Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Talmud on public schools

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Talmud to Betsy DeVos: Yes, We Need Public Schools. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ rabbinical thinking on the relationship of public goods and private obligations explains the advantages of universal education accessible to all.
Maybe it’s because I have politics on the brain—and who doesn’t, these days?—but this week’s Daf Yomi reading seemed almost designed to address the big political and social questions that Americans have been debating lately. The fight over the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as education secretary, for instance, raised the issue of public schools: Are they a crucial democratic institution or, as DeVos and her allies believe, a bureaucratic monopoly that should be undermined by privatization and vouchers?

For a Jewish answer, you could turn to Bava Batra 21a, where the Talmud praises the memory of a man called Yehoshua ben Gamla, one of the last High Priests before the destruction of the Temple. He is “remembered for the good,” Rav says, because he created a system of public schools in the Land of Israel. In this way, he preserved the existence of Judaism itself: “If not for him the Torah would have been forgotten from the Jewish people.” Before Yehoshua ben Gamla’s time, the Gemara explains, Torah was taught at home, father to son, in accordance with Deuteronomy 11:19: “And you shall teach them to your sons.”

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.