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HOS Blog Post

What Does K’dushah (holiness) Mean as a Core Value?
Rabbi Mitchel Malkus

Every year I study the CESJDS Mission and Core Values with incoming board members and new faculty. Each time I read the Mission and Values there is something different that resonates with me and causes me to reflect on the unique characteristics of the School. This school year my interest was drawn to the core value of K’dushah, which we translate as holiness and define as “Perception of God’s presence in the awe and wonder of our world and how we can sanctify our lives through the practice and experience of the mitzvot” (Jewish ethical and ritual obligations or good deeds).

I am not certain what K’dushah actually means. The Hebrew root word of K’dushah is K-D-Sh, Kadosh. Traditional Jewish commentators and biblical scholars would translate this root as meaning “separate”, or “different” rather than the more common translation of “holy.” They point to other uses of the root word in the Torah and, in the case of academic biblical scholars, to its appearance in other Semitic languages.

Reflecting on K’dushah as meaning “separate” or a “state of separateness,” I wondered ‘how do we make things holy.’ We often do that by making them different, unique, or separate from the mundane or profane, which is the opposite of holy. Things that are profane are irreverent, ungodly, disrespectful. In school we want to foster environments that respectful, sacred, special.

During Staff Week and at the high school welcome assembly, I shared this meaning of K’dushah and asked everyone to consider how we might make what goes on in school different than what we see in the world. I reflected that so much of the discourse and news outside the school is profane and geared toward bringing people down. Instead, I asked students and faculty to consider how when we enter school each day we can speak to each other, construct our relationships, and act in a way that is holy, that is different than what we see in the world around us.

I am not the first to offer the idea that creating an environment of K’dushah in schools can be a central organizing principle in educational setting.  Twenty-five years ago, Rabbi Robert Abramson, who was a head of school in the Detroit area, wrote a piece for the Melton Center at the Jewish Theological Seminary making the case for day schools to use K’dushah as an integrative focus and guiding vision.

If we take the core value of K’dushah seriously, we can differentiate what happens in schools from what we see outside in the broader world. But to truly realize the full potential of this value, we need to not just differentiate what happens in our own learning community but to bring this approach to the world beyond the four walls of school. When we create an environment of holiness in school we begin to model a way of thinking and acting that can make a difference in the broader world. To me, that seems to be a critical function of an education guided by K’dushah.  

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