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. 

Anti-Zionism Has a Death Toll… What the Writer Missed

Image result for jews burning flags in israel

A Commentary about the Inextricable Link between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, a Follow Up to Tuesday’s Opinion Piece and the Opinion of Hen Mazzig

[Opinion 1.9.20]

We are republishing an article that was posted yesterday, without the permission of the author. We will take it down if asked, or cut back what we have posted. We direct you to watch the video by clicking the below link and also to view Hen Mazzig’s article in its original iteration by clicking here. 

We wholeheartedly agree that anti-Zionism has a death toll; but think that Mr. Mazzig’s point is an over-simplification of a larger problem: that anti-Semitism is inherently anti-Zionism but the reverse is not always the case, though the two are often confused.  Anti-Zionism is dangerous insofar as it does not distinguish between the State of Israel and the Jewish people, nor does it give credence to people who are genuinely critical of the State, not as anti-Zionists; but as non-supporters. Nor does it clearly illustrate that the positions taken by major organizations like the ADL need to be addressed by clear minds to avoid a misunderstood narrative. There is a distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. In addition, Mr. Mazzig’s article does not take into consideration the highly confusing message that anti-Zionist Jews who arguably are not anti-Semitic sent out. Within their anti-Zionist framework they have invariably created a justification by non-Jews to be both anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic and, as a consequence, very dangerous to Jewish identity, both religious and otherwise.

There are Jews and non-Jews who do not support the State of Israel for one reason or another; but do not deem themselves to be anti-Zionists. That term connotes a somewhat active position on the subject. Rather, they disagree with the politics, or disagree with the philosophy or some other aspect of the State of Israel rubs them the wrong way so they simply ignore the entire issue or speak in their academic and political circles about their views. We have heard arguments on both sides and there are valid critiques to be had about the State of Israel.

There are then Jews, as listed in Tuesday’s LM article entitled:

Religious Jews Commiserating with Iran for the Destruction of Israel and Divisive Organizations – The Optics

who are outrightly anti-Zionist, even going as far as praying for Israel’s destruction. They believe that the razing of the State of Israel is a prelude to the coming  of the Moshiach (Messiah) and they cannot grasp how corrosive their views are for all Jews. They are the flag-bearers of anti-Semitism, whether they understand that premise or not. It cannot be understated that these fervently religious anti-Zionists are not small in number, are well-funded and are continuously growing.

As discussed in Tuesday’s commentary a large and visible contingent  traveled to wide press coverage and extensive, if not somewhat over-the-top, pomp and circumstance to give money to their fellow anti-Israel compatriots living within the State of Israel. They were greeted with a parade and rally upon arrival in Israel. Yet, they espouse the virtues of religious Jews inhabiting the Jewish State allegedly without accepting Israeli state funding or contributing any real benefit in return. They tow the anti-conscription line and the anti-Secular education narrative, both of which will ultimately be the downfall of the State of Israel. And they think not what they can do for their country, only what their country can do for them. Many are dual citizens of Israel and countries throughout the world and at least some collect services from both countries, all the while viewing religious principles first, country a far off second.

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Lack of Basic Education A Threat to Society, Israel’s Existential Threat

MK Moshe Gafni speaks in an ultra-Orthodox rally (photo credit: Courtesy)
MK Moshe Gafni speaks in an ultra-Orthodox rally
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Israel ‘under threat’ by lack of basic education for ultra-Orthodox children

Prof. Dan Ben David predicts that by 2065, some 35% of Israel’s population will be ultra-Orthodox, compared to its current level of 9% of the population.

Israel is headed for an existential crisis due to the ultra-Orthodox community’s high birthrate, its ability to retain the members of its sector within the ultra-Orthodox fold, and the failure of schools in the sector to provide their pupils with a basic education, a think-tank has argued in a new policy brief.

The brief, authored by Prof. Dan Ben-David of the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research, contends that Israel needs to forget its earlier demographic concern about maintaining a Jewish majority, and instead focus on the severe challenges that it will face over the next half a century, during which time the ultra-Orthodox share of the population will more than triple.

That only a tiny percentage of male ultra-Orthodox high school pupils study the core curriculum subjects such as math, English and science means that Israel’s economy in the future will be unable to sustain its needs for a modern, effective army, Ben-David argues.

According to his findings, some 94% of those who grow up in the ultra-Orthodox community remain ultra-Orthodox as adults.
Of the remainder, 3% become religious-Zionists, 2% become religiously traditional and 1% become secular.

At the other end of the spectrum, secular Israelis also have a high rate of retention of their community, with only 10% of those born secular joining another sector of the population as adults.

According to Ben-David’s study – which uses statistical data from the Central Bureau of Statistics – ultra-Orthodox women have an average birthrate of 7.1 children, compared with just 2.2 for secular Jews, 2.7 for religiously traditional Jews and 4.0 for religious-Zionist Jews. The average birthrate for Muslim women is 3.4 children.

Although the religious-Zionist sector also has a high birthrate, it has low rate of retention of its members, with 45% of its community dropping out of the sector, most of whom become religiously traditional.

