Yeshivas and Secular Education -Preventing an Economic Divide that’s Ever Growing

Note: We have reposted this without the permission of the author, Emily Newman. Should she ask that we remove it, we will do so. The link to the original article is here:

Yes, Yeshivas Must Include Secular Education

I’ve spoken often about a Tale of Two Cities [sic]. That inequality—that feeling of a few doing very well, while so many slip further behind—that is the defining challenge of our time. Because inequality in New York is not something that only threatens those who are struggling. The stakes are so high for every New Yorker. And making sure no son or daughter of New York falls behind defines the very promise of our city.

This excerpt from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s victory speech on November 6, 2013, describes the city’s economic divide but could easily apply to its educational divide. While New York City boasts some of the best public schools in the nation, it also contains some of the worst schools. More specifically, the city must take responsibility for failing to acknowledge how poorly its yeshivas have been educating students for decades.

Yeshivas are Orthodox Jewish schools ranging from elementary to college that separate classes by gender and teach several subjects in Hebrew. They primarily focus on the study of traditional religious texts—such as the Talmud and the Torah—but this religious focus doesn’t mean they’re allowed to skip secular education, especially given that these educational institutions are heavily funded by the government. The New York State Department of Education requires the instruction provided at nonpublic schools to be substantially equivalent to that of the local public school. This includes classes in “arithmetic, reading, spelling, writing, the English language, geography, United States history, civics, hygiene, physical training, the history of New York state, and science.”

Upon realizing the gaps in his and his peer’s yeshiva education, a former student named Naftuli Moster founded Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED) in 2012. Since then, YAFFED has collected stories from other former students, teachers, and parents describing the quality and content of the education. In an interview with me in August 2018, Moster explained that initial attempts to inform city officials of the issue in 2013 and 2014 were ignored because they were too general and didn’t name institutions. In a July 2015 letter to the chancellor of the New York City Department of Education YAFFED identified thirty-nine schools with poor records. After reviewing the letter, the chancellor notified the New York State commissioner of education that at these yeshivas:

English and mathematics are taught from around age seven to age thirteen, for an average combined time of only ninety minutes and on only four days a week. Other secular subjects are not taught at all, let alone in English. At these yeshivas, English instruction for boys stops at age thirteen. Girls generally receive a better secular education than boys but, we are still concerned that it is not sufficient to prepare them for their futures.

From 2015-2017 the New York City DOE met with superintendents of the listed schools, interviewed the complainants, and interviewed yeshiva leaders. The department consistently missed self-imposed deadlines to release reports on the investigations. YAFFED gathered testimonials and released its own report in 2017. The report found that the average yeshiva graduate

speaks little or no English, has few or no marketable skills, earns a household income well below the average Brooklynite’s, marries young and has many children, and is forced to rely upon public assistance to support his large family.

The two main reasons yeshivas receive millions of dollars in government funding is to address household poverty levels and low class performance, creating a dangerous cycle for Hasidic Jewish families.

The yeshiva issue grew to a statewide concern on April 12, 2018, when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo accepted a budget that included a last-minute amendment to the nonpublic school curriculum law. The Felder Amendment—proposed by New York State Senator Simcha Felder and ultra-Orthodox Jewish community leaders—provides special treatment to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas and cuts down on instructional requirements. This violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution by allowing government to favor one religion over another. YAFFED filed a lawsuit in July 2018 against state officials alleging a lack of oversight of yeshivas and arguing the amendment needs to be removed from law.

In an August 2018 letter, New York City Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza informed New York State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia that all of the interviewed complainants reported that English was delayed until first grade (sometimes even later), that there was no instruction through a science curriculum (only a few experiments at some schools), that math was restricted to basic arithmetic (sometimes fractions), and that little to no history was taught. Of the thirty-nine listed schools in YAFFED’s letter, nine were removed from the investigation because they weren’t in the NYC DOE jurisdiction—outside of the city or not K-12—or supposedly no longer existed. Carranza has reported optimistically on the fifteen yeshivas that let officials in and agreed to improve, but he admits that it’s too early to tell if the changes are significant enough as the school has only provided outlines and samples of secular curriculum. He has asked for guidance on how to handle the remaining fifteen schools that haven’t allowed DOE officials inside.

