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Raising Jewish Children: Research and Indications for Intervention

Does family environment trump Jewish education for predicting adult Jewishness? The sense of urgency in studying the impact of Jewish education was, no doubt, intensified by the high rates of intermarriage suggested by 1990 NJPS data. Jewish community leaders, and the researchers they commissioned, often seemed to be looking for a unilateral “fix” for the “problem” of intermarriage, premised on the historical fact that intermarriage has been synonymous with assimilation in many prior Jewish societies. Researchers often tried to untangle the admittedly complex symbiosis between the Jewish connections of the household of origin and the Jewish education provided to children in that household–the more Jewishly connected the parents, the more intensive and sustained the Jewish education they provided their children. But which was really creating the next generation of Jewishly identified adults, Jewish education–or the Jewishly connected parents who arranged for that Jewish education? Researchers like Bruce Phillips concluded that the family was the ultimate predictor of the Jewish identity of the children; to the extent that Jewish education appeared to be responsible, that education was more or less a proxy for the family behind the enrollments.40 Subsequent studies have lent indirect support to this assumption: an analysis of Modern Orthodox day school graduates, for example, found that children from homes with Orthodox observance and parental Jewish educational patterns had very high rates of success in producing Jewishly identified inmarried children, while homes with less consistency–less Orthopraxy–had much lower rates. While schooling, camp, etc., each have a measurable impact, they do not compare to the combined impact of home and formal/ informal education with consonant goals. Adult children tended to replicate the values and behaviors of their parents. New research should interrogate the relative impact of family and education.

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