SABBATH-SCHOOLS (termed also Sunday-Schools and Religious Schools):
Among the Jews the Sabbath-school or congregational religious school is a product of the nineteenth century. True, in past times every Jewish community of any size had its school for the teaching of the young; but this was a day-school where the children received all their instruction. Moreover, this school, or "ḥeder" as it was called, was a private enterprise of the "melammed" or teacher, and was not a school instituted and supported as such by the congregation. The distinction between secular and religious education which became current in Jewry in the nineteenth century was hardly known before the Mendelssohnian period. The only instruction that the Jewish child had received was in the Hebrew disciplines, Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, and the like. The closing quarter of the eighteenth century witnessed the establishment in Germany of schools for Jewish children in which secular subjects were taught in addition to the Hebrew branches. The first of these schools in point of time was the Freischule founded in Berlin in 1778 by David Friedländer and others. Similar schools were opened during the next few decades in Breslau, Seesen, Dessau, Wolfenbüttel, Frankfort, Cassel, and Hamburg, and gradually throughout Germany and other European countries in which the Jews were being emancipated from medieval conditions. See Education; Pedagogics.In the United States.
The absolute separation of secular and religious education through the medium of distinct schools was first achieved in the United States. This was due without doubt to the national policy of the separation of church and state. The public-school system, altogether secular in its nature, was one of the results of this policy. If religious instruction was to be given at all to the children of various denominations it had to be imparted in separate religious schools organized and supported by these denominations. In the few cities of the United States that contained Jewish congregations before the fourth decade of the nineteenth century the children received Hebrew instruction either in a ḥeder or from private teachers at home, but the methods of the ḥeder were too much at variance with the American spirit to be continued for any length of time after the Jewish child had become thoroughly imbued with that spirit.
The fourth decade of the nineteenth century may be regarded as the dividing-line between the old and the new religious educational methods in the United States, as obtaining in the ḥeder, on the one hand, and in the Sabbath-school on the other, because it was in the year 1838 that the first Sunday-school for Jewish children was established. This school was founded in the city of Philadelphia by Rebecca Gratz with the assistance of some ladies of the Mikveh Israel congregation. The school was intended for any Jewish child of the city that desired to attend, and was not therefore, strictly speaking, a congregational school: it was a free religious school, and was conducted along the lines of Christian Sunday-schools. In the same year the Beth Elohim congregation of Charleston, S. C., organized a Sunday-school; and in the following year a similar institution was opened in Richmond, Va., by Congregation Beth Shalome. A number of ladies of the B'ne Israel congregation instituted another such school in Cincinnati in 1842.Subjects Taught.
At that time there were not twenty congregations in the country; but soon afterward a remarkable congregational activity began which has continued to the present day. New congregations were formed constantly, and these almost invariably made provision for the religious instruction of the children in their Sabbath-schools. At present this is so generally the case that the exception thereto proves the rule. The sessions of these schools are usually held on Sunday mornings, in some instances on Saturday and Sunday mornings, in a few cases on Sunday afternoons, and exceptionally on some week-day afternoon. The subjects taught are Biblical andpost-Biblical Jewish history, religious and ethical lessons, and Hebrew, the last-named subject being optional in some schools, while in a very few it is not taught at all. The rabbi is generally superintendent of the school; and in small communities that have no rabbi this office is filled by some interested layman or woman. There are usually five graded classes, the age of admission being fixed at eight years, although some schools have introduced recently a kindergarten class for younger children. The pupils attend the school until they are confirmed; and many schools have post-confirmation classes composed of those who have been confirmed and who return to the school for further instruction in religion and in Jewish history.
There is as yet neither unity nor uniformity among the Jewish religious schools of the United States. Each school is autonomous. In order to promote a sentiment of union the Hebrew Sabbath-School Union of America was organized in 1886. At its meeting held in Chicago in Jan., 1905, the union resolved to merge with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations; and the religious educational work will henceforward be conducted under the auspices of the congregational union through a committee to be known as the Committee on Religious Education. The Jewish Chautauqua Society devotes a number of sessions of its summer assembly to the consideration of the problems of religious education; and the Council of Jewish Women has a standing committee on Sabbath-schools. The Central Conference of American Rabbis gives a place in its programs to papers treating of religious pedagogics; and several years ago a committee of the conference prepared a curriculum for Jewish Sabbath-schools. In quite a number of towns where the Jewish communities are not large enough to form congregations, religious schools have been organized, mainly through the agency of the Hebrew Sabbath-School Union. This body has attempted to gather the statistics of the schools of the country; but the returns to date are far from complete. It is, however, safe to say that there is no city or town in the country that contains a congregation where provision is not made for the religious education of the young.In Europe.
It appears likely that the first congregational religious school ("Religionsschule") in Germany was that established by the Berlin Reform congregation in 1847, although religious classes had previously been conducted by Ludwig Philippson (in Magdeburg), Abraham Geiger (in Breslau), and others. The subjects taught were Bible, history, and religion. Since then the religious school has become an adjunct of all congregations in the larger communities of Prussia; and it is in the strictest sense a congregational school. The government exercises no manner of supervision over or interference with the management of these schools. The same is the case in Saxony. In the other large German states—Baden, Bavaria, and Württemberg—there are no separate Jewish religious schools, moral instruction being imparted to Jewish children in the public schools by the rabbi or the Jewish teacher at certain hours set apart in the curriculum for this instruction. The same holds true of Austria. In France a similar course is pursued in the lycées or secondary schools; the children in the confirmation classes, however, are twice a week instructed in the synagogues by the rabbis.
Up to the year 1876 the Jewish children of London received Hebrew instruction either privately or in the so-called voluntary schools, i.e., Jewish day-schools in which instruction was given in both secular and religious subjects. The Jewish children, however, who attended the board-schools were unprovided with instruction in religious matters. To remedy this defect the Jewish Association for the Diffusion of Religious Knowledge (now the Jewish Religious Education Board) established classes in Hebrew and religious knowledge at the board-school in Old Castle street, Whitechapel. Since then this organization has extended its activity, and has established similar classes in various board-schools in the metropolis. Different congregations, too, have religious classes (corresponding to the Sabbath-schools in the United States.
In one form or another, then, the religious education of the Jewish child of to-day is provided for either through the medium of separate religious schools maintained by congregations, as is the case altogether in the United States and partly in England, Germany, and France, or by means of instruction imparted in public schools at stated hours by rabbis or Jewish teachers, as in Austria and partly in England, Germany, and France. It may be stated that the term "Sabbath-school," which has been the designation mostly employed in the United States, h—as fallen into disfavor, and that many religious educators advocate the use of the term "religious school" in its place.