Why So Many Educators Misread a Crucial Biblical Verse about Child Rearing

The book of Proverbs contains several verses about how to raise children and shape their character, but the one most popular in discussions of Jewish education today is 22:6: “Train a lad in the way he ought to go; he will not swerve from it even in old age.” From the verse’s first word, ḥanokh, is derived the modern Hebrew ḥinukh, education. But, writes Elli Fischer, it is too often misunderstood as an early articulation of what is now called “differentiated instruction,” i.e., the idea that pedagogy should be tailored to each student’s learning style:

When I hear [people] quote the familiar first half of this verse as a slogan, I sometimes ask them to complete it. Rarely are they able, and too often they are not even aware that they only recited half a verse! This is unfortunate because, taken as a whole, the verse offers a more modest but equally compelling vision of education—and, I believe, is addressed to parents more than teachers.

The “path” described is not the student’s unique personality; it is a metaphor for life. The word ḥanokh does not mean to teach or educate. Rather, as [the great medieval commentator] Rashi explains: “It is a term of initiation, the introduction of a person or object into the vocation where it will remain, as in, ‘initiate a lad,’ ‘the initiation of the Temple.’” The (re)inauguration of the Temple service is called Ḥanukkah, [a word derived from the same root].

If one initiates a child upon his path, taking those first few steps along with him, then [the child] will stay on that path as he matures. The mentor serves as the “training wheels”—there at the beginning, for the first few steps, and then letting go so the child can continue independently. The best education is one that grows and adapts with the student as she matures and encounters new circumstances.

The parent holds the child’s hand as the child learns to walk, but the goal is to let go and to stand back, beaming with pride as the child walks, then runs, along the path that they set out upon together.

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More about: Children, Hebrew Bible, Jewish education

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship