Jewish Schools

Commentary by Dr. Stanley Dickson


A Comparative Study of Orthodox Hebrew Day Schools and a Trans-denominational Hebrew Day School


It is of interest to note some differences which may occur between the graduates of Orthodox Hebrew Day Schools and Kadimah School (2004), a trans-denominational Hebrew Day School where 71% of the parents were identified as Conservative Jews and the school was not Orthodox. Schiff and Schneider (1993) reviewed the graduates of the Orthodox Hebrew Day Schools and Dickson (2004) reported on the graduates of the non-Orthodox Hebrew Day School. It should be noted that 84% of the schools Schiff and Schneider surveyed were Orthodox and 10% were Conservative Hebrew Day Schools with the remaining 6% "trans-ideological, right of center, and Orthodox Yeshivot." This study is designed to report the difference between these two populations on common variables studied. They were: religious practices, Jewish communal life involvement and service, post high school educational degrees, background information on the graduates and their family. 

The questions raised were what were their respective religious practices? What was their current communal life involvement? What were the highest degrees earned in college or university? How many were married and how many children did they have? Which Hebrew schools were their children attending or were being planned for the children? Finally, what were their thoughts about the value of their Hebrew Day School education? 

The Schiff and Schneider study received responses from 3,674 graduates representing a return of 55%. The Dickson study received responses from 51 graduates or 25% of the sample who received questionnaires. As a result, Dickson reported the mean, standard deviation, standard error of the mean, and confidence interval to determine the probability of specific responses for the remaining 75% of non-respondents, if they did respond, with a probability level of 95 times out of 100 or better. 

The Orthodox group attended Hebrew Day School from 1965-1990 and the Kadimah group attended Hebrew Day School between the years 1964-1992. Most of the Orthodox group went to a Hebrew High Day School and the Kadimah group went only through the 8th grade at Kadimah and all attended a secular high school. There were 56% males and 44% females who responded from the Orthodox group. The opposite occurred in the Kadimah group whereby 43% males and 57% females responded. The average age for both groups was similar; about 35 years old. 

The time period that both group attended Hebrew Day School and the review of variables studied were similar; therefore, a comparison of these graduates may raise some interesting questions for further study. It should be remembered that the 84% of Orthodox schools participating included education through the Hebrew Day High School while Kadimah educated the group only through eight grades. It is not suggested that only these variables may account for any differences noted but similarities noted may raise other questions. The Orthodox group shall be referred to as Group 1 and the Kadimah graduates as Group 2. 

Figure 1 shows the religious identification of the parents of the graduates of Group 1 and the parents of the non-Orthodox school (Kadimah) Group 2. 

Figure 1. Religious Identification of Parents and Graduates and Spouses 






Parent Group 1





Parent Group 2





Graduate Group 1





Graduate Group 2






As can be seen, the largest percentage of Group 1 was Orthodox for both parents and respondents and for Group 2 Conservative affiliation was the largest percentage. What is not known is the percentage of respondents who came from the 10% of Conservative Hebrew Day Schools in their sample. It is also interesting to note the relative stability of ideological movement between parent and respondents in Group 1. Group 2 revealed some ideological movement from Conservative to Orthodox between parents and respondents (7%) and some movement toward Reform affiliation (14%). 

More than 95% of Group 1 were members of a synagogue and 70% of Group 2 belonged to a synagogue. Religious practices were extant, however, for both groups. Figure 2 shows some of the religious practices of both groups for common variables studied. 


Figure 2. Religious Practices of Group 1 and 2 for Common Variables Studied



Shabbat Services Friday

Shabbat Services Saturday


Group 1 -

At home








Group 2






Almost all of the respondents in both groups observed the High Holy Days. In addition, Group 2 observed life cycle events (Bar and Bat Mitzvah, etc.). Group 2 respondents were not active in the Daily Minyan nor Mikveh. These items were not sampled for Group 1. In summary, there seems to be no question that both groups are committed to a Jewish life style albeit in different degrees and different ways. 

Some critics of the Hebrew Day School program raise questions about the value of the secular education of the students. Figure 3 shows the educational level achieved by both groups. 

Figure 3. Education Level Achieved for Group 1 and Group 2


Attended College

Bachelor*s Degree

Graduate School

Doctoral Degree

Group 1



63% *


Group 2






    * The question posed for Group 1 was whether they went to graduate school and for Group 2 whether they earned a Master*s Degree.

The responses indicate that both groups are highly educated, considerably beyond the general population (Hu*s 2003). The differences noted in the graduate school item may be a function of how the question was asked. Most of Group 1 respondents who earned a doctorate degree were LLB*s or J.D.*s (lawyers) and M.D.*s, the second largest group. Both groups far exceeded any expectation of earning doctoral degrees whereby less than 5% of the population have earned such a degree. Respondents in Group 2 were awarded many different honors (i.e. cum laude, etc.). This was not sampled in Group 1. 

Additional communal activities noted by both studies revealed a commitment to Jewish activities and Jewish life. Figure 4 depicts the respective responses to these activities. 

Figure 4. Responses for Group 1 and Group 2 On Communal Jewish Activities


Visited Israel

Went to Summer Jewish Camp

Participates in Jewish Organizations

Group 1




Group 2





Both groups demonstrate a commitment to Jewish communal activities. They may vary somewhat in frequency and quality of these activities. Nonetheless, most of the graduates are not indifferent and participate in these Jewish communal events. 

The marital records for each group is also of interest. Figure 5 shows the marital status and number of children for respondents in Group 1 and Group 2. 

Figure 5. Marital Status and Percentage of Children for Each Group.




Divorced or Separated


One or More Children

No Children

Group 1







Group 2








As can be seen, almost 45% of Group 1 respondents were not married and more than 20% of Group 2 were single. The divorce rate for both groups was very low compared to the general

population (50%). 

Further, almost 40% of Group 1 had no children although 16% had 3 children and 11% had 8 children. It may very well be that the majority of respondents were in the younger age group and consequently unmarried and childless in an otherwise child-prolific group. Group 2 had an average of 1.6 children each which suggests an average of 2 or less per couple. The 2,000 Jewish Population Survey, although unreliable because of the small number samples for a population estimate at 5.2 million Jewish people (4,300 surveyed * less than 1%), reports a non-prolific Jewish child-bearing population (2004). There were 95% of the Group 1 respondents who indicated their children are enrolled or will be enrolled in a Hebrew Day School mostly in a Yeshiva. Group 2 has 54% of the respondents children attending a Hebrew Day School. Apparently, there is a commitment in both groups for a Hebrew Day School education for the children. 


In summary, for these two surveys of Hebrew Day Schools, examining variables studied by both reports, a commitment to Judaism is apparent and scholarly excellence was also evident.

Much of the data is contrary to the reported statistics for the population in general and the Jewish population in particular (Hu*s 2003). For example, the divorce rate is low, religious activity high, intermarriage is low, scholastic achievement high in secular subjects and the pursuit of communal religious activities is apparent for Hebrew Day School graduates. The reader is advised to read both studies, as published, for more extensive details about variables reviewed that are not present in both studies. 

When asked if they profited from their Hebrew Day School experience, Group 1 respondents indicated positive feelings (77%) and a few felt it was "just fair" (16%). Group 2 respondents overwhelmingly responded favorably (98%). Only 1 person was critical of the overall education received (2%). 

Clearly, the Hebrew Day School experience has a salutary effect on the lives and existence of these Jewish people, whether it is in an Orthodox school or trans-denominational school. It is important to obtain data from other trans-ideational Hebrew Day Schools to determine if positive results also occur. The rise in enrollment in Solomon Schechter Hebrew Day Schools suggests the positive effects of the Hebrew and secular education. But we need more data and study. A review of the adult Jewish population suggests that about half are unaffiliated with a synagogue. Religious practices are minimal and intermarriage high. The 1990 Jewish Population Survey estimated that only 29% of children of intermarried couples got a religious (Hebrew) education. In many communities, parents are requesting supplemental Hebrew Schools to reduce the number of days children attend, from 3 to 2 or 1 day a week. Religious commitment is hard to accomplish with such a schedule let alone knowledge about one*s religion, its history, its background and its future. Most parents seem to prefer a secular education in a public school with fewer and fewer hours in supplemented religious education.  

The consequences of this, however, seems less than satisfactory. More and more articles appear with titles like "Will Our Grandchildren Be Jews?" (Gordon and Horowitz, 1996). If there still remains a large segment of the population preferring secular public school education, I would recommend that all the synagogue schools combine to form a community supplemental Hebrew School. Thus the best teachers may be employed. A common curriculum may be used. Such a school may be housed in the late afternoon in the Hebrew Day School environment where materials and books are also available. Hebrew Day School teachers are already available. Hebrew Day School teachers may be utilized and earn additional salary for added time teaching, and students may be exposed to the products of the children attending Hebrew Day school. I would suggest this would be a reasonable compromise to an attempt to obtain a religious commitment with a suitable education and still satisfy the desire for a secular public school education. Above all, we need to invest in our children and study them as they complete their education. At present, it seems the Hebrew Day School is the most effective road to take for a Jewish commitment and scholastic excellence but only further study will support this hypothesis.  


Dickson, Stanley, Winter 2004. Kadimah School. The Pursuit of Scholastic Excellence and  Religious Commitment, Journal of Jewish Education. 

    Gordon, Antony and Richard M. Horowitz, 1996. Will Your Grandchildren be Jews? Jewish Spectator, Fall edition. 

Hu*s, Arthur, January 17, 2003. Statistic Page, 

National Jewish Population Study, 1990. Council of Jewish Federations, New York, NY. 

National Jewish Population Survey, 2000. Internet, 

    Schiff, Alvin and Merelyn Schneider, 1993. Jewish Day School Study. Internet, American Religion Data Archive. 

    Schiff, Alvin and Merelyn Schneider, 1994. Research Report #1, The Jewishness Quotient of Jewish Day School Graduates: .Azrieli Graduate Institute of Jewish Education and Administration. Yeshiva University, New York, NY. 


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