Cracking Down On ‘English’ in Our Yeshivos


yeshivaBy Rabbi Yosef Shubert

I may ruffle some feathers, but this is an important topic to address.

Currently, virtually all boys elementary schools, in most communities, have English studies during the afternoon. With respect to mesivtas, however, some do and some do not.

Now, I do not wish to address the issue of whether there should be English studies in yeshivah or whether yeshivah bochurim should or should not go to “English,” as it is referred to colloquially. As a youngester, I personally did go to “English,” or limudei chol, from 1st thru 12th grades during my years in yeshivah ketana and mesivta. Each person should follow the direction of their rov and do what they feel is correct and beneficial for them.

The issue that is on my mind has more to do with the mesivtas that do have limudei chol than those that do not. Let me explain.

When a bochur attends a mesivta that does not have limudei chol during the afternoon, the bochur and his parents understand up front what the daily schedule of the yeshiva is and what that entails.

Regarding mesivtos that do offer limudei chol during each afternoon, I happen to know some that have excellent English studies departments, which are run with an iron hand and where the classes and attendance are taken very seriously and where the program is an organized one with experienced and talented individuals in charge.

However, there are some mesivtos (and some elementary schools, too) where the English studies are merely an excuse to keep the boys busy for a few hours during each afternoon. There is a negative attitude toward the classes by the students, which often stems from the parents and occasionally the hanhalla. What results, in certain situations, is nothing short of a disgrace.

The teachers receive no respect from the students – and sometimes from the parents, too – and the boys come away thinking that they can manipulate the system and do what they want because no one really cares about the “afternoons.” Regardless of whether the teachers are Jewish or not, or what their level of frumkeit is, the freedom with which some boys feel they can act results in a terrible situation. In my humble opinion, either have a serious, structured English studies program or don’t have one at all. It is imperative to impart to these growing children that there is no middle ground and that afternoon classes are part of the seder hayom of the yeshiva. A boy who can’t follow the rules for that part of the day should be penalized just as he would be if he misbehaved during the morning class. (This is a point that has been stressed by many mechanchim in the past.)

I know firsthand that in certain institutions things have spiraled out of control. Some boys don’t show up to some of the limudei chol classes, while others bring seforim into the classroom and learn while the teacher is trying to deliver a lesson. The boys in the last category far from realize their misplaced righteousness.

While I understand that there are many complex issues involved here, including the difficulty in finding well-qualified teachers and the fact that boys generally sit through long school days, nevertheless, it cannot continue to be a free-for-all.

Those institutions with struggling English departments should make a concerted effort to crack down. Parents and students should be made aware that the classes will be taken seriously and that those who cannot adhere to the rules are in complete violation of the school’s policy. The punishment for such students I will leave to the many talented and experienced mechanchim out there. And, if the English department cannot be restructured and organized, perhaps it should be disbanded altogether.

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  1. “There is a negative attitude toward the classes by the students, which often stems from the parents and occasionally the hanhalla. What results, in certain situations, is nothing short of a disgrace”.


    The repercussions and tzaros that happen as a result are immeasureable. Make sure your child is not one acting as a disgrace.

  2. Rabbi Shubert does not go far enough. Let us be frank: limudei chol in most mesivtas are a daily k’vius in Chillul Hashem. Being mevazeh the English teachers is considered a mitzvah. – in the words of the Chida: Kol Kach nishtarashnu bechait, kemitzvah techashev be’eineinu. Yeshivos would never tolerate Chillul Shabbos, but Chillul Hashem is somehow acceptable and even encouraged. And this is how the next generation of gedolim is being raised.

  3. I agree 1000% If a yeshiva is going to have English it must be taken seriously or it is bittul z’man! In my son’s yeshiva, many boys cut English not to learn more but to play with their hand held game devices. Thank you for bringing this important issue to light!

  4. People don’t realize the chillul Hashem that can be caused by kids in some schools. I remember a teacher telling our class that yeshiva kids behave worse than public school kids, and it’s easier to teach there!

  5. Let the English classes teach english by having the bochurim read the Yated and write essays based on the articles. Practical and they will enjoy learning.

  6. One of my classmates in college had grown up frum and “walked away.” Because of his background he spoke fluent Yiddish but didn’t look frum. He got a part-time job teaching English in a chassidishe yeshiva in Williamsburg. He used to tell us stories about the things he overheard the students saying in front of him because they assumed he couldn’t understand Yiddish. I won’t relate any of them, but believe me, they didn’t give anybody a good impression of that community, and the experience certainly didn’t exert any positive influence on getting this guy to come back to Yiddishkeit. Incidentally, he was not the kind of person to make things up, so I don’t think he was telling us bube maasehs.

