Op-Ed: The Ugly Attack On N.Y. Yeshivas

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By Rabbi Moshe Dovid Niederman

The following article appeared in the New York Daily News and was submitted by Rabbi Niederman’s office for publication on Matzav.com.

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.

{Matzav.com}

68 COMMENTS

    • He probably hired someone write it for him, which is what people do when they incapable or too rushed to do something themselves. Since when did writing an op-ed piece in the Daily News become a kiddush shem shemayim? If you’re ambitious, you’ll eventually find your niche, with secular education or without.

  1. The problem is the one that these spokesmen keep denying: Many Chassidic Yeshivas do in fact give little secular education.
    I was once witness to chasidishe fellow who owned a store, educated in a NY Chasidishe Yeshiva who had to wait for his wife to add the amounts on an invoice for him. He couldn’t read nor could he do the simple math involved. He was intelligent enough, but totally uneducated.

    • I doubt this is true. The students in Chassidic yeshivas who do not have learning disabilities do very well at arithmetic. And you see he was running a business.

    • He can’t have been too smart. Till operators in most supermarkets cant do simple maths either, but they have been taught how to use the calculator on the till.

    • So what? The guy owned a store and his wife did the invoicing. Do you honestly think that he couldn’t figure out how to fill out an invoice if he would’ve wanted to?

    • Yeshiva boys learn gemara. Gemara is analitical, requires deep thinking, mathamatical etc. They are faster in computing math concepts than most public school children their age. Boys need to figure out many mathamatical concepts, including multiplication, division, fractions, percents etc., at the age of 9. Most girls, who get more hours of english class time, take and pass NYC regents, can’t do what these boys can do. They get an all around beautiful education and can be productive citizens. Depending on the neighborhood they come from, their dialect may be foreign, but so too is the speach of many big American Millionaires. The same is with the percent or people in society who speak english(as a second language) and have the same gramatically incorrect way of speaking as those chassidishe boys.
      People keep on saying, don’t make fun of how a Spanish speaking person speaks english. If you would speak spanish you would sound way worse than that! The same is with a chassidishe boy. English is his third language. They speak yiddish and Aramaic / Loshon Hakodesh / Hebrew (depending on what community they are part of). They are not any worse (as a matter of fact they do way better) than children who grow up in a spanish speaking home and get taught in spanish in public school where English is their second language.
      In addition to english and mant, the boys are taught many scientific concepts, american history as well as the branches of the government. Durring a presidential election they were taught about the popular vote, electoral college, voting rights.
      Don’t forget, there may be a time when someone comes accross an uneducated person in the Chassidishe world. That doesn’t mean everyone else is uneducated. That doesn’t mean that the school system failed. That can be for various reasons. He could be an individual who has learning difficulties, who never mastered reading in both hebrew and english. He may not know how to learn a blatt gemara too. So let’s not label any group of people. Let’s look at all the well taught and productive citizens that our yeshiva’s have produced. How many people do you know who are great parents, run a business, are honest good workers, are our children’s teachers or principals, our dyanim, rabonim and have many many more prestigious jobs or positions in our beautiful society. They are all products of this so called uneducated chassidic system.

  2. We are too keen as orthodox public concerned jews not to notice to constant barrage of the toeivah inspired society to reflect our values in poor health. It is even the kosher idea of never touching an abomination that meets fierce opposition among gentiles and many of the heretical feelings among non-affiliated jews of reform or conservative values.

    This is unfortunate. We support our yeshivas and should. I hope sadly that in my future I can learn more. I was forced to public education and all I can remember of my 6th grade classroom is playing much on the new computer that was new in the 80s and the teacher was genuine but instruction did not meet jewish centered future.

    Still a hope we can find rights in our communities. The movement to reaggregate jews against our faith is a horror and it is constant. Torah will endure.

  3. If the information in a math or literature textbook is being reworked so as to be presented in a culturally or religiously sensitive way, then the result is not education; it is brainwashing.

    • What is your problem with Footsteps?

      They help Jewish girls who were forced into marriage at 17 or 18 years old, with expectations to have 4 children by the time they are 23.

      • What’s the problem with Footsteps? HASHEM YERACHEM!!!!
        Footsteps help Jewish girls and boys, men and women, acclimate themselves in secular environments. In other words, Footsteps helps Orthodox Jews become goyim.

        In their own words:
        Footsteps, an organization that helps facilitate the transition out of Modern and ultra-Orthodox communities for those wishing to leave.

        Whether you are considering leaving the ultra-Orthodox community or have already begun a new life in the secular world, there is a place for you at Footsteps. We offer programming and resources for people at any stage of the journey. We also welcome formerly ultra-Orthodox people who would like to help others considering or actively making the transition.

        For some within insular ultra-religious environments, there is no clear or easy path to life in the secular world. Providing that support system, and sometimes a path, to hundreds of ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic people is the work of New York-based nonprofit Footsteps.

        • So you are OK with 18 year-old Jewish girls being forced into marriage and a physical relationship with a man/boy she basically does not know? You have no objections to this?

          • Sandy,
            That is a red herring
            Should the ‘system’ change? perhaps but totally irrelevant
            Footsteps has an agenda ,and it is hardly a good one

          • Sandy…are you even remotely Jewish…? Because NOBODY. ..IS FORCED…
            OUR MARRIAGES ARE NOT ARRANGED. THEY ARE SUGGESTED…and EVERYONE HAS THE OPTION OF DECLINING.
            THANK YOU SANDY…are you part of “footloose and fancy free”?

      • to ruchis bas ??
        and forces them to keep shabbos, yom kupper not eat treif, pork…in other words helps then abandon torah like that deen
        you can run away from your community but not from middas hadin. soif ganev letlia

      • If they want to daven in a reform shul which is impossible, just tell them to go eat their cookies. They can not blame Hashem their birth.

