Tag Archives: peter beinart

Peter Beinart on Day Schools

Back in 1999, Beinart framed the rise of day schools as a rejection of the original acceptance of public school. The growth of Jewish Day Schools is an abandonment of the American public square.

Beinart pointed out that the rise of day school had other factors than the obvious religious commitment. Even though day schools were originally for ideologically driven Orthodox who have not totally integrated into America, Day Schools became a form of private school for those moving up the latter.

Now, it seems the drive for day schools is the ideological need to create an enclave, in many classes an upper middle class Orthodox enclave. In this type of school, what counts? the education or the creation of the enclave? Some families are clearly still interested in creating private schools better than the public schools while others no longer ask if the day school if better than the public school in social studies, English, arts, or college preparation. Beinart reminds us to account for the role of the school in social mobility,class and caste. At the end of the twentieth century, day schools were “in” but the word “day school” may have had three different meanings- a prep school for Jews, a community school for identity, and a day school to create an enclave. Studies done by Avi Chai do not differentiate types of schools or factor in class and caste. (One of the decent studies available on the web, which was done privately by Alex Pomson, shows that in Toronto day schools are not growing relative to population increase.)

Jews supported public school because it helped enforce the separation of Church and State. Jews did encourage Christian kids to go to pre-Vatican II Catholic and Protestant schools because it would not have helped their integration. In those days, thinking of America as a Christian country would have meant Jews are excluded. Now, Jews do not worry about the possibility if there are Christian schools that do not offer an American secular narrative Jews do not worry about being outsiders. Nor do American Orthodox Jews currently worry about the possibility of Afrocentric, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh private schools.

What do day school parents feel about the melting pot? I would suspect that many are oblivious or against. Or it is only useful for everyone else. Do some of the parents see that if you exclude yourself from the socialization of the rest of the country then you start to look sectarian? Or if you accept the melting pot for viewing sports and listening to Lady Gaga, but not for social science thinking and historical narrative then you create a hybridization that may not work in all contexts. (In the full article, Beinhart cheers for the creation of the New-Jew HS in Boston as outside the box.)

Read full version of Beinart on Jewish schools here.

Preparing children for “the general American environment” meant public education as both practice and ideology. “The public school,” says Alvin I. Schiff, the Irving I. Stone Distinguished Professor of Education at Yeshiva University, in New York, “was considered sacred, holy. It was the method and setting by which Jews could become Americans.”
All the talk about Jewish identity may also obscure a less high-minded reason for the Jewish-school boom: as Jews have moved up the economic ladder, their commitment to public education has waned.
“As the public schools have eroded,” Miller says, “we are no longer being compared so much to public schools as to other independents.” Jewish leaders argue that because Jews make up such a small proportion of the U.S. population, the growth of Jewish schools has no real impact on the overall health of American public education. But public schools rely more heavily on Jewish support than the numbers would suggest, in part because Jewish organizations, fearful of any breakdown of the wall between Church and State, have traditionally lobbied hard against school vouchers and other government aid to private schools. As awareness grows that voucher programs might benefit financially strapped Jewish schools, that opposition may diminish.
Yet such parents, by choosing Jewish schools, are preparing their children to lead more observant, less assimilated lives than they do. Some even describe the phenomenon as an inversion of a practice in nineteenth-century Europe whereby parents would remain Jewish but baptize their children.
Why a growing number of relatively secular Jewish parents are abandoning the education model of their youth is a topic of considerable debate within the organized Jewish world

THERE is another, even more sensitive issue lurking behind the Jewish-school phenomenon. Earlier generations of Jews, according to Eduardo Rauch, of the Jewish Theological Seminary, in New York, sent their children to public school not simply as a means of ascending into the middle class but as a show of national loyalty. Today, in contrast, parents are willing to consider Jewish schools in part because they no longer fear being viewed as outsiders. They take their integration into mainstream America as a given. But what if earlier generations were correct — that full equality in an overwhelmingly Christian country is, in fact, reliant on Jewish willingness to participate in a common system of education?
In fact, when discussing issues like Afrocentrism and bilingual education, American Jewish leaders sometimes bemoan the demise of the melting-pot ideal in this country. Yet separate religious schools both rely on that demise and exacerbate it. The Orthodox community, for its part, has rarely celebrated the melting pot, and generally worries less about total acceptance by the broader culture.

For our last discussion about day schools, see here- Catholic Schools and Jewish Day Schools.

Peter Beinart on his Orthodox affiliation

By now everyone has read, reacted, or over reacted to the essay by Peter Beinart, The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment. For a summary and links to many reactions, see JTA or Alison Ramer and Menachem Mendel. I also assume everyone has read the interesting three part interview with Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic.

