Wednesday, November 20, 2019

A Secondary Miscommunication

In the previous post, I described how the term "yeshiva ketana" has completely different meanings in Israel and in the United States regarding the presence or absence of secular studies. Several people pointed out that there was another misunderstanding going on. The term "yeshivah ketana" in Israel and the US refers to very different age groups.

In the US, yeshiva ketana is grade 1-8, mesivta is 9-12, and yeshiva gedolah is post-high school age. In Israel, on the other hand, grades 1-8 are called cheder, 9-11 is yeshiva ketana, and post-11th grade is yeshiva gedolah.

Thus, what Americans call "yeshiva ketana" is that which in Israel is called "cheder." Accordingly, some claimed that my post was baseless, because cheder in Israel does include secular studies.

But this is not the case. Even comparing cheder in Israel to yeshiva ketana in the US, which is what the comparison should be, the differences are profound.

Yes, cheder in Israel includes secular studies. But the amount of secular studies is absolutely minimal. Forget about academic excellence in secular topics - the chadarim are very, very far from the core curriculum. The contrast to a "black hat" yeshivah ketana in the US is enormous.

But they are not only different in terms of how much secular studies exist. An even more profound difference is with regard to the trajectory on which the differing institutions place the students.

At a yeshiva ketana in the US, once the boys finish eighth grade, they proceed to mesivta - high school. At this institution, they will continue to received secular studies, at a higher level, preparing them for college and a career.

In Israel, on the other hand, once the boys finish cheder, they are off to a yeshivah ketana that has no secular studies at all. Yes, there are some exceptions, such as Maarava and Mesivta of Beit Shemesh. Still, in general, this is the case. And even with the exceptions, they are often still institutions which, while providing a level of secular studies, directs the students towards long-term kollel rather than college and a career. See this very important post, Maarava - Not Enough, Or Too Much? in which Rav Leff says he regrets Maarava offering any secular studies!

And so, notwithstanding my misunderstanding of the different age groups, the basic point is still valid. Black hat Jews in the US and black hat Jews in Israel are living in completely different worldviews, especially with regard to education. But the superficial similarities of dress and language lead to problems of people not realizing this.


  1. "At a yeshiva ketana in the US, once the boys finish eighth grade, they proceed to mesivta - high school. At this institution, they will continue to received secular studies, at a higher level, preparing them for college and a career."

    Rav Natan, I love you and your analyses, but you really need to catch up on what's going on in America before you weigh in on this. Secular studies at most RW Yeshiva HSs is pitiful. And the trend (absent New York State's pending draconian legislation) is to move even further away from what you describe.

    According to Marvin Schick's 2013/14 study for the Avi Chai Foundation, The Chassidim and Right Wing Yeshivos make up 60% of the Yeshiva Ketana/Day School/Cheder population. That number has only grown exponentially in the past five years. The secular studies of K-8 in these institutions is weak at best. In high schools, it is becoming more non-existent.

    Perhaps, (one hopes!) the trend will begin to reverse itself. But for now, your statement above is inaccurate.

    1. It's hard to know for sure. I've heard reports that there are some high schools in Lakewood as bad as it is in Israel (i.e., zero secular classes at all.)However, I don't actually know anyone in such a school. Anyone I actually speak to personally is more or less satisfied. Even fairly RW schools in places like Far Rockaway or Passaic and even Telz still offer English studies, as do mainstream Chafetz Chayims, Philly, NIRC, etc. So I think (not sure) reports of such schools existing in America are either false, exaggerated, or else limited to a small handful outlier. Happy to be educated otherwise.

    2. I send my children to a right-wing Yeshiva elementary school (K-8). The secular education is very solid. My guess is that things vary wildely from school to school.

    3. Df, you are completely out of the loop. There are many, many high schools in Lakewood with zero secular studies. In fact, some people would like their kids to get a secular education but don't want to to send to the "shvach" places which have it.

    4. Dave, you say there are many, many high schools in Lakewood with zero secular studies - how many high schools are there at all, period, in Lakewood?

    5. Seriously? I don't know where you live, but there are dozens and dozens of high schools in Lakewood. Almost all of the top tier ones have zero secular education (for better or for worse).

  2. Anyone see a parallel with Yaffed and Rationalist Judaism blog?

    In both cases the individual somehow anticipates changing the system from without as opposed to from within.

    1. Not necessarily--Rabbi Slifkin's arguments may persuade more people to send their children to yeshiva high schools that teach both Torah and secular subjects.

      I also think that it's a good counter-argument to those who say that teaching secular subjects may lure students to leave observant life. If that were true, then why does Beis Ya'akov offer secular subjects? Why do Charedi yeshiva high schools in chutz la'aretz offer secular subjects?

  3. Rabbi Avigdor Miller --- a famous Chareidi Rabbi --- often used his public lectures to remind Jewish men that the traditional Jewish marriage contract --- the Ketubah --- contains these Aramaic words: ANA EFLACH LACH.

    These words, as Rabbi Avigdor Miller often reminded his audience, mean that every Jewish husband is required to WORK to support his wife, even if it means working at a job that is beneath is dignity.

    Rabbi Avigdor Miller also said this to his audience:

    “Everyone must work; everyone must have a job.”

    Those were his exact words; I know, because I
    listened to the tape of that lecture many times.

    In the last year of his life, Rabbi Avigdor Miller
    was asked by a member of his audience if Jews
    should pray for the Israeli Army. He answered:

    “If they are fighting to defend us,
    then we should pray for them.”

    Those were his exact words; I know,
    because I was there when he said it,
    and I remember it as if it were yesterday.

  4. The trend in charedi communities in US is no secular studies in high school grades 9 up. Actually, after sixth grade not much. Lakewood, in particular.
    Those legacy schools (like TV, CB, the sfardi equivalents, etc) offer secular studies of varying quality, but many students ignore the secular studies, with no penalty by school administration.

  5. It is so terrible these children sit all day with so little exercise

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  7. So basically, news flash: Chareidi elementary school boys in Israel do not receive as much of an in-depth secular education as their American counterparts.
    Will your next post be about the fact that the sky is blue?

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.


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