The Education Crisis


Present and Future

Educate the youngster according to his way; then, even when he grows old, he shall not depart from it — Proverbs 22:6

Raise the flames; kindle them until the flames rise on their own — opening of this week’s Torah portion (Numbers 8:2)

There is an educational crisis in guaranteeing a Jewish future.

Check out the following fascinating statistic: Worldwide intermarriage is currently over 72%. In some places it has reached an astronomical 90%. Ten cities (outside of Israel) have a substantial lower rate of intermarriage: Manchester, Toronto, Baltimore, Melbourne, Sydney, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Antwerp, San Paulo and Monterey. One common denominator distinguishes these cities from all others: Over 75% of Jewish children receive a Jewish education. In New York by contrast, the largest Jewish city in the world, only 12.5% of the Jewish children attend a Jewish school. Only 6% of all Jewish children in the United States attend Jewish Day Schools.

The evidence is clear and conclusive: Education of the young is the key to preserving spiritual identity.

But how? How do we change the current state of education? What practical steps can we take? And who will lead the way?

Half the cure of a problem is identifying it. Wise questions are half the solution.

Any unsuccessful institution – in our case, Jewish education which is failing our youth – is flawed in one or both of two ways: 1) The institution itself is not working. 2) The target audience it is trying to reach is not interested.

As a framework, let us break down the problem into several categories, which can actually be seen as a type of survey, questions that welcome your answers:

First the institutions:

1)     Is the problem with the institutions themselves? Are they not serving the needs of – or communicating their services effectively to – the wider population? Or are the existing institutions simply unequipped to serve the secular Jewish population?

2)     If so, what types of new institutions need to be created that will attract wider audiences?

Now to the target audience:

3)     Why do most parents not see Jewish education as a priority?

4)     How do we make it a major priority?

Which brings us finally to the education system itself: What exactly is wrong with our educational systems and methods that simply do not speak to the masses?

For one, many stereotypes, some fed by continuing attitudes, haunt Judaism. The prevailing opinion is that Judaism, and religion in general, is archaic, primitive – a throwback to the past. In one word: Irrelevant to contemporary life. Even those that feel a need for religion and faith do not find the need met in existing institutions.

The problem becomes infinitely compounded when you add into the equation the decelerating cycle of lack of education, and resulting ignorance and assimilation. In its ruins, we are left with a vicious cycle of symptoms feeding the root problem, and vice versa.

Here are some of the most common problems in – or attitudes to – the current educational system:

1)     Fear vs. love

Some argue that there is a lack of discipline in our educational institutions. Citing the verse, He who spares the rod hates his son, but one who loves him is careful to discipline him (Proverbs 13:24), they advocate the need to instill fear and respect in our children.

The problem with this approach, of course, is considering that most Jewish children don’t go to Jewish educational institutions in the first place, more discipline will not solve the problem of low enrollment. Even if more discipline may be needed in the existing institutions, this will hardly help get more children into these schools.

Others therefore argue that the exact opposite is true. Judaism – and religious education – is plagued with a fear-driven approach, instead of one infused with love and sensitivity. Fear may work for the short term, but it does not imbue students with an internal commitment and yes, love for the tradition.

2)     Dogma vs. relevance

Religion is preached rather than taught. The perception is that religion is all about rules and rituals – logical or not – that must be accepted or else. Many feel programmed and imposed upon, reinforced by family, community and peer pressure that keeps people in line. Dogma also leads to condescension.

Religion often appears divorced from personal relevance, warm spirituality, psychological introspection and overall character refinement. Religious people are not necessarily seen as more sensitive, loving and caring. Which explains why 90% of Americans consider themselves somewhat spiritual, but only 40% identify with religion.

When you consider the millennia-old history of “religious” dominance and crusades imposing their authority on the masses, the distrust of religious dogma is quite understandable.

3)     Divisiveness vs. unity

Many people feel that religion creates divisiveness. True religion is all about creating unity in this universe. How then is it possible that religion be experienced as a divisive force? This too is a result of the profound distortion of religion appearing divorced of spirituality.

4)     Knowledge vs. tools

Are our children being taught facts and information? Or are they being empowered with methodology and tools to find happiness and meaning?

5)     Conformity vs. individuality

Does religious education help cultivate independence and self-actualization, or does it silence (or annihilate?) our individuality and induce conformity? Does it teach you to “rise on your own” or to always be dependent on others?

6)     Passivity vs. passion

For life to be lived to its fullest you need passion. For you to access your innermost resources, you need to feel driven and excited about your possibilities. Do our religious schools teach us how to find our passion, our mission – our vision of life?

This is just a beginning. I would deeply appreciate your comments and suggestions as to other issues and questions that can be added to this list. Together let us begin a revolution, by identifying the questions, analyzing the dilemma, and then inevitably we will begin to recognize the changes that are necessary to be made.

Provocation isn’t always wise. But when it comes to issues that desperately need attention and repair, to provoke is to evoke, to evoke a response and a will to create change.

The Hebrew word for education is “chinuch,” which means both “beginning” and “training.” Essentially, true education sets the tone for one’s entire life. How that beginning looks and what type of training we receive defines our entire life. The past is the past – and results are “in the pudding.” Look at your own life and you can trace its genesis to your education.

But how that beginning will look for our children and what type of training they will receive is not dependent on the past; it is up to us to create change and improve the entire standard of education.

Today, nothing less than a revolution is necessary in our education systems. The first step to initiate any change is: Awareness and the courage to confront our challenges.


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Irving Newman
18 years ago

The problem in our peoples religious orientation, as I see it, is not unlike the problem we are experiencing politically. The active members are bunched around the poles of the the religious spectrum. The orthodox allow no flexibility and the leniant avoid the appearance of inflexibility at any cost. As in most problems confronting human groups, the middle path is usually the road out of a dilema. We need a unifying force; a Jew is a Jew and our institutions should reflect this.

18 years ago

Heres one way to dramatically increase enrollment at Jewish Day Schools:

Dramatically improve the quality of the education they provide.

Jewish parents do not want to give their children a second-rate education in the disciplines of math, literature, science, history, writing, etc.

At least in our city, the Jewish day schools do not compare favorably with the secular day schools in the secular academic disciplines.

18 years ago

It would be too far fetched to work towards convincing unafiliated Jews to send their children to Jewish Schools. But there is a vast segment of Jews who send their children to Jewish preschools that are only preschools. After that the children are enrolled in public schools or private secular schools. Once a child is starting kindergarden somewhere chances are he will continue there. There is much work to be done at the level of the preschool when long ranging decisions are made. It is necessary to educate the preschool principals and the parents. I have seen at our local JCC preschool the principal inviting numerous schools to give the parents a presentation. Only 2 were Jewish day schools , the other 4 were not. This is unacceptable.

Parents who are not religious and have nonetheless enrolled their children in Jewish Day schools can play a vital part in influencing those preschoolers parents who feel threatened by the concept of a Jewish day School.

