|A Yeshiva in Brooklyn (New York Post)|
During the 2000-2001 school year, there were 76,538 kids enrolled in yeshivas, the Manhattan Institute study found.
By the 2018-2019 academic year, that number soared to 111,970 — a rise of 46 percent, according to the study.
Catholic school enrollment has plummeted by roughly the same proportion over that stretch. There were 148,658 students in the Christian schools in 2000-2001 and just 77,025 last year — a drop of 48 percent, the report states.
The latter statistic is concerning
We are long past the days when the Church persecuted us. Ever since Vatican II there has been a warming up of relations between us because of our many shared interests. Interests generated by living in a culture that seems to be increasingly apathetic to religious values. Most of which are shared (if not identical) and derived of a common bible. We are often both on the same side with respect to many religious issues facing us right now.
The plummeting enrollment in Catholic schools is not anything to celebrate. When society loses interest in its faith based moral underpinnings, nothing good can come of that. I’m therefore happy to hear New York’s Catholic Archdiocese say that interest in faith-based education is on the uptick. I just hope it’s enough to reverse the trend.
Back to Yeshivos. The fact that Yeshiva attendance is booming is the main reason Orthodoxy is growing while the rest of the Jewish community is shrinking to levels that threaten their very existence. It is entirely possible that in few generations Orthodox Jews will be the majority of Jews in this country – even as the overall population of Jews shrinks. A very disturbing prospect.
There is not a doubt in my mind that this reality is based on the fact that Orthodox Jews are educated in Yeshivos about their Judaism through high school and beyond - while the rest of Jewry is not. Which leaves them woefully ignorant about it. Which in turn leaves them with little incentive to maintain their Jewish identity. Much less perpetuate it by not intermarrying.
The question raised in that article is - what kind of education do Yeshiva students get? While it is of existential importance to know one’s Judaism. It is also of existential importance to learn how to survive in the modern era. Do Yeshivos do that?
Most do. I don’t know the numbers - but I would be willing to bet that the vast majority of religious day schools and high schools do a pretty decent job at both. Some better. Some worse. But all teach the basics required to succeed both religiously and materially.
But as the article also notes there is one segment that does not do such a good job in one of those areas. Which is one of my big issues.
The fact remains that there are still many schools in certain Chasidic enclaves that do not educate their children to function well in the modern era. They cannot be classified as a fringe. Or even a small exception to the rule. They are pretty large and growing exponentially. They have the highest birthrate among all Jews. Including all Orthodox Jews.
As is well known by now, these enclaves refuse to offer any kind of secular curriculum to their students in high school and precious little (if any) in their elementary schools. They may be a minority of Orthodox Jewry now. But they could easily become a majority.
Depriving them of the means to pursue decent careers is not the way to perpetuate themselves.
I understand that a secular education is not always necessary to succeed financially. There are a lot of millionaires in those communities that can barely speak the English language… but enough so to make fortunes via investments, innate business skills, or using connections. But that is only a small portion of them.
There is also the argument that they pick up a lot of necessary secular education in the course of their religious studies. Some of which they correctly say is superior to what is found in the public school classroom.
While that may be true, it is not nearly enough. For one thing there are certain study skills learned on the secular side - vital to success in future educational pursuits that are not learned on the religious side.
Most of these educationally deprived students would benefit greatly from a decent secular studies curriculum. It would surely help them support their future families without any government financial assistance. Or at least a lot less of it. and a lot less likely to feel the need to abuse that assistance.
This is an important fact that should not get lost while celebrating our booming Yeshiva attendance. And yet there is a concerted effort by some to thwart any attempt at implementing that curriculum.
The argument being church state separation. They are opposed to any government interference in the education of religious schools as a violation of their religious rights.
As I have said many times, our religious rights is a real issue that must be addressed. But so too must the unwillingness of those Yeshivos to offer any secular curriculum at all. The right thing to do is to fight for both:
With the expanded growth noted by this article, this issue takes on increasing importance. I just hope activists pay at least as much attention to need for a secular studies curriculum as they is to the assertion of our religious rights. Because one without the other does a disservice to us all.