Ask A Rabbi: When Do Children Usually Begin Religious School Education?

Shalom and welcome to the newest edition of’s Ask A Rabbi! What’s new about this popular feature? Well, this year the Ask A Rabbi column will be biweekly and shared by three local rabbis (including me!), who will take turns responding to question submissions. (In the past, a different rabbi has responded each week.) It’s my hope that this new format will provide continuity within the column and offer the opportunity for you to reach out directly whenever you have a question. I’ll be manning the Ask A Rabbi submission form and will do my very best to answer all appropriate and relevant questions, either privately or in this column.

I’ll be joined by Rabbi Julie Zupan, clergy liaison for Reform Jewish Outreach Boston, and Rabbi Braham David, director of the Jewish Discovery Institute. Each of us comes from different movements within Judaism, with a variety of rabbinic experiences and expertise, which, of course, leads to different opinions. (So please note that our responses are our own and don’t necessarily represent all of Judaism.) We’ll always do our best to be thorough and thoughtful. But, you know, as the saying goes: “Two Jews, three opinions!” (I imagine this would double or triple when referring to three rabbis.)

Before we get started, a little about me: I was ordained in 2012 by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the seminary for the Reform movement. I’m currently the director of InterfaithFamily/Boston. Before that I worked as a congregational rabbi and educator in Virginia. I’m passionate about listening to people’s stories and helping them connect to Judaism in whatever way they choose. I’m honored and thrilled to be able to answer your questions, no matter how small or large, difficult or simple, shared or private. So let’s get started!

“At what age do children usually begin religious school at a synagogue? Is third grade too late?”

Fear not! Third grade, in most synagogues, is not too late. In fact, there are many parents who begin their children’s formal Jewish education in third grade. Most synagogues have a clear policy for their members about when children need to join religious school in order to be on track for their bar or bat mitzvah. Adversely, there are also plenty of parents who send their children to Jewish preschool and then have them begin religious school in kindergarten or first grade. There are also parents who send their children to Jewish day school, which provides them with secular and Jewish education during the normal school day. There are many paths for families interested in providing Jewish education for their children.

If you’re already a member of a synagogue, I would suggest calling the educator or rabbi and speaking with them about beginning your child’s Jewish education. I’m sure they would be more than happy to give you all of the details and welcome your child and your family into the learning community.

If you’re not a member of a synagogue, this will be your first step, as most, if not all, synagogues require you to join to attend religious school. There are many ways to find the right synagogue for you and your family. There are a lot of options in the Ask A Rabbi: When Do Children Usually Begin Religious School Education?Boston area, which can be overwhelming, but has a great list that might help you begin your search. I would also be more than happy to continue this conversation offline and talk you through all of the options to help find the right one for you.

Rabbi Jillian Cameron is the director of InterfaithFamily/Boston. Have a question for her? Use the Ask A Rabbi submission form.