There is a lecture by Dennis Praeger on the topic which makes excellent points in that regard. When Jews do the wrong thing it is always because of ignorance.

Maybe a short presentation in a DVD format showing the frightening statistics together with some interviews could be made and distributed.

Jeff Goodman
18 years ago

In response to your thoughts on education:

Dogma vs relevance – Heschel made the same points if im not mistaken.

The main reason im writing is this: Although it is true that the Diaspora is a constant feature of Jewish life, even in ancient times, and its true that there are severe problems of Jewish identity within Israel itself – I came back from my short visit to the states totally bewildered as to how any committed Jew could continue living outside Israel and thus deny the viability and turn his back on the challenge which Israel presents us – the opportunity of creating a whole Jewish society enviornment etc.

Sheena Goldblatt
18 years ago

You might get some very insightful information if you knew how many adult graduates of Day schools sent their own children to the same type of schools. Also how many non-orthodox Jews with Jewish educations have chosen to intermarry? You may find that the more educated someone is in the day schools and Sunday schools, the more likely they are to turn their back on Judaism.

Jeffrey S. Schuller, Esq.
18 years ago

Dear Rabbi,

As a father of five, with three, and next year four, children in Jewish day school in southern California, I know I am not alone in saying that you missed a huge point: Money and cost of tuition. I would guarantee a 20-30% boost in Jewish school enrollment if it were free. Like most parents sending their kids to private school, my wife and I sacrifice a lot to do so. For those on the bubble of doing it, the money issue pushes those in the wrong direction.

It is only through our faith in Hashem that we continue to do so, praying and knowing that G-d is, in one manner or another, helping us make it possible. For those parents who lack that faith, money and tuition must not be an obstacle. For the rest of the parents, they will not send their children either way unless all the others issues you listed below are properly addressed.

Translation. The problem is far larger than sending ones children to Jewish school–it is finding value and important in being Jewish. The rest, I humbly and sadly say, is rhetoric. I applaud your discussion, but what is truly needed is free Jewish education, and then we will have something to talk about. And I firmly believe that there is more than enough money to go around to make that happen–it is just not important enough to those individuals and institutions that have it.

18 years ago

Another issue is that many Jews who are looking for a meaningful spiritual experience have turned to Eastern religions, Buddhism in particular. As someone who is more of a baby boomer than of the younger generation, I personally found myself seeking out Zen when I was looking for a spiritual practice, mainly because Judaism didnt seem to offer answers to any of the bigger questions; it seemed dry and barren. The only thing that has brought me back into Judaism at all has been Chassidus, particularly Breslov. However, I still find that there are some problematic areas within Judaism. One of these areas is the sense of self and other within Jewish thought. Unfortunately, besides some relatively valid explanations for this Jewish viewpoint, Ive also heard words from some respected people in the Jewish community to the effect that Israel and the Nations are of a vastly different quality. This, among other issues, has kept me from returning to Judaism in a more complete way and has also kept me within the Buddhist community.

How do you expect parents to raise their children to be citizens of this country and of the world, to be people who see that when we say that there is only G-d, that everything is Hashem, that it really DOES include everyone and everything in the universe, not just some people. Not just observant Jews, not just Jews, but that we are all part of this holographic universe. And, this doesnt mean that people are all the same, as this is a response that I have sometimes received in discussing this issue. It is an understanding that there is multiplicity and Oneness and that unless we see the Oneness, we can become intangled in the brambles of multiplicity and from there go down a very slippery slope.

How can we educate our children both Jewishly and along these lines?

1. We need to present the deeper messages of Judaism — we need to include more of the mystical teachings along with the exoteric teachings.
2. In order to do this, we need to educate the parents first because unless we do this, the parents wont see any need for giving their children a Jewish education.

Certainly, classes like yours meet some of this need, but, I find that the average secular Jew (many of my friends) wont even go near these classes because of the bad reputation that Orthodox Jews have among the secular and other streams of Judaism. So, what happens when one is spiritually inclined is that one goes elsewhere. Thats the reality of the situation.

When that contingent of Jewish leaders was invited to Dharamsala by the Dalai Lama, one of the scholars presented this issue of Jews leaving Judaism for Buddhism. The Dalai Lamas response was that Judaism does have a very deep mystical tradition but that some of the more serious searchers have left and will continue to leave unless this tradition is taught.

18 years ago

While I agree with alot in the article there are other parts to this very complex issue.

I work in a Jewish Day School in Sydney, a place that is seen in the artcle as having a good success rate.

From what I see we also need to find the balance in:

1. Cost – high cost for high service provided but this makes JS schools out of reach.

2. Real JS education – not just zionism & ivrit but real, relevant JS education.

3. Quality of JS teachers – while private schools can get the best quality secular staff how do the JS staff compare compete for the students minds & hearts.

George Pugh
18 years ago

Lets be honest: most people have no education but are trained like dogs. Religious training gives us a tie to culture and literature which is available no other way.

I would be sad, but people do love their ignorance which is the tool they use to hide from G-ds Glory.

Robin Blumenthal
18 years ago

I would submit that the first step is to educate the parents, who themselves lack the awareness of our proud heritage and all that our religion has to offer, in all areas of life. Reach the parents, and you will light a fire that spreads to the children.

Michael Kass
18 years ago

The answer is kiruv, kiruv and more kiruv. Why would an assimilated or strongly secular-minded Jewish parent WANT to have their children learn Torah and be taught to lead a lifestyle different than theirs? If Torah is not relevant to the parents, what makes us think they will want to make it relevant to their children?

The war on assimilation has to be fought on all fronts — reaching out to all ages of yiddin. We have to work to help Jews connect with their true selves and their natural desire to do mitzvos.

Fortunately, the frum world is waking up to the dire need to reach out to their assimilated brethren as a critical component of living as a Torah-observant Jew (thank you Chabad for leading the charge).

If observant Jews will direct their ahavas yisroel and a disproportionate amount of their resources toward the spiritual well-being of their fellow yiddin, we just might be able to reverse the trend.

Mort Horowitz
18 years ago

Three years ago I had gone to a book signing event in Philadelphia, 60 Days written by you, Rabbi. I was inspired to purchase the book because I had read your book, Toward a Meaningful Life. It has been been my compass in life.

Although I am not a religious man, I seek meaning in my life wherever I can find it and Judaism seems to have the best program around! However, having never been bar mitzvahed and having rarely gone to synagogue, except for special occasions, its difficult for me to become involved; I guess that I just dont have the passion. I may just be the poster person for non-religious Jews.

There is a solution suggested by a brilliant acclaimed writer and thinker, Douglas Rushkoff, author of Nothing Sacred -(The truth about Judaism). It is a book that is both analytical and passionate, rational and imbued by faith, calling on its readers to lend their minds, their hearts, and their souls to the construction of a Judaism that works for our times — Ruth Messinger. The book, although contoversial, provokes and stimulates the reader into thinking about Judaism in a way so as to become more involved and passionate about Judaism.

