Community Blog Toward Creativity: A Theological Goal for Jewish Education

By Rabbi Daniel Lehmann

I have been contemplating the need for a theology of Jewish education which would ground the goals of Jewish education in an understanding of Judaism’s religious telos. It seems to me that Jewish education should inspire and equip us to achieve the deepest aspirations of Judaism. At the recent 10th anniversary celebration of the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University, I had an opportunity to propose that one of the theological ideas similarly articulated by two of the greatest Jewish theologians of the 20th century could provide us with an overarching and orienting purpose for Jewish education, especially in North America.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the philosophic and Talmudic leader of Modern Orthodoxy, in his seminal essay “Halachik Man” (1944), makes a radical claim about the goal of Jewish life. He writes in the section entitled “His Creativity” that “the peak of religious ethical perfection to which Judaism aspires in man as creator “The most fundamental principle of all is that man must create himself.”

Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, makes a similar statement less than 10 years earlier in his book “The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion” (1937). In describing the theological meaning of Shabbat, he writes, “Jewish mysticism caught the true spirit of the kind of religion man needs. The keynote is the truth that man shares with God the power to create.”

These two great but divergent Jewish theologians, writing in 20th century America, come to a similar conclusion about the core goal of Judaism, especially as understood in the context of modern, American society. Judaism calls on the human being, and the Jew in particular, to emulate God’s creative nature and to become a creative being.

If we take this theological proposition as a fundamental goal of Jewish living, and thus, a necessary focus of Jewish education, our institutions of Jewish education need to tap into and unleash individual and communal creativity. Jews should experience their Jewish education as advancing their human creativity. Jewish education, at its best, must enhance people’s engagement with the world by providing Jewish resources that enrich and encourage creative thinking and doing.

What follows are some ideas of what we can and should do to reorient Jewish education toward creativity.

How are we going to get there? Based on a book by Harvard Business School professor and innovation expert Clayton Christensen, “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns” (2008), I would suggest that we will need to redirect our goals for Jewish education on a number of different fronts.

We need Jewish educational excellence of a certain type – Jewish education toward creativity.

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