Heder


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Heder

 

a Jewish elementary school in which boys were taught the basic precepts of Judaism. The traditional heder, which was established in the Middle Ages, survived until recent times essentially unchanged, serving as a means to disseminate religious fanaticism and national separatism. Judaism obliged all men of the Jewish community to read the sacred books. Instruction in these writings was provided by the heder, which was maintained by the community or run on a private basis by a melamed, or teacher, who received fees.

In prerevolutionary Russia the heder was usually not a single educational institution, but separate schools representing three levels of instruction. In the first, or lowest, level children were taught the alphabet, learned how to read, and memorized prayers; at the second level they were instructed in the Pentateuch (Torah) and several texts from the other books of the Old Testament and were introduced to the Talmud. Writing was not generally taught.

The overwhelming majority of pupils went no further than the second level; only a handful devoted another two or three years to a more detailed study of the Torah. The full course of study usually lasted ten years. Boys entered the heder before school age. Lessons lasted throughout the day and ended between five and eight o’clock in the evening; classes were not held on Saturdays, holidays, and the days before holidays. Learning was based on rote memorization and the word-for-word recitation of the religious texts in Yiddish, the colloquial language of the Jews; corporal punishment was used.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries unified “reformed” heders were established, which taught general subjects in addition to the basic precepts of Judaism. The new schools admitted girls. Traditional heders still exist in some capitalist countries. The heders in Russia, which were usually located within the Jewish pale of settlement, were abolished after the October Revolution of 1917, when a unified system of elementary education was introduced.

REFERENCES

Bramson, L. M. K istorii nachal’nogo obrazovaniia evreev v Rossii. St. Petersburg, 1896.
Spravochnaia kniga po voprosam obrazovaniia evreev. St. Petersburg, 1901.

S. M. ORLOV

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