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Op-Ed: The Ugly Attack on New York Yeshivas

In response to the recent attacks on yeshivas in New York, Rabbi David Niederman – a member of the executive committee of Parents for Educational And Religious Liberty in Schools (PEARLS) – set the record straight in an op-ed in the Daily News this morning.

The Ugly Attack on New York Yeshivas
by Rabbi David Niederman

For the past several years, the yeshiva system in New York has been subjected to relentless attacks from a small group of critics. Our schools, teachers and students have been caricatured as ill-informed, ill-prepared and ignorant, and the Hasidic way of life has been dismissed as backward.

It is time to set the record straight, and to let the public know that the ugly picture of our schools and our community that has been painted is a fake.

There are more than 425 Jewish schools in New York State, with more than 165,000 students. Of those schools, 275, with more than 110,000 students, are in New York City.

To give you a sense of what this means, there are more students educated in New York City yeshivas than in all the public schools of Boston and San Francisco combined.

This system is not monolithic. What is true across the board is that each child educated in a yeshiva is there because his or her parent made the choice to enroll them there. That is a right parents have had for almost a century, ever since the United States Supreme Court recognized the “liberty of parents to direct the upbringing and education of children.”

We take our obligations to our students seriously. Simply stated, the allegation that our schools don’t provide any instruction in English and don’t offer secular education — one that has been repeated often since an advocacy group started promoting it — is false.

Of course, every institution can improve, and our schools are no different. That is why over the past few years, dozens of yeshivas have banded together to fund a non-Hasidic team of educators to work with the major textbook publishers to devise a culturally sensitive, Common Core-compliant set of textbooks, teacher guides and lesson plans.

The result is a set of standards-aligned English Language Arts and math textbooks that are in wide use. Hundreds of our principals and teachers have attended professional development classes and teacher training tied to that curriculum and those textbooks.

Those critical of yeshivas are also often strikingly unaware of what goes on during the Jewish studies portion of the school day. While the subject matter is centered around Jewish texts and traditions, the intellectual challenges and academic value are universal.

Students obtain critical thinking, analytical, comprehension and literacy skills that are no different from those of successful students everywhere. Our teachers employ a Socratic method of instruction, in which students are required to analyze passages and defend their interpretations. You would be hard-pressed to find sixth-grade classrooms elsewhere that so resemble law school.

We are proud of our graduates. Some become entrepreneurs, teachers and shopkeepers; others become electricians and plumbers. Many tend to the religious life and needs of our growing community. None are afraid of hard work.

Our critics are not satisfied, but that is because what concerns them is not our literacy but our way of life. You need not take my word for this. All you need to do is read theirs.

The recently released report critical of Hasidic education by an organization called Yaffed complained that “textbooks used for secular studies courses were often made by and for the Jewish community and were insular in their world-view.” Of course, until just recently, these very same critics were denying that we provided secular education or even textbooks to our students. The report went on to criticize the Orthodox Jewish practices of girls not becoming rabbis and having large families.

At bottom, what our critics want was what they told city Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña at a public meeting on June 27, 2016: for Hasidic children “to see the world in a different perspective.”

For many parents, perhaps most, the American Dream is for their sons and daughters to become doctors, lawyers and professors and to blend into the great, homogeneous melting pot that is America. Hasidim choose a different path, one with fewer temporal ambitions but with the goal of sustaining a way of life that seems outdated in its simplicity to many, but is as enriching and fulfilling to its adherents as a tenured professorship or a law firm partnership.

That is our American Dream. Being true to our faith and our conscience is the ultimate American value. That is our shining accomplishment, and we will not stand by while our critics attempt to tarnish it.

Niederman is director of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and a member of the executive committee of Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools.

34 Comments

  • 1. Fact Check wrote:

    ” Simply stated, the allegation that our schools don’t provide any instruction in English and don’t offer secular education — one that has been repeated often since an advocacy group started promoting it — is false.”

