An Orthodox Jewish Nobel Laureate Advocates for Yeshiva Accountability in a Dual Education for Children.

Professor Yisrael Aumann is a Nobel Prize-winning Israeli mathematician. He is a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has held visiting positions at Princeton, Yale, Berkeley, Louvain, Stanford, Stony Brook, and NYU.

We Must Work Together So That All Yeshiva Students Get a Dual Education

In last week’s Torah reading, Moshe Rabbeinu commands us to choose life — “Uvacharta Bachaim.” From this, the Talmud Yerushalmi in Kiddushin derives that a father must teach his son a trade and thus provide him with a livelihood. In this Talmudic passage, Rabbi Yehuda puts it bluntly: “If a father doesn’t teach his son a trade, it’s as if he taught him highway robbery.”

So it should come as no surprise that, as a frum Jew, I believe that our yeshivas should provide robust secular studies alongside an uncompromised Torah education.

hen my family fled from Germany to the United States in 1938, they enrolled me in a religious elementary school in Boro Park. When it was time to choose a high school, I decided on the Rabbi Jacob Joseph Yeshiva (RJJ) on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

After finishing university in the 1950s, I made aliyah to Jerusalem, and since then have pursued an academic career; but I’ll always remember my yeshiva experience as an exceptionally positive one that had a lasting impact on my life. For that reason, when the lawyers of Agudath Israel asked me for an affidavit describing my experience in yeshiva to urge the New York State Education Department not to intervene in the dual education provided by yeshivas like RJJ, I was glad to provide it.

As I wrote in my affidavit, “The immersive, time-consuming experience of deep Talmud study in an educational setting such as RJJ is absolutely necessary for the continuity of Orthodox Jewish life and practice. We were taught not merely a religion, but a way of life. And in that way of life, we were taught — and to this day I repeat daily — ‘Talmud Torah Kenneged Kulam’: the study of Torah is as important as all other religious observance put together.”

Shortly after news of the affidavit was reported in the Yeshiva World News website under the headline “INCREDIBLE: Nobel Prize Winner & Yeshiva Graduate To NYS Education Dept: ‘Talmud Torah Knegged Kulam!’” I got an email from a Chasidic yeshiva graduate that I found deeply upsetting. He informed me that he himself had received no secular instruction at all; and that most Chasidic yeshivas teach only a few hours a week of sub-par secular studies in elementary school and none at all in high school.

The picture that was painted for me — and later confirmed by other Chasidic graduates and parents of current students — is of young men who often graduate without even the basic skills to operate professionally. In many cases, this leads to poverty, and also to a sense of insuperable handicap.

Having left New York well over 60 years ago, all this was a revelation to me. Despite the distance, I find it impossible to ignore the genuine distress of the young men with whom I corresponded and the grave wrong being perpetrated on generations of children.

I stand behind every word in the affidavit; but knowing what I know now, I ask the public to read it with an emphasis that is perhaps a little different. Namely, that “I had wonderful experiences with BOTH secular and Jewish studies at RJJ. … The credit for my academic success belongs to Mr. Joey Gansler and to the mathematics he taught at RJJ. … If I were asked today to advise Jewish teens who have been admitted to both Stuyvesant and a yeshiva high school about which to attend, I would absolutely recommend that they attend a DUAL-curriculum yeshiva such as RJJ.”

We must continue vehemently to oppose government oversight and intrusion in yeshivas. The government has no right to dictate how we run our schools. But as my affidavit indicates, it does have a right to see to it that all children get a basic secular education that will enable them to be productive members of society. And that is also the Halacha.

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One thought on “An Orthodox Jewish Nobel Laureate Advocates for Yeshiva Accountability in a Dual Education for Children.

  1. Prof. Aumann needs to remove his rose-colored glasses. Testing will show the deficient learning of secular material – then what? Slap on the wrist? Vigorous enforcement? Nothing at all – as now? The government will need to intervene or the process will accomplish nothing.

    Current practice in much of the black-hat educational community is to actively resist the teaching of secular subjects – period. Tax money is used to send Jewish students to yeshivot in places like East Ramapo, where they’re kept ignorant about the modern world in general and about the very state and country in which they live and where productive members of society and corporations pay those taxes which are used to support the education-resisting yeshivot they attend. Strict standards need to be set for both publicly-funded and self-paying students at all independent schools, religious and otherwise. Math, science, English, geography, secular history all need to be taught to the same standard as in good secular schools. Why should a young person, born in New York State during this century, speak English non-fluently and with a heavy Yiddish accent, like a WWII refugee? What’s the excuse for that?

    As for yeshiva-vs-Stuyvesant (I’m an alum) – no contest. It’d be a highly exceptional yeshiva that would teach secular subjects at the level at which they’re taught at Stuyvesant.

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