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The Real Percentage of Secularism in Religious Education, and the Way to Correct It

The widely cited figures of graduates of the religious education system who become secular are far from true, and actually stand at less than twenty percent * Correction of the deficiencies in the education system will not come from imitating the Haredi system, since it includes sacrificing fundamental values such as service in the army and participation Yishuv Ha’Olam * In a situation where postponing Birkat Ha’Levanah until Motzei Shabbat brings it closer to the middle of the month, it is preferable to forgo the hiddur, and recite the blessing on a weekday

Q: In recent years, some rabbis have hurled a serious claim at the National-Religious public, namely, that its education system has failed compared to Haredi education. They claim that about fifty percent of the students of the National-Religious public become secular, while only a few percent of the Haredi public.

Some of these rabbis have gone so far as to offer exact numbers: from the Haredi-Chassidic education system, two percent leave religion. Among the Haredi-Lithuanian education system, three percent drop out. Among the graduates of the Haredi-Sefaradi education system – 8.5%. On the other hand, among the graduates of Hardali (National-Haredi) education system, 21% leave. Among the regular Dati-Leumi (National-Religious) education system – 31%, and among the Liberal-Religious education system, 51%. In other words, a total of about thirty percent of students from the National-Religious education system become secular.

According to some of those rabbis, as a conclusion from the difficult and unfortunate data, the National-Religious public in its various forms must recognize the educational failure of Chemed, the state-religious education system, and adopt the way of Haredi education, in order to prevent the continuation of the educational failure.

Incorrect Data

A: Although the claims are seemingly based on studies and accurate data, the truth is that the numbers are completely different. Already in the data in question, there is a serious contradiction. The first figure in the opening question talks about 50% who become secular, while in the second figure of the seemingly exact numbers, about 30%.

Apparently, the error stems from several reasons. First, the inclusion of data from several generations, whereas the relevant figure is the state of our generation. Second, the inclusion of children of immigrants, as everyone knows, the educational challenges of immigrants are particularly difficult. Third, Haredim who moved to the religious sector on their way to becoming secular, were counted as abandoning the National -Religious public. Fourthly, a significant percentage of those studying in the religious state education system are from secular or traditional homes in the first place.

Ultimately, as far as I know, we are talking about less than twenty percent of the members of the National-Religious public who leave religion. On the other hand, among the Haredi public it is a much higher percentage than what is reported, since one of the “mitzvot” of the Haredi public is to hide such data. I hope that in one of the next columns, I will be able to bring more accurate data about the various educational systems.

The Process of Improvement

Admittedly, two generations ago the percentage of those who became secular was very high. However, this was unfortunately the case among all the religious and Haredi subdivisions, in Israel and abroad.

In addition, whoever makes such a claim ignores the process of improvement. In the years following the establishment of the state, about eighty percent became secular, but in a gradual process education continually improved, to the point where today, less than twenty percent leave religion.

Undoubtedly, it is always possible, and necessary, to improve. However, when education in the religious public is growing stronger, whereas in Haredi education increasing difficulties are evident, there is no room to make a blanket claim that National-Religious education has failed, while Haredi education is successful.

Misguided Encouragement

Indirectly, the rabbis who published these incorrect data wish to encourage members of the National-Religious public to join or imitate the Haredi public, so that a higher percentage of their children will remain religious. However, this proposal is inapplicable, since Haredi education is based on a closed society, and as long as one maintains contact with family members and friends, and openness to the general Israeli society, Haredi education cannot succeed. An example of this can be learned from the baalei teshuva (Jews brought up secular who became religious) who join the Haredi public, that the dropout rate among their children is very high, more than among the baalei teshuva who join the National-Religious public.

The Abandonment of Fundamental Foundations of the Torah

In addition to this, those who argue against the National-Religious education system, ignore the great challenge that lies before us. In order to protect the children from secularism, the Haredi public has abandoned some of the most important foundations of the Torah. They forsook participation in the mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’Aretz (settling the Land of Israel), the mitzvah of serving in the army, and parts of the mitzvah of ‘ve’ahavta la’reiacha kemocha’ (loving your neighbor as yourself), and the prohibition of engaging in contentious dispute. By renouncing the study of the sciences and encouraging work, they abandoned their participation in yishuvo shel olam (improvement of the world) and its tikkun (rectification), and in addition to that, condemned many to poverty, contrary to all the mitzvot of the Torah intended to help the poor escape from poverty. Apart from all this, the Haredi public has abandoned the possibility of understanding the Torah in its entirety, and as the Gaon of Vilna said, a person lacking knowledge of secular wisdom, lacks a hundred measures of Torah wisdom, because Torah and secular wisdom are in unison.

Admittedly, dealing with all these challenges is difficult and complex, but this is our duty according to the Torah, and how grave is the guilt of those who weaken the hand of those who strive to uphold the Torah in its entirety. At the very least, it would be appropriate that those claiming the National-Religious public should adopt the Haredi system should add that in order to do so, they must concede significant parts of the Torah.

