Holding Yeshivas Accountable to Educating Children, Maimonides, Israel and the US

yeshiva students  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

Dear Readers:

While this post is largely the same as the article (and additional reading) posted yesterday, it cannot be understated that educational neglect in Yeshivas is a far-reaching problem. While Jews can boast a long list of Nobel Laureates, none came from a Hasidic and educationally deprived background where the children are not taught the simplest of lessons. Not all Yeshivas ascribe to system of teaching. The ones that do must be legislated out of that freedom. Children within those yeshivas don’t learn the basics and certainly do not learn advanced sciences, mathematics or civics and in the US, they cannot speak English – the language of the country. In Israel, at the very least the leg up on Hebrew comes from the religious texts. But that does not open the jail cell of illiteracy when it comes to English, Arabic and other languages taught in Israel.

In the US, the State of New York in particular, if a parent home-schools a child for whatever the parent’s reasons, and that child does not meet basic academic standards, the family can be (and IS) held to account for neglecting his or her children. Parents are charged criminally. These cases are rampant in the Courts in Rockland County and elsewhere.

New York is rife with lists of parents who have been successfully brought up on charges by school districts for improperly (or simply not) educating their children. And yet, Yeshiva children in the same or similar circumstances as that family of home-schooled children, are somehow NOT held to account for the lack of some of the most fundamental basic knowledge. Many of  these children are grossly under-prepared for living in the world with others, and while that may be by design, it is most certainly unacceptable. To state that they survive “on the goodwill of others” is technically compelling a child to a parasitic lifestyle [for lack of a more accurate description], an unfair fate.

There will come a time when New York, now on its way to an ultra-Orthodox majority (anticipated to take about 20-25 years) when famed hospitals will not have enough doctors to staff them because so much of the population will be functionally illiterate. To the Israeli narrative, there will come a time when Israel will be simply unable to defend its borders. Despite significant growth in children born to the ultra-Orthodox community, there is a dramatic decline in the numbers of children enlisting in the army service, mandatory preparation to protect the Israel’s borders. The numbers indicate a disproportionate section of Israeli conscription age children who are not enlisting; and Israel has not (for political reasons) compelled its ultra-Orthodox to an equal treatment IDF obligation to the detriment of every secular child living in that country.

The US is founded upon a strict separation of Church and State. It was architected as an escape of religious tyranny. Somehow we are slowly finding our way back to religious rule. It is just a tyranny of a different kind.

Israel was founded upon the principles of a Democratic and yet theologically oriented state. It is little by little finding its way to becoming little more than the Jewish version of some of the most fundamentalist of Arab states. The big difference is that while the Koran is taught in fundamentalist Islamic states surrounding Israel, so too, is military training. Eventually Israel will be out-gunned, out-maneuvered, and quite honestly out-educated. It is a matter of time. Population growth statistics and a lack of government oversight will eventually doom Israel to the very thing it was created to prevent and those ultra-Orthodox anti-education, anti-Zionists will have themselves to blame.

To those within Israel reading this, you must exercise your right to vote or others will be voting for you. 

The key to changing the tide lies in education. Jewish scripture and its interpretation speaks of education and self-sufficiency, almost demands it. Maimonides: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”  Maimonides in The Guide for the Perplexed wrote: “The person who wishes to attain human perfection should study logic first, next mathematics, then physics, and, lastly, metaphysics.”

The great scholars did not write treatises on educational neglect and welfare. That should not be the messages Yeshivas in the US, Israel or anywhere else in the world should be teaching either.

New York to reform yeshiva system, grads can barely speak English

According to Zwiebel, there are some 160,000 students studying at about 450 yeshiva schools in the state, and most of those schools would need to significantly alter their curriculum under the proposed regulations. A better approach, he says, is to work with struggling schools individually to improve secular education.
“We have to work on those things and get them straight and do it on individual school-by-school basis rather than creating a new aggressive oversight structure that goes, as far as I’m aware, beyond that which exists in any other of the 50 states,” he said.
A similar fight has been playing out in Israel, where attempts by the government to enforce general education standards on publicly-funded ultra-Orthodox schools were met with fierce pushback from community leaders and their political representatives. Some ultra-Orthodox schools in Israel receive exemptions that free them from having to provide core classes in math, science, English and other subjects. Only 12 percent of ultra-Orthodox students received matriculation certificates in the 2015-16 school year, far lower than the 77 percent of students who did so in secular and modern Orthodox schools, according to a 2018 report by the Israel Democracy Institute.
As in Israel, some members of the ultra-Orthodox community in New York worry that the proposed regulations are part of a larger effort to change their way of life.
“The danger is that if you try to change one thing, it will not stop there. Tomorrow you will say that we need to change our dress code, the way of our beliefs, and so on,” said Volvi Einhorn, 28, a yeshiva graduate who now works at a design firm in Brooklyn.
Einhorn said that ultra-Orthodox Jews can do well professionally thanks to the support they receive from others in the community. But Steinberg says that still leaves many people working at jobs far below their potential and does nothing to help people who decide they don’t want to live an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle.
“What if I happen to not want to be part of the community anymore?” Steinberg said.
Under the proposed rules, private schools that don’t comply with the regulations would lose funding for textbooks, transportation and other state services. If schools don’t comply and parents continue to send their kids there, the parents could potentially face jail time. The Education Department held a public commenting period that ended in September and is currently considering whether to enact the proposal.
The proposed regulations stem from a 2015 complaint to New York City’s Education Department by former students of 39 Orthodox schools who alleged that they had not received sufficient instruction in secular studies, particularly English.
The letter was organized by Young Advocates for Fair Education, or Yaffed, which advocates for improved education in Orthodox schools. Its founder, Naftuli Moster, grew up attending Hasidic yeshivas in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park and says he graduated barely being able to speak English.
“[The yeshivas] want to continue doing what they’ve been doing, which in our view is mass educational neglect and depriving kids of an education, subjecting them to lives of poverty and dependence on government assistance,” Moster told JTA.
To read the article in its entirety, click here. 

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