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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The Professor Adina Schick Affidavit and Yeshiva Education – Misleading Interpretation – Part I


Misleading and Uninformed – Further Keeping Children Hostage – The Affidavit of Professor Adina Schick and What it Fails to Understand

We are posting the following letter and the Professor Adina Schick affidavit. Professor Shick is worthy or praise in her own right for the work she has done and all that she has accomplished. This is not intended to be a personal attack and should not be viewed as such. We have not researched Professor Schick’s upbringing, her background or anything else about her to see if she was a Yeshiva student, or if she is affiliated with an ultra-Orthodox community. 

As a general matter, her affidavit raises Common Core standards which in our view is problematic to begin with because there are few public schools in the State of New York that are keen on continuing the Common Core standards. Common Core was a faulty premise to begin with and a number of states have already done away with them. 

Her affidavit appears to disregard the fact that if students are given public funding for education they should be required to meet public requirements. It was clearly not an affidavit intended for that purpose. It was intended to ask a limited question: “Can children taught in Yeshiva be meeting the same standards as public school children?” Her response, in our view, is wholly misleading. 

Professor Schick fails to mention that the Talmud is written in Aramaic. Much of the studying in Yiddish (not English) may be a linguistic accomplishment for the children learning to understand these two languages but does nothing for children who need to function in country where English is the language of daily living. The children are not taught to understand science, mathematics, physics or anything about their physical realm except through the Aramaic words in the Talmud and while one might be able to extend some sort of imaginary parallel between the two, the focus within the Yeshiva context does not draw that parallel. 

We receive the following from a concerned reader and thought we should post: 

Dear Lost Messiah:

“This affidavit is extremely problematic and misleading. The fact remains, the Talmud is written in Aramaic. The language of instruction in the 39 chasidic yeshivas affected by the new guidelines is in yiddish. There is simply no way the Next Generation English Language Standards can be met through the study of Talmud in yiddish.”


Page 6:

14. In the middle school years, for example, Next Generation English Language Standards such as Literacy and Informational Text Reading Standards (e.g., Key Ideas and Details; Craft and Structure; Integration of Knowledge and Ideas); Speaking and Listening Standards (e.g., Comprehension and Collaboration; Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas); Language Standards (e.g., Vocabulary Acquisition and Use), as well as Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies and Reading Standards for Literacy in Science and Technical Subjects can be met. 


Yeshiva vs. State – New York State and Substantially Similar Education


“Further, the PEARLS Petitioners failed to submit evidence that they have suffered concrete constitutional harm from the issuance of the Updated Guidance. The record contains no evidence that the Updated Guidance’s interpretation and recommendations regarding substantial equivalence conflicts irreconcilably with Yeshiva curriculum; no evidence of what secular message the Yeshivas believe they are being forced to deliver in conflict with their beliefs; no evidence of what part or parts of the Yeshivas’ curricula they would be forced to alter; no evidence of what type of efforts, if any, Yeshivas may have to make to attain substantial equivalency; no evidence of how compliance with the substantial equivalence standard will impair their ability to practice their religion or impede their way of life; and no evidence of any current or impending impact on the operation of their schools. Accordingly, this matter may not be determined as a purely legal question.”

Murphy’s Law in New Jersey – Lakewood Getting Unexplained $15M While 200 Other Districts Get Funding Slashed…

N.J. wants to send extra $15M to Lakewood for private schoolers. Why didn’t it tell anyone?

When Gov. Phil Murphy proposed his 2020 budget last week it revealed Lakewood School District would get a massive 63 percent hike in state funding, by far the largest of any district in the state.

But what state officials didn’t make clear is that the additional $14.9 million proposed for Lakewood is special treatment for the controversial district that isn’t called for in the state’s school funding formula.

An NJ Advance Media analysis of state data found Murphy’s administration wants to give Lakewood more money than the district technically qualifies for, while slashing funding to nearly 200 other districts. The state pumped extra money into Lakewood’s preliminary funding for special education and transportation without increasing that aid for most other districts. And it proposed giving millions in new taxpayer money to a district long criticized for enormous public costs tied to private school students, primarily in Jewish yeshivas.

As much as the extra money might be necessary in cash-starved Lakewood, which has relied on state loans to buoy its local school budget, the way Murphy’s administration quietly added it to the state’s budget raised concerns.

“The (state) really needs to explain publicly what’s going on here,” said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, a nonprofit that closely monitors school funding. “I would hope that the Legislature examines this in detail and gets answers.”

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