I hope this helps stimulate your revolution!

18 years ago

I think the biggest problem with Jewish education is cost. Additionally the masses dont want to send to a Jewish school because they see it as non-woldly non-diverse, limiting their child to be able to function properly in the world.

There should also be Jewish institutions set up which teach only secular studies, but only allowing Jewish students. This will accustom Jewish people to associate with other Jews.

18 years ago

Nothing mentioned about the high cost of this education. Its almost prohibitive when you have many children.

18 years ago

Thank you for your insight. I think that one of the biggest issues is the cost of Jewish education. Once the price is subsidised by vouchers or the like, people will be influenced towards Jewish education.

Most people who send their children to public schools recognize and are frightened by the social and dark environment their children are exposed to.

– –

I just got off the phone with the principal of a local Jewish day school. I found the answer to your question as to why there is a break down in education.

I have a preschool which is graduating into Kindergarten and have been working day and night to convince the parents to send their children to Jewish day schools. We have been successful for the most part.

However the local Jewish day school has informed me that they are unsure as to whether they want to accept non religous kids in their school because it will effect the other children that are Shomer Shabbos.

I tried to explain to the principal what is at stake An opportunity to save the Jewish Nation but I realize there is no one home, because they have been taught cookie cutter Judasim.

I think Jewish day schools are doing the same thing the Young Israels and modern Othodox shuls have done. Service only the orthodox, they created a mold if you fit, your in, if not your out. I think Lubavitch needs to think of openening Dayschools around the country as we opened Chabad Houses and things will change.

Fred Stone
18 years ago

The over-all financial cost of being actively Jewish is enormous in terms of, among others, housing, food, memberships in congregations and Jewish centers, and school tuition. If the community as a whole could find a way to more fully subsidize tuition, perhaps day school enrollments could be increased.

18 years ago

Your column this week was particularly pertinent, dealing as it does with an issue close to my heart. The issue of intermarriage.

While you and your scholarly colleagues are discussing and looking at this issue of intermarriage from the big picture (the statistics), I have long viewed the matter from the small picture (an individual Jewish female).

When I was a young, single woman I set out to find (or be found by) a Jewish man who wanted to make a beautiful Jewish family. That seemed that ideal was not happen for me, however. Many years went by with lots of dates with non-Jewish men who were interested in me. But no Jewish men were the least bit interested in me. I had no difficulty finding Jewish men who were proudly dating non-Jewish girls. Truthfully the single Jewish men I met seemed most interested and lusted after non-Jewish ladies, and nearly all that I met eventually married non-Jewish.

Some of these men would relate with great pride that their non-Jewish wives were enthusiastically embracing a conversion to Judaism. And that is a good thing, I guess. But even if our Jewish men marry woman who agree to convert, that still leaves an overwhelming issue of a Jewish woman with no Jewish man available to marry them. And not one Jewish man I have ever met, from then until now, has ever assumed the least responsibility for the void their actions caused to the women of our faith.

Now you may say, as I have been told before, that I as a Jewish woman should just wait for my Jewish soul-mate to come along, but woman have a biological time clock ticking and we know that the children we give birth to will be Jewish, so that at some point a Jewish woman makes a decision that she will either do without a Jewish partner to raise her Jewish children or she will decide that she would rather do without marriage or children if a Jewish man is not available to love and commit to a relationship with her.

I am sorry to say that I made the choice to marry outside my faith and to have a son and daughter that I have raised strongly in their faith, but I personally know twenty Jewish women in their late 30s and 40s who have never married and have given up all hope of ever having a proper Jewish marriage.

But I assure you, Rabbi Jacobson, each of these women wanted a proper marriage, once upon a time.

Yet, you might be inclined to blame these women for somehow being inadequate to lure a Jew into marriage? Please give us all the benefit of the doubt.

Please be honest enough and ask your colleagues to consider their future “educational” efforts towards the males of our faith who find acceptance, not just in Reform but in Orthodox and Chabad congregations, for the non-Jewish spouses and children they bring into Judaism. I do NOT believe that these men, their wives (very often ex-wives since divorce is so prevalent in these marriages) or their children should be ostracized but could there not be some sort of focus directly on our young boys and even the older generation of men to focus a more Jewish future through Jewish marriage?

Yes, I do know that there is a greater focus on young Jewish men in Crown Heights and men in our Yeshivas towards finding Jewish wives, but the greatest number of Jews in this country and in Israel straddles a secular world. I would point out that even the Israeli Ambassador to the United States Daniel Ayalon looked over the vast array of intelligent and beautiful Jewish women and chose a Christian Evangelical (her description, not mine) to make his Jewish family with.

I belong to a Chabad women’s study group that I rather enjoy, but I also know that of the eight women who regularly come to our group, 3 of our group are Jewish-convert wives or ex-wives of Jews and 3 of us married outside our faith and therefore did not get the opportunity to have “complete” families.

Please do not believe that the fault is strictly with Jewish women for this incredible imbalance which your statistics bare out, and please look to the education and to the “messages” that are being send to the men and boys of Judaism that they can live good, successful lives and marry where they wish and hope to continue the beauty and vibrancy of Mitzvot and Torah.

18 years ago

What this discussion lacks is acknowledgement of the amazing success of most orthodox day schools and yeshivas in stemming the tide of assimilation.

Lets call a spade a spade, and admit that the failure of education is really the abysmal failure of the non-orthodox leadership to foster and support real chinuch.

18 years ago

My opinion: there are so many mixed marriages…gentile and Jew… but there are very few rabbis who will marry them, and therefore they feel excluded from the group, and don’t want to raise their children with a Jewish background. It is not friendly and inviting on the whole. It doesn’t begin in the school, it begins when the young people marry and start their families. Also, Jewish men don’t really like to marry Jewish women… they prefer gentiles or Asians. Believe me, I know, I have a gorgeous 36 year old daughter living in NYC and I know what she has experienced. It is considered cool to assimilate and not marry a Jewish American princess. So what more can one Jewish mother say… thanks.

18 years ago

With regard to the target audience that is already religious – the lack seems to be largely with the institutions and educators – unaware or unnaccepting of the fact that students will no longer just buy into what their teachers are preaching. They are the first to sense hypocrisy on any level. Also their emotional need for love, understanding and acceptance (which does not equal tolerance for unnacteptable behaviour)is not being met, which is ultimately the core of their spiritual breakdown. Although these children are not necessarily the ones that are susceptible to assimilation, their dwaning interest in Judaism is leading to cast-aways within our community, and it becoming a massive problem in its own right.

They want to talk, to share their frustrations, their dreams, their passions and their fears. They need people to listen, to guide them – not force them to accept a dogma that no longer seems suited to their lives.

