Importance of advanced Jewish education
By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear Rabbi Fried,
In a recent column you suggested that the solution to the dire predictions of the recently publicized Pew report is “education, education, education.” The fact is that there have been many offerings of education in the Jewish community including myriad lectures for young adults and adults. These offerings typically draw very few participants, and the results remain as sadly stated in that report. How do you suggest that education should make a difference?
— Lori B.
Dear Lori,
friedforweb2I tried to make it clear, but perhaps not clear enough that I am far from offering “the solution” to the Pew report. The factors that have contributed to the present situation are many, are complicated and are intertwined. Hence “the solution,” if there is one, needs to be the same. We need a presentation of Judaism in a positive, relevant and meaningful light, starting with the youngest children and extending into all stages of adulthood.
What I was suggesting is that the foundation of all the above needs to be education. As is clear from that report, deep and meaningful Jewish education is the single greatest factor for a Jew to remain Jewish and committed.
In that light, if the Jewish community really takes the Pew results seriously, this generation of Jewish leaders and philanthropists should make all outlets of Jewish education their main priority: Front and center! Institutions of Jewish education should not need to be holding out their hands pleading for support. Rather, institutions distributing Jewish wealth should realize that education is literally our life-line. They should be seeking out opportunities to ensure that those offering meaningful Jewish education are well funded to enable them to do the best possible job they can! As I wrote in the above mentioned column, we need to learn from the Bolsheviks who proclaimed that the Jewish books they confiscated were “the enemies of the people.” Those books would ensure the Jewish commitment of their readers!
On that theme, I suggest you look up a short but excellent article in “Commentary” (Evelyn Gordon, 11-12-2013 issue), titled, “To Fight Assimilation, Stop Dumbing Down Judaism.” This non-orthodox writer laments the dearth of rigorous, university-level, intense Jewish studies in the non-Orthodox Jewish community. These types of studies are a given in the Orthodox community, and even those men and women going on to a secular career generally spend at least a year post-high school, if not more, in advanced seminaries and yeshivas. There they receive an education no less rigorous than their university studies, showing them the real depth and breadth of our tradition. This is responsible for the vast majority of these students sticking with it for life. Offering boring or watered-down versions of Jewish studies will simply not challenge or attract critically thinking, intelligent young Jews who are indeed challenged by the secular world.
At DATA in Dallas, and in our sister organizations known as the “Kollel” movement throughout the country, there are dozens of options for in-depth study, from rigorous Talmud study to the critical study of many other Jewish texts. Multiple levels of Jewish philosophy, Hebrew comprehension, Jewish law and Kabbalistic teachings are all offered. All these offerings are available for young professionals and adults of all ages. One need not go off to a seminary or yeshiva to taste the beauty, depth and joy of our tradition. To drink of the fountains of real, unadulterated Jewish wisdom, to feel the excitement of delving into the same text one’s great-great-great grandparents learned from, this is what fosters pride in our tradition. This is what brings hundreds to our classes weekly, as to all our sister organizations. Anyone who partakes of this will not so quickly walk away from their roots and their heritage.
This model needs to be greatly expanded. It will have a ripple effect across the entire community and, hopefully, make a serious dent in those results. Let’s first expand on what is already working!
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at

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