Ask any teacher. Ask any informed parent. Educational standards are in free-fall across America — perhaps around the world. And in St. Louis, Missouri, an extraordinary institution has closed its doors.
Block Yeshiva High School did not come into existence as something new or revolutionary. Its roots reach all the way to the ancient traditions articulated by the sages of the Second Temple period, and its style expressed the more recent articulations of one of the most influential thinkers of the last two centuries.
In 1851, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch relinquished both his pulpit and his seat in the Moravian parliament to accept the position as leader of the Torah community in Frankfurt-am-Main. In response to the rapid assimilation of Western European Jews, Rabbi Hirsch developed a movement that embraced both secular knowledge and passionate commitment to Torah study and observance.
The approach that became known as Neo-Orthodoxy was built upon a rigorous 12-year primary and secondary education system providing Jewish children with the fundamental skills and philosophic outlook to remain strong in their traditions while simultaneously preparing them to flourish in the professional world of gentile society. By doing so, Rabbi Hirsch created a bulwark against the sweeping tide of secularization while establishing a model to produce fluent and committed Torah Jews for generations.
For 38 years, St. Louis has boasted a school that has earned an extraordinary reputation among both American universities and Israeli yeshivos and seminaries. Following the trail blazed by Rabbi Hirsch a century and a half ago, Block Yeshiva High School graduates have distinguished themselves in medicine, law, and business, as well as in the world of Torah scholarship. Perhaps more significantly, as a group, Block Yeshiva graduates have retained an extraordinary commitment to Jewish tradition and values, to the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, and to the refinement of moral and spiritual character that is our true legacy as a nation.
Here are a few examples of what Block Yeshiva has produced:
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“It was a good question then; and it is now. Why did so many parents fight against educational standards that would prepare their children for success? Why did a small community seek so many ways to cut itself into pieces instead of pursuing a course of peace, cooperation, and unity? Why were the politics of personality allowed to sow strife and dissension in a way that will ultimately cause a community’s children to suffer from the loss of an institution that served so many so well?”
Only one question stands out: the first. The other two are answered by the nature of people.
What I’ve always thought to be true, may not be. Jews have always striven for excellence in the most rigorous of academic and social environments. To be mid-level at MIT says a lot more than the top level of some party school. Then, why?