1,257 respondents to Rabbi Zvi Grumet’s survey broaden definitions of Orthodoxy and practice.
Practices and beliefs learned in yeshiva high schools aren’t necessarily part of a young, Orthodox Jewish adult’s practice and belief system.
At least that’s what Rabbi Zvi Grumet’s research study of graduates of Orthodox yeshiva high schools indicates with convincing data.
Rabbi Grumet, the Israel-based director of Tanach programs at Yeshivat Eretz Hatzvi, was interested in what he described as the “efficacy of yeshiva high school education at a time when students are sometimes seen as either ‘flipping out’ (becoming more religious than their parents) or ‘going off the derech’ (becoming less observant than the families in which they grew up.”
Some 1,257 respondents took part in a survey questionnaire designed, according to Rabbi Grumet, “to assess markers of gradation of observance and ideology, which are markers of identity in the Orthodox and specifically in the Modern Orthodox community.”
Rabbi Grumet is releasing his 60 pages of findings over about two weeks. So far, about a third of the information has been released on his blog (https://tinyurl.com/ycdkrt8q).
“I have invested my entire adult life in Jewish education,” Grumet wrote in an email to The Jewish Link, “working with yeshiva high school students and alumni for more than 35 years and with teachers and principals for much of the last 15 years. I have seen substantive changes for the better part but am plagued by concerns and questions. Most of those emanate from anecdotal evidence that I see and hear—from parents and former students.
“Based on the Avi Chai data,” he continued, referring to the Avi Chai Foundation’s census of the day school community, “there are approximately 12,000 yeshiva high school students in North America with an average tuition of $25,000 annually. When we do the math, this turns out to be an industry worth at least $300 million a year of Jewish communal (and family funds), and we have no data at all about its efficacy of impact.”
Rabbi Grumet also said he believes the Orthodox world is at a crossroads with its own set of contemporary and future challenges. It is important, he said, that we understand those challenges. That was the primary purpose of his study.
One group of questions surveys the respondents’ recollections of religious practices while growing up. The second set questions how they practice and observe Judaism in their current lives.
The survey was conducted through social media, mostly Facebook. It took just over a year to complete. It was taken by respondents who grew up in 267 zip codes, representing 20 different areas ranging from New Jersey/New York to Baltimore to Houston to Denver and Seattle. Some 800 of the respondents identified 80 yeshiva high schools and then 37 yeshiva and seminary gap-year programs.
When it came to religious backgrounds, 61 percent identified themselves as Modern Orthodox, 13 percent right-wing Orthodox and 10 percent Open Orthodox. Just over half (51 percent) were female, with males at 49 percent. Some 70 percent were from New Jersey/New York.
Thirty-seven percent of the study’s respondents graduated from high school prior to 2004. The remainder graduated from high school between 2004-11. In the older group, 86 percent reported they were married, 9 percent single. Fifty-two percent of the younger group was married and 43 percent single. Interestingly, the marriage rate increases from 34 percent to 65 percent some eight years after high school graduation.
About 80 percent of the respondents attended yeshiva or seminary. The most highly attended yeshivot included Har Etzion, Eretz Hatzvi, Mevasseret, Shaalvim, Hakotel, KBY, Or Yerushalayim, Torat Shraga, Reishit and Orayta. The leading seminaries attended included Lindenbaum, Harova, MMY, Midreshet Moriah, Migdal Oz and Orot.
The respondents from right-wing Orthodox childhood homes numbered 13.3 percent while Modern Orthodox respondents came to 76.5 percent. So here’s where the nuanced differences in the respondents’ current lives showed up. While 90 percent grew up in homes whose families never drove a vehicle on Shabbat, Grumet’s survey showed 80.5 percent as adults reporting not turning on electrical devices at home with 77 percent reporting not watching TV on Shabbat. The level of those requiring kashrut certification for products used in the home was at 94 percent, but only 76 percent at restaurants.
Other observances looked like this:
Twenty-one percent refrained from using non-prescription drugs on Shabbat; 47 percent don’t tear toilet tissue on Shabbat.
But there were some areas of concern. Indeed, Grumet’s data indicated a slight decline in observance between the respondents’ childhood religious practice compared to current practices. Consider that 51 percent reported that their childhood homes were strictly halachic with no exceptions, while 35 percent reported minor exceptions. The survey showed that current religious practices reported included 42 percent strict observance with no exceptions and 35 percent with minor exceptions. Nine percent reported they have no Shabbat driving restrictions compared to 4.5 percent of their childhood homes. The number increases to 18 percent having no Shabbat restrictions on turning on electrical appliances compared to 7 percent of their childhood homes. And it gets more nuanced, with numbers showing that 6 percent indicated no separation currently between milk and meat compared to 1 percent of their childhood. Nine percent indicated that Halacha was not an important consideration when compared to the practice in their childhood homes. On the other end of his findings, the survey show that 29 percent of those who grew up in homes where Halacha had little to no importance now see themselves as strictly halachic, and that grows to over 50 percent when those who are halachic with some exceptions are included.
When it comes to Shabbat, the survey showed that 90 percent of childhood homes didn’t permit Shabbat driving; that number is now 83 percent. Eighty percent of childhood homes didn’t turn on electrical appliances. The current number is about 70 percent.
The term “half-Shabbos” describes Shabbat-observant high school students who use their cell phones on Shabbat. The survey indicated there was no more use of cellphones than any other electrical appliance. Once out of their parents’ homes, the survey showed that young adults were not as apt to use cellphones on Shabbat. Grumet indeed suggests that these adults might have cut back on the violation of using electrical appliances, including cellphones.
Other Shabbat results were also telling.
Friday-night Shabbat meals were served in 94 percent of the respondents’ childhood homes. As adults, however, that number was now 83 percent. Similarly, there was a decline in Shabbat lunch, from 89 percent to 78 percent. Kiddush? While 94 percent of childhood homes practiced it, the current number among respondents was 78 percent.
And the biggest hit came in the form of Shabbat synagogue attendance. Ninety-two percent had memories of attending shul usually or always, while 69 percent currently do. Torah study also dropped on Shabbat from 47 percent to 40 percent.
“There is a difference between public and private observance,” Rabbi Grumet told The Jewish Link. “The communal pressures of being part of the Orthodox community are quite significant. When people aren’t in the public eye, observance is a little bit different. It did surprise me, and I think it has implications.
“Fundamentally it sounds like there’s a percentage for whom the value of observance is not decided by a commitment to Halacha, but a desire to be part of the Orthodox community.” Some might call this being socially Orthodox.
“Definitions of Orthodox are changing,” he added. “Today we have something that exists called Open Orthodoxy. None of us in the past would have held that, but there’s a growing sense that it will be part of the future of the Jewish community. It’s not a question about how long it’s going to last. It’s there. The rabbinic and educational leadership have to accept it’s there and make decisions about what they’re going to do about it.”
The survey encompasses practice and belief.
“By the time I hit next week, we’ll be moving into areas of belief, and the numbers are striking,” he said. “The number of people who believe the things Orthodox Jews are supposed to believe is minimal compared to the messages they receive in schools. It will compare what they learn in schools to what they actually believe. People who are still observant are rejecting dogma, and that raises questions about the educational system.”
By Phil Jacobs