There is still too much stigma attached to this problem, that families do not have support for this issue, and the kids themselves dont know to whom to turn.What are we going to do to help out own children? Our neighbors and our friends?

18 years ago

Fear vs Love

Blessed is our G-d, who has given us a gift…the Torah. It is a Tree of Life, strengthening and comforting the Jewish People for more than 2500 years. As David teaches us with Proverb 1, it is a source from which we acquire wisdom, discipline, understanding and discernment, at the same time teaching us the essence essential for success, righteousness, justice and equity. The Torah has been created to endow the simple with the shrewdness and the young with knowledge and foresight. The words of Torah give wisdom to the wise and discernment to the discerning – Skillful they become in understanding of proverbs and epigram.

Rather than fear we should give our children a sense of awe, developing in them an appreciation and sensitivity that leads to the greatest gift of all…love.

Cheryl Holbrook
18 years ago

I wonder if the Jewish community has ever considered utilizing home education as a means of educating and instilling the Jewish way of life in our young people. It lends itself perfectly to the Jewish philosophy of education.

Rabbi Craig Wyckoff
18 years ago

Rabbi – You start your article by saying that there is a 90% secularity rate in some places worldwide. The children of these parents have to be taught in a special way. I currently teach a youth group of kids from interfaith marriages. They range in age from 5 to 12. I have been successful in creating a concern and care for the Jewish religion by relating it to them on a personal basis. I talk to them like adults and as we learn about each person in Jewish history I ask the kids to put themselves in the situation and ask them how they would handle it. one child of 9 started the class by saying he didn’t believe in G0d and that science could explain everything. I let him have his belief and didn’t contracting him. But I later brought in a discussion on the big bang theory and quoted scientists who said that the closer we get to proving the big bang theory, the closer we get to proving the existence of God. It’s a year later and now he believes.

I have sat in many other teachers’ classes and most of them lecture and posture with very little passion or spiritualism (the same problem, by the way, that caused the flight from the synagogues.) You have to be passionate but don’t lecture. Throw out and idea and let the kids pick it apart and put it back together themselves with your guidance. All through the class I ask questions. Everyone who gets a question right gets a point. At the end of the class the top three kids each get a prize (nothing big, usually a couple of pieces of penny candy but they are competitive and the idea of winning is what drives them.)

And wonder of wonders! They learn and their desire grows. We put on skits and read things the children write at Shabbot services and the children drag their parents to the services and now they too start attending regularly. I have had to start a class for adult Jewish education.

They key is don’t preach, don’t disagree when they say something you don’t agree with. Let them learn differently in a lesson and come to you and say, “That makes sense. I guess I was wrong.”

18 years ago

Some points about Jewish schools in Rio de Janeiro/Brasil:

They are more expensive.

There are few schools, if not near the transport it´s also expensive.

Teachers often not committed to Jewish values (or only ignorant), more so the Jewish teachers.

Mix of rich children and distorted values can hurt the not so rich children.

Lack of kosher food and religious values (what if only the children could say the Shema every day, know about the Shabbat, tefilin , …).

I think a great effort should be done to get all the young children (from the tender ages til 7 or 8) to study in a Jewish school. Even not paying for the tuition or the transport, and having all the needs satisfied. It will be a starting point, and will have a lasting impact in these children lifes. But it´s necessary not to wait for these children but go after them, in an energetic attitude. And offering a really good school so to be the best choice for the parents.

The focus must be at the secular families in an acceptable way, showing but not imposing the religious values (optional prayer service, use of kipá, etc).

Gerry D.
18 years ago

Years ago, I remember reading about education in the inner cities and how some 75% of what is taught in the school is lost in the home.

Sounds as if they were describing the Rap culture of today as B. Cosby is always complaining about.

So perhaps the sins of the father sets the teeth of the child on edge? Or to put it another way, the parents are a greater influence on the child than the school.

Just a thought!

– –

If I may add to my previous comments:

Women married to circumcised males have a lower incidence of cervical cancer.

People who eat pork have a greater chance of contracting trichinosis.

When I was doing my Army basic training in Alabama during the summer months, our CO tried an experiment. Half of those in the mess hall would get pork products and the other half would not.

At the end of less than a month, those eating pork had more sick calls. Our CO was not Jewish but a graduate of Tuskeegee Univ., in Tuscaloosa Alabama and had a degree in, veterinarian medicine. Interesting?

Richard Gayzur
18 years ago

This is a tough one – perhaps, the tough one.

I can remember having more than one conversation on this very topic three years ago, as the total self-identified Jewish population of the US edged downward toward the five million mark. A we saud then, it would be nice to assume that some major event of religious significance will invariably come along to re-ignite the Jewishness of, at least, titular Jews in this country and others. But the twentieth century contains litanies of such events, and the twenty-first would be hard pressed to equal or surpass most of them. None have engendered the needed regeneration.

To my mind, your quote about American spiritual identification is the key to the problem, if not the solution. Sensing an innate need to bond with the creation about them, many Americans are tenuously exploring their long-dormant spirituality. This exploration is typically at the expense of long established religious institutions which, in practice, encourage a tacit appreciation of other religious traditions, but enforce a form of sectarian spirituality – a quintessential oxymoron.

Why the collective baby steps toward spirituality? For me, it is an inevitable outgrowth of an internet-connected planet with a single world economy, that is effectively governed by extra-governmental international corporations. Its not a question of wanting – or not wanting – to see the bigger picture. There is no choice. We are being engulfed and propelled by it. In the process, truisms like all politics is local are being rapidly disproved. The behavior of the United States Congress over the past five years is striking evidence that independent local politicians – so long glorified as mavericks in the american consciousness – can be rendered insignificant by powerful political propaganda engines and forced to accede to mega-agendas that tolerate no meaningful debate or challenge.

Take the next step with me: Is it any surprise that both our political and religious institutions are simultaneously faltering? I have an interesting – and controversial – theory. The demise of American democracy is a driving force in the demise of organized American religion. This becomes understandable when you realize that American democracy is as much a belief system as anything else. Lessen or eliminate the credibility of that system and you doom it to a near term demise.

Lessen the credibility of one major American belief system and your lessen the credibility of all. Political cynicism rapidly spills over into religious cynicism. The only surviving/striving institutions will be those that are positioned at the fringes and they will only survive by promoting a horrible caricature of religious fervor, antithetical to the religious/spiritual principals espoused by virtually all major organized religions.

Would the rebirth of American democracy portent the revitalization of traditional American religions – including Judaism? I think the argument can be made. But this also suggests that, tactically, Judaism and its regeneration/survival cannot and should not be segregated from efforts toward a larger multi-religious revitalization paralleling a rebirth of true American, liberal (small l) democratic values.

In this light, the upcoming mid-term elections become unimaginably significant. Should Americans chose to retain a virtual one-party system subject to no checks and balances and driven only by its own ideological needs, we are in deep trouble. The (manufactured) rift separating us will grow only wider and deeper and our ability to present traditional religions as a relevant and credible force in a completely polarized society will be further diminished. The eventual fate of all traditional religions in such a society will not be a kind one. The fate of Judaism, given its relatively small numbers, will only be realized a bit quicker.

