggle for identity has often obscured the living reality of Judaism — a people « not like us ». Any teacher knows how cliques can retard the development of the insider and outsider alike, and the Church is beginning to realize how her growth has been hindered in the exclusion of Judaism.
The challenge remains, of course, to individual teachers and administrators to implement such an awareness at the various stages of education. Present materials and methods must be seriously re-examined. At the elementary level a more concrete approach is needed, while at the secondary level a socially-oriented theory is in order. The concept of a spiral curriculum, continually re-iterating a basic approach at various levels, is crucial.
Specifically, one could envisage a teacher at the secondary level developing the history of the Jewish struggle for survival during the past forty centuries along the lines suggested by C. Rijk. If this seems distant, one needs only recall that the Dreyfus Affair took place in a land of liberty, equality and fraternity, and that Auschwitz was realized in a land of poets and musicians. If this seems abstract, one could introduce the student to Anne Frank. At this meeting, the generation gap fades and one is acutely aware of a person who is at once Judaism — young, alive, and part of a great adventure — but threatened by those who have grown old, insensitive, and who have never really known her.
If a theology of Judaism is irrelevant to a Coca-Cola culture it may be that the former has been poorly advertized while the latter is, at first sight, of no great cost.
Sr. Mary Jo Leddy has taught English literature at the secondary level and is currently teaching philosophy at the University of Toronto, Canada, while pursuing her own doctoral studies there.