How does whole person (holistic) learning relate to Jewish education?
Jewish education as "Talmud Torah," learning how to live in accordance with Divine teaching, is whole person learning. Studying Torah means seeking to understand Jewish values, norms, and perspectives, and how these apply to our lives. The scope of Torah's concerns is broad. All of life's dimensions -- ritual, ethical, economic, social, political and spiritual -- and all of our relationships are seen as part of a seamless whole.
Modern Jewish education, however, has not always maintained this broad focus. Driven by a fear of assimilation, 20th century American Jewish education began to focus more narrowly. Jewish educational practice emphasized those aspects of knowledge, behavior, and skills perceived as contributing to Jewish identity, distinctiveness, and continuity. In recent years, however, a broader understanding of Jewish identity and an appreciation of Judaism's potential to inform the totality of one's life with meaning and purpose has again moved to the fore, making a return to whole person learning both desirable and feasible.
Increasingly, Judaism is no longer understood as a separate aspect of one's identity but rather as a lens through which one views the world. Jewish education provides the values, tools, and understanding to help each learner live fuller, better lives. Whole Person Learning or holistic education addresses this need by understanding that Jewish learning must engage a broader range of life experiences. Rather than providing education that is based on compartmentalizing those aspects of identity and life that are perceived as distinctively "Jewish" (rituals, holidays, life cycle events, Israel, Hebrew), whole person learning attempts to help learners connect these to their growth and development as humans living in a complex and challenging world.
Jewish Whole Person Learning Webinar
To directly address the question of connection between Jewish education and whole person learning, Cyd Weissman of the Jewish Education Project presented their work during a Jewish Education Change Network webinar in November 2011. To access the the archived webinar click here.