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Reform Judaism and Public Schools:

I just came across a detailed demographic survey of the D.C.-area Jewish community, which has a wealth of very interesting data. The most interesting statistic I came across relates to Reform Judaism and public schools. Traditionally, organized Reform Judaism was vigorously opposed to Jewish day schools because of an ideological belief in both assimiliation and also public schooling, as such. While that opposition has lessened, one still often hears Reform Jewish leaders talking about the supreme importance of public schools, and only a handful Jewish day schools under Reform auspices exist (though to be fair, "community" schools around the country often have a large Reform contingent). At least in the D.C.-area Jewish community, Reform Judaism has successfully discouraged its adherents from sending their kids to Jewish day schools--only 3% of children of Reform Jews attend Jewish day schools, as opposed to 15% for Conservative, 11% for Reconstructionist, and even 7% for "Just Jewish," usually the least-affiliated demographic category. On the other hand, Reform Judaism has been less successful in encouraging fealty to public schooling--22% of children in Reform Jewish households send their kids to non-Jewish private schools. So 25% of D.C.-area Reform Jews send their kids to private school, but only an eighth or so of those send them to Jewish day schools.

CJColucci:
As that noted philosopher Yogi Berra once said, "If people don't want to come to the ball park, you can't stop them."
2.13.2008 3:39pm
Dave N (mail):
Though I strongly support the idea of public education as a general rule, if any of the Reform parents are actually living in the District of Columbia, they are definitely doing their children a disservice by sending them to the D.C. public schcols.
2.13.2008 4:20pm
Ben P (mail):
It seems to me that this would only make sense in the context of socio-economic class.

In a number of areas I'm familiar with, the public schools were simply of not the highest quality, so a substantial number of parents that were on the top side of middle class opted to pay to send their kids to private highschools. Even including schools that didn't match their religious affiliation.

For example, in the area I grew up in, there were apprixmately 8 private schools. (and 4 or so considerably larger public high schools) Of the private schools, 6 were affiliated in one form or another to one of the protestant denominations, although they varied in their level of connection to that religion. One of the two remaining was a Catholic High school that was actually two schools separated by gender and on different campuses, but they were treated as one school for the purposes of sports etc. The final one was a secular private academy, and in terms of cost, it was either the most expensive or second most expensive of the choices.


I myself attended one of the christian affiliated schools, and although not a large percentage, there were a number of Jewish students that attended there.


I think a more interesting measurement would be how the various groups within Judaism compare between Public Schools , Private Schools and Jewish religious schools and then comparing how they measure up to the whole of their ecnomic class in those choices.
2.13.2008 4:21pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Only about 1/9 of D.C. area Jews live in DC proper (and these are more likely to be single), with the vast majority of the rest living in Maryland and Virginia suburbs with excellent public schools. Another interesting datum from the study is that while Maryland is still considered the epicenter of Jewish life in the area, the ratio of Maryland Jews to Virgnia Jews isn't large (about 5-3), though Maryland Jews are much more concentrated in lower Montgomery County.
2.13.2008 4:25pm
Martinxyz (mail):
1. The statistics are interesting (at least to me, as a Jew who grew up in and lives in the DC area, attended a Hebrew day school as a child, and now is a member of a reform synagogue (who sends his child to a private secular high school (after sending sending him to an excellant DC public elementary school and a so-so DC public junior high school)).

2. If it is not too much of a pain, could you give page references, or, at least chapter references, for your educational statistics. I'd like to look at them in more detail and get the context.

3. Your statement that the Reform movement successfully discourages members from sending kids to Hebrew day schools carries an implication of causation that seems questionable. (It is not clear that you personally intended this implication but the word choice conveys it.) I would suspect that the type of person who chooses to be a reform Jew (or who was socialized into being a Reform Jew in cases not involving conscious choice) would be relatively unlikely to send a child to a full-time Hebrew day school independently of whatever message the person's rabbi, or the Reform movement generally, conveys. Also, while I am not very actively involved in these things, I don't get the sense that the current Reform movement affirmatively discourages members from sending kids to Hebrew day schools, particularly in light of the trend in the Reform movement toward greater appreciation for tradition and ritual, which started decades ago but, I think, has accelerated in the last ten years or so.

