A Looming Catastrophe
There were two items in the news recently, which separately were upsetting, but which together are downright terrifying.
One was a report about the dramatically increasing number of students in charedi schools who are not receiving any significant secular education (see the original Hebrew article in The Marker, and the English report in Haaretz). There are two types of such institutions. One is the mosdot petur - the charedi elementary schools which receive barely any secular education. The number of children in these institutions has now risen to 90,000. The other are the yeshivot ketanot - the yeshivot for boys in grades 9 to 12 who received a basic secular education in elementary school, but who receive no further high school secular education whatsoever. The number of boys in these institutions has nearly doubled over the last decade, to 37,000.
Many community leaders in the charedi world say that this doesn't matter. After all, they say, there are so many new programs for adults that provide professional training and enable them to "catch up" for all the secular studies that they missed. You don't need a secular education in elementary school or high school.
Which brings us to the second news item.
According to the Times of Israel, the state comptroller's office released a truly alarming report. Despite over half a billion shekels being invested in last eight years in special academic programs for charedim, these programs have been a disaster. Only 22% of charedim in these courses are men - and an astonishing 76% of men drop out!
The reasons for the extremely low enrollment and high failure rate are obvious. It's not easy to take time out to study when you already have a wife and children to support. And it's especially difficult to bridge the gap to a proper education, when you have virtually zero secular education and no experience with academic demands such as writing essays and doing tests.
If a charedi young man is very brilliant, and very motivated, he may be able to catch up. But the vast majority of young men educated in the charedi system will lack either the time (because they start too late), the motivation (because they have been taught that it's the wrong derech), or the academic ability to gain a professional education.
It should be noted that the huge increase in the number of students in such institutions is not only due to the high birthrate in the charedi community. It's also due to the influx of Anglo olim, many of whom - despite having received a secular education themselves - decide that their children will not receive such a benefit.
As the Israel Mishpacha magazine reported a few years back, charedi society is in a state of financial collapse. It's only getting worse. And as the charedi population grows - a third of first-graders are charedim - they could take the whole country down with them. As Jonathan Rosenblum memorably once wrote, we all need charedim to get academic education and professional employment. The alternative is the economic ruin not only of charedi society, but of all Israel.
Unfortunately, the current government is going to be making this situation far worse, in order to reap political support. It's going to take the general public to somehow try to salvage this situation, and to try to motivate charedim to give their children a full secular education.
On another note - Here is my availability for scholar-in-residence in different parts of the world this year:
England: Shabbat of June 15 or 22
NY/NJ: Shabbat of November 9
Florida: Shabbat of November 2nd (parashat Noach) or November 16
If you are interested in arranging a program, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.