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  • Prophets and Profits —managerialism and the restructuring of Jewish schools in South Africa
  • Wally Morrow (bio)
Chaya Herman (2006) Prophets and Profits —managerialism and the restructuring of Jewish schools in South Africa. Pretoria: HSRC Press.

We who live in secular liberal democracies not threatened by imminent war like to think of ourselves as unencumbered agents acting with reason in the circumstances within which we find ourselves. One of the virtues of good Sociology or History is that they reveal the usually unacknowledged non-personal forces that constrain our vaunted autonomy and common sense and shape the ways in which we think and act.

At the heart of this book is a sad tale of the attempt to 'restructure' the Jewish community schools in Johannesburg over a two-year period, and the ways in which this attempt led to the deterioration of the ethos of those schools, built up over decades, and left them in disarray. But despite some fleeting indications to the contrary, the real villains of this piece are not malevolent individuals but powerful historical currents, some global, some local.

In brief, the tale is as follows. The first Jewish day school in Johannesburg opened its doors in 1948. Over the next half century more schools were established, and by 2000 there were eight such schools, known collectively as 'King David Schools' - distributed over three campuses in Johannesburg. But tensions and strains were beginning to become evident. In 1994 South Africa itself became the kind of democracy that embraces transparency, multiculturalism and diversity, and this raises uncomfortable questions about bounded communities with tendencies towards exclusivity. And tensions were exacerbated by continuous conflict and lack of settlement in the Middle East centering on the disputed State of Israel, worrying signs [End Page 145] of an increase in anti-Semitic sentiment globally, and rumoured terrorist attacks on Jewish installations. To add further ingredients to this already potent cocktail, religious divisions and tensions within the Jewish community itself became more prominent.

But the proximal cause of the crisis, which came to a head towards the end of 2000, was the increasingly parlous financial situation of the King David Schools. The South African Board of Jewish Education, which is the governing body of the schools, decided that a decisive intervention was needed. In April 2001 it appointed a CEO, with wide powers to put the schools on a sounder financial footing. For two and a half years the schools, and everyone associated with them - from pupils and teachers to managers (principals and vice principals), to parents, and the Johannesburg Jewish community itself - were subjected to a traumatic roller-coaster ride which destroyed the traditional ethos of the schools and led to the unravelling of the threads of trust which had previously held the imagined community together.

In September 2003, with as little transparency and explanation as had attended his appointment, the Board suspended the CEO. And that was the end of the story - but the traumas of this brief period in the history of the Jewish community schools of Johannesburg have changed them irreversibly. Chapter Seven concludes with the following admission:

… it is argued in this chapter that there are various global and local factors that are likely to support the continuation of both the managerial and the religious restructuring, albeit in more subtle ways. Such is the work of hegemony.


A chronicle of events is provided in Chapter Two ('A bird's-eye view') with no pretensions to be more than a description of the events as they unfolded. This supplies a story line for the minutely detailed case study and theoretical reflections that comprise the bulk of the book. Towards the end of this chapter, Dr Herman makes a confession that underlies the style of the book - its power, discipline and scope:

This extended narrative lays the basis for what will constitute both a personal account of the change - informed by the emotional challenges of education change - as well as a broader empirical account of restructuring at the Johannesburg Jewish community schools and its theoretical location in the global literature on educational change.

(2006:24) [End Page 146]

This book reports on an inquiry driven by passion...


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pp. 145-151
Launched on MUSE
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