A Vision For Leadership

  • by: Chana Tanenbaum

Chana Tannenbaum has taught Tanakh, Education and Psychology at the High School and University levels in Israel and the U.S. Mrs. Tannenbaum served as the founding Dean and Director of Shaalvim for Women, and received the Baumel Award as Yeshiva University’s outstanding faculty member in 1993. Currently, she lives in Israel and teaches Tanakh. Read the accompanying article, Jewish Women as Learning Different, here.

That women can exercise their intellectual potential within the world of Jewish learning is an exciting and radical development. But unfortunately this message is not reaching all of our women. According to Tamar Rapoport, Yoni Garb and Anat Pesto’s (1995) study of the ulpanot (yeshiva high schools) in Israel, instead of being encouraged to develop their unique talents and creative abilities, adolescent females are being educated into self restraint under the guise of modesty. (see article on page ??) Their role is being defined for them as important only as it relates to her future spouse and children. Anecdotal evidence suggests that similar messages are being conveyed in many prominent North American yeshiva day schools.

In our changing world, we need to prepare a generation of women for leadership. By “leadership” I mean independent thought and critical thinking skills, without which conscientious decision-making about timely issues may be impossible. Leadership promotes that sense of responsibility to self, family, community, nation, and people. Sound leadership should also include a high measure of tolerance for those who maintain different beliefs, as well as the interest and ability to exchange ideas without the growth-inhibiting feeling of being threatened and resulting cloistering.

As individuals grow to value one another they become more tolerant and better equipped to deal with the stark differences in society that they regularly encounter as adults. Moreover, in training for leadership, we need to foster an individual’s desires to contribute according to their own talents. By emphasizing unique talents and creative problem-solving, students learn to strive for excellence in different ways. Further, bringing this kind of leadership training into classrooms should enhance the learning environment and help combat the apathy and malaise so prevalent among today’s teenagers.

Study of Jewish texts from primary sources in a deep meaningful way – biblical personalities, ethical dilemmas, and historical events – is an underdeveloped means of teaching leadership values. Combining critical thinking skills with the study of Torah she-be-al peh (the Oral tradition), teaching in ways in which women actively engage the text rather than passively receive it, can help breed a new brand of leadership – with both the motivation and moderation to do more than succeed in our “brave new world,” but even improve it for the coming generations.

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