NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Jewish Schools Are Becoming More Popular

October 26, 1999

With the exception of the Orthodox minority, there was a century-old consensus among American Jews that separate schools for Jewish children were a relic of the Old World that should be abandoned in favor of the common public schools, says Peter Beinart.

However, that consensus has fallen apart in recent years due to concerns that assimilation has been too successful, with fewer religious Jews in each generation and increasing intermarriage with people of different faiths and ethnicity.

  • In 1956, fewer than 5 percent of Jewish children attended Jewish schools, while the task of religious education for many Conservative and Reform Jews was carried out by "supplementary schools" that met on Sundays and weekday afternoons.
  • Since the early 1960s, however, the number of children attending supplementary schools has fallen by half, to about 270,000.
  • Meanwhile, out of a school-age population of roughly one million, the number of Jewish children in full-time parochial schools has more than tripled, to about 200,000, and the proportion enrolled in public schools has declined from more than 90 percent in 1962 to about 65 percent today.

Supplementary schools failed to produce graduates fluent in Hebrew, says Beinart, and have failed to slow the pace of assimilation. According to researchers, more than half of all Jews married between 1985 and 1990 married gentiles, and graduates of supplementary schools are more than twice as likely to marry outside their faith as graduates of full-time Jewish schools.

Diminished support of public schools in the Jewish community has implications for other Americans, suggests Beinart, since most non-Orthodox Jewish organizations have opposed proposals to allow families to use tax-funded vouchers at private and religious schools.

Source: Peter Beinart, "The Rise of Jewish Schools," Atlantic Monthly, October 1999.


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