Imagine – saving American Judaism by saving America. Who could have imagined?

18 years ago

Im glad to hear that education has been pinpointed as the essential issue. I see that a lot of the problem is with the institutions themselves. They are, with few exceptions, unable to serve those with any kind of special need (meaning below or above the average). Ive known many kids who started out in Jewish schools only to transfer to public or to drop out all together because they werent given the individual chinuch they needed. My own parents decided against Jewish schools for us after one bad experience with my older brother.

Additionally, the level of tolerance for emotional needs seems to be hazardously low. I know too many girls who were turned away from frumkeit because of their schools inability or refusal to nurture them. Theres a woman in my community who asks to please be allowed to speak to the girls and she is repeatedly shunned.

I believe we can do a lot of good by creating more positive learning environments and adopting more tolerance toward individual differences. But, to be honest, I doubt I would be as self-confident or as excited about learning as I now am if Id gone to a Jewish school where I would have had to learn everyday and where I would have been taught only one way to be a Jewish woman.

Michele Amber
18 years ago

I firmly believe in a Jewish education. I have given and am giving all my children a proper BH Jewish education. The system has treated them all the same and they are not all the same. Intellectual prowess is revered and action and work are looked down upon untill after Yeshiva and a person goes on Shlichus. Not every child can sit for 14 hours a day and learn gemora. What is wrong with a work/study program? Kosher working. Working for Shluchim. Doing accounting and outreach (public speaking)and secretarial work and arranging programs. What is wrong implementing this kind of programing in Yeshiva high school programs. I know it will be hard because of the dangers of the world but why cant every city that has a Yeshiva have one? And what about having technical/Yeshiva schools for those not inclined towards many hours of sitting and learning. We have many out in this world with no way to make a living and no way to pay tuition for their children. Why is it a shame if a young man becomes a plumber or electrician.If he learns how to live a Frum Yid why is it a shame to make a living? Thank you for hearing me out.

18 years ago

Thank you for having the courage to bring up this topic. I am a BT born and bred a long way from America who has been struggling with a number of these issues. It is refreshing to read acknowledgement of problems in the system rather than an almost blinded dogmatic insistence that everything in Yiddishkeit is perfect and if only we could do thing the way they have always been done all problems would be solved. Today is different from past generations for a number of reasons that educators of children and adults need to take into account if they are to successfully engage those they are educating:

1. We live in age of information – as much as possible give reasons for things not just G-d told us to – even though this attitude is the highest level of service – majority of people cant reach that from where they are – the stepping stones of reason are needed as an intermediate step
2. Vast majority of Jews are not observant nowadays – possibly for at least three or four generations as in my family – we are coming from a very secular place – educators need to find a way to speak to us where we are – not assume that if they use the language of the shtetl they will engage us – they wont. It is very off-putting – I for one am thoroughly sick of inspirational stories from the shtetl – their challenges are not our challenges – I cant relate to not being able to feed my children (thank G-d) but I can relate to questions like how to maintain a relationship with G-d when I am immersed in the secular world with my profession – how can I unify the two ms – so make the stories modern – speak to modern life – the shtetl is gone.

As well as this – I also perceive many problems in the system itself reflected in the behavior of one or more teachers at various times. In no
particular order (and without the intention of casting global judgments) examples of problems I see from time to time are

A. Lack of professionalism amongst Jewish studies teachers in my childrens school – e.g.
a)Preparing work that is poorly set out, illegible, always black and white, boring (I wouldnt want to do the work my kids are set)
b)Too much rote learning – not enough questioning and intellectual stimulation involved.
c)In comparison to secular studies – the Jewish studies lessons just doesnt make the grade – eg there are no colourful little readers for the children to learn Ivrit – just photocopies that have not changed (for three of my kids I keep seeing the same photocopies involving meaningless sounds that have not even been photocopied squarely on the page!!!). Related to this issue is lack of a curriculum at all between and across years – each individual teacher just seems to do what they want without a thought as to working in a wider framework (a lack of external exams for the children contributes to this)
d)Teachers are in the vast majority not trained in educational methods – most have no idea how to control a class let alone differentiate the curriculum, teach to individuals and all the other things the secular teachers are expert at
e)RACISM from Jewish studies teachers towards goyim, less religious Jews, other orthodox groups with a different hashkafa eg chassidic vs not chassidic (this is a very real and off-putting issue)- also an apparent complete dismissal of secular studies as a worthwhile pursuit – even for earning a living – I feel Jewish studies only education will not provide our children with means to earning a living and are sick of rabbis arriving in town with only a Jewish education who can find no other employment than teaching (but have no real skills in teaching and somehow end up living off the community)
f)Teachers not practicing what they preach – putting Jewish learning forward as most important thing – yet not going the extra mile for the school – taking on second jobs that detract from quality teaching – so I see insistence that Jewish studies is the best but not providing the quality is a problem
g)Not supporting the schools they teach in by sending children back to NY for real education
h)Not setting a good example for how to live Jewishly – infighting in the community, politicking, hatred of each other, lashon Hara, dressing sloppily, having large families that they seem unable to control, discipline, dress correctly, basic lack of respect for rules of society eg double parking, turning up late to other peoples simchas (or just not showing up at all)
i)A real lack of showing how to individualize service of Hashem – its all about rules, regulations, conformity, uniforms, not about how each person can integrate Torah and contribute to the community in their own way and serve Hashem in their own way (within bounds of Halacha)
j)Lack of engagement with students who are not suited to traditional methods of learning – a seeming reluctance to explore new methods of education – dont forget the world out there is very bright, colourful and stimulating and far outshines black and white books (no matter how internally beautiful) – many kids wont have any reason to explore the books in depth enough to find the beauty – its all too hidden.

All of these things, I believe, stem from a general lack of leadership in the Jewish world – not only from great leaders such as the Rebbe, but right down to local rabbis.

B) From point of view of adult education – not being taken seriously for my advanced secular education in terms of intellectual level of shiurim – assume lack of knowledge = lack of ability rather than lack of opportunity.

I could go on and on – but thats enough for now. I look forward to reading feedback from other readers. Again, thank for being brave enough to raise these critically important issues.

18 years ago

My opinion is that it is a matter of money. If a parent feels that the Jewish education is too expensive or not as important as other items that cost money the kid will never get to the Jewish school door or will only be there for a few years before taken out. The overiding need is to make Jewish education free irrepective of the parents financial situation. And for that we have to be creative and not put up false barriers such as the seperation of church and state. Other countries with official state religions have no problem insuring the religious freedoms of all. If we claim universal Jewish education is so important we should take it seriously and make sure it is available to all.

18 years ago

Thank you for the thoughtful message regarding the changes in the Jewish interfaith marriages and in the wish for a better education of our youth.

