Friday, October 29, 2021

Increased Enrollment in Heterodox Jewish Schools

Solomon Schechter Day School of Chicago
Any form of Judaism that does not strictly adhere to the Torah as interpreted by the sages of the Talmud and throughout history by the leading rabbis of each generation - is heretical. That is the traditional view of Orthodoxy and has been for centuries. This means that non Orthodox Jewish schools are teaching versions of Judaism that are considered heretical. So in circumstances where a heterodox school is the only option to educate a child Jewishly - it should be avoided.  Even if it means sending a child to public school - the thinking therefore is  better an ignorant Jew than a heretical Jew. 

Based on statistics by Pew Research, that has not been the problem it might have been. With an over 70% intermarriage rate among non Orthodox Jews, it does not seem that too many non Orthodox parents opted for any kind of formal Jewish education for their children.

Sadly, without seeing anything particularly Jewish growing up in their parents’ home and with no formal Jewish education, there is little if anything stopping someone raised that way from rejecting something they never really had in the first place. If a parent does not observe Shabbos, why would a child want to? Even if the parent would like them to. Hard to perpetuate something you don’t practice and  never saw your parents practice. Marrying out then becomes no big deal.

The truth is that pre –pandemic, non Orthodox Jewish schools were in decline. Most non Orthodox parents were not interested in the massive tuition costs of their religious schools– preferring the free education of public schools.

 What about perpetuating their Judaism? Oh well.

But during the pandemic that statistic changed. School shutdowns left many parents with no other option. Schools in all denominational categories have experienced an increase in enrollment. So far that hasn’t changed. This phenomenon may have been bolstered by some public schools changing their curricula in ways that are upsetting to parents.

Based on my opening statement one might say that the increase in Jewish enrollment in non Orthodox schools is nothing to celebrate. But I don’t see it as all bad. True - these young minds full of mush might be taught heresy. Bad as that is, they are also being given positive reinforcement about being a Jew even though it is an erroneous version of it - instead of their being totally devoid of any Jewish identity at all.

If one is handed lemons one should make lemonade. In my view it is a lot easier to motivate observance to someone that cares about his Judaism than it is to motivate someone that doesn’t care. 

So… despite the fact that they might be taught heresy as truth, they are nonetheless being given positive reinforcement about their Judaism. Which means they are less likely to intermarry. It also means that in some cases they might even seek to find out more about their Judaism than what they learned in their schools. And then find their way into Orthodoxy as a source. We ought to be ready to accommodate them.  It may not end assimilating out. But it might just slow it down.