One school removed from the list was United Talmudical Academy, which is located on a top floor of a building with a butcher shop on its ground level. City investigators must not have noticed the school’s mailbox or asked around to determine if classes are in fact held at the address associated with the school. Moster noted in our interview that the DOE didn’t consult with YAFFED before deciding to remove schools from the investigation list. Nor have investigators followed up on vetting how United Talmudical Academy received nearly $10 million in federal funding if it doesn’t exist.

“The idea that they will conduct one [scheduled] visit and somehow glean a lot from that is somewhat laughable,” said Moster, who is concerned the investigations have been more yeshiva-led than city-led. He noted that Carranza’s letter doesn’t include names of investigators, visiting officials, education experts, psychology professors, or anyone else in curriculum meetings. The report also doesn’t mention YAFFED as the organization that brought forward the complainants, it but does name Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools (PEARLS)—formed in 2016—as one organization working on new English and math curriculum for yeshivas that “align with the Common Core Learning Standards and use materials that are culturally sensitive to the values of the yeshivas.”

Tension has been rising in New York City as the New York Times published two opposing op-eds: one from its own editorial board blasting politicians for failing to challenge Orthodox leadership and one from PEARLS lawyer Avi Schick criticizing anyone who questions the yeshivas’ progress. Hopefully the curriculum developed by PEARLS will be substantially equivalent to that taught in well-performing public schools. Ideally, New York’s newfound awareness will ensure a fair education for yeshiva students.

Unlike most of the Establishment Clause issues the American Humanist Association takes on, this isn’t about keeping public schools religiously neutral. It’s about ensuring that all schools provide the essentials to help young people succeed in life. No matter where children live or what religion they follow, they deserve a well-rounded education. Make sure your legislators know that they’re responsible here, because an uneducated populace is everyone’s problem.




The Government Complicity in the Destruction of Education in NYS



From the Voice of YAFFED:

Naftuli Nick Moster For context, in order to get the New York State budget passed after Simcha Felder decided to hijack it unless he receives an exemption for Yeshivas to not have to meet state standards, Governor Cuomo arranged a phone call with the Satmar Rabbi of Kiryas Joel (the brother of this one). He needed a Yiddish translator because the Rebbe barely speaks English.

And that’s why we now have a special carve-out (of lower standards) for ultra-Orthodox schools.




New York: State Education Department Makes $12 Million Error, Overpaying Charter Schools — Diane Ravitch’s blog

New York made an accounting error that cost public schools $12 Million, while overpaying charter schools by that amount. “The $12 million misallocation is about 7.8 percent of the $153 million the state distributed to its Local Educational Agencies in 2017-18 for Title IIA, which supports professional development initiatives such as teacher training, recruitment and […]

via New York: State Education Department Makes $12 Million Error, Overpaying Charter Schools — Diane Ravitch’s blog


Note to our readers: We made the decision to share this blog because notably, at least two of the Charter Schools that were overpaid were schools for ultra-Orthodox students, while one of the underfunded schools was the East Ramapo Central School District, a system that has arguably been ravaged by the ultra-Orthodox community of Rockland County, New York.

LM: 8.9.18

Ramapo Nears Breaking Point: Special Report – The Journal News

Inside the East Ramapo Central School District Case:

Opinion | When a School Board Victimizes Kids – The New York Times…/when-a-school-board-victimizes-kids.html




Supporting Public Education for Yeshiva Children…



We are supporting the below petition and ask that you consider signing and showing your support…


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Help us reach 1,000 signatures by the end of the week!

In less than two months, tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic boys will be returning to their Yeshivas where they will continue to be denied a basic education in English, math, sciences, and social studies
the NYC and NYS Departments of Education act quickly and begin enforcing the laws already in place that require non-public schools to provide an education that is “substantially equivalent” to that of public schools.

Will you speak out on behalf of those helpless children — who are about to be harmed for life — and demand that the city and state take quick action?

You can help make a difference by signing this petition and it only takes two minutes!

We have already amassed over 200 signatures. With your help, let’s bring that number to 1,000 by the end of the week. There’s power in numbers and every voice counts, and best of all, it’ll only take a few minutes of your time.

Here are three quick things you can do:
1. Sign the petition (For the full text of the petition, click here.)
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3. Email your colleagues and urge them to sign as well

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What does a secular studies teacher from a Hasidic Yeshiva think about government enforcement of state standards?