It is my humble and perhaps unpopular view that the way we have interpreted the scriptures, a homogenousness that has perhaps caused a sense of egoism, our tendency for attachment to the material over the spiritual, without a deeper understanding of our own psychic we have also been somewhat blind to the configuration of the psychic of others.

Personally, I was deeply affected as a youth in Jerwish youth group towards a sense of community andit afforded me the opportunity of touching my own spirituality as a youth. However there also similutenously was a feeling of not belonging. Perhaps because I was a female youth with a deep feeling and connection to God and was never allowed to touch the Torah. I would watch the male members interacting with the Torah but somehow i felt diminished. My bother was ritualized at thirteen and I looked on; silently I lit candles in the privacy of my room, and I sincerely prayed to the almighty, you see I was always connected.

During my adult life, I continued having many spiritual experiences and suddenly the teachers started to appear. The first teacher was from Texas and talked alot about the soul. Next a female teacher appeared from the Cherokee tradition and I really started to open up to some profound experiences of what others considered to be paranormal. When I finally met Mother Meera my entire life changes and I was brought to South Florida and began meeting my Gurus. Starting with Kabbalah and Sheol. Then Kriya Yoga, Bakti yoga and finally Jhana yoga with my present Guru Joytirmayanada.

These teachers and guides have given me the framework for self realization and God realization. The path has been a joyous journey. I have never been encouraged to change my incarnated relegion of Judaism as Vedantic philosophy embraces all relegions.

After reaching the summits I realize all paths of all religion lead to the Almighty. I have seen the Cosmic Soup and I know we draw from the soup that which we enter. Once we enter the flow of the Universal consciousness great bliss and intuition are bestowed. We then are able to help others in silent ways that are very fulfilling.

It was not meant to be that I reach the heights of the mountain with the framework of Judaism as it never afforded me the opportunity. This is where the real change needs to take place. It is difficult to move beyond the mind and the senses. Even our sages have not truly moved beyond there sense gratification. It is a difficult task indeed to entire the subtle body and become the spirit we were indeed to be.

Thank you for letting me express myself.

I pray for blessings on that Rabbi Jacobsons mission. Let us all become the light God has choosen us to be.

Hadassah Aber
18 years ago

I am very interested in the topic of education. I think most of our existing institutions of Jewish learning are doing a wonderful job of educating our youth and providing a strong Jewish identity, which is why in those cities where the majority of kids attend Jewish schools there is little intermarriage. The problem lies more with those non committed Jews who dont value the education and dont find it problematic that there is intermarriage. I have been a teacher for over 30 years. For the past 14 years I have worked at a Chabad school in Southern California. Our biggest problem (other than covering our budget) is getting parents to enroll their children. Spending money on an elementary education is not top priority in areas where the public schools are considered top notch.

18 years ago

Your article is insightful and thought provoking however I think you have left out a very important factor and that is the cost of Jewish day schools.

I live in Montreal Canada which I understand has one of the lowest cost of Jewish day schools at around $6,000 year. Other cities like Toronto, average $11,000 year. In my opinion this makes it an very important consideration for middle income earners.

While assistance is available from the community, you need to be practically at the subsistance level of income to be eligible.

While we have sent both our children to Jewish day schools at the elementary level and high school level, I have often wondered why it was necessary to make such a great financial sacrifice?

18 years ago

Let me preface by wishing you G-ds blessing of hatzlacha rabba in helping the light of yiddishkeit illumine the world.

After reading your email Education, Present and Future, two initial thoughts come to mind..

When you ask:

3) Why do most parents not see Jewish education as a priority?

4) How do we make it a major priority?

…my thought is: Clearly, this comes from a frame of mind that understands Jewish education is good and desirable, and that it should be a priority, and that the consequence of lack of a Jewish education (assimilation, intermarriage, etc.. Chas vshalom) is not only not desirable, but, to the extent that is possible, it should be actively prevented and avoided.

I mention this because I think those interested in addressing this problem should bear in mind that not everybody will see this premise as such. This is, in fact, a rather fundamental point. The extent to which people will go in the pursuit of a jewish education (for their children as well as for themselves) is conditioned by a number of factors… some external, and some internal – like how dearly they adhere to the notion that jewish education is of paramount importance.

I believe many parents DO want their children to have a sense of their jewish identity…. Not necessarily so much to become observant, but more to know about their jewish background..

But, just like a child who may have no idea the value of a life-saving remedy, and will therefore not treat its it with the proper care… these parents may not realize of the consequence varying degrees of jewish education will have in the long term development of a jewish soul, or may even regard those differences as minor, or even desirable.

While some parents may seek in (or for) their children the realization of a fuller jewish education and jewish life, one that they did not experience in their earlier years, a set of parents may specifically choose to restrain the depth of Jewish education their child is exposed to, so as not to create conflict in their own home, as they would clearly have to adapt to the childs development. If the parents want the education they provide for their child to be taken seriously, for example, if a child learns that working on Shabbas is not right for Jews, they would have to act accordingly… This not only challenges how their home is currently functioning, but, on a deeper level, challenges their very own level of commitment to living according to jewish principles and laws.

In this case, the problem may be that even if the means for a good jewish education be available, theres a purposeful choice to refrain from it, as it challenges the sense of self, and the status quo

The second thought considers another possibility, that goes beyond the dicotomies mentioned on the Education note… Conspicuosly absent from the list is one that reflects the economic cost of a jewish education.

While some parents may not hesitate for an instant on the importance of a profound jewish education, it is possible that others, given the economic burden that may be associated with it, are driven to see advantages on the public education system, and the complement with… sunday school.

The cost of a sound Jewish education, and the health of Jewish educational institutions around the world is certainly a complex subject that begs to be addressed.

This note, as you see, does not provide responses to any of the 4 questions you posed.

I believe, however, that presents two other important factors to keep in mind, while trying to search for their answer.

18 years ago

Making aliya as a 13 yr with my parents over 30 yrs ago I developed in Israel into a commited Jew and puzzled Israeli.

Reading the comments and realizing the three outstanding issues of cost intermarriage and quality of education I feel more like a committed Israeli and puzzled Jew.

Shirley Strulovic
18 years ago

Congratulations for assessing the problem.

A few ideas:
1. In the ghetto, before 1939, the main choice was Jewish education.
2. It has always been a reaction, trying to be part of the big part of the cake, which leads as to assimilation: to live in Rome and not in Israel.

3. Definitely, once you are properly educated into Judaism/Torah, you know and understand that the torah is it. And obviously families should address… but I find that at the point we are now at, one way to help bring the youth into it, which would bring automatically these youngs’ families (and mainly those they will form) into it, would be to offer incentives to bring them into the synagogues, shiurims. For example, since Jews do donate, allocate donations to trips to Israel, Europe, safaris… whatever, as participants, or winners in torah contests, shiurims…and plan these prizes not for chassidish Yeshiva bochurim, but directed to non religious groups. College help for the participants… as to marketing a product for a defined social group.

