A Parent’s Choice: Why I Send My Children to Yeshivas

by Abe Deutsch

Yeshivas throughout New York are under attack. A small group of disgruntled former students, encouraged and amplified by those with their own agendas separate from yeshiva education, has spurred state and city education officials to scrutinize the education that religious schools are delivering to their students, with an eye on imposing unprecedented new rules about what can and cannot be taught.

As a proud parent of eight children who have attended yeshivas, I have been following media accounts of the criticism of yeshiva curriculum with dismay. It is disappointing how so many of the people offering these critiques and demanding changes to our schools have so little understanding of the institutions they are attacking. Their stridency is matched only by their lack of honest curiosity.    

With due respect to the many who have expressed their opinions about yeshivas, no one better understands what takes place in their classrooms than the parents and educators of the students who attend them.

The critics are arguing that they are just focused on improving secular studies at some Hasidic yeshivas. But they have opened a can of worms over parental and community choice that far transcends a handful of diverse communities in Brooklyn. I may live in Williamsburg, but Gravesend, Kensington, Boro Park, Midwood, Crown Heights and Marine Park are also impacted. The government is now studying options that would broaden its role to dictate curricula in religious schools across New York. Yeshivas from the Upper West Side to Kew Gardens to Riverdale to Staten Island, and statewide should be alarmed.

Today’s discussion may be about our five boroughs, but as sure as the sun rises in the east, tomorrow it’ll be about Nassau County’s Five Towns and schools in Westchester.

As a yeshiva parent, alumnus, and child of alumni, I am not surprised why generations of families continue to enroll their children in them. I chose a yeshiva education for my children, and I hope they will do the same for their children, because yeshivas teach students how to live a life filled with meaning, and provide a moral and ethical framework for their years beyond school. The core of that teaching is the Torah and the Talmud. It is an education that has allowed my family to thrive in the modern world while maintaining religious practices and beliefs that that have sustained the Jewish people for thousands of years, often through extreme hardship.  

For decades, yeshivas have rooted my community in the values and traditions that define us as Hasidic Jews and keep us connected to one another. Yeshivas are our most treasured stewards of a heritage that values the lifelong pursuit of knowledge, honors the importance of community and kindness to others and nurtures an intellectual curiosity and a commitment to lifelong learning. My parents believed it was essential that my siblings and I received a yeshiva education, and I am grateful for their choice.  

Those critical of Hasidic yeshivas argue that the education they provide does not adequately prepare boys and girls to be productive citizens. The reality is that these children are in school and learning for ten or more hours a day, several hours longer than their public-school peers. While the curriculum mix is different from what public schools offer, the focus on critical thinking and problem solving prepares them for success in a wide variety of pursuits – and to be thriving, upstanding citizens of their communities. Just because it’s different, doesn’t mean it’s not valid. New York’s embrace of increasing diversity includes the communities that choose yeshiva education.

These critics tend to ignore the many successes of former yeshiva students. I’m a proud graduate of United Talmudic Academy in Williamsburg. I owe much of my own professional success to my education, which instilled in me the drive to overcome challenges with hard work and discipline. The instruction I received from my Talmudic studies contained countless lessons related to conducting business, and equipped me with the knowledge to rise up through the ranks of a real estate management company and eventually start my own plumbing business.

I am not alone in my experience. In addition to those yeshiva graduates who follow religious callings, many of my classmates went on to become successful professionals and businessmen. My grown children’s experience has been similar, as they have pursued careers as business managers and bookkeepers.

Like all schools in New York City, yeshivas are always seeking ways to improve. Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools (PEARLS), a coalition of parents, educators, and religious leaders which includes all of the city’s major Hasidic sects, has brought together diverse constituencies to pool resources and expertise to upgrade secular studies programs for Hasidic schoolchildren.  

As a yeshiva parent and graduate, I welcome these improvements. But the city and the Department of Education must acknowledge the unique role yeshivas play in our community. No institution is perfect. But those who criticize our yeshivas must first understand them – and why parents like me cherish them – before they talk about how to change them.

Abe Deutsch lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

15 Comments

  • 1. no one special wrote:

    “But the city and the Department of Education must acknowledge the unique role yeshivas play in our community.”
    What is the unique role? Why “must” they acknowledge”?
    I wonder if the secular education would be given more emphasis if there were no welfare & food-stamps available?