    This is a lie, Rabbi Niederman. Plain
    and simple. Oholei Torah, the largest yashivah system in Crown Heights, does not teach English language or secular studies. To make the case that it’s not ‘necessary’ is one thing, but to LIE about it in the press is shameful.

    Reply
    • 3. He doesn´t represent Crown Heeights wrote:

      He represents chassidishe schools in Williamsberg, I believe. The provide a minimal education.

    • 4. Why here? wrote:

      He clerely isn’t talking about crown heights, in their community they do have secular studies

    • 5. Menachem wrote:

      The fact is that most”Hasidic schools” (poilisher) do teach secular studys, -as there view is not necessarily that is a bad thing- and that is what he’s basing it on, where-as the Rebbe’s view is clearly different!

  • 6. no one special wrote:

    “Secular” education in some Yeshivas and in some Public schools in The U.S. does not assure admission to college. In many cases the “graduates” are able to read and do simple arithmetic.
    These realities can be used to criticize education in either type of school or can produce buckets of money,
    quota systems and a provocative platform planks for politicians.
    At the end of the day most yeshivas and most public schools are comfortable with mediocre “secular” education. They have that right!

    Reply
  • 7. Great article wrote:

    I would just add three things:
    1/ we focus on character development
    2/ we do have chabad doctors, lawyers, scientists etc but working for the sake of working is not our goal
    3/our big families use less of a carbon footprint than smaller ones as our kids know how to share, recycle, buy used. And most importantly do without. They learn how to be givers from a young age – to the elderly, society, friends, family.
    The demographics of the world are changing – those outspoken critics of the left are dying out leaving no living remnant. Whereas we are creating cities of upstanding citizens committed to our worldview.

    China learned the hard way about the destructiveness and foolishness of the one child policy as those same limited population struggles with the weight of caring for an elderly population over double its size

    Reply
  • 8. Berel wrote:

    “liberty of parents to direct the upbringing and education of children.”

    Full stop. Dead as a door nail.

    We’ve been there done that. (We will go underground)

    Very sad state of affairs, Progressivism is in every way similar to that which the country’s founders feared when they established protections against the formation of a state religion. Government directed education is the modern crusade.

    “textbooks used for secular studies courses were often made by and for the Jewish community and were insular in their world-view.”

    There can be no world-view but for the Progressive.

    Everyone will be brought to “see the world in a different perspective.”

    “That is why over the past few years, dozens of yeshivas have banded together to fund a non-Hasidic team of educators to work with the major textbook publishers to devise a culturally sensitive, Common Core-compliant set of textbooks, teacher guides and lesson plans.”

    Plugging holes on the Titanic.

    Reply
    • 9. Berel wrote:

      Just to tighten up the point because it’s important.

      From the article:

      “That is why over the past few years, dozens of yeshivas have banded together to fund a non-Hasidic team of educators to work with the major textbook publishers to devise a culturally sensitive, Common Core-compliant set of textbooks, teacher guides and lesson plans.”

      This is plugging holes on the Titanic.

      It’s plugging holes on the Titanic because developing culturally sensitive version of something whose entire purpose is to bring cultures into conformity with a cultural doctrine is a fools errand.

      The Standards organizations aren’t operating in good faith. The entire aim is to convert us to their religion.

      The Standards keep changing (NY is working on a new Regents History curriculum (ask yourself WHY and weep), and it gets more progressive with every iteration), it will get to the point that we will no longer be able to pretend that we can in good conscience feed this garbage to our children.

  • 10. Picaboo Shimon wrote:

    When i left yeshiva i was unable to find a good job because my education was not good enough

    Reply
    • 11. I C U wrote:

      and my sons finished yeshiva, stayed with the program, a year of shlichus and smicha, AND B”H, THEY ALL HAVE GOOD, WELL PAYING JOBS.

  • 12. To #6 wrote:

    Instead of complaining why don’t you study what you need on your own? You are what you MAKE of yourself. Otherwise you live a life of what HAPPENS to you.

