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Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Sunday School Debate

Just last week I posted a portion of an article that suggested it was high time to have institute a regular Sunday schedule for girls, just as it has already been instituted for boys under the title "Underscheduled."

I find the first response from a 1st grade Rabbi very interesting, although his approach and mine are miles apart. He is a supporter of a Sunday schedule for both boys and girls, yet points out some very serious issues regarding the Sunday schedule. A major issue is that the kids are simply tired, having gone to bed too late motzei Shabbat. His method to combat this issue is a raffle to incentivize early bedtime. I personally believe that the raffle method is far too overused in Yeshiva schools and I also believe too many rewards ultimately punish students. Academic studies bear out this same conclusions, as well as particular schools of educational thought. Ultimately, if parents are not "on board" with the Sunday schedule, the problems will persist.

The issues presented will probably ring a bell with those who attended "Sunday School". Just as attendees of Sunday Hebrew School know that most students (but not all) don't treat the day particularly seriously, this Yeshiva Rebbi notes that the half day isn't treated as "a real day". Worse yet, that day can set the tone for the rest of the week. I imagine that the experience of teachers throughout the nations bears out the same conclusions that truncated schedules create a relaxed environment which is difficult to recover from. It doesn't seem particularly wise to turn the first day of the week into a camp day. I think it is also interesting to note how the Torah subjects are enhanced by the derech eretz. If school policy would follow from such a philosophy, great progress could be made on many fronts.

Dear Editor,
Thank you for producing an excellent newspaper each week. In response to Avrohom Birnbaum’s article about Sunday being the “Shabbos sheini shel goluyos,” it is truly commendable how we have made Sunday into a more productive day in recent years. However, as a third grade rebbi in a yeshiva, I find Sunday to be a great challenge and unquestionably the hardest day of the week. The next frontier is to encourage parents to make the proper hachanos on Motzoei Shabbos to prepare their sons for a meaningful day of learning. Boys need to go to bed on time so as not to be tired the next day. If the night before is treated as a vacation night rather than a school night, the results will be inevitable. I offer my boys a special raffle on Sunday for those who bring in a note stating that they went to sleep less than 60 minutes after the zeman. Each week, it is the same few boys who take advantage of this incentive.

In addition, since there are no secular studies in the afternoon, the boys arrive with a feeling that Sunday is “not a real day.” I am not suggesting to have a full day of yeshiva, but this issue does present an obstacle. Some boys arrive at yeshiva without a backpack and only their baseball glove in their hands.

Parenthetically, the mesivta that I attended, Yeshiva Ner Yisroel in Baltimore, did have secular studies on Sunday, and it made a difference in our attitude for that day.

This less-than-positive beginning to the week sets a bad tone for the whole week. The issue of what to do is a shailah for a gadol, but I suggest that we do something in order not to turn the s’char of Sunday limudim into a hefsed.

Name withheld as some of my talmidim’s parents may be reading this letter

This next letter is from a family that would like their 4 oldest girls out of the house on Sunday. The school sends the girls home at noon on Friday. If the Rebbi's observations hold true and a Sunday schedule is instituted for girls, while a half day Friday schedule is maintained, I imagine readers will be treated to moaning about girls having two less than productive school days. But, I don't have a crystal ball or anything.

Dear Editor,
Even though we always enjoy Rabbi Avrohom Birnbaum’s article every week, last week’s really hit home. With our four oldest being girls, we cannot agree more with what he wrote about school being off on Sundays. Although there are many people who might respond that parents nowadays should spend time with their children, if we look at our girls’ schedule, there is so much time - too much time - off from school.

They get out of school at 12 p.m. on Friday, so between these long Fridays and all of Shabbos, there is plenty of time to bond. And that is besides for the long summers and plenty of breaks and vacations during the year. I have been asking for years for the schools to institute a
short Sunday schedule. Maybe this will finally create a change.

Thanks again to the Yated for bringing up timely issues.


A Yated Family


Lion of Zion said...

"it is truly commendable how we have made Sunday into a more productive day in recent years. However, as a third grade rebbi in a yeshiva"

what is wrong him? third graders need to be productive every minute of the week? he's upset the kids come to school with baseball gloves? can't an 8-year-old have some fun one day a week?

