Adapted from the original Hebrew article by Tzuri Hason –
My wife and I are entering the final stages of the shlichut training program we have been on. In addition to nearing the end of our studies, we are now at a point where we are being interviewed for educational and rabbinic positions throughout the Diaspora. This stage is, perhaps, the most challenging, yet also the most interesting. We have been offered a variety of roles, and if we are interested in one, we begin a sometimes long, sometimes surprisingly short, process in which all parties must decide if there is a suitable match. It’s no coincidence that I use the word match, because the process is very reminiscent of the matchmaking and dating process. Both parties are scouting potential matches, meeting one another, and carefully considering whether or not they will sign a contract that has many long-term implications for both parties. The fact that this includes a transition between countries makes the process even heavier than the interviews for regular work.
While meeting with people from a wide variety of roles throughout the Diaspora, something has stood out to me this past year. There is a clear shortage of Judaic Studies teachers. Of course, I was already aware of this, as my wife is a graduate of the Pardes Educators Program, a teacher training program that includes a commitment to teach in a North American Jewish school. Yet, in the past year and a half, I have grown ever more aware of the fact this is a global challenge. Major school networks are seeking teachers from Israel to come and fill the gaps in their schools from Eastern Europe to Australia.
As I began to understand just how widespread this issue of a shortage of Judaic studies teachers is, I questioned why it is so. I have two theories that I hope can help answer this question.
The first theory may be a bit cold and material, but is likely true and a major contributor to the teacher shortage. What prevents people from staying and working within the education system in their countries is the salary. In general, teachers worldwide are known to earn relatively low salaries. This low salary is coupled with a low social status. Every Jewish mother’s dream is that her child will become a doctor or lawyer, not a teacher. Also, the “doctors and lawyers”, in the form of higher salaries and social standing, have a barrier to immigrating to Israel. Teachers are less likely to face such barriers. Even if the wages of teachers in the Diaspora are higher than in Israel, this is offset by the cost of living, specifically Jewish living, outside Israel. Zionism is, in a way, draining the Diaspora of Judaic Studies teachers. As one of our lecturers said once, “If the immigrants of Alon Shvut would return to America, the shortage of teachers in the United States would disappear.”
My second theory is, to some extent, guided by my first. Because the wages are relatively low, a large proportion of those who choose to go into Jewish education do so out of ideology and passion. Passion and mission can, in some respects, make up for economic costs. However, going back to my other theory, this passion often has a correlation with aliyah being viewed as an ideological goal. This may be true before they become teachers, or develop as they continue working in their passion. This leaves the communities, once again, bereft of people who will give up high wages in other professions for the mission-based work of providing Jewish education to the next generation.
I am quite aware that I have raised quite the loaded topic, and I’ve done so with non-data-driven theories. So, I would love to hear what you have to say on the subject. What do you believe is the reason we are facing this challenge? In my next article I will try to review the possible solutions to this shortage of educators.