Sunday, February 23, 2014

Montessori Schools infiltrate Jewish education

NY Times   In the boys’ classroom at Lamplighters Yeshivah in the Hasidic Jewish stronghold of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Montessori number-counting boards and decimal beads share space with Hebrew-learning materials. A colorful timeline on the wall shows two strands of world history in parallel: secular on the left, Jewish on the right. A photo of the grand rabbi of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement hangs above a list of tasks that children perform individually: make a fractions poster, practice cursive, learn about the moon’s phases.

Into the classroom on a recent morning came Rivkah Schack, one of the school’s principals, holding a tool whose form, if not its content, would be familiar to any Montessori teacher: a small nomenclature booklet in which the students were to write words from the Bible by hand and illustrate them. In secular Montessori, the booklets might be used to teach botanical terms; here, they were for Hebrew.
“Not to mix our metaphors, but that’s our holy grail,” said Ami Petter-Lipstein, the director of the Jewish Montessori Society, based in Highland Park, N.J., as Ms. Schack gathered a few pupils around her on the rug for a group Hebrew lesson.

For an educational movement trying to use a century-old pedagogical method developed by an Italian Catholic, Maria Montessori, to teach Jewish tenets, mixing metaphors is the point. Arguing that the traditional Jewish day-school model they grew up with is outmoded and too clannish for 21st-century Judaism, a new generation of parents and educators are flocking to Montessori preschools and elementary schools that combine secular studies with Torah and Hebrew lessons.

Daniel Septimus, who attended a modern Orthodox school but now identifies as a traditional egalitarian Jew, said the schools he had attended were “purposely insular.”

“We knew there was a big, wide world out there where people did different things, but it was kind of scary, and we were supposed to have limited contact with it,” he said.

His son Lev, 3, attends Luria Academy in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, a Montessori school that proudly advertises the religious diversity of its students. “I think this is just more realistic,” Mr. Septimus said. “Ultimately, our kids are going to live in diverse and multicultural communities.”

In Brooklyn, whose more than 600,000 Jews include secular Jews in brownstone Brooklyn and Hasidic Jews in Borough Park and Williamsburg, four Montessori schools have opened in the last decade. Each is tailored to a different group: one is for Hasidic girls in Borough Park, another for Hasidic boys in Midwood; Lamplighters’ students are mainly Chabad-Lubavitchers, while Luria’s students range from secular to Hasidic. [...]


  1. Montessori is not a contradiction to Daas Torah.
    The way schools teach nowadays has nothing to do with how they taught in Europe. Then they taught each individual child according to his level, modem teaching methods are more foreign than Montessori.

    Rabbi Jonathan Rietti - a descendant of the Sephardic leader the Ben Ish Chai and son of the famous British actor Robert Rietti, known as ‘The Man of a Thousand Voices' and ‘King of the Dubbers' - received his rabbinical diploma from Gateshead Talmudical College, England, after which he helped establish the now flourishing Kollel in Gibraltar. Having received a master's in education, he practiced for eighteen years as an educational consultant to parents of gifted children and those with ADD. With Montessori training, he has developed a curriculum which dovetails a Torah education with Montessori methodology. Rabbi Rietti has authored over twenty five lecture albums on topics including inner growth, health, parenting and Jewish identity, and draws upon his background in the film and advertising industries to entertain the listener while sharing powerful insights on love, happiness and ‘emotional intelligence.' Rabbi Rietti currently lectures across the U.S. for the Gateways Seminar Program. For more about Rabbi Rietti please visit: Rabbi Rietti currently directs a teacher training program in Brooklyn, New York, under Mishkan Yecheskel. His model classroom with hundreds of educational materials is used for training teachers how to reach different children in the classroom. It is literally an 'Al Pi Darko' approach. He can be reached at 845-426-0609.

  2. Why did you change the title of the article? Why "infiltrate"? What's bad about Montessori. Actually Montessori puts quite some emphasis on learning things by heart, so it looks quite compatible with yeshiva curricula... It says that every child should learn at his pace... this also fits the learning style of yeshivot, where the fact of learning is more important than the pace of learning (basically)...

    So: what's your problem?

    1. I, too, am curious why you chose the word "infiltrate", which indicates something negative. Do you have an issue with this methodology? Do you feel it is against Torah in some way?

  3. I think that the real issue is that the Montessori method teaches critical thinking, something that for some reason (that I can't fathom), the Torah world refuses to allow.

  4. Patience, I saw one reference to kids testing each other memorized facts, when sometimes needed , but if Montessori is paired along with High Scope schools as being more constructivist rather than focusing on Direct Instruction , I am not sure that learning by heart forgettable facts is something that is emphasized. One can prove any educational method and philosophy from the Torah. I prefer the approach we learn from the seider night – stimulating the kid so that he asks the questions , the kid making meaning of the learning , we lighting the candle rather than seeing kids as just empty vessels , pales that have to be filled. The latter is typical of what happens here in Israel , so it is no wonder that I have difficulty finding a kid who enjoys beit seifer yesodi . In this sense maybe Montessori is infiltrating Jewish schools. It could be that there are individual teachers who know how to engage kids curiosity than just bribe them.

    1. In fact, I don't know how unified those Montessori programs are. But in some Montessori schools and preschools, children learn one poem every week, so as to train their memory... because they believe that memory can and should be trained...

  5. "Who is wise? He who learns from every person." (Avos.) If Montessori works, it works, and we can replicate or otherwise learn from it.

  6. My wife once taught at a Montessori school in a large Orthodox Shul. It was good for the student, overall and specifically for their Yiddishkeit.

  7. I understand what Septimus said about going to an orthodox school and the outside world being known but "scary". I went to a fairly strict Catholic school and had a good academic education, but when I went to college I found that I was lacking in some other areas. I think montesssori schools are wonderful for both a good academic base and for exposing children to cultures and people different from themselves better developing their critical thinking skills.

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