Are schools bad for shuls?

By Simon Rocker
March 29, 2011

The seemingly unstoppable rise in the number of Jewish schools is widely regarded as one of the most positive features of British Jewry.

But not everyone agrees. Here is a dissenting opinion from an unusual source – the United Synagogue.

In an article on its website, Helena Cramer of Woodside Park argues why day schools are not always a good thing: “With this continued growth in number of Jewish schools comes the inevitable demise of the shul cheder and I believe there is for some children a knock-on effect of a fall in shul attendance,” she writes.


Jonathan Hoffman

Wed, 03/30/2011 - 11:17

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The majority of Jewish parents, observant or not, send their children to Jewish schools because they fear they may marry out. [Evidence? What about the desire for a good education in a Jewish context?] But how long must we keep our children cosseted? Rationale tells us that they will eventually have to go out into the real world and, come what may, they will be obliged to interact with various ethnic groups. But, far from preparing our children, Jewish schools are actually blocking them. Faith schools, in general, are divisive [Evidence?] and, by segregating children on the grounds of religion, we are polarising society and stoking racial tension [Evidence?

Ms Cramer was clearly educated at the "argument by assertion" school. All of her arguments can be countered with counter-assertions - so seems to me that her piece is pretty worthless. I wouldn't have published it.


Wed, 03/30/2011 - 14:53

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The difficult and ambivalent relationship between schools and shuls is discussed at length in my book ('The Jewish High School: a complete management guide' - available from Amazon). For most families who send their children to Jewish schools, the school has replaced the shul as the primary institution of Jewish family attachment - hardly surprising, since the kids are at school for 30-40 hrs per week and at shul ....for a lot less. The shuls have lost out because they lose contact with those families, and lose a 'membership feed' channel. But, apropos Ms Cramer, the shuls, the cheder, the youth club and the youth movement were all in decline long before the rise of Jewish schools. [I am not saying - at all - that that was a good thing, but it echoes changing social and group patterns in general society.] What do most shuls offer young children and young families. And what would Anglo-Jewry (or Australian, or US, or Canadian) Jewry look like today if it was not for their school systems??? (And - forgive me - wouldn't Anglo-Jewry look even better if the Jewish Ed in their schools was as intensive as it is in some of the other communities mentioned!)

Finally - the familiar arguments against Jewish schools mentioned in Ms Cramer's letter are simply not borne out by the reality.

-- Paul Shaviv, Director of Education, TanenbaumCHAt (the Toronto Jewish Community High School, 1,500 students, co-ed, ages 14-18).

Linda Holder

Fri, 04/01/2011 - 14:35

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Helena Cramer's article appeared in the Talking Point section of Women's View (You&US on-line magazine). I am certain that Jonathan Hoffman would not have published anything that did not conform to his narrow views, whereas at Women's View we have a far more tolerant approach and we welcome debate. As Editor it was not for me to agree or disagree with Ms Cramer's views but I can tell you that we whole heartedly welcomed her contribution.
Indeed Ms Cramer raised some interesting points and it should be noted that she does talk from personal experience since all three of her children attended a Jewish primary and one went on to attend a Jewish secondary school.
The question I put to Mr Hoffman is on what gives you the right to dismiss Ms Cramer's views and to deem them 'worthless' when you didn't even bother sending either of your children to a Jewish school? You have been disingenuous to say the least!


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