Read it for yourself!

Coming up:
On July 27th (6pm), we will be attending a panel of NYC education policymakers and demand answers as to why it’s taking so slow to enforce education laws that have been in place since 1928.

If you would like to join, please contact us at

Please note, this month’s panel will be held in Long Island City, NY.

Check out these videos from previous panels:

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The Safety of Our Children – Donating Not Protecting?


Should not our religion be demanding that we protect our children from danger?

June 16, 2016

The following is a follow up to a story from two weeks ago regarding children who had been lost on a hike along the beautiful British coast after walking through 9 warning signs cautioning them of the perils of their travels.  Those children and their teachers required a major rescue effort in the wee hours of the night. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution which had co-coordinated their rescue were praised. The children lauded for their use of lights on their cellphones as honing beacons. The trip was described as something of an impromptu  get-together.

Few questioned whether the hikers were appropriately dressed for their journey. They were dressed in black pants and jackets, white shirts, tallit and shoes, not jeans and hiking boots. Few in the journalistic world demanded accountability for the adults who allowed them to walk through 9 signs each one obvious in its urgency regarding the dangers they could face. Little was publicized about how often this happens and why there are not appropriate risk assessments in place so that children’s lives are not at peril when they decide to go on outdoor adventures.

Our commenters both online and by gmail noted how many similar incidents have occurred. They admonished the public response and were critical of the lack of accountability by the Yeshiva in this instance and those in others. Our commenters were livid that the school was not charged the cost of the rescue, which must have been well into the thousands of British Pounds.

We are apparently not alone.


From the Jewish Chronicle Online:

Strict believers ‘beyond belief’

It sounded, at first, like a feel-good story.

Last week, 34 Strictly Orthodox teenagers from Stamford Hill, on a half-term trip to Kent, got lost on a hike along the coast. Trapped by a rising tide, they realised their lives were in danger and alerted the police. A team of 40 rescuers eventually brought them to safety, guided by the lights on the kids’ phones. In gratitude, the group donated £5,000 to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which co-ordinated their rescue.

A genuine mistake, from which everyone has learned? All’s well that ends well?

Not so fast. Unfortunately, this is only the latest of a long list of similar incidents. They reveal a serious underlying problem with the Charedi community’s attitude to the safety and welfare of their own children, and with the professional standards of some of their schools and youth organisations.

In this case, the Ahavat Yisrael Community Centre group was supervised by only two adults. They were dressed inappropriately for a hike, in long black coats, white shirts and ordinary footwear. One of the adults miraculously kept his black hat on throughout the lifeboat rescue. They set off without maps or equipment, and ignored no less than nine danger signs.

This would probably sound familiar to the Cockermouth and Wasdale mountain rescue team, which in 2009 called the police after rescuing a group of teenagers from Gateshead’s Talmudical College who were stranded on one of Cumbria’s most remote peaks – for the fourth time in five years!

“It is a miracle none of these students have ever been killed,” said team leader Julian Carradice, noting that the group was not equipped, not dressed correctly and badly supervised. “The way this group operates is beyond belief.”

It would sound familiar, too, to the rescuers of 39 girls and one teacher from the Beth Jacob Seminary for Girls who were stranded on a Scottish mountain with no map, and only black bin liners to protect themselves against the weather. They were “only a rain shower away from death”, according to the incredulous Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team.

Like the Ahavat Yisrael group, they shamelessly attempted to spin their way out of trouble, by sending their rescuers juvenile poems of thanks.

I won’t bother you with the details of Manchester’s Kesser Torah Boys’ School trip to Snowdonia, which resulted in a 12-year-old being airlifted to hospital, and the school being fined £3,500; or the rescue of 16 youngsters from the Pirchim Aguda community centre, in the Derbyshire Moors, after a five-hour search.

Suffice to say, there is a long pattern of negligence and a stunning failure to learn lessons. That these groups understand so little about how to approach nature safely and responsibly, betrays just how little secular, practical education they have. One wonders whether the latest group actually understood what a tide is, and whether any of them would be able to read a map or had even heard of a compass. Geography, presumably, was not on the curriculum.

None of the schools, yeshivas and community centres concerned seems to have in place any of the procedures that their mainstream equivalents consider basic when planning a school trip. Risk assessments, teacher-pupil ratios, qualified first-aiders, local guides, check-lists of necessary equipment? There’s no concept of good governance or staff accountability.