18 years ago

One thing that you did not address in your very comprehensive article is $$$$. We, as Americans pay quite a bit of our tax dollars to support the failing public Educational system in this country.

Bored of Education (oops I meant Board of Education) We in California tried to pass a bill to allow for school vouchers so that those of us who choose to send out children to private schools (Jewish Education) can benefit from the tax money we give to the Public schools we dont send our children to. Believe me it hurts us financially to have to pay very high tuition and to have to pay for Public school on top of it. Which by the way goes to educate illegal aliens who are breaking the law and getting benefits from my tax dollars. That is another subject all together.

But my point is that people who are ambivalent already about the importance of a Jewish education for their children for all of the reasons stated in your article are probably not willing to lower their standard of living to fork out $14,000 a year (that is what I pay) per child.

I would not ever want to send my child to public school. I went to public school and my brother went to a Jewish day school and yeshiva because my parents didnt want to or couldn’t afford to send us both. Ironically, I am now frum and my brother is deformed. I mean reform. He buys in hook line and sinker with their agenda and believes that a person is Jewish if the kid is 1/2 Jewish (the wrong half). My brother also thinks intermarriage is okay along with female rabbis and the rest of the reform party line!! Go figure!

In any case back to my point. Money Talks. So if someone can get the government to allow for school vouchers then you have a position where you can approach people about choice of whether or not to send their children to a Jewish school or not. It seems to me a nearly impossible task to get the government to allow tax dollars to be diverted from the Board of Ed. Who would send their kids there if they didn’t already have to pay for it? Well the illegal aliens of course would but….really. why would anyone want to send their kids to public school these days? Most of them are failing our children and our society. Anyway, I have blogged on too long! Let me know what you think about this point.

David Shabat
18 years ago

Your weekly Emails are cherished and read over many times. Thanks for the great job you and your staff are doing.

However, I think, it will be worth to mention another aspect of the problem we are all facing now. Mainly, the financial part of the tuition for the education.

My wife and I have immigrated here from the former USSR almost 15 years ago. We were introduced to each other about 14 years ago and married 12 years ago. Now days we have 2 great kids ages 11 and 7 who go to a public school and on Sundays go to a Hebrew school in a local Chabad house. As much as we wanted our daughter (who is the oldest) to go to the Jewish school at the time of looking for a school for her, we simply understood we can not afford it by any possible means. So, the scenario, which had played out for both of our children was pretty simple, they went into Jewish pre-schools which belonged to the conservative congregations and then went straight to the public system due to inability of us as parents to afford their tuition in the Jewish educational institutions.

Now days more and more we hear people talking about bringing the Jews back to Judaism and frankly speaking I think that there are scores of people who would love to do that. However, the financial part is the one that is keeping and will be keeping the people away.

Danielle Wanetick
18 years ago

I think the main problem with sending our children to Jewish schools is money. Most people I know dont send their children to Jewish schools because it is too expensive (and they feel their children will not get as good of a secular education as in a secular school).

The answer to this is I think to ask people what is more important, spending money on fancy vacations or to good schools? Is it more important to get a BMW/Mercedes, or send your child to a good school? These are the questions that need to be address and presented to the Jewish population everywhere. It needs to be know that one CAN afford to send their children to Jewish schools if priorities are put in the right order.

18 years ago

I am a late comer to Judaism. Like many people I had only a vague knowledge of a culture and way of life that is so rich in love and wisdom. I am an artist by profession and it was only due to an invitation to create a piece of ceremonial judaica that I came to read Torah. I mean really read it. I had to read the entire bible as research for the art I was making. When I did so, I realized the vast knowledge, advice, and source of inspiration that I had neglected to take advantage of thus far. I became fascinated and started attending Synagogue and Torah study on a regular basis. I began to pay attention to what had always been around me. I went to a Chabad House and subscribed to newsletters and weekly parchat commentary. As a result, my art changed. I began to base my paintings on the Torah portion on the Shabbat preceding the start of new work. I created an entire series. I wanted it to be seen by as many people as possible. Whenever I had visitors to my studio, however, I noticed that people appreciated the color and style, but seemed intimidated by the subject matter. Some even became hostile to the fact that the work was based on the Bible. People just did not seem to know what the work was about. They did not know the stories, the midrash, or the folk tales which I had loaded into each painting.

I don¹t have any answer as to how to motivate parents to enroll their children in a jewish day school when one is available. I do know that becoming aware of what Judaism offers is a place to start. I am trying in my own way to communicate such an awareness. I hope to invite scholarship through my work. I hope that those who see the paintings will be motivated to find out more about them. In doing so, they may find out more of what Judaism offers them and their loved ones as well. Artists are dreamers. It is what we do. Maybe if each of us uses what G-d has given us and just puts our jewishness out there, people will see that it is alive and relevant. That may be what is needed. If we keep it buried and cloistered in synagogues, no one but those who already attend will see it. Being openly religious is frightening to many. A lot of bad press, competition from popular culture, and pressure to conform keeps religious people quiet. I can¹t be quiet any more; I am too excited about what I have found. I can¹t hide it away for fear of being rejected. I tell people that if you are an artist, you simply can¹t not make art. It is like air to us. So should the source of all creativity be demonstrated in a visible way. Example may, after all, be just what it takes.

18 years ago

I read the article,very nice but, whatever is traditionally used to get around the actual disecting of anything that is important but very very painful and probably makes either the educator and or parent feel they missed the boat, thruth be if the educational system would trluy be interested perhaps their would be something to talk,interesting my friend just came back from her daughters graduation and she made 2 interesting comments, the graduates spent more time giving thanks and apperciation than to the actual accomplishments of the well deserved harding kids (graduates), second most of the speeches of the graduates spoke were from the bottom ,but one spoke from the heart, in otherwords , the meaning and sinsitvity were missing, perhaps that is the root from the top to the bottom. The most interesting book on real education is from the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe.

18 years ago

Some ideas and comments:

1. My ex-husbands Jewish Schools ethics teacher was indicted, and
sentenced for, tax evasion.
2. Ive heard that children of certain parents (those who are more
prominent, distinguished, religious, or wealthy) are treated differently (i.e. with more respect, kindness, etc.).
3. Children who do not behave with respect toward others, including their
teachers, should not be allowed to continue to disrupt learning.
4. Teachers pay is below that of public school teachers. They dont have
secure pensions. They are at the mercy of school boards who have no respect for them and who try to screw them out of adequate health benefits, raises, and so on. Top teachers, unless they have Trust Funds of their own, dont take those positions, or put up with that type of treatment.

I am grateful that you are discussing this topic. I would like my grandson to go to the Jewish Day School eventually.

A discussion among some young, Jewish parents yielded some of the comments
above, as well as ones you have enumerated.