    Reply
    • 13. Berel wrote:

      Maybe you could um just let things go, nobody needs your condescending, hackneyed fortune cookie pseudo advice

  • 14. great article wrote:

    whoever wants to leave yeshiva can get their high school diploma on their own and go to college etc. i see for a fact that yeshiva graduates can make a great parnosso if they are serious and interested. Hashem ddnt reserve that only for those going to college. and how many arent accepted in college and how many tried college and failed, but theyll blame yeshiva. The failures like to make a tumul so they ll have whom to blame

    Reply
  • 15. A little disingenuous wrote:

    Although it was a beautifully well-written response, the following points need to be made, contrary to what he will have us believe.

    1) Secular studies are not really (if even at all) studied in Chassidic Yeshivos, and many can’t even read or write English, so let’s not split hairs over the content, when basic skills are being neglected.

    2) It is not only liberal Progressives with their own agenda, who are rallying against the Chassidic educational system, but rather, former insiders, who know the drill, as they themselves, first-hand, were neglected academically (see some commenters here, expressing this).

    3) Social welfare. It is not just live-and-let-live, at play here, but the public cost of the enormous (just Google it) subsidies, and programs (Welfare, Medicaid, WIC, Sec-8, etc.), the Haredi world is disproportionately on, and surviving by.
    As the saying goes: “ver hut deh maya, hut deh daya”. Is it fair to enjoy one, without the other?

    Just some food for thought…

    Reply
    • 17. Anonymous wrote:

      Forgive for addressing the welfare of this community.

      Yes, other Jewish communities do teach some secular studies but often do not meet state standards. I’m not referring to subjects like science and history, I’m talking about basic reading and writing.

  • 18. huh? wrote:

    the problem doesn’t go away just because you claim it doesn’t exist.

    There are tens of thousands of young men graduating our schools with no way to support themselves or their families. Add to that the push to get married young and have children immediately, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

    Do some people make it anyway? Sure. You’ll always have outliers.

    But to deliberately cripple an entire generation is unconscionable.

    Reply
  • 20. Andrea Schonberger wrote:

    I get jumpy when I come across phrases like “culturally sensitive”. Will these “culturally sensitive” educational materials and lesson plans include comprehensive sex-ed, American literature/term papers, science (including evolution and human biology) American/world history/government? An education like I described opens a person’s eyes and questions of doubt start to creep in. Is that the aim of the yeshiva education system?

    Reply
    • 21. culturally sensitive wrote:

      Why can all those subjects be taught in a culturally sensitive way? The Bais Yaakov high school I went to did just that, more or less. I don´t think frum teachers teaching any of those subjects with sensitivity (not brainwashing, not not allowing questions, but not pushing an anti- torah viewpoint) is bad in will any way. In fact, presenting a torah point of view while allowing questions, discussion, etc. will more often give the students a foundation for feeling confident with their opinions, and with Judaism. Some of those subjects are hardly controversial – history, science (besides for a few topics, which really can be discussed without much of a big deal), reading, writing, math.

  • 22. N.S. wrote:

    To #1
    Please stop whining.
    The Chidon for Sefer Hamitzvot took place this week.
    Two of my children from O.T. Participated and it was all in English. They taught themselves as many O.T. students do. The Oibershter will provide to these kinderlach parnosa and the head to learn English if that is Needed.

    BTW the article was not meant for a particular school.

    Reply
    • 23. ahavasyisroel wrote:

      Yes, the yahadus curriculum+ Chidon is a great educational achievement. Students want to learn it; it’s not something half-heartedly tacked on because the government made them do it.

    • 24. Anonymous wrote:

      I’m aware this article was not written regarding a particular school. However, O.T. educates the majority of boys in Crown Heights and does not address these issues. I’m glad your children were able to teach themselves but many are not. Many other communities do provide some form of secular education but still fall well short of state standards. I don’t see why basic reading, writing, and math is so controversial. I also don’t see us agreeing on this point anytime soon.