Miami Al said...

How about a letter that says, "I was a contributing member of my family and helped clean up after Shabbat." :)

JS said...

Never had Sunday school (thank God) and I can't understand the logic of it. Is it so terrible for a kid to do "nothing" one day a week? By "nothing" I don't mean lazing about in a semi-vegetative state in front of a TV (although I don't think doing this occasionally is harmful), I just mean a day that isn't so darn scheduled. If you want schedule for your kids, why not making a sports league that has matches on Sundays? The kids can't play ball on Shabbos in communities where Sunday school is prevalent and I'm sure there's no time on Sunday either (especially with the disdain shown for the kids who bring in gloves). Isn't exercise important anymore? Also, when do kids have any time to do homework?

As for the 2nd letter, maybe it's just me but I feel the writer has a certain disdain for having to spend time with her children. I hope I'm not reading too much into it, but it seems like she's saying, "Do we really need to see them Sunday too? We already see them for 36 hours between half a day Friday and all day Saturday!"

What is wrong with our communities?

Offinger said...

1) Play and free time are ESSENTIAL for healthy child development.

2) You'd think a Rebbi would recognize that doing sometihng on Shabbat for the purpose of preparing for Sunday is problematic.

Pesky Settler said...

And with tuition already ridiculously expensive, families deeply in debt and schools already underfunded, just who is going to pay for an extra half or full day of school?

Miami Al said...

Pesky Settler,

You don't add days, you just got the full days at the beginning/end of the year to make up for it.

It'll even "save" money since you can cut the secular staff's pay since they are working fewer days.

Sure this increases the childcare costs on working parents but that's not the Yeshiva problem, is it?

JewishTeen said...

Often reader, first time commenter here. I am fifteen and thank God do not have school on Sunday.

Every day, I commute for over 90 minutes each way to get to my Jewish high school in Manhattan. Sunday is the day when I wake up late (7:30 instead of 5:30), and I find that I use Sundays more and more for catching up on papers/other projects, working ahead, and doing homework. (Generally, I do not leave my house on Sunday, with the exception of going to shul in the morning.)

I have found that, by not having school on Sunday, I am better prepared for class the rest of the week and am a lot more relaxed. I have also found that, especially as finals are just around the corner for me, I am using Sundays to do the work that I simply can't do on weeknights. (As it is, I usually don't to bed until around 1 -- and that's on a good day.)

Anonymous said...

Welcome JewishTeen. It's good to have your perspective. Going to bed at 1:00 and getting up at 5:30 is not good. Any chance you can ask your parents to switch you to a school closer to home?

Jewish Teen said...

Thank you. There are plenty of Jewish day schools where I live. The problem, though, is that I don't feel comfortable going to any of them. I consider myself very modern and I feel that the dogmatic philosophies taught in the schools near where I live are not for me. The school that I attend now places much more emphasis on general studies than schools near where I live.

Anyway, the school that I attend also has many other commuters besides me facing similar travel times each day, and is very accommodating to those students. The decision was made jointly between my parents and me--my parents wouldn't just sign me up for 3 hours of commuting without me agreeing! (Neither would they switch me to a different school without my consent. I don't want to switch anyway.)

All in all, I think the commute is worth it.

Lion of Zion said...


"Going to bed at 1:00 . . . and getting up at 5:30 is not good."

someone has forgotten what teenage life is like :)

Miami Al said...

Jewish Teen,

Absolutely. A solid high school education is the basis for college and later studies.

My commute was only 30 minutes, and I never went to be before 2 or 3... and I probably was goofing off, not studying.

4.5 hours is NOT enough for a teenager... but probably about all any of us got.

Anonymous said...

Miami Al: More and more studies show that adolescent body clocks are not the same as an adult's. Staying up late is normal, but sleeping in is also normal.

Anyhow, Jewish Teen, its wonderful that you and your parents are on the same page. It sounds like you have terrific parents.

Anonymous said...