According to these figures, Ben-David predicts that by 2065, some 49% of all children in Israel aged 0 to 14 will be ultra-Orthodox, compared with their current level of 19%.

The policy brief notes that the overwhelming majority of male ultra-Orthodox high school aged pupils do not study any core curriculum subjects such as math, English and the sciences.

These pupils, both Ashkenazi and Sephardi, mainly attend what are called yeshivot ketanot and yeshivot gedolot, the equivalent of middle and high school, where only religious studies are taught.

It is estimated that some 80% of male Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox elementary-age pupils attend schools where a minimal core curriculum is taught, although even then it is believed that the requisite hours are not fully taught, and when they are it is to a poor standard.

The Shas-run school network Maayan Hinuch Torani does teach core-curriculum studies, with some 80% of male Sephardi ultra-Orthodox pupils studying in such schools. But the level of these studies is also not thought to be of a high standard.

Efforts to reform primary education in the ultra-Orthodox sector and ensure that schools teach core curriculum subjects were taken by former education minister Shai Piron of Yesh Atid, but various problems, including strong opposition by the ultra-Orthodox parties, meant that most of the reforms were either not implemented or subsequently reversed.

The notion of enforcing the teaching of core curriculum subjects in the yeshivot ketanot and gedolot that ultra-Orthodox boys attend in lieu of high school was not even broached, since the reaction by the ultra-Orthodox leadership and the general population would be so severe.

Ultra-Orthodox girls generally do study the core curriculum since many are expected to support their future husbands economically while they study full-time in yeshiva.

As such, ultra-Orthodox women have a far higher rate of obtainment of higher education qualifications than men, and also have a far higher rate of employment than ultra-Orthodox men.

BEN-DAVID POINTS out that despite recent increases in the number of ultra-Orthodox men and women studying for academic degrees in colleges and universities, the share of working age ultra-Orthodox men with such qualifications has remained the same over the last 15 years, at around 15%, and even declined slightly over the last four years.

Since it is ultra-Orthodox men who have extremely low rates of workforce participation, with just 51% in employment, the figures regarding the failure to increase the share of ultra-Orthodox men with higher education qualifications is of particular concern.

To continue reading click here.

Land Use and Shuls Hot Topics to Focus on For Upcoming Elections – Toms River, NJ

Land Use and Shuls Front and Center in Toms River Election

A recent Asbury Park Press article highlighted the prominent place that issues surrounding Toms River’s Orthodox population have taken in its local elections set to be held this November.

Most prominent is a proposed zoning change that would significantly reduce the amount of acreage needed to build a house of worship. The 10 acre requirement, has stymied the development of shuls in the North Dover area which is home to several hundred Orthodox families.

The proposal was released last month, but was quickly pulled from the agenda by retiring Town Council President, George Wittman Jr. He and Council Vice President Maurice “Mo” Hill said they would not support the change. Yet, later, Mr. Hill, a Republican, said that he would approve it if it would satisfy federal authorities who are presently investigating the town’s land use laws amid accusations of bias.

Mr. Hill’s Democratic rival, Jonathan Petro, has increasingly seized on the issue, in attempt to paint his opponent as sympathetic to the needs of the Orthodox community. Mr. Hill has vehemently denied that he has been influenced by any special interests.

Toms River is one of the state’s largest Republican strongholds, but in 2017 elections three Democrats won seats on its council largely with rhetoric criticizing what they portrayed as the council’s accommodation of the Orthodox community’s growth. Some of their campaign literature was criticized as anti-Semitic. One of the group’s most outspoken members, Daniel Roderick, who was recently censured by his fellow council members, re-registered as a Republican shortly after the election.

 

ADDITIONAL READING:

https://www.app.c

Asbury Park Press
Toms River election: Growing Orthodox Jewish population is campaign issue again
Toms River election: Growing Orthodox Jewish population is campaign issue again ….. TOMS RIVER – A simmering dispute over zoning for houses of …. in the 2017 campaign that used “Lakewood” and “Lakewood-style …
1 day ago

 

Controversy Over Proposed Zoning Changes For Houses of Worship in Toms River

LAKEWOOD –

A last-minute move to pull a zoning change that would have eased stiff restrictions on building houses of worship in Toms River boiled over into a public squabble among the township’s Council members.

Township documents reveal that under pressure from the federal Department of Justice (DOJ), the Council had acquiesced to amend an ordinance that required a 10-acre lot in order to build a house of worship, along with a set of related bylaws that have stood in the way of applications from both shuls and mosques in the past.

Yet, last week, when changes appeared on the agenda of a Land Use Committee hearing, they were suddenly pulled. Council President George Wittmann and Council Vice President Maurice “Mo” Hill both questioned how the amendments had found their way to meeting and stated that they would oppose such moves.

Shortly after the Council leaders’ statements appeared in the Asbury Park Press, Councilwoman Laurie Huryk called them out in a press release.

“Council President Wittmann knows exactly how the zoning changes ended up on the Land Use Committee agenda; the Township had committed to the Department of Justice that Toms River would be brought into compliance with Federal Law this year,” she said. “These corrective actions had been discussed many times, and needed to be enacted in a timely manner in order to save the taxpayers of Toms River untoward fines and penalties resulting from the current Federal Investigation.”