(From a Marxist "objective" point of view, one might argue that opposition to vouchers necessarily constitutes opposition to attendance at Hebrew day schools, since even Reform Jews would likely send at least a few more kids to religious schools if vouchers were available. In reality, I think Reform leaders' opposition to vouchers merely reflects conventional liberalism, largely independent of any opposition to Hebrew day schools, except in the trivial sense that Reform leaders are not so enthusiastic about day schools as to make that the primary factor in their views on vouchers.)
2.13.2008 5:17pm
Pendulum (mail):
As a Jew who could be considered Reform, I'm glad to see the unpopularity of Jewish day schools in the Reform community. This type of ethnic isolation and segregation strikes me as unpalatable and contrary to the principles of America.

If the ideas of Judaism aren't successful enough to survive the lures of intermarriage and secular society, shouldn't the ideas die out?
2.13.2008 5:17pm
davidbernstein (mail):
Pendulum,

Judaism is a 4,000 year old tradition. The "ideas of Judaism" can barely get adequate coverage in a day school, much less in twice a week afternoon school, which is the primary alternative (though Jewish camps and youth groups also fill a role). But thanks for providing readers with the classical Reform perspective, that providing an intensive Jewish education amounts to "unpalatable" "ethnic isolation and segregation" "contrary to the principles of America."
2.13.2008 5:29pm
davidbernstein (mail):
Martinxyz,

I take your point, but the fact that a far smaller percentage of self-identified Reform Jews than self-identified "just Jewish" Jews send their kids to Jewish day schools suggests that it does have something to do with how day schools are portrayed among the Reform. I'd say that maybe some of the "just Jewish" are former Israelis, who are more likely to send their kids to day schools, but the study says that only 1% of DC area Jews are Israelis, not enough to skew the stats.
2.13.2008 5:32pm
Minnesota Reader:
And thank you, David, for your condescending remarks about Reform Judaism.

As a Reform Jew who has been in several congregations, I can tell you that I have never heard a word from any rabbi (or other person, for that matter) trying to discourage Jewish day schools.

My son goes to a pre-school run by a Reform congregation (not mine) where there is a modest attempt to promote the Jewish day schools in the area. It's unlikely that my wife and I will send our son to any of them but instead will send him to a school that is sponsored by another religion. Why? Not because of some grand conspiracy, but because we like the curriculum at the other school better.
2.13.2008 6:18pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Umm, you just heard it, though not personally, from "Pendulum". And btw, since people seem not to know this, "classical Reform" is a term of art, referring to the highly assimilationist version of Reform that was prevalent through the early 1970s (which, for example, severely discouraged or even banned wearing kippot in temple), and not the same thing as "classic Reform."
2.13.2008 6:33pm
David Smith:
"As a Jew who could be considered Reform, I'm glad to see the unpopularity of Jewish day schools in the Reform community. This type of ethnic isolation and segregation strikes me as unpalatable and contrary to the principles of America.

If the ideas of Judaism aren't successful enough to survive the lures of intermarriage and secular society, shouldn't the ideas die out?"

An absurd argument.

Children are not born with a built-in sopisticated evaluation mechanism. Children are taught.

