The Purpose of Jewish Education
Many studies have been written trying to describe the impact of Jewish education on the adult lives of those who have received a Jewish education. This study comes to the conclusion, not surprisingly, that the more Jewish education a child has, the stronger their Jewish identity and commitment later in life. For me one of the most interesting questions is “Why does Jewish education seem to have such an effect?”. Is it that a child learns to identify with their religious and/or cultural heritage and concludes that their destiny is bound up with that heritage? Does learning the weekly Torah portion provides religious role models? Most of the time I leave these types of questions to my wife, who at the moment is here, but I did come across an interesting article on the influence of different types of religious education on Catholic school children.
We conclude that three or more years of Catholic high schooling decreases the likelihood that young people leave the church later in life. At least with regard to Mass attendance, it may have little additional impact on religious participation among those who do remain Catholic. In other words, Catholic high schooling affects religious identification more directly than it affects religious practice. Conversely, attending CCD (the equivalent of afternoon Hebrew school, MM) during the high school years produces no effect on Catholic identification but does increase the likelihood of weekly Mass attendance among those who remain Catholic. Our data cannot determine the mechanisms behind these effects, but the contrast between attending Catholic high school and CCD leads us, like other researchers, to speculate about social networks. Attending Catholic high school occupies a large portion of day-to-day life and seems likely to enmesh one in an array of close, dense, social ties-creating an experience of living in a Catholic community. Such an experience might make it important to young people to remain Catholic for the sake of maintaining the network of Catholic relationships in their daily lives-though not necessarily important to attend Mass since the parish is not the primary locus of such relationships. Furthermore, the experience might lead Catholics to continue seeking such relationships throughout their lives, a desire that would presumably manifest itself in their choice of spouses. Attending CCD, which typically involves no more than a few hours a week, might also establish important social ties but seems unlikely to create the same density of ties or sense of community. Moreover, because CCD takes place in a parish setting, attending Mass might be important for sustaining the types of social ties created there.
So maybe we shouldn’t be worry so much about the content of the curriculum, just that Jewish youth spend as much time together as possible, enjoying themselves, and studying a little Torah in the process.
Paul Perl and Mark M. Gray, “Catholic Schools and Disaffiliation from Catholicism”, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, vol. 46, no. 2, June 2007.