Mirvis pioneers a new way of looking at Jewish education

  • Jonathan
Social entrepreneurship has become a buzzword for the attempt to draw on private sector approaches to solve public sector social, cultural, or environmental problems.
by SUZANNE BELLING | Jul 20, 2016

In “It’s Our Challenge: A Social Entrepreneurship Approach to Jewish Education”, Dr Jonathan Mirvis has given it meaning and practical application in an area never before covered in this context - Jewish education.

This is a pioneering work by former South African Mirvis (his father is the well-known Kabbalist Rabbi Dr Lionel Mirvis of Cape Town and his brother is Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth).

Jonathan Mirvis is a senior lecturer at the Melton Centre for Jewish Education at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Jewish education is as old as the Jews, but in recent times it has faced new and difficult challenges in the Diaspora, says Mirvis. How to ensure Jewish identity, continuity and knowledge in open, democratic societies, in a Jewish population that is often much less Jewishly observant than its forebears.

This, Mirvis says, requires both vision and being rooted in the present, and finding ways for those involved in Jewish education to be able to look forward and build organisations, institutions and programmes that are marketable and meet needs - and find the funding to make them sustainable.

Written in an accessible and interesting style for both lay and academic readers, Mirvis applies the central concepts of the book in both visionary and practical terms, which are valuable to both educators and donors.

He defines social entrepreneurship as “the harnessing of entrepreneurship for the attainment or enhancement of social value”.

Entrepreneurs take advantage of opportunities to create value, to change reality, while social entrepreneurs bring about social change.

In terms of Jewish education, these can be meeting a social need or an ideologically-driven motivation of a social vision. One example of social vision was the creation and continuation of the Jewish day schools in South Africa, now attended by the vast majority of Jewish children in the major centres.

The book in clear terms explains the concepts of social entrepreneurship in Jewish education, with examples and interviews.

It clarifies the idea of quality Jewish education - from the traditional text-based teaching to newer approaches, gives insights into how social entrepreneurs have operated in the field of education and discusses investment in social innovation and the challenge of sustainability.

Entrepreneurship might have its roots in commerce, but this book involves its social application, “dedicating ourselves to the sacred task of Jewish education”.

Three sides of Jewish education are considered, namely “participants, personnel and ‘pennies’” - those who are educated, faculty (staff) and funding.

Mirvis pioneers a new way of looking at Jewish education, not simply from the aspect of educators on one side, going cap-in-hand to donors on the other, but illustrating how to establish viable, ongoing, partnerships between them to ensure quality Jewish education, from formal schools to informal learning.

He often uses the language of business to illustrate his novel points, including his explanation of the title of the book.

Other business terms are also used, such as “disruptive innovation”, the way business is done (or how social entrepreneurs operate) to create new markets, sell new products (and education is a product) and bring in new “customers”.

The book goes beyond just theory, discussing ways to maximise the possibility of success and how to evaluate social entrepreneurial projects - including return on investment, as well a looking at ways to ensure the sustainability of projects and organisations.

It is an important, and highly readable contribution to the field of Jewish education in the 21st century; and creates visionary social value itself.


Jonathan Mirvis. (2016). It’s Our Challenge: A Social Entrepreneurship Approach to Jewish Education. Oxford and Shrewsbury, YouCaxton Publications. $15 (available on Amazon at $11,99).


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