A better question is the following: If you don't feel enough of an affinity for Judaism to teach your children about it, why even call yourself a Jew?
2.13.2008 6:50pm
aneplokh:
I grew up as a Reform Jew in Northern Virginia in the 80's/90's, and I think the prevailing idea among the parents in my synagogue (including mine) appeared to be to send your kids to the best school you could. Many of my friends who lived in Fairfax County went to TJHSST (one of the country's best math and science magnet schools). Many others who could not get into TJ went to some of the good local private schools both religious and secular (one of the more popular options was St. Stephens/St. Agnes, an episcopal school near the synagogue). Some, including myself, went to regular public schools. I don't know of any who went to Jewish day schools, but I don't know of any concerted decisions not to. I honestly don't know if there is a Jewish day school in Northern Virginia.

Fundamentally, most of the Jewish parents I know consider education to be extremely important, and will try to do what's in the best education interests of the children. The religious education happens at the synagogue. The rest of the time is about secular education, and whether or not it's at a religious school, and what religion that school is affiliated with is a secondary consideration.
2.13.2008 7:36pm
scattergood:
Studies like this are just the tip of the iceberg for the coming demographic changes within the Jewish communities. The numbers are interesting to say the least. Some very good bits of data can be found at
The Synagogue3000 Members and Motives Report on the membership size and demographics of synagogues in the USA.

Fundamentally Orthodox Judaism is selfsustaining or growing, while Reform and Conservative need to adjust their membership definitions constantly to maintain a membership base. According to the study above, 95% of all Orthdox marriages are either between two Jews or between a Jew and a convert. For Conservative it is 90%, Reform 75% and for those not affiliated it is 38%.

Further, 90% of all Orthodox children are in a Jewish day school, while just of 20% of Conservative children and around 5% of Reform children are.

IMHO affiliation and the incumbent education and sense of identity that comes with it help limit at least the issue of 'marrying out'. Now if one thinks that being married to another Jew isn't a big deal, that's certainly an opinion. But if one thinks the continuation of Judaism, and the Jewish community is important, then education and affiliation are critical.

The long term implications of this are significant. Over time the Orthodox community will become a larger proportion of the overall Jewish community with higher birth rates, higher education rates for their children and lower rates of 'marrying out'. How will organizations like the local Federations react?
2.13.2008 7:50pm
Yankev (mail):
David Bernstein, is Pendulum's question not also based on classical Reform?

If the ideas of Judaism aren't successful enough to survive the lures of intermarriage and secular society, shouldn't the ideas die out?
Also, I was not aware that classical Reform prohibited intermarriage. From the inception of Hebrew Union College, HUC has not barred its rabbinic graduates from performing intermarriages, unlike the Conservative JTS and every Orthodox rabbinic school. And classical Reform did indeed advocate the end of Orthodox Judaism, going so far as to outlaw its practice in 19th century Frankfurt, where Reform gained control of the government recognized religious community. The legal right to practice Orthodox Judaism was not restored until Rabbi S. R. Hirsch zt'l persuaded the government that Orthodox Judaism was entitled to separate legal status from Reform.
2.13.2008 8:39pm
davidbernstein (mail):
Scatter: I haven't read the report yet, but my understanding is that ultraorthodox Judaism is growing very fast from a small base, but modern Orthodox is not growing, because half of those who graduate from modern Orthodox day schools don't stay Orthodox as adults. At least that the last I read.

Anep, there is indeed a Jewish day school in No. Va., and it used to be located not that far from Alexandria. The very fact that you didn't even know it existed buttresses my point; if day school education was encouraged at your synagogue, surely the subject of the local school would have come up at some point. Obviously, no one is required to send their kid to a Jewish day school, and it needn't be one's priority. But Reform Judaism, as a body, has a very strong interest in both Jewish education and "continuity," which you would think would at least lead the movement to encourage those who are sending their kids to private school anyway with to consider a Jewish school, as opposed to, e.g., an Episcopal school.
2.13.2008 10:15pm
Yankev (mail):

haven't read the report yet, but my understanding is that ultraorthodox Judaism is growing very fast from a small base, but modern Orthodox is not growing, because half of those who graduate from modern Orthodox day schools don't stay Orthodox as adults. At least that the last I read.
I have not read the report either, but anecdotally I have noticed that,

1) Modern Orthodox day schools are often not as transformative as more traditional yeshivas, and may have less success at shaping outlook as opposed to simply transmitting information.