I was a public school science teacher. My students loved science and I was
extremely successful. I never considered teaching at a Jewish Day School in the Detroit area. But my best friend did. Although the parents and students she had, adored her, other staff were jealous of her and made life unpleasant. But my point #4 made her leave her position, for work at a public school in Detroit, where she makes more than double the salary, has none of the hassles, and is given wonderful support and accolades. She originally took the job because she and her husband liked the free synagogue family membership and she thought she could accomplish so much working with a small group of children. She had her early childhood Masters degree and was graduated from the University of Michigan with a four point. She is a terrific person with a fantastic sense of humor and sense of fun. Believe it, or not, in a cost cutting measure, her Jewish Day School even took away their teachers family synagogue memberships, as well as each year making everything else less attractive and advantageous.

Without a doubt, things have to change. If our people so value education, we need to walk our talk. Otherwise, all of this is moot.

Zohara Bernell
18 years ago

Thanks for illucidating what is clearly one of the great crisis of our generation.

I just wanted to add one thought about why the situation is so dire and that is the cost of Jewish education. It is not only that people dont want to send their kids to a Jewish school, though that may be the biggest part of the problem. Additionally, private schools are astronomically expensive and many simply cannot afford to despite their will to educate their children in a Jewish environment. I know several couples in my neighborhood who are ivy league-educated and gainfully employed and cannot afford to send their kids to school.

Perhaps this is only an issue in Manhattan but based on several articles Ive read, I dont believe that the problem is geographically limited. Perhaps more of the wealthy segment of our population should be offering scholarships. Perhaps we need to seriously address the costs of these schools and get rid of all the fluff so more kids can attend. I know there are people working on this but I do feel its a critical factor in our low attendance.

Marc Lerner
18 years ago

I feel the real beginning, as in the word educate has to start before thought and beliefs. Then as education proceeds, it is added on to vibrant real experience. When I read the Rabbi’s messages, I feel he is talking to the essence of being Jewish within me. If I listened only with my mind and intellect, I may understand what he is saying, but the real message he is sharing may be missed. In our society we educate to a superficial level and only stimulate understanding and agreements. Judaism requires us to realize the “beginning” and that is found in Silence.

I work with people with chronic illnesses and disabilities. For my work to be effective, I need to speak to a depth beyond thinking, to what I call the Wisdom of the Body. I feel that is the “beginning” of education. When that focus becomes our priority, we attract people to the real depth of Jewish thinking. When a student adds Jewish teaching to that level, the words have significant meaning. Without that depth it is natural for people to search elsewhere to find it. If that depth charged our community, people would have a natural attraction to stay connected to that depth.

As I study Torah, that depth represents a loving connection to G-d. Without that depth you may have a shallow tradition, but not what Judaism is all about. The tradition of lighting Shabot candles demands a loving connection to make it real. I feel the Torah and all Jewish teachings are connected to that depth. If we are to attract our kids to practice Judaism, that depth is an essential ingredient to being Jewish.

18 years ago

Dear Rabbi Jacobson,

I was very interested in your recent email in which you raise questions about the various problems in Jewish education today. This is of course a very complex problem, whose solution requires a multi-pronged approach. My suggestions are thus limited to my background as a religious Jewish scientist.

I have recently published the lead article on the topic of Torah and Science in the INTERCOM, the publication of the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists. The article can be found at,%201.pdf. I have also lectured to students at Chabad of Penn State on the topic of Torah and Science. It is clear to me that the subject of Torah and Science can have a major influence on non-religious Jews in their attitude toward G-d and Judaism.

These days, as you know so well, the majority of Jews have little or no connection to Judaism. Tragically, I have read that almost one half of the Jewish population today claims to be atheist. Furthermore, another large fraction of Jews believes in G-d, but G-d plays essentially no role in their lives.

To me, the first step in bringing Jews back to Judaism is to give them the knowledge to believe in G-d. Obviously, if they dont believe in G-d, then all other efforts will fail. I feel that this is perhaps the key issue.

Many people attribute this lack of belief in G-d to a perceived conflict between Torah and Science. To the surprise of many people, teaching Jews CORRECTLY about Torah and Science does not lead then even further from Judaism. To the contrary, such teaching can actually go a long way toward enabling these Jews to believe in G-d, and to bring G-d into their lives.

As I have seen, an understanding of some of the basics of Torah and Science can result in atheist-claiming Jews, for the first time in their lives, to question their beliefs.

I also have the impression that non-religious Jews are much more comfortable talking to scientists, rather than to rabbis, on the topic of belief in G-d. It is perhaps that they are embarrassed to discuss these beliefs with a rabbi. Furthermore, since it is widely perceived that scientists are against religion, and since scientists are widely respected, non-religious Jews are in many ways relieved to find out that there are many religious Jewish scientists. They are anxious to listen to and to speak to religious Jewish scientists. It is as if they want to have reason to believe in G-d, and amazingly to me, it is the scientist such as myself who can bring out this belief. I have given numerous talks at scientific conferences. Yet, I never have the attention of the audience as I do when talking to students about Torah and Science. It really is as if non-religious Jews have a thirst for wanting to believe in G-d. The Rebbe has written that scientists resemble modern-day Kohanim. Scientists are indeed capable of having a strong impact on bringing non-Jews back to Judaism.

In summary, I think that scientists can play an important role in bringing non-religious Jews back to Judaism. In my own small way, by writing and speaking to students at Chabad of Penn State, I have seen that scientists can have an impact. Therefore, I think that there is a crucial role for religious Jewish scientists to play in trying to bring Jews back to Judaism. I hope that Jewish leaders such as yourself can collaborate with religious Jewish scientists to bring non-religious Jews back to Judaism.

I hope you can take the time to read my INTERCOM article. (,%201.pdf) For me, it has been very gratifying to see the impact it has had on some non-religious Jews.

Lee Shinefield
18 years ago

One of the greatest challenges for me in educating myself and my children in a Jewish way is right at home. Its one thing to experience assimilation and Anti-Semitism outside, however we dont have to go any further than immediate family.

My brother became observant about 20 years ago. Since then, my Fathers emotions have ranged from annoyance to virtual rage. Its taken great courage for him to both practice his own faith and to educate his kids in Judaism. Some of my Dads issues are quite legitimate, however theyre surrounded by his own issues of fear and anger.

In my house, it takes a tremendous effort to encourage my wife — not to practice, but to not be terrified that my small increases in observance are not going to destroy our relationship. She feels unbelievable threatened by each of my steps. Granted, shes not Jewish, and thats the price Im paying for marrying while I was officially more of a Hindu than a Jew (or so I thought).

Some of the greatest chains that keep us stuck are coming from the people we love and who love us the most. How sad, and how can we expect the world to be in better shape than our intimate relationships?

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

David Gadish, Ph.D.
17 years ago

Free Jewish Education is a topic that our community should seriously consider. To find out more about this topic, and the poeple involved, please visit

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