The Jewish studies curriculum is designed to impart a body of knowledge, and to produce young men and women who desire to identify with the Jewish people. The Jews exist in order to live the life laid out for them by G-d in the Torah. It is important to us to instill in our students a positive and meaningful Jewish identity.
Distinctive Jewish characteristics underlie the program and are encouraged by the program. Among these are intellectual daring and respect for tradition. Students at RTA become thoroughly imbued with the idea that they are the next link in the chain of tradition. They cannot escape recognition of the responsibility this entails. More important, though, is the understanding of how little we really know from first-hand knowledge, and how much we rely on the experience and wisdom of others. The first benefit of participation in a tradition is the wisdom of those on whose shoulders we are standing; the second is humility.
That is most important because, paradoxically, daring requires humility; it cannot be allowed when it is unbounded. Yet, we as Jews have always been daring in learning, and that is what we at RTA want for our students. We want our students to be bold in learning, to challenge and argue. Sometimes this initially is a trial for our teachers, but it is something that they learn to appreciate and relish.
We live in a time when there is a Jewish nation whose language is Hebrew. While there are some differences between modern and biblical Hebrew, they are essentially the same language. Modern Hebrew is taught conversationally, by a native speaker of that language, and classical Hebrew is taught integrally with the subject matter. Though Hebrew is a foreign language to most Americans, it is not taught as a foreign language at RTA. It is taught as a mother tongue, a language natural for us to speak, the language that best expresses the thoughts we wish to convey.
One place where Jewish identity gets lost, for example, is in translations of the Torah. Seventeenth century English, not to mention twentieth century "American," is very different from Hebrew, not only in the meanings of specific words, but in the form and structure of the languages themselves. Hebrew sentences are formed differently, making rhetorical and logical structures different. English has vastly more words than Hebrew. Both languages are precise - English by making available exactly the right word, Hebrew by skillfully building the context. Most important, Hebrew is "the holy tongue;" it is no more than common sense that a holy book should be studied in the language in which it was written. Therefore, as much as possible, Jewish studies are based on knowledge of biblical and rabbinic Hebrew.
Development of good character is not done as instruction in "ethics," confined to a 43 minute period. At RTA development of character takes place in two ways. The first is by example. The ethos of RTA is well and firmly established. Everyone associated with the school, board members, volunteers, administrators and teachers, understands the responsibility to strive for moral perfection. The second is indeed thematically, in class. It is carried out through vigorous examination of and immersion in an organic tradition, thousands of years old, updated to our own day, a tradition that has always had one eye on G-d's path, while the other is shrewdly dissecting the vagaries of the heart. To appreciate the nature of this instruction requires a background ideally starting in kindergarten, but even the most untutored observer can see at RTA the empirical evidence of its effectiveness.
At RTA, development of good character is not put into a compartment separate from learning, nor even is it viewed as part of religion alone. It is part of the educational philosophy of RTA that poor character can corrupt not only moral behavior and religious orientation, but so-called secular learning as well. Abstruse as it may appear, Mathematics, Chemistry, History, English Literature - all subjects - are luminous only when understood as elements of an intelligible creation. "If there is no G-d, all things are permitted"...it is true in physics as in human behavior.
And if so, an unruly heart, in rebellion from the Creator, will learn even physics and the rest only in such a way as to validate its rebellion.
The creation of the State of Israel is one of the seminal events in Jewish history. Recognizing the significance of the State of Israel and its national institutions, we seek to instill in our students an attachment to the State of Israel and its people as well as a sense of responsibility for their welfare.
The Rudlin Torah Academy (RTA) is a religious school. Its educational philosophy and mission are therefore built upon religious principles. The educational program grows directly out of the philosophy. The curriculum is the day-to-day implementation of the school's educational program.
The most basic principles upon which the educational philosophy is built are (as stated by Maimonides in the 12th century), "that the Creator, is the Creator and Ruler of all created beings, and that He alone has made, does make, and will ever make all things...that the Creator is One...," and "that the whole Torah, which we now possess, is the same that was given to Moses, our teacher." We also believe that His creation is, as He says it is, good; that men and women are created in His image; and that, reflecting His omnipotence, they are endowed with free will.
These few principles are distilled in the motto of RTA, "Teaching the Mind, Touching the Heart."
Because we are created in His image, man's natural desire is to draw near to Him. Because He has expressed Himself in an intelligible creation, that human desire naturally expresses itself as the desire to know G-d through His creation. And because we are created in His image, there is congruence between His mind and ours, so that the path to knowledge is part of the creation itself. The desire to know is part of human nature, and the child's receptivity to learning is part of the very plan of creation. "Teaching the Mind" is, therefore, a divine commandment. Teaching and learning are seen at RTA as two sides of a reciprocal relationship in which human nature is given it greatest fulfillment. It should, therefore, be pleasurable for both student and teacher.