2) There is a dearth of modern Orthodox teachers, especially outside of the NY/NJ/5 Towns area, so that many modern Orthodox schools -- especially those "out of town" -- end up hiring yeshivish teachers and trying to fit them into a modern Orthodox curriculum, with the result that many of out-of-town kids never experience a true modern Orthodox environment -- they see traditional Orthodox (ultra-Orthodox if you insist), secular, sorta-Orthodox and, struggling with very little in the way of support group, a handful of modern Orthodox.

3) Many Americans who do succesfuly absorb the outlook of the Modern Orthodox movement make aliyah, and are lost to the U.S. Jewish community. This contributes to the shortage of m/o teachers and communities. And many of those who stay in the states go into business or the professions, and not into rabbanus or teaching.

4) Though there are exceptions in either direction, modern Orthodox families tend to have fewer children, though still more than the US average, than "ultra-Orthodox" (ugh! can we find another term to use?) families.

Jewish Action had an article a year or so ago hilighting some of these challenges faced by the m/o movement in the U.S.
2.13.2008 10:55pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
M/Os also are far more concerned with secular education that U/Os, so their schools are better and cost far more, with the result that they limit their childbearing. My sister's Modern Orthodox friends would also like to have had more children, but they couldn't afford the yeshiva tuition.
2.13.2008 11:06pm
neurodoc:
As a Jew who could be considered Reform, I'm glad to see the unpopularity of Jewish day schools in the Reform community. This type of ethnic isolation and segregation strikes me as unpalatable and contrary to the principles of America.
So the vast network of Catholic parochial schools, as well as Christian (Evangelical Protestant) ones, are also "unpalatable and contrary to the principles of America"? Or is Pendulum, who says he/she "could be counted a Reform Jew" and is probably "unaffiliated" and perhaps "non-affirming" except for purposes like that of this thread, not disapproving of parochial schools for other than Jews, who must be assimilated? To be sure such schools have been "unpalatable and contrary to the principles of" communist countries, e.g., the Soviet Union, but to the principles of America?
2.14.2008 3:24am
Big Bill (mail):
Neurodoc, nice try, but the author clearly had in mind institutions like Williamsburg yeshivas and Muslim madrassas, both of which are dedicated to maintaining religious, racial and ethnic purity and segregating their children as much as possible from social interactions with the greater society.

Your comparison is obviously contrived since Catholic and Evangelical Protestant schools let pretty much anyone in and don't try to create mental or physical ghettoes for their children to inhabit.

Like the writer you criticised, I also believe that many of these schools are contrary to the principles of America, for example equal rights for women.
2.14.2008 8:31am
MDJD2B (mail):
Anecdotally, when I lived in Omaha in the early 1980's and was involved in a new Jewish Day School, the Reform rabbi and the congregation were vehemently opposed. The rationale was that (1) such a school would limit acculturation of its members into the general society and (2) that it would send a signal to the general community that Jews wanted to separate themselves from it.

It reminded me of the old joke, dating back to the days when many Reform jews were anti-Zionist, that they would feel more comfortable with the State of Israel if the founders had named it the State of Irving instead.
2.14.2008 8:40am
Josh Barro (www):
David,

You cite two reasons that Reform Judaism opposed Jewish day schools: support for assimilation, and support for public schools generally. I'm not sure about the relative importance of these two tenets, but it seems to me that sending your child to a non-Jewish private school is a similarly assimilative activity as sending your child to public school.
2.14.2008 12:09pm
Yankev (mail):

M/Os also are far more concerned with secular education that U/Os,
Not to be confused with the OU.


so their schools are better and cost far more, with the result that they limit their childbearing. My sister's Modern Orthodox friends would also like to have had more children, but they couldn't afford the yeshiva tuition.
Recalling the old joke, what do M/O use for birth control?

