I would like to reply to Amy Citron’s Jan. 30 suggestion for an intensive supplementary school program to replace yeshiva education. While it may seem fine in theory, it cannot work for the following reasons.
First, it was tried and it failed in 1940s and ’50s. The Jewish education of the ’40s and ’50s was the five-day Talmud Torah (Monday through Thursday after school and Sunday morning). Said education failed because parents wanted their children to be involved in extracurricular activities and said program made that impossible. Said five-day programs soon went to three days and then to two days. Even when such schools operated, religious studies took a poor second to secular studies.
Second, if all the Orthodox went to public schools, peer pressure would dictate against a strong adherence to religious observance such as kashrut and even some aspects of Shabbat, particularly in high school. A typical high school student will follow what his friends do. A college student or an adult is far more able to deal with such pressure than a teenager.
Third, the very quality of supplementary education has markedly declined in the last 25 years. You can see that by the lessening of the requirements of the bar mitzvah in many Conservative and Reform synagogues. Indeed, the development of young members comes from various USY, NFTY, Camp Ramah, and Camp Harlan programs and not from the afternoon Hebrew schools. A system that has failed in the Conservative and Reform movements cannot be counted to succeed in the Orthodox community. I must tell you that I was both a student and teacher in these afternoon Hebrew schools.
Lastly, the absorption of the yeshiva students to the public school would overwhelm the public system in Teaneck and other locations in North Jersey as well in parts of New York City. How does Ms. Citron suggest that the public schools deal with the special requirements imposed by the absorption of a large number of Orthodox students?
For these reasons, Ms. Citron’s idea is one that will never come to pass.