Berkson, Isaac Baer

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BERKSON, ISAAC BAER (1891–1975), U.S. educator and philosopher. Berkson, who was born in New York, began his teaching career at the Central Jewish Institute in New York, of which he was appointed director in 1917. From 1918 until 1927 he supervised the schools and extension program of the city's Bureau of Jewish Education. In 1927 he began teaching education at the Jewish Institute of Religion (later merged with the Hebrew Union College), and in the same year accepted the invitation of Henrietta Szold, who headed the Palestine Executive's department of education, to survey Jewish schools in Palestine. After completing his survey, he remained in Palestine from 1928 to 1935 as superintendent of the Jewish school system. In 1938 Berkson began lecturing in the philosophy of education at the City College of New York (professor, 1955). Though a follower of the progressive education ideas of John Dewey and W.H. Kilpatrick, Berkson only partially accepted their pragmatic-instrumentalist philosophy. His merger of these views with his own, which were a reflection of the ideals and values of his Jewish heritage, was given expression in his book The Ideal and the Community (1958). In dealing with the specific problems of Jewish education he advanced the "community theory." According to him, the Jewish communities of the world constitute the "Knesset Israel," which has its own "heritage of cultural, social, and spiritual values." The cultivation of the individual's Jewish personality must therefore combine loyalty to his own community – the "Knesset Israel," including the State of Israel – and sharing with his fellow men in the "realm of universal ideals." Berkson's Theories of Americanization (1920) was an important influential statement of the American theory of cultural pluralism which he applied specifically to the problems of Jewish education. Berkson's other works include: Preface to an Educational Philosophy (1940), Education Faces the Future (1943), Ethics, Politics and Education (1968), and The Ideal and the Community: A Philosophy of Education (1970).


S. Dinin, in: Jewish Education, 32 (1962), 134; E. Schwarcz, ibid., 29 (1958), 56; J. Pilch (ed.), Judaism and the Jewish School (1966), 42.

[Ernest Schwarcz]