  7. Reb Yaakov Kaminetsky zt’l was very clear about the fact that if there is an English curriculum it is to be kept scrupulously. Otherwise it is simply being mechanech the student to fail at something he has undertaken. He felt that to go to “English” and not “shtell zich tzu” was damaging for life.

  8. Du Yoo meen to say dat english is lakking in our skool systim? C’mon. I think i have purfekt english skils!

    (kidding aside: If we teach it chashivus then the children will take it seriously. If parents model for their children that it’s important, then the children will want to make their parents happy. They learn from our attitudes!)

  9. Don’t compare Jewish schools to public schools. How sick are you? I would rather have to deal with hyper rowdy kids, than guns, knives and drugs.

  10. #8: I’m sure you think your post is original and funny, but come on, every time there’s a post about grammar, someone posts a similar thing.
    The problem is, it’s not a joke. Have you read some of the posts on this site, or on other frum sites? People really don’t know basic grammar or spelling. It’s a big problem that needs to be addressed.

  11. #11: I simply repeated what a teacher said to our class. That doesn’t make me sick, it means there’s a big chillul Hashem going on.

  12. What of the rebbeim teaching morning classes? I’m not blaming them, but perhaps they could mention to their students that that their learning means nothing if they are disrespectful to a human being in the process.

    Besides for the fact that these “English” subjects are important for their adult- and livelihood.

  13. It’s about time this issue was addressed.
    The children all believe that English is a joke and that the yeshivos only have the classes because of government requirements.
    The problem is that hanhola is most yeshivos don’t do enough to enforce proper behavior.
    The emes is if you don’t believe in it, than forego any funding you may get from the government for mandated services and just have another seder of learning.
    In the end, when bochurim see that english “seder” is not important to the hanhola and rabeim, than why is second seder, or mussar seder or any other seder important.

  14. #12: I actually am a big fan of “Strunk and White”, and “Eat Shoots and Leaves”. They are both terrific books on grammar, and although I didn’t memorize all of their rules, I have learned a lot (not alot- it’s 2 words!).
    One particularly common mistake is the word “it’s” when discussing possessive. There are some other grammatical errors that have become so commonplace, that unless you read up about them, you don’t even realize they are wrong.

  15. The parents approving the English department is not enough, the talmidim have to hear it from their rebbaim, rosh yeshivos and other Torah role models.
    Just like there are awards for middos, hasmada, coming on time to tefilah, there should be monthly recognition of accomplishments in limudei chol. So in so, whose article was published in the Torah News of the school, so in so who comes on time to afternoon classes, so in so whose behavior and attitude is excellent during English classes. Be creative and figure out how to encourage and praise a wholesome mensch.

  16. Rabbi Shubert, please post your home address. I want to come by and just hug you! I’ve been screaming this for years! You are 100% on the money!

  17. I absolutely agree with this letter. However, in all fairness, it is important to note that since Yeshivos (correctly) insist on male teachers, they often end up with the “bottom of the barrel” to put it mildly. Additionally, the curriculum is mostly irrelevant and boring, compared to the stimulating Limudim in the morning. It’s alot to ask for many of the boys after having behaved and sitting still for six hours already to listen to a teacher droning about Julius Caesar. If the curriculum could be updated and made more relevant, I think much of the problem would be resolved.

  18. A Groisser Yasher Koach to Rabbi Yosef Shubert for the excellent article and all of the excellent comments here!

    I have said this here before and I will say it again now. If we are allowing and even encouraging our yeshiva students to thus make a joke out of the secular studies programs and to make fun of the secular studies teachers, then we are NOT creating Bnei Torah!! Instead, WE ARE CREATING FIENDISH MEAN MONSTERS!!!!

  19. Mastery of basic literacy skills is an essential component of education. Failure to
    emphasize its importance harms our children.

    Knowledge of the English language is necessary for all citizens. (Yeshiva students
    should not be exempted from this fundamental
    objective of their education.)

    Acquisition of practical skills is mandated by the Torah. As taught in the Ethics Of The Fathers:

    “Torah study is good together with a worldly occupation.” (Chapter 2, Mishnah 2)

    To be in compliance with the aforementioned dictum, secular knowledge
    is indispensable.

    In my opinion, the Yeshiva world should study Rabbi Hirsch’s educational and theological philosophy which addresses this
    issue comprehensively.

    Rabbi Schubert’s article is
    relevant and should be taken seriously by
    Haredi educators and clergy.