Just as it is an offense to the Creator to reject His creation, it is an offense to take the pleasure out of learning about it. There are certain building blocks of learning which must be acquired by rote, which is not always pleasurable ("not always," because, in fact, young children take satisfaction in developing and exercising their memories, just as they take pleasure in developing and exercising their bodies). It is a challenge to make such learning pleasurable. Beyond that, RTA's teachers know that they must entice the children along the path of wisdom by nurturing each child's own desire to know. Our premises lead to the conclusion that, ultimately, learning is the most attractive thing there is.On the other hand, endowed with free will, we are free, as it says in the Torah, "to turn from G-d and follow the desires of our hearts." In Jewish tradition, the heart is viewed metaphorically as the seat of our emotions and passions. If our hearts are turned toward G-d, learning will proceed smoothly. If not, however, the best instruction will be of no avail. Either the child will not learn or, worse, the learning will be corrupted; hence we say, "Touching the Heart."
Rudlin Torah Academy's educational philosophy, mission, and objectives form the basis of our educational program. RTA is committed to a complete and total educational program, with general and religious curricula, consistent with our firm belief that all knowledge comes from the Creator, within a halachic framework. It must be inclusive of all Jewish youth, ever mindful that the acquisition of wisdom is a divine commandment, enhancing Jewish identity, consistent with traditional Jewish methods of teaching and learning, and constantly aware that wisdom requires a willing heart.
Because we believe that every Jewish child requires a Jewish education, RTA is committed to reaching out to the entire Jewish community: conservative, orthodox, reform, totally unaffiliated, with rich background and learning, or with none. Further, it is the policy of the school, that no child will be turned away for lack of money. This element in our educational program guides all admission and financial aid decisions. The admissions policy states, "The Rudlin Torah Academy is open to Jewish youth of all backgrounds in an educational program that provides academic excellence while teaching the beauty of our Jewish heritage and a respect for all mankind. The school is open to youths in grades kindergarten through eight (and girls in grades nine through twelve)." To be successful in the rigorous General and Judaic Studies programs offered at the school, a student, and his or her parents, must share a commitment (appropriate to the particular age and grade level) that Jewish education is a fundamental and meaningful part of a child's intellectual growth and development.
"Initial enrollment at the Rudlin Torah Academy can occur at any grade level, regardless of a student's previous educational background or Jewish knowledge. If necessary, the school is committed to providing individual attention to bring the child up to grade level or to making other adjustments to allow the student to achieve at his or her highest academic level. The Rudlin Torah Academy admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school administered programs." The admission and financial aid policies are stated clearly to all applicants, orally, and in the school's admissions or marketing brochure.Our graduates compare favorably with those of other private schools in Virginia. Yet, we are committed to reach all applicants who are interested in doing the work, whether or not they are at the highest academic levels. There is an extra burden on our teachers to teach to the whole spectrum of student capabilities.
We demonstrate in our educational program that "all Israel is one," that we care about every single child, and that we recognize that every single child has a unique educational receptivity. Classes are structured by capability when necessary; but the ideal is for all to progress as a whole. All of our pupils learn that they have something to contribute; our brightest learn not only that they have a responsibility to those who are behind them, but also that the one bringing up the rear may be the one who provides the needed insight, or expresses the very question, that opens the way to a deeper level of thought for all.G-d requires of us "only", as it says in the book of Micah, "to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with [our] G-d." But even that requires no less than that we know what justice is, recognize the line between it and mercy, and know the way to walk with G-d. Other formulations of what is needful for the best life put much more emphasis explicitly on cultivation of the intellect. Either way, Judaism requires mastery of an enormous body of knowledge. Additionally, we must convey to our students the knowledge necessary for skill in the professions and crafts, and for active and responsible citizenship. Thus, RTA must strive for excellence both in General and Judaic Studies.
Our educational philosophy is based on the principle that G-d intends that the good things in life be pleasurable, and that learning is the highest good. We are guilty indeed, then, if we make learning itself unpleasurable. Moreover, these are children, and there are only so many hours in a day. This places a large burden on students, administrators, and teachers. It means that RTA's school day must be long, full, and disciplined. The course of study must be prescribed; with few exceptions, all of our students must take all of the courses. For the students this means sacrifice of free time, hard work, acceptance of discipline and limitation on their freedom. The program and curriculum must be exceptionally thought out, well paced, varied and stimulating.