Tuesday, June 10, 2008

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The Jewish Education System is FAILING

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

(This article refers to orthodox Jewish education throughout the US and Israel.)

The Jewish education system has become a victim of it's own success. Built from the ashes of Europe, both the spiritual ashes of the "enlightenment" and the physical ashes of the Holocaust, it struggled for 50 years to retain enough religious Jewish population for there to be a next generation. It was not 100% successful, but it was highly successful. Dedicated students graduated, began a Torah life, and had big families to which they transmitted those ideals.

Generations went by, not many, and their success continued. Not 100%, but again, the vast majority of students began a Torah life. Only 5 generations since Torah began to grow in America, 3 generations since the Holocaust. And the minority of the Jewish community, predicted to fade away by the 1980's, started to become something other than the minority.

In the past, the yeshiva systems were rightly proud of their accomplishments. While they "couldn't save them all", they were producing a strong core of Torah students 100% focused on Torah values. Having those fall away from the community was the tragedy of the time. Most religious families that can trace a history have a time in the past, perhaps great or great-great grandparents, that were part of a traditional Jewish religious family. Then they came to America and ALL the brothers and sisters children started to fall away. Usually the religious family of today is the only line of the family that stayed.

Of those that fell away, the religious community turned their backs on them. They could do no less, those few staying had to rally and protect themselves. So while the yeshiva system was rebuilt and starting building the future, pushing away and walling off those out of line became ... just part of the way things were.

Ahh, but today, the community is no longer tiny. In Jerusalem, they are 1 generation from being the majority, in England, two (see stat's at the end of this article). Those failed by the traditional system, those who don't fit perfectly, and a system that simply has no other options, may not have other places to go, or may not choose to go, or go silently.

So the traditional system is failing by it's success. Being so successful over generations, it's sure it's doing it right. Being sure, it's not creating alternative options for the 5-20% that don't fit it's exact mold. And a resentful minority is growing within the new religious majority.

The pendulum must swing, and our Torah leaders must do something unthinkable a generation ago. They must deemphasize Torah learning for part of the community, and create some balance and options for those who will make great Jewish businessmen, or scientists, or doctors, or all of a large variety of lifetime options that are respectable and compatible with a Torah life.

Instead, our yeshivas are competing to create higher and higher levels of learning, and pushing more aside. For that particular school, that seems ok, there's another 5 students waiting for that seat. But for the community, and more importantly for that young person pushed out, it's very damaging.

Stats: One-third of British Jews under age 18 are fervently Orthodox, according to a new study. The British Jewish Board of Deputies, found that the British haredi community has grown at an annual rate of about 4 percent over the last two decades. The study estimates the current size of Britain's "strictly Orthodox" population at between 22,800 and 36,400 people. There are an estimated 300,000 Jews in Britain. Although the fervently Orthodox represent just 10 percent of the overall Jewish population in the country, one-third of British Jews under age 18 are fervently Orthodox, the study noted. "This is an exceptional statistic given the oft-heard assertion that British Jewry, like many Diaspora communities, is in a permanent state of decline,”

Similar statistics reported from Jerusalem in the last few years note that 55% of "under age 18" are charedi, "fervently Orthodox".

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