Do better by yeshiva students
City and state officials must do more to protect the civil rights of these children and ensure that they are properly educated.
By Shlomo Noskow
I am perpetually astonished by how Hasidic community leaders in New York have managed to convince thousands on the logic of keeping young Jewish boys uneducated. And state and city education officials who have the duty and authority to ensure that students are educated have not done so.
Private and religious schools are obligated to provide students with an education that is at least “substantially equivalent” to that of public schools. This is to ensure that in addition to religious curricula, students are offered at least a basic education in topics such as reading and writing of English, math and history.
I recall as a teenager spending 12 or so hours a day in my Hasidic high school in Brooklyn. Some of the time included daily prayers, but the day consisted mostly of studying and rehearsing portions of Talmud and its commentaries. There were no secular studies. No English, no math. Outside of school, there was no time for extracurricular activities. More than 20 years later, the school still operates and, unfortunately, like many other Hasidic boys schools, it still does not provide students with a secular education.
My parents had my best interest in mind, but they acted like cogs in a system, following community norms. Hasidic Rabbis and community leaders set the norms, including school curricula. But the developing mind of a child shouldn’t be restricted to religious studies, regardless of religion.
It is perplexing that wonderful parents who deeply care about their children, allow the educational neglect of their education. Why are Rabbis, who incidentally are well provided for, allowed to deny these children a basic education? Shouldn’t we instead do everything possible to expand their options and better prepare them for the future? Why not have the schools incorporate a few hours a day for secular subjects? Would teaching students how to properly communicate in English and about basic history, science and finance be so detrimental?
Proponents of the status quo say Hasidic boys seem to thrive. That ignores the fact that a large percentage of Hasidic families are dependent on government aid. We are essentially dooming generations to lives of poverty. Why? And shouldn’t government programs, including Section-8, food stamps and Medicaid, be reserved for people experiencing unforeseen events? The programs are not meant to be used as a way of life, the way they are being used by many in the Hasidic community.
City and state officials must do more to protect the civil rights of these children and ensure that they are properly educated, as guaranteed by our Constitution. For years, we’ve watched politicians place politics ahead of the education and welfare of children. It’s time educational guidelines are enforced.
Speaking out in the Hasidic community is not well-tolerated. Anyone who does risks being ostracized or having their children expelled from school. But if enough Hasidic parents make their voices heard, perhaps politicians and school officials would take note. Then we’d be able to compel yeshivas to properly educate children.
Shlomo Noskow, who grew up Hasidic in Brooklyn, is an emergency medical physician in New York City.