Here's the real problem:

"The issue of what to do is a shailah for a gadol"

The issue of what to do is a shailah for an educator, not a gadol. There is no shulchan oruch on chinuch. Are there any professional educators willing to take the responsibility to make proactive educational decisions?

tdr said...

Woah, Jewish Teen, I hope my kids are as accomplished in the skill of writing as you are by the time *they* are 15. Looks to me like your 3 hr commute is worth the trip!

Hatzlacha rabba in your studies!

Paying Parent said...

I think most people agree that children need one day a week off from school. Whether that is to "decompress" or catch up on their schoolwork, they need a day (Most of us can't and don't work 6 full days a week). The question is whether that day should be on Friday or Sunday. You can't give a full Friday off to younger children because it would cause alot of hardship for families with 2 working parents (more than Yeshiva Fridays already do).
That said, I would not be opposed to Sunday school for junior high school and high school kids and giving them off full Fridays instead. They can truly help prepare for Shabbos (especially in working families where Fridays are never long enough). And that age group is more likely to spend free time with their friends than their family anyway so you are not ususrping significant family time. The other thing is that Sunday school is often treated as a joke and I find that Fridays in Yeshiva are also often treated as a joke. By making sunday school a legitimate "full day" and elminating the half day concept, you will possibly have more productive education.

Lion of Zion said...


"I think most people agree that children need one day a week off from school."

the fact that so many schools have sunday school without nary a peep from parents--where i live it is standard--leads me to conclude that not everyone would agree

"giving them off full Fridays instead."

i think MTA used to do this?

"Sunday school is often treated as a joke"

i had sunday school for 3 years (which was odd, as i went to a very MO school) and it was a joke.

Miami Al said...

Paying Parent,

This is why I find the occasional push for Sundays off in Israel so funny. In the US, historically the non-agrarian work week was six days, with Sunday, "the Lords Day" off (Christianity elevates Sunday since so many of their events took place on "the first day of the week," so they don't work the day after the Sabbath without following the Jewish Sabbath).

This is why the US Constitution counts days "excepting Sunday," the USPS is closed Sunday, and Blue Laws cover Sunday.

When the union led push for a 40 hour week came, they were pushing for a second day off. Given that the second largest ethnic group in the US was Jewish, and much of the labor movement was Jewish, giving Saturday off was a natural decision.

Within the Jewish world, Sunday hold zero significance, but Friday does. In Israel, the second largest ethnic group are Muslims, whose holy day is Friday. The natural 5 day week for Jews is Sunday - Thursday. People would then have Thursday night as their secular night off, and Friday to do activities and prep for Shabbat. Most dual-income families do Shabbat prep on Thursday nights anyways.

However, in the United States, child care realities and the secular world around us make Sundays a natural family day, because resources for families are open, at least after 11 AM or whenever Blue Laws lift, and the early close on Sunday isn't a big deal since people have work/school the next day.

If you want a natural Jewish calendar, it's Sunday-Thursday. Sunday as a Shabbat Sheini family day is silly, and you have to cut things off early for work/school.

But if you are in the United States, it's hard to work around the fact that blue collar AND white collar employees, non retail, work Monday - Friday. In business/finance, Saturday is a quasi day, where people catch up on work after golfing, a behavior that Jews can do on Sunday without conflict.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that most of the non-frum/non-jewish teachers for the secular subjects will not want to work on Sundays because that is a family day and household chore day for them and their own children are not in school. If the school has a janitor or other staff come in on Sunday, state law may require overtime pay.

RamazAlum said...

Jewish Teen- out of curiosity, do you go to Ramaz? I went there, and most of my classmates had some rough commutes (I lived but a few blocks away, but friends from NJ and Westchester regularly spent the night at my apartment). If you are there, kol hakavod to you for making the most of the fantastic education you're receiving! I am now much further to the right of Ramaz, but completely unashamed to tell people that I went there. I look back on my Ramaz days with much fondness, and I'm grateful to the school for its part in making me who I am today (even if I'm not quite the standard picture of a Ramaz graduate). I also thank the school for the solid education I received in both kodesh and chol. My kid isn't old enough for school yet, but I'm already nervous- not only about tuition but also about where I can find a school that's more RW that will actually offer a great education...

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