Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedPR photo

Q: In recent years, some rabbis have hurled a serious claim at the National-Religious public, namely, that its education system has failed compared to Haredi education. They claim that about fifty percent of the students of the National-Religious public become secular, while only a few percent of the Haredi public.

Some of these rabbis have gone so far as to offer exact numbers: from the Haredi-hassidic education system, saying that only two percent beoome unobservant. Among the Haredi-Lithuanian education system, three percent drop out. Among the graduates of the Haredi-Sefardi education system – 8.5%. On the other hand, among the graduates of Hardali (National-Haredi) education system, 21% leave. Among the regular Dati-Leumi (National-Religious) education system – 31%, and among the Liberal-Religious education system, 51%. In other words, a weighted average of about thirty percent of students from the National-Religious education system become secular.

According to some of those rabbis, the conclusion to be gleaned from the troubling and unfortunate data, the National-Religious public in its various forms must recognize the educational failure of Chemed, the state-religious education system, and adopt the Haredi education system, in order to prevent the continuation of this educational failure.

Incorrect Data

A: Although the claims are seemingly based on studies and accurate data, the truth is that the numbers are completely different. The data in question contains a serious contradiction. The first figure in the opening question talks about 50% who become secular, while in the second figure of the seemingly exact numbers, about 30%.

Apparently, the error stems from several causes. First, the inclusion of data from several generations, whereas the relevant figure is the state of our generation. Second, the inclusion of children of immigrants, when everyone knows that the educational challenges of immigrants are particularly difficult. Third, Haredim who moved to the religious sector on their way to becoming secular, were counted as abandoning the National -Religious public. Fourth, a significant percentage of those studying in the religious state education system are from secular or traditional homes in the first place.

Ultimately, as far as I know, we are talking about less than twenty percent of the members of the National-Religious public who abandon religious observance. On the other hand, among the Haredi public it is a much higher percentage than what is reported, since one of the “mitzvot” of the Haredi public is to hide such data. I hope that in one of the next columns, I will be able to bring more accurate data about the various educational systems.

The Process of Improvement

Admittedly, two generations ago the percentage of those who became secular was very high. However, this was unfortunately the case among all the religious and Haredi subdivisions, in Israel and abroad.

In addition, whoever makes a claim of that nature ignores the process of change for the better. In the years following the establishment of the state, about eighty percent became secular, but in a gradual process education continually improved, to the point where today, less than twenty percent leave religion.

Undoubtedly, it is always possible and necessary to improve. However, when education in the religious public is growing stronger, whereas in Haredi education increasing difficulties are evident, there is no room to make a blanket claim that National-Religious education has failed, while Haredi education is successful.

Misguided Encouragement

Indirectly, the rabbis who published the incorrect data wish to encourage members of the National-Religious public to join or imitate the Haredi public, so that a higher percentage of their children will remain religious. However, this proposal is inapplicable, since Haredi education is based on a closed society, and as long as one maintains contact with family members and friends, and openness towards general Israeli society, Haredi education cannot succeed. An example of this can be learned from the baalei teshuva (Jews brought up secular who became religious) - among those who join the Haredi sector, the dropout rate among their children is very high, more than among the baalei teshuva who join the National-Religious public.

The Abandonment of Fundamental Foundations of the Torah

In addition to this, those who argue against the National-Religious education system, ignore the great challenge that lies before us. In order to protect children from secularism, the Haredi public has abandoned some of the most important foundations of the Torah. They forsook participation in the mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’Aretz (settling the Land of Israel), the mitzvah of serving in the army, and parts of the mitzvah of ‘ve’ahavta la’reiacha kemocha’ (loving your neighbor as yourself), and the prohibition of engaging in contentious dispute.

By renouncing the study of the sciences and not encouraging work, they abandoned their participation in yishuvo shel olam (improvement of the world) and its tikkun (rectification), and in addition to that, condemned many to poverty, contrary to all the mitzvot of the Torah intended to help the poor escape from poverty. Apart from all this, the Haredi public has abandoned the possibility of understanding the Torah in its entirety, and as the Gaon of Vilna said, a person lacking knowledge of secular wisdom, lacks a hundred measures of Torah wisdom, because Torah and secular wisdom are in unison.

Admittedly, dealing with all these challenges is difficult and complex, but this is our duty according to the Torah. How grave is the guilt of any who weaken the hand of those who strive to uphold the Torah in its entirety. At the very least, it would be appropriate that those claiming the National-Religious public should adopt the Haredi system should add that in order to do so, they must concede significant parts of the Torah.

An Educational Assault

Inadvertently, the rabbis who published these data caused an educational assault. Instead of encouraging positive processes, and quietly and calmly pointing out possibilities for improvement – some of which can be learned from members of the Haredi public themselves – they have seriously damaged education. Because there is nothing more harmful to the education of youth, than to make them feel they are in a failed educational system. All the more so when reality is exactly the opposite, and that precisely from within the National-Religious education system a community which observes the mitzvot of the Torah in the most straightforward way will likely grow, and from it, produce the greatest of Torah scholars.

I have not mentioned the names of the rabbis who make this claim, because I did not want to dishonor them, since their intention is good. Nevertheless, the matter must be set forth in its true Torah perspective.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.