This is a symptom of a society which believes that secular rules do not apply to them; indeed, they are beneath them. If it’s not in the Torah, it’s a waste of time.

Over the past year, Ofsted and the Department of Education have cracked down on unregistered Strictly Orthodox schools, which deny their students basic literacy and maths skills, and are reportedly shoddily run. Ofsted has also deemed a number of legal Strictly Orthodox schools inadequate.

The Charedi community has consistently defined government inspection as outside interference and occasionally implied that the attention is malicious. They have argued that “their way” may be different, but it is valid.

But these “nature incidents” show exactly why their argument is unacceptable. The failure to observe national standards and to acknowledge accepted process puts their children in real danger. They need to be held to the same basic educational and safety standards as the rest of the country, before their luck runs out.

Sidestepping the Law – Are Children Being Sacrificed in Ramapo

Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
– Quote by Albus Dumbledore


In a miraculous show of vigorous work, after years of complacence and procrastination, most of the Yeshivas on the list of schools requiring inspections by the County of Rockland have magically been completed. The Yeshivas, with the wave Harry Potter’s wand and one of his magic spells, have almost all passed inspections.

Attorney Dennis Lynch, who represents the recently formed School Religious Freedom Coalition , works for the Ramapo and Spring Valley governments and represents about three dozen of the Jewish private schools on the list said:

“all his clients in the coalition should have filed their inspection reports with the state by Wednesday morning, and that the inspections were done by certified fire chiefs as described under state educational law.”

We don’t quite understand. Dennis Lynch is an attorney, paid by the towns of Ramapo and Spring Valley. He represents a lobbying organization called the School Religious Freedom Coalition (which will probably be lobbying both of those towns and the State Education Department). He represents at least three dozen of the yeshivas that needed to be inspected.

That can’t be right. How many hats can one attorney wear?

If the town did not agree to accept the inspections who was Attorney Lynch going to be representing when arguing for his Yeshiva clients, or his town clients or his lobbying clients? Well, he could represent all three at the same time and everyone else could simply go home. That just does not sit well with us.

Who knows? Maybe the Coalition includes the building inspectors, the yeshivas, the lawyer, Rabbi Twersky, his driver, his cook, his baker and the candle-stick maker. The list could go on. It would not matter because Dennis Lynch could actually be representing them all.

We predict that until there is a major tragedy and many, many children are killed, burned or seriously injured, the Yeshivas will hire Attorney Lynch and the equally as conflicted building inspectors who will sidestep the Ramapo building inspection codes, and things will continue status quo. We hope that everyone involved in this fiasco of avoidance and Harry Potter-type wizardry enjoys whatever fees most likely lined their pockets because it is only a matter of time and you are putting children’s lives in danger.

Continue reading

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Yeshivas Agree to Fire Inspections

ed day


June 6, 2016
Contact: Jane Lerner, Director of Strategic Communications
Office of the County Executive (845) 638-5645


Yeshivas Agree to County Fire Inspections

NEW CITY, N.Y. –  Rockland County Executive Ed Day announced this afternoon that yeshivas in Ramapo and Spring Valley have agreed to be inspected by county fire inspectors.

“We received word through their attorney that these schools that initially refused to be inspected have acquiesced to our demands,” Day said.

Inspections will begin again at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Inspectors were not allowed to conduct inspections in any of the 13 schools that they visited today (Monday).

Lawyers for Rockland County were prepared to go to court to get warrants to enter the premises when the attorney representing an organization called the School Religious Freedom Coalition said the group had changed its mind.

“The real winners here are the children who will now be going to schools that are safe,” Day said.

The county will follow up on the results of the inspections to make sure that any violations are corrected.

“This victory shows that the rule of law will be applied to all in Rockland,” Day said. “No one is above the law.”

The county was empowered by the state Department of Education to conduct inspections at 49 schools, mostly yeshivas in Ramapo and Spring Valley, that either never filed required paperwork showing they had inspections or schools that were inspected by a Ramapo employee whose work was shown to be inaccurate.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia provided Rockland with the list of schools and deputized the county to perform the inspections.

A team of current and former fire chiefs certified by the state to perform inspections will be doing the work.

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