An Educational Assault

Inadvertently, the rabbis who published these data caused an educational assault. Instead of encouraging the positive processes, and quietly and calmly pointing out possibilities for improvement – some of which can be learned from members of the Haredi public themselves – they have seriously damaged education. Because there is nothing more harmful to the education of youth, than to make them feel they are in a failed educational system. All the more so when reality is exactly the opposite, and that precisely from within the National-Religious education system a community which observes the mitzvot of the Torah in the most straightforward way will likely grow, and from it, produce the greatest of Torah scholars.

I have not mentioned the names of the rabbis who make this claim, because I did not want to dishonor them, since their intention is good. Nevertheless, the matter must be set forth in its true Torah perspective.

The Last Time of Reciting the Blessing of the New Moon

Q: Last Motzei Shabbat, the evening of the 8th of Sivan, at the time when we should have said Birkat Ha’Levanah (the Blessing of the New Moon), there was a heavy fog all over the country, and it was impossible to see the moon and recite the blessing over it. On coming Motzei Shabbat, the evening of the 15th Sivan, can the blessing be said, and is it worthwhile postponing the blessing until then?

A: According to all halachic opinions, it is possible to say Birkat Ha’Levanah this coming Motzei Shabbat evening until 21:53 PM. And according to the opinion of the vast majority of poskim, one who misses the opportunity may say it throughout the entire night.

I will go into further detail. The time of Birkat Ha’Levanah is until the end of the night of the fifteenth, because the moon is still full until then. Afterwards, it begins to wane, and therefore, the blessing cannot be said from the night of the sixteenth and onward (Shulchan Aruch 426:3).

Preferably, one should take into account the opinion of the Maharil, who holds that one may not say Birkat Ha’Levanah after half of the moon’s cycle has elapsed (14 days, 18 hours, and approximately 20 minutes from the time of the molad). This time rarely passes the beginning of the night of the fourteenth. By the night of the fifteenth, the moon’s cycle sometimes reaches the halfway mark, and sometimes not (Rama 426:3, Kaf HaChaim 53). Nevertheless, in practice, one who did not say the blessing by the fourteenth may say it until the end of the night of the fifteenth (Biur Halachah 426:3, Yabi’a Omer 8:42).

Is it Worthwhile to Wait until Motzei Shabbat

Indeed, optimally, it would have been better to say Birkat Ha’Levanah on Sunday, the night of the 9th of Sivan, when the haze had already passed and the moon could be seen. However, owing to the exalted themes behind the moon’s renewal, and because one who recites the Blessing of the Moon is considered as one who receives God’s Presence (the Shechinah), we are accustomed to recite it immediately after Shabbat, when we are joyful and nicely dressed (Shulchan Aruch, Rama 426:2). However for two reasons, in our case, it was preferable to say the blessing earlier, on Sunday. First, it is preferable to say the blessing as early as possible. Second, out of concern that even this coming Motzei Shabbat it will be difficult to see the moon, and we will forfeit its blessing. I will go into further detail.

The Beginning Time of Birkat Ha’Levanah

Many Rishonim hold that the blessing should be said immediately upon the moon’s reappearance [at the beginning of the month]. R. Ya’akov Roke’ach writes in Shulchan Lechem HaPanim that this seems to be the opinion of R. Amram Gaon, Behag, Rif, Rambam, Rosh, and others. The Bach points out that the Talmud implies that one should not say Kiddush Levanah after the seventh day. The Rambam, as well, indicates that it is preferable to say it as early as possible.

On the other hand, some poskim infer from Tractate Soferim (20:1) that one should not bless the new moon until it is possible to benefit from its light. Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah, R. David Avudraham, the Kolbo, and others espouse this viewpoint. Some say one should wait until three whole days pass, for that is when the moon’s light becomes substantial (R. Saadia Gaon, Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah). Others say seven days must pass, because that is when one can truly benefit from its light (Rama of Panow, Responsa 78). According to some of the greatest Kabbalists – most notably, R. Yosef Gikitilla – one should wait seven days, for esoteric reasons. They explain that the renewal of the moon’s light alludes to man’s renewal, and whenever there is a new development, there is concern that the Attribute of Justice might prosecute and hinder the new growth. Therefore, it is proper to wait seven days, like the seven days of Creation, for by then the moon’s light has stabilized and the Attribute of Justice can no longer wage war against the new beginning.

In practice, the custom is to bless the new moon on Motzei Shabbat, in order to say the blessing joyously, while wearing nice clothing. Thus, practically speaking, Ashkenazim and Moroccan Jews recite Birkat Ha’Levanah on the Motzei Shabbat that follows three whole days after the molad (the “rebirth” of the moon), while Sefardim and Hasidim say it on the first Motzei Shabbat after the seventh of the month (Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 1: 30, footnote 23).

In conclusion, since in the opinion of many poskim it is preferable to bless Birkat Ha’Levanah at the beginning of the month, since the first Motzei Shabbat falls after the seventh of the month, it is appropriate not to delay the blessing any further. In addition to this, in the summer there is a certain risk that perhaps on Motzei Shabbat of the 15th the moon will not be visible, and for this reason as well, it would have been preferable to bless the moon earlier, on Sunday.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

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