Monday, March 21, 2016

More Surprising Findings from Pew

70% of Israeli Charedim want a good secular education for their children
Pew. That word used to indicate a foul odor. Hence the name Pepe Le Pew… the famous Warner Brothers striped skunk cartoon character. But when you mention that word now, you think of the highly regarded Pew Research Center- a nonpartisan American think tank that ‘provides information on social issues, public opinion, and demographic trends shaping the United States and the world’. (It’s amazing how words can evolve to mean something entirely different than what they meant just a short while ago. Of course the word pew can also mean a bench in a Church or synagogue. I guess it depends how you say it or in which context you use it. But I digress.)

If there has been any institution in recent years that has given the Jewish world a lot to think about, it is Pew. It is the data gathered by Pew that has revealed the true status of denominational Judaism in America. Their data revealed that all major Jewish denominations but Orthodox Jewry are dying at a rate so  rapid that it has the Reform Movement re-defining itself and the Conservative Movement scrambling to make itself more relevant. 

And now Pew has done it again. This time in Israel. Mishpacha Magazine reported on this study in their most recent issue. Pew has come up with some statistics that may be surprising.

I have been saying for some time now that one of the most serious issues facing the Charedi world in Israel is their staggering poverty. A poverty that could be substantially reduced if only their educational system would introduce Limudei Chol – secular studies into their curriculum. Much like most of the Charedi Yeshivos and day schools in America have. If they did that, Charedim in Israel would be better prepared for the training they might need in the future for better paying jobs. 

That they get no training at all  means that some of them do not know how to make the transition to a trade school, technical school, or professional school. They simply never developed the study skills required to be successful there. The skills learned in Limudei Kodesh (religious studies) are helpful, but not enough. The bright and motivated students will overcome that deficit. But some of them won’t. And they almost all have very large families to feed.

The retort form their defenders is that they choose that lifestyle because they are willing to sacrifice their material well being for the spiritually uplifting lives they lead. They therefore gladly sacrifice the study of secular studies in favor of religious studies. 

But as Pew has now revealed, this is not true. 70% of the Charedi world believes that secular studies are important. They also believe that finding a high paying job is important! 

What about all that spirituality and sacrifice? While it does exist at all levels, it does not exist at the expense of Limudei Chol and getting a good job. The point being that the assumption that Charedim don’t care about secular studies or a good job is false. An assumption upon which the system operates. 

The philosophy of the Charedi world is to learn full time in Yeshivos without a stitch of secular studies once you complete 8th grade. (And until then, at best you are taught some very basic math.) You remain in that mode well into your married years even after having many mouths to feed. 

Can this model continue to exist, if so many Charedim consider a secular education importnat while it is being denied to them? It has so far. But how much longer can this model continue to be sustained? Again, 70% of all Charedim in Israel consider it important to give their children a good general education! And yet none of their schools do.

There are some other interesting findings. 51% of all Israelis consider themselves religious. Religious as defined in this survey means either Charedi (Ultra-Orthodox), Dati (Modern Orthodox), or Masorti (Traditional). Now, I’m not exactly sure what that last category means. But I know it means a lot more than just having a Seder on Pesach since 81% of all Israelis do that. 49%.consider themselves Chiloni (secular).  

It is also a fact that their Jewish identity is very important to Israelis no matter how secular they are. 93% of all Israelis said they are proud of their Jewish identity. Contrast that with the number of Jews in America that could not care less whether they are Jewish or not; intermarry freely and do not raise their children with any religion. 

While it is true that secular Jews in Israel define their Judaism culturally, which is different than how religious Jews define themselves as a matter of religion, the fact remains that in all cases, their Judaism is important enough to them to perpetuate it. Intermarriage in Israel is extremely low.

The sense of Jewish identity that is so important to almost every Israeli Jew should not go unnoticed by the Charedi world. I have heard far too often voices coming from the Charedi world that accuse Israeli society of being anti religious. That is obviously not true at all. They should not mistake opposition to certain positions taken by the Charedi world as being anti religious. That opposition is usually only in response to positions that are contrary to what they see as the welfare of the country (e.g. being upset that Charedim do not generally serve in the military. Or that they do not contribute to the economy – instead preferring to be supported by taxpayer dollars).  Charedi politicians should realize what’s bothering them, and not see them as anti-religious.

What about politics? Are Israelis more politically right or left? According to this survey they are either centrist or right. The left comprises only 14% of the Jewish population in Israel. Do they believe the current government in Israel is making a serious effort to bring about peace? The answer is a surprising yes! 56% of the Charedim, 61% of the Daatim, 62% of the Masortim, and 50% of the Chilonim think the Netanyahu government is seriously pursuing peace! Considering all the hatred I see of the Netanyahu government expressed here and in various media all the time, this one surprises me.

There are a lot more surprising statistics such as whether they believe in the Theory of Evolution or not. In all 3 religious streams, the majority do not. Only Chilonim do (83%) 

This is truly a fascinating study with an even more fascinating result. Something that should give all of us a lot to think about.