Michael Rosenak is Mandel Professor of Jewish Education, Emeritus, at the Hebrew University and is head of the Department of Education and Jewish Education at the Mandel Jerusalem Fellows Program. He has published works in Jewish educational thought, particularly its theological aspects. His book Commandments and Concerns: Jewish Education in Secular Society won the Jewish Book Prize in 1989. Rosenak was the Samuel Rothberg Prize Laureate of the Hebrew University for 2001. He developed the Jewish Values Curriculum at the Melton Centre for Jewish Education, which has been used in Jewish schools throughout the world.
A summary of Rosenak's work was prepared in 2001 on the occasion of his being granted the Samuel Rothberg Prize for Jewish Education by the Hebrew University. In 2006, the Hebrew University published Languages and Literatures in Jewish Education: Studies in Honor of Michael Rosenak. "Michael Rosenak's Professional Biography," an overview of Rosenak's contributions by Howard Deitcher, is available here.
The concepts of "language" and "literature" are central to Rosenak's paper, "Educated Jews: Common Elements" (Visions of Jewish Education, pages 178-200). He refers to his chapter "Torah and Wisdom" in Roads to the Palace: Jewish Texts and Teaching (Providence, 1995). The full chapter is available here.
Rosenak insists that "those educated to specific visions and commitment to them" must also learn to be comfortable with controversy and disagreement with others (Visions of Jewish Education, page 186). He points readers to Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik's idea of the "covenant of fate," as articulated in his essay "Kol Dodi Dofek" from Ish haEmunah (Jerusalem, 5743).
Rosenak refers as well to the idea of an "educated public," "one that can actively participate in cultural interchange and inquiry and that shares texts and assumption," (Visions of Jewish Education, page 199, note 14) and points to Alasdair MacIntyre's "The Idea of an Educated Public," published in Education and Values (London, 1985).
Aspects and Applications of Rosenak's Emphasis on Klal Yisrael
Educators who participated in the deliberations with scholars that were part of the Visions of Jewish Education Project were particularly interested in his argument that "respect for diversity within the community is a Jewish value" (see Supplement: Michael Rosenak, page 207). In the ensuing discussions, Rosenak pointed us to some of his publications:
In Tree of Life, Tree of Knowledge: Conversations with the Torah (Westview Press, 2001), Rosenak returns to the example of the Orthodox community to explore the question of the unity of the Jewish people. In his chapter "Learning and Leadership: Hillel and Menahem," he locates the non-pluralistic view of Jewish education and life within the development of Jewish tradition, focusing on the division of responsibilities and roles within the Jewish community. His argument for a more pluralistic vision emerges in his critique of this historical development and his ideas as to possible alternatives.
Rosenak discusses religious pluralism - in the sense of pluralism between religions - and explores the Jewish religious doctrine on pluralism in his 1984 paper, "The Religious Person and Religious Pluralism," presented at a conference of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations and the World Council of Churches and included in their published proceedings, The Meaning and Limits of Religious Pluralism in the World Today, eds. Allan Brockway and Jean Halperin.
Rosenak turns specifically to questions about a pluralistic curriculum in his essay "Jewish Fundamentalism in Israeli Education," which examines the educational philosophies and institutions of fundamentalist movements in Israel. The essay was published in Fundamentalisms in Society, eds. Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby (The University of Chicago Press, 1997).
Rosenak also led a team of scholars, educators and others at the Melton Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the development of a pluralist curriculum in Jewish Values. Rosenak and his team focused on teaching Judaism to those who do not necessarily speak its language in a way that opens up their quest for Jewish identity rather than imposing upon them a particular set of conclusions. This approach relates to Rosenak’s larger search for a language of Jewish education which can work for the community at large. Rosenak considered four different curricular approaches for the development of Jewish identity and preferred an approach based on Jewish values to those that emphasize halakhah, cultural forms, or texts.
Since its publication, the "Jewish Values Curriculum" has been successfully introduced in Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and secular schools in Israel and throughout the world.
Rosenak's participation in the Visions of Jewish Education Project also resulted in the development of a grid that shows that each conception or vision of Jewish education shared a number of common elements.
Rosenak's Visions for Modern Orthodoxy
Rosenak's conception of Jewish education grows out of his commitment to the Modern Orthodox community.
In his paper "Toward a Curriculum for the Modern Orthodox School" (published in Orthodoxy Confronts Modernity, ed. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks [London: Ktav, 1991]) Rosenak contends that by "setting guidelines for Modern Orthodox education...we will not only learn a good deal about the actual beliefs, aspirations, and priorities in our community, but we shall find that we actually have-and are-a genuine community" (62).
As described in "Supplement: Michael Rosenak" (Visions of Jewish Education, pages 202-207), in this essay Rosenak outlines six points that "lay foundations for a comprehensive religious Jewish education." These are knesset Yisrael (the community of Israel), adam (existence), bnai Noach (humanity), hod (problem-solving), chochmat lev and hiddur (beauty), and da'at (understanding).