Day school tuition.
2.14.2008 12:58pm
davidbernstein (mail):
Josh, yes, that's my point. The Reform managed to get across the point to its constituents about not wanting to be "too Jewish" in at least some senses, but not the point about public schools being a font of interethnic and religious collaboration and a key element in American society that should be vigorously supported (too cute to say "I support them vigorously, but not for my kid, who has to go to Sidwell Friends even though the neighborhood schools are some of the best in the country.") It would seem that despite a recent, official turn to "the right" Reform is still sending out the "this is the movement for those who want to be 'Americans of the Mosaic faith' vibe." It actually reminds me of a girl I went on a trip to Israel with as a teenager. She went to Philips Exeter, and her parents avoided doing anything "too Jewish" with her so she could be a "real American." My sociology profess, the late Marshall Sklare, commented, "what a bizarre attitude, to think that in a country in which the vast majority of people are religious, the way to assimilate is to intentionally avoid religious affiliation."
2.14.2008 1:00pm
Yankev (mail):

the author clearly had in mind institutions like Williamsburg yeshivas and Muslim madrassas, both of which are dedicated to maintaining religious, racial and ethnic purity and segregating their children as much as possible from social interactions with the greater society.
Why, yes,of course, Big Bill. Let's see, when was it that my stepson was telling us how his Rosh Yeshiva was urging them to behead non-Jews, non-Orthodox Jews, and Modern Orthodox Jews, and teaching that it's okay to beat your wives, that the entire world must convert to Judaism, and that your wives, mother and sister are sub-humans who exist only to serve you?

Oh, that's right -- never. In fact his teachers have always stressed the obligation to view every person as G-d's creation and to treat them with respect, compassion and dignity. Although I do wish he had recieved more in the way of secular education, I wish I had received a religious education like his, and that I could aspire to treat people any nearly as well as he does.
2.14.2008 1:08pm
neurodoc:
Big Bill, would you please point to those words that let you know that Pendulum "clearly had in mind institutions like Williamsburg yeshivas and Muslim madrassas, both of which are dedicated to maintaining religious, racial and ethnic purity and segregating their children as much as possible from social interactions with the greater society." I saw none that alluded to other than Jewish parochial day schools or limited Pendulum's remarks to "Williamsburg yeshivas."

As for the gloss you add about "maintaining religious, racial and ethnic purity and segregating their children as much as possible from social interactions with the greater society," I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that that "purity" crap isn't code for rank bigotry, that you are just uninformed. You can put your mind at ease, parents enrolling their children in Solomon Schechter day schools are definitely not "segregating their children as much as possible from social interactions with the greater society," are at least not any more, if as much, as those parents sending their children to Christian day schools.

BTW, what in your mind (and Pendulum's, if you presume to know it) distinguishes Jewish parochial schools from Catholic and Protestant ones such that the former are "unpalatable and contrary to the principles of America," while the latter are palatable and not inconsistent with the principles of America? I'd be interested to have your answer, that is if you have one.
2.15.2008 12:27am
Asher Steinberg (mail):
I would just say that I'm a Reform Jew, or at least my parents are, and I went to a Friends School in Philadelphia instead of a Jewish school or a public school, not because of any belief in assimilation on the part of my parents, but simply because they, and I as well, felt that religious instruction isn't a good use of one's time in day school - that's what good old Hebrew school was for - and also, I think that going to a school attended solely by other Jewish kids wouldn't have been desirable. As it was, half of the students at my school were Jewish, which I think was just about right - you never felt like you were a minority but you benefited from going to school with a diverse group of students, religiously as well as, perhaps more importantly, racially. Now, politically, the thought at most Friends Schools is very homogeneous and somewhat stifling, and that was certainly the case there, but otherwise it was a great experience.
2.15.2008 1:25am