Neither Council President Wittmann nor Vice President Hill returned requests for comment from Hamodia.

The DOJ initially opened an investigation of Tom River’s land use regulations vis-à-vis religious organizations in 2016. At the time, a lawsuit was before the courts from the town’s Chabad house, which claimed restrictions on its operation were motivated by a spillover of efforts to block an influx of Orthodox Jews to the town’s North Dover section, which borders Lakewood.

Chabad won the suit and the investigation was closed in April 2018. However, according to a township report on land use rules affecting houses of worship, in December of that year the DOJ announced it was reopening investigations.

Months earlier, the township hired Marci Hamilton, a legal expert specializing in religious land use and a well-known advocate against the expansion of rights for faith groups to advise the Council.

Over the past four years, Mrs. Hamilton’s clients have suffered a string of losses in clashes with Orthodox groups, including attempts to stymie construction of a new Chabad center in Boca Raton, an eruv in Westhampton Beach, Long Island, and a kollel and affiliated housing in Pomona, New York.

The Council, Mrs. Hamilton, and other township officials met with both the DOJ and on at least one occasion with representatives of Toms River’s Orthodox community to appraise the legal viability of its ordinances. The result was an agreement to several changes, most notably a reduction from 10 to seven acres in order to build a house of worship. According to media reports, a clause was also accepted that would lower that to two acres in North Dover, but this is absent from the released documents.

To continue reading click here.

Bloggers, MeToo, the CVA and the Ultra-Orthodox Community’s Sex Abuse Crisis that is too Widespread to Ignore

The Ultra-Orthodox Community’s Sex Abuse Crisis Has Finally Reached a Tipping Point

By Hella Winston; illustrated by Hunter French

Thanks to a new law, one of the most secretive and isolated subcultures in the United States is facing possible exposure.

Fourteen years ago, an anonymous blogger calling himself Un-Orthodox Jew (UOJ) lit a fuse in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish world when he began posting sexual abuse allegations concerning a Brooklyn yeshiva teacher named Yehuda Kolko. As the blog’s hit counter climbed into the hundreds of thousands and the comments piled up, it became clear to anyone reading that Kolko’s alleged behavior spanned several decades and was not exactly a secret in his community. It had even been the subject of an inquiry by a religious court in the 1980s, a proceeding that reportedly was derailed by threats made by the head of the yeshiva where Kolko taught to the dozen or so people who had come forward to give testimony. (Among ultra-orthodox Jews, going to the police to “inform” (mesira) on another Jew was and largely remains taboo and can result in ostracization or worse.)

But until that day in 2005, nobody had ever discussed the details of the saga in a public forum.

One of the early comments on the blog came from a reader named David, who wrote, “I too was molested by Rabbi Yidi Kolko, both while a student in 7th and 8th grades… and during those same summers whilst a camper in Camp Agudah.” His full name, he would later reveal, was David Framowitz, and for some time he had been obsessively searching the internet for any mention of Kolko. Before closing his initial comment, he wrote, “It is about time that the wall of silence be torn down.”

Thanks to a law that took effect last month, Framowitz’s hope may finally be realized.

Early this year, in the wake of the explosion of the MeToo movement and a cascade of abuse allegations leveled against institutions from Hollywood to the Catholic Church, New York passed the Child Victims Act (CVA). In addition to extending the statute of limitations for civil suits and criminal charges, the law allows a survivor of child sex abuse to file a lawsuit within a one-year period that began on August 14, no matter their current age. The so-called “look-back window” is key when it comes to cases involving the ultra-Orthodox world because those most likely to sue are people who are no longer in the community and subject to pressure or intimidation by its members, which often means they are much older than the prior limit on child sex abuse cases: between the ages of 21 and 23.

According to Frum Follies blogger Yerachmiel Lopin, who writes about sex abuse in the Orthodox Jewish world and says he has been in contact with more than 100 abuse survivors over the past 10 years, fear of retaliation and becoming a social pariah deters many “inside the [Ultra-Orthodox] community who want to publicly expose abusers and have them face legal consequences.”

“An Orthodox Jew needs to live within walking distance of a synagogue,” he said. “There is no getting away from the ties, and the risks of having their children expelled from schools, losing their jobs, and being shunned by their neighbors and relatives. Even moving to another country doesn’t get you away, because the networks are international.”

Legal obstacles proved insurmountable during the initial push to expose Kolko. None of the victims appeared to be within New York’s statute of limitations to press criminal charges (before the victim’s 23rd birthday) or file civil suits (before 21 to sue an institution and before age 23 to sue a perpetrator). The activists did recruit a lawyer willing to take a gamble on a legal theory arguing that a climate rife with “concealment, intimidation, and misrepresentations” had prevented the victims from filing timely lawsuits. The attorney initially filed a lawsuit on behalf of two victims against Kolko and the yeshiva where he had taught for more than 30 years (other suits were subsequently filed).

 

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