Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Obama takes an unwitting cue from the Rambam on Education

In Education, Maimonides, Obama, Rambam, Synagogues, Tzedaka on March 13, 2009 at 3:26 pm

My understanding is that even though No Child Left Behind had some positive impact, the implementation of standards was never followed up with the funding that was promised. It is clear, however, that Obama is going to put serious money where his mouth went this past week.

Years ago, I collected several sources from the Rambam’s Mishnah Torah regarding his priorities for what were considered essential communal services.

In Hilchot Matanot Aniyyim Laws of Tzedaka, He states that every Jewish community has to have a community fund to take care of the poor, and acknowledges that he never heard of a community that didn’t have one.

In Hilchot Shekhaynim, Laws regarding good citizenship, he states that citizens can force each other to contribute to the building of a synagogue and the purchase of a community Torah scroll.
Note the injection of coercive language that was absent from the community fund.

In Hilchot Talmud Torah, Laws of Torah Study, he commands that every town must hire a teacher for their children, and if they don’t we put a ban on the town, and if they still don’t, we destroy it.

Why is the most coercive language saved for educating children? The Rambam knew that if one didn’t have an educated population, soon enough one would not have synagogues or community funds. Education is the foundation of civility, success, and communal memory. It is where we are reminded of our connections to each other and the value of a collective enterprise. A school is where these messages are reinforced. Obama’s right! Education reform, in the long run, is the most critical of all his goals and it can’t wait.

Just look at the most dispossessed of peoples and their profound adaptability when only a text kept us together for nearly two thousand years, then one may understand, “Why are you Jews So Smart?” Click on the link for the Rambams in question.

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