    Reply
  • 2. in the name of money wrote:

    I went to public school growing up. If in addition to the character development and intellectual development our kids get we could get back the tax money our community raises through its taxes for education. It’s hard to get ready for the regents without the teacher development courses, up to date textbooks/workbooks etc. why do people want to take away what we do well and not fix what is broken. you don’t want our kids in your schools because we save you a ton of money by paying for their education ourselves. You want them to have a better education – put your money where your mouth is or don’t complain about our schools.

    Reply
  • 3. A Happy Balance wrote:

    Its all about giving children the opportunity of a happy balance. A lot of children and young adults would like more choices in life, not just yours. Not all young adults want to go into business. They might want to become pilots, doctors, scientists. Give them the choice, not just what you think they should do in life. There is no harm in more secular education. Dont take that choice away from them!!

    Reply
    • 4. Anonymous wrote:

      There is absolutely harm in secular education.
      As a product of completing the secular educational system in Australia, I at times compare my own approach and value system to those of my peers who completed theirs in yeshiva. The difference is stark and obvious.

      Experience shows

    • 5. you cannot compare wrote:

      You cannot compare the education you get in frum Australian schools to frum US schools.

  • 6. To a Happy Balance wrote:

    No one is taking away your choice. You can send your child to any school you want. On the contrary, you are trying to take away the choice of those that would like to send their children to a regular Yeshiva.

    Reply
    • 7. A Happy Balance wrote:

      To No 4 giving the child an all round education, including studying Torah is giving them every opportunity for their future life

  • 8. Greeks wrote:

    This is exactly what the Greeks wanted to do. They wanted to defile the Torah education. Our government has a hidden agenda – they want to assimilate the Chassidic Jews into society and do away with their garb and customs. This is something, we as Jews have to fight for. Those who want to bring in more “secular education” into school are the same as the “maskilim or enlightment movement” who the Alter Rebbe and other Rebbeim fought against. It’s “ais L”Hashem hafeiru Torahsecha”. Now is the time to protest and fight against their agenda and our freedom of religion.

    Reply
  • 9. Koran wrote:

    Just wondering are they planning to get involved in all private and parochial schools and remove everyone’s freedom of religion to teach what they want. Are they going into the Muslim schools who teach the Koran, Jihad and violence? They wouldn’t step foot there or dare to open their mouth – even though the Muslim agenda has already infiltrated most college campuses and other schools.
    Where are all the lawyers? Where are our civil rights and freedom of religion rights?

    Reply
  • 10. Reader wrote:

    It would be good if there were standards in yeshiva – standards for teaching Torah subjects.
    It would be good if yeshivas saw to it that all of its students were understanding the subject matter.
    It would be good if the teachers in the boys and girls schools were evaluated for performance.
    It would be good if people would realize that the purpose of a yeshiva education for children is not to get a career but to develop a child to be a G-d fearing sevant of Hashem with love of his fellow Jew and respect for mankind.

    Reply
  • 11. to 8 wrote:

    you cannot be on one hand a recipient of government aid and at the same time ignore the basic standards that government sets as to what constitutes an education. If that includes some basic math, English and science so be it. No matter how much koran they may learn they are also toeing the line as to basic educational minimums.

    An aside it always is confusing when frum people vote republican when the frum lifestyle and education system is disproportionally dependent on government aid which is clearly given more freely by democrats

    Reply
  • 12. with the old breed wrote:

    good is good better is better. there is nothing better we could do for our future then spend time and money on our children. why is there a problem with change. Do any of you know what the Rebbe said on the subject?
    and why it took so long for people to make these simple changes…..

    Reply
  • 13. Yes to #11 wrote:

    First of all it will take the government years to investigate and implement anything in the yeshivas…… if anything even comes from all this hoopla in the end.

    Second, let’s be realistic our yeshivas are really not teaching sufficient secular studies. My kids are at a yeshiva that “does” English. And we have a whopping 1.5 hrs of English 4 times per week. How does that prepare a child sufficiently to function in college or outside world later on? How can the core secular subjects be fit into 1.5 hours /6 hours per week is beyond me? And then there are the yeshivos that have no English at all!!!
    How do you justify that? I’m all for having the religious/Torah education and values, etc. But the other subjects have to be taught and fit into the day somehow, even if it means a longer day.

    Reply
  • 14. David wrote:

    Evolution is true. Mutations exists. Our bodies have changed over the generations. But we don’t come from animals. Hashem created people from the earth…

    Reply

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