Yeshivas and No Secular Studies, the Tragedy for Jews and Democracy

The Forward - News that Matters to American Jews

Originally published in The Forward.

Susan Lerner and Esther Fuchs

May 29, 2019

Yeshivas Aren’t Teaching Secular Studies. It’s A Shonda For The Jews And Democracy.

Over generations, no matter their religious practice, Jews have shared a commitment to educating their children. In New York, the government has set the standards for that education and taken the legal responsibility to ensure that every child in every school, whether public, private or religious, receives an education that meets those standards. And yet, we find ourselves in an extraordinary situation, where rabbis in some of our most vulnerable communities have chosen to deny children the secular education they are entitled to and relegate them to a life of poverty and dependency. It is even more disheartening that our elected officials have chosen to be complicit in this disgrace.

For decades, yeshivas have received millions — if not hundreds of millions — of tax dollars from New York State lawmakers for transportation, security, lunch, textbooks, and even academic intervention services. Some yeshivas cover as much as two-thirds of their budget with public funds

Yet, we have little to no accountability for that money, even as certain Ultra-Orthodox leaders openly flout state law which requires all nonpublic schools to provide an education that is “at least substantially equivalent” to public schools. That’s because lawmakers have historically prioritized politically powerful voting blocks ahead of student wellbeing, and they’re doing it on our dime.

The fact is we have no idea if these schools are even in compliance with state educational requirements to teach secular studies, but we have reason to suspect that they’re not. According to a report commissioned by Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED) in 2017, Hasidic boys receive only 90 minute or less of secular instruction a day in elementary school, and none in high school. This leaves them unable to read and write in English, perform basic math, or understand the science behind vaccines.

It’s an ongoing crisis, but despite recent efforts by the New York State Education Department (NYSED) to implement very basic oversight, these Ultra-Orthodox leaders are fighting to keep our children in the dark ages. Pilpul and gematria are simply not a substitute for writing a clear English sentence and understanding basic math concepts.

 

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4 thoughts on “Yeshivas and No Secular Studies, the Tragedy for Jews and Democracy

  1. “Some yeshivas cover as much as two-thirds of their budget with public funds
    Yet, we have little to no accountability for that money, even as certain Ultra-Orthodox leaders openly flout state law which requires all nonpublic schools to provide an education that is “at least substantially equivalent” to public schools. ”
    This is a real scandal for those Yeshivas ‘pupils and for tax payers.In Europe Yeshivas (and Catholic or Muslim Schools) cannot receive 1 cent of Public money if they don’t provide evidence of the pupils’academic basic knowledge and if they don’t follow a National Curriculum.
    European yeshivas(in France for instance) which don’t comply are 100% private institutions which receive no public money and can be shut down anytime by Ministiries of Education if some parents or teachers complain about the teaching quality or the values taught to pupils.

  2. Mike Pence and the alt right trying to create a US theocracy and Betsy Devos undercutting public education isn’t helping.

  3. These children are living in a vacuum They won’t know what our country stands for. They will know nothing’
    They will have no way of life. How to make a living. How to live etc.
    These Ultra Orthodox are depriving the children of there lives.
    The big question is are they willing to show how they spent the millions of dollars or exactly
    where is the money.
    It seems they have put the money above the children’s right to live a normal life.

    • As you can see from the guy who keeps defending the Belz fundraiser and in keeping with appropriate transparency, we will likely never know where the money comes from or where it goes. There is no accountability. Unless we start electing officials who care about being accountable, children will remain unable to function within the confines of our society and our tax money will continue to pay for it.

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