My interest remains focused only on religion and how it plays itself out in people’s lives. I will leave to other people and other blogs to deal with the politics. However, in the second installment of the interview with Goldberg, I found the following snippet dealing with religion.

Jeffrey Goldberg: It’s interesting to me that you, an Orthodox Jew, don’t answer the question about Zionism in any sort of theological way whatsoever.

Peter Beinart: I didn’t call myself an Orthodox Jew; I said I attend an Orthodox synagogue. But anyway, it’s a reasonable question. I feel a spiritual connection through Jewish observance–when I’m in shul, on Shabbat, even through kashrut. And I feel a spiritual connection to Jewish people–a certain delight at certain Jewish idiosyncracies, at a sense of global peoplehood.

My immediate question is what does this say about those gen x’ers who floated into Orthodoxy during the great revival of the last decades. How do they combine the warm of Shabbat with their liberalism, theological openness, and not fitting into the rigid Orthodox categories. Would the post-orthodox vortex of those demanding rigid definitions of belief and practice throw him out of their sectarian imaginary? Does he fell uncomfortable around Orthodox political views? So I emailed Peter and received the following response.

Although there are a lot of Orthodox Jews in my family (my mother is Sephardi, which doesn’t always translate easily into American categories), I was raised in a Conservative synagogue. I began going to Orthodox synagogues in my 20s.

What appealed to me was the dedication to Jewish learning, which I have come to believe is the only path to Jewish continuity. I feel in many ways limited by the fact that I did not attend Jewish school, and want my children to learn more, far more, than I did at their age. In a way, I’m more concerned with their knowledge than their observance, though I suspect and hope that the latter will follow the former. (In any case, we’re less strictly observant than some). If they can feel confident in a Jewish religious context, it will always be available to them, even if they drift away for periods of their lives. I’m also attracted to Modern Orthodoxy’s vision of a life in which one can be faithful to halacha (though I myself could be more faithful) and also truly at ease in the world, recognizing the truth and beauty in non-Jewish things.

In addition, I have always felt a sense of community that I consider precious: the involvement that people have in each other’s lives, the long, lazy stretches of time during a shabbat meal or at the park on Saturday afternoon, a series of friendships that are not based on work (which I find is very common in Washington), the amount of time we spend in each other’s homes, the way we watch each other’s kids grow up.

I think I’ve also been lucky because my community is very tolerant both in terms of observance and political opinion, even on Israel. (I didn’t realize quote how tolerant until I wrote my essay).
That makes it much easier for me to deal with those parts of Orthodoxy that do trouble me: for instance, the participation of women. I might have grativated to some more egalitarian conservadox minyan, but the fact that there are so many successful, empowered, articulate women in my community makes me feel more comfortable on questions of gender. There is also a sense of irony and good humor about Orthodox Jewry’s foibles among our friends that I greatly value.

So I suppose I compromise my liberalism to participate in an Orthodox community, but I’m willing to do so because I am so enriched by it in so many ways. (And perhaps because I fear that a more universalistic Jewish community would be less of a true Jewish community). So it’s a little like Zionism. I recognize that to be a Zionist I have to compromise my liberalism: I have to support a Jewish state, which by definition will never be able to provide absolute equality to its non-Jewish citizens. But I try to do so while still hoping for as much liberalism as possible. I’ve never felt my community is demeaning or disrespectful to women or gays or lesbians or non-Jews, even as I do remain bothered by the roles according to all those groups in mainstream Orthodox practice.

I’ve also been inspired by various people who are far more learned than me who are also highly critical of certain illiberal, even racist, tendencies that they see in the Orthodox community, and in Israel. They have modeled for me a life of Jewish commitment that is not morally complacent, and which is zealous about the rights and dignity of non-Jews, both in the US and the Middle East.

On the essay itself, I’ve been pleasantly surprised–even moved–by the reaction from the Jewish Week and from Nathan Diament, who runs the Washington office of the OU. I don’t expect that publication or organization to agree with my views on Israel, but if there is marginally more concern for the declining Zionism of non-Orthodox Jews, and for the kind of attitudes expressed at the 2002 Israel rally, where a largely Orthodox crowd booed a call to recognize Palestinian suffering, then I will be gratified.

We seem to have a functional religion adding value and community to life. His religion is not very theological. Regarding problematic ideas and values, we see an important role played by those who are ironic or critical toward towards their Orthodoxy as helping to make Orthodoxy more welcoming. It seems these friends help lower any religious tensions or cognitive dissidence. I was pleased to see the tolerance and acceptance of diversity within the community, or at least among his friends and acquaintances.
If you comment, limit it to religion. Post the politics on one of the other blogs.