On the holiday of Shavuot, which starts tonight on the evening of May 25, Jewish people all over the world celebrate the acceptance of the Torah and its commandments. Among the many teachings within the Torah, there exists a significant Mitzvah (commandment) that is essential to ensuring the success of future generations: the commandment to teach one’s child a trade. We must acknowledge the significance of an education that includes the study of more than just traditional religious texts, and the academic institutions that play an essential role in providing that education.
The commandment is derived from the verse in the Torah where it is written: “You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 6:7). This verse, (which is part of the “Shema” prayer), is interpreted to include not only the teaching of religious and moral values but also practical skills for livelihood. Education plays an extremely significant role in Judaism. At its core is the study of the Torah, which is the foundation of Jewish life: laws, ethics, tradition, and history. This instruction from the Torah serves as a reminder of the need for acquiring practical skills and the responsibility to ensure that children are equipped for self-sufficiency and contribution to society.
The Talmud, a later Rabbinic text which serves as the primary foundation for religious Jewish law, further expounds on the importance of practical worldly education: it emphasizes that teaching one’s child a trade is a moral obligation, as it prevents dependence on others. The Talmudic sages said, “Anyone who does not teach their son a trade, it is as if they teach him robbery” (Kiddushin 82A). The sages advocated for teaching both practical skills and Torah study, recognizing the need for a well-rounded education that embraces the spiritual as well as the practical.
Jewish children begin their education at a very young age by being instructed to love the Torah and to study its teachings. Education in Judaism is a lifelong pursuit, and it extends well beyond the mere acquisition of knowledge; it focuses on the development of moral character and ethical behavior. The Torah’s commandment to provide a practical education is rooted in the value of self-sufficiency. Providing a well-rounded education ensures that the next generation has the means to support themselves and their future families, as well as contribute to the assistance of those in need, fostering independence, responsibility, and communal contribution. Conversely, depriving children of a practical education not only runs counter to the commandment of the Torah, but it ensures the next generation will be unable to fully gain self-sufficiency and will lack the capacity to contribute to the well-being of the community at large.
The commandment to provide children with a secular education remains more relevant than ever in current times. While education has evolved significantly since the era of the Talmudic sages, the core values remain unchanged. It is critically important that children are provided with the tools to navigate an ever-changing labor market and society. Not only is it a requirement under the law for children to be given a complete education, but it is also a value of the Torah. Secular education does not run counter to Torah values, and Judaism recognizes the value of imparting practical worldly knowledge and instilling a sense of personal responsibility, preparing children for success in their chosen paths while still upholding the values of their religious practice. By embracing the value of secular education, yeshivas have the opportunity to contribute to the strengthening of the Jewish community at large.
YAFFED is propelled in our mission by the knowledge that education is a Jewish value. During Shavuot and every day, children deserve to be equipped with the knowledge to empower them to pursue whichever trade or career path they choose.