      Sorry for whining.

  • 25. ahavasyisroel wrote:

    Everyone on welfare is the liberal progressive agenda.

    If you send your son to a yeshiva then you have to make sure he will be successful as a rav or rebbi. If you aren’t serious about your own learning and hanhaga then he won’t be either and he’ll end up wasting his time. If you force it, he will push back and it will be a waste of time. He has to really love to learn and be good at it. It still won’t be an easy life but it will be a life.

    Reply
  • 26. ahavasyisroel wrote:

    The other thing is that many Americans, after 12 years of free public education are only able to find jobs as truck drivers and waitresses. The fancy kids go to ivy league universities, get into tons of debt, major in gender studies and can only find opportunities as baristas.

    Yeshivas need to teach job skills. Cut out the Hemingway, Catcher and the Rye…and does anyone remember or care who Charlemagne was? Replace it with something useful, such as programming skills or kosher culinary school. There are lots of Jewish areas without even a kosher pizza store.

    Reply
  • 28. Who's to blame wrote:

    Stop blaming OT and other schools blame your mama and papa they made the choice to send you to these schools ( for good reasons)
    OT doesn’t promise you a future with a white picket fence, it’s the Rebbes Yeshiva and it has produced thousands of successful Jewish leaders who have built Torah institutions all over the world, enriching and affecting the lives of millions of people worldwide.
    Thank you OT!

    Reply
  • 29. Nisim Akilov wrote:

    I mean for me it’s pretty simple, if in there “Yeshivas” they do or do not teach English it doesn’t really matter. Take a look at most of them, they are business men, lawyers, doctors, run nursing homes or developers of large buildings. I feel that everyone should pay attention to themselves and not try to lower anyones culture or religion. Guys remember after 120 we all go to the same place, we are here just temporarilly, let’s respect each other.

    Reply
  • 30. Baal Teshuva with a wall of degrees wrote:

    Rebbe is first. middle. last.

    Read Likkutei Sichos Aleph. Than Beis. then Igrois, then Maamarim and then Nun Aleph Nun Beis.

    Progressives, Misnagdim, Haskala, Reform, Conservative… They’re all gone, or will be dispatched shortly.

    Higher Education is the next bubble to burst. When everyone has/is entitled to something, but the price keeps going up, up, up… Poof. Gone. You get a rolled up gym sock instead of a diploma.

    America is beautiful because it has Freedom aka chessed ex: United States Supreme Court recognized the “liberty of parents to direct the upbringing and education of children.”

    This will not protect us and Torah, it is merely a tool to be used by flexing our spiritual muscles at the weaknesses of those who wish to infringe on our Religious liberty.

    Being different is the most American ideal.
    We’re different!

    Send your kids to a Yeshiva MORE Chassidishe than your comfortable with, to a class beyond what you think he/she is capable of, push the envelope in Limud Hatorah, Tznius and Haftzta!

    Shelter your children (and yourself) from the powder and the finger of surrounding culture and pull the trigger on vibrant Chassidic life! Share it far and wide, loud and clear…

    Moshiach is coming, gentleman, ladies and young ones, put down your shinebox and get ready to go!!

    Reply
  • 33. Singled out: What about the VERY INSULAR Muslim "MADRASAS"? wrote:

    I’ll bet no one is commissioning such studies of the many, many VERY INSULAR muslim schools in our fine city, are they???
    Such hypocrites!!!!

    Reply
  • 34. Andrea Schonberger wrote:

    Dear #21, Some subjects can’t be taught in a sensitive manner. Sex-ed/human biology would have to be taught using facts only and not mince words about it like STDs are dangerous and teen pregnancy is not cool. I think young people respect adults for being upfront with them about real life situations. How can one present the Torah view of science, especially of the ever controversial topic of evolution? In my opinion religion and science are difficult if not impossible to reconcile–true science is fact while religion is faith, either you believe or you don’t. When you try to reconcile the two that’s when the questions and doubts come in.

    Reply

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