Traditional and modern values

in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Hebrew language textbooks for children and young people

Tal Kogman

This sub-project deals with textbooks for Hebrew language learning, which was a key component of the traditional Jewish curriculum; the textbooks used for Hebrew language teaching point to changes in viewpoints and values within the Jewish education system in the wake of processes of modernisation. The sub-project will engage with the tension inherent to these books between new content and methodologies based on modern principles and approaches to education and teaching on the one hand and, on the other, the traditional contexts within which Hebrew, as the language of Jewish liturgy, and the male preserve of Torah study were embedded.
The project’s first phase will explore the characteristics of and strategies employed by textbooks disseminated in German-speaking Jewish society with the aim of helping Jewish children and young people acquaint themselves with the Hebrew language. Such books included dictionaries, glossaries, grammars, readers and letter-writing manuals. Over 100 (Jewish) works for the teaching of the Hebrew language were published in the German-speaking world between 1780 and 1870; the corresponding figure for religious and moral education books was approximately 130. These language books embody the dialectical relationship between tradition and transformation, bringing time-honoured and modern aspects together in their content and methodologies.
The second phase of the project will extend its scope to other forms of educational media and other regions of Europe in which these textbooks were disseminated. We will pay particular attention to the new target groups of these books which emerged in Bohemia, Galicia and Russia in the course of the nineteenth century. The project will investigate which textbooks – some of which may have already been in use in German-speaking areas – were most commonly used in these regions and which processes of literal and cultural translation they underwent in order to correspond to the changing aims of proponents of the Haskalah in its new centres and the intentions of representatives of Reform Judaism in these areas.