    • A footstep can be careful. Some walk ahead, some behind. Missing is whether they just stop meaningful study. It is not footsteps in judaism. It is davening.

      Our three steps are to stand before the King. Gifted kept up.

      Very interesting that there is help when a child wants a new life. Mastery of ever concise humor. There is no footstep to the blind.

      Fun.

  4. most outstanding paper!

    i went to bais yaakov high school in the early ’50s. i did not appreciate the quality of my education until i went to college .frum girls (there were only 3 girls’ high schools , BY, central and esther schonfeld at that time) were head and shoulders above most of the other students. so were the yeshiva boys. we had learned how to really learn and how to really study

  5. Who are they kidding, we are all frum here, we all know some willy people, the bulk of the men can not get normal office jobs, and are left with truck driver or other warehouse work where they are exposed to all types of people and lifestyles.

    • Usually frum people have gained from the Socratic method used when teaching limudei Kodesh. You clearly have slept through those classes if you can make such an inane comment which shows your lack of critical logic.

      Some “willy” (sic) people? What about some Long Island people who also work such jobs? What about “willy” people who are business owners or real estate magnates? Or run successful consulting or software businesses? Yes there are many.

      • Lets play the numbers, the percentage of yeshivah guys who left kollel to go work (as apposed to Lakewood) on food stamps is less then those from chasidish schools. And while they do have some that went into business and were successful, unfortunately they are the exception not the rule, it is like saying people in urban slums are doing well because some people make it into the NBA. Do you think it is smart to drop out of high school, bill gates did.

  6. If the Yeshiva system is so successful as Rabbi Niederman declares, why are the Chasidisshe hamlets of Williamsburg and Kiryas Yoel two of the poorest districts in the entire state of New York?

    • It’s a numbers game. The greater the population, the greater the “poverty” rate is going to be. They also have a greater number of kollel yungerliet. What you’re saying is biased nonsense. Some of the wealthiest and most philanthropic Chassidim live in Williamsburg. As others have pointed out, they may not be lawyers and doctors, but they are extremely successful in real estate/developers, entrepreneurs, investments, small businesses, etc… Parnassa is from the Aibishter. We just go thru the motions.
      Naftuli Moster is an admitted shoneh upirush. If you do just a basic search online of his background and what happened to him, you will see where he’s coming from. He is a rasha mirusha with an ax to grind and he is trying to hurt Klal Yisroel in a very dangerous way.

    • English is not the most important thing when getting an education (it’s language skills in general, not just one specific language that makes a person educated or not. They all know how to write yiddish very well! the can write their own fiction stories, biographies about the people they are named after etc.) People get along very well in life and speak a broken english (since it is not their first language). That doesn’t make them dumb, or uneducated.
      Speaking english correctly, but being a spiteful and biased person indicates lack of education!
      Read the following information:
      The data released thus far indicates that nearly one in four public school students now speaks a language other than English at home. Many of those who speak a foreign language at home are not immigrants. In fact, half of the growth in foreign language speakers since 2010 is among those born in the United States. Overall, 44 percent (29 million) of those who speak a language other than English at home are U.S.-born. Of those who speak a foreign language at home, 26.1 million (39.8 percent) told the Census Bureau that they speak English less than very well.(taken from CIS)
      Why are you negating chassidim so much, they are just a small part of this percent!
      Those so called educated yidden that are so bored should start with fixing the Public school system. Their students also speak english less than very well and are a bigger percent of society in USA

      • The data is misleading in that most of those that speak a foreign language at home and end up speaking with an obvious accent are either Spanish or Yiddish. The Spanish end up doing janitorial work for generations and Yiddish compromise the population with record poverty.

    • Because a “good education” is not defined by how well you write and speak English. It’s about making you a good Jew and a good person.

    • The Chassidim don’t seem to have any problems with the English language when they are filling out their application forms for Section 8, WIC, HEAT, SNAP, and Families First.

    • Neither can you.
      This is how your comment should read:
      If the CHASSIDIC ( who created the word HASIDIC anyway.)educationAL system is so great, (comma)why can’t their students speak English coherently and spell correctly? No capital S in students….
      What university did you attend sir???

    • Also, while Yiddish doesn’t have many strict rules about spelling, and you can spell words how you say them, English–perhaps because it has roots in so many other languages–is not a rational language when it comes to spelling. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “”the want of conformity between the combinations of letters, and the sounds they should represent increases to foreigners the difficulty of acquiring the language, occasions great loss of time to children in learning to read, and renders correct spelling rare but in those who read much.” (For “foreigners” read, “those learning English as a second language”.)

  7. The writer is pivoting and avoiding the very essence of the issue:

    The investigation of these chassidishe moysdos is about MONEY. State and Federal $$$ that are to be used exclusively for secular education (as per US law). These schools then use the funds for other purposes.

    A Chassidishe school has every right in the US to say “we donlt teach general studies” and if you want to praise that – fine. If you want to say that a gemara kop is superior to a secular education – fine. Good luck to you.

    Just stop taking money that is meant for schools that teach secular subjects. That’s called fraud.

    And please, do not tell me that they teach limudei chol in chassidishe moysodos past primary grades. They don’t. I have seen it with my own eyes. And if they do, there is nothing to fear and no need to write articles about pernicious investigations. Just open your doors, show them your classes and walk them out. They aren’t looking for accents or what literature you are teaching. They want to see the basics of K-12 education.

    Anything less is genaiva.

    Thou protesteth too much.

    • I’ll tell you what is really wrong…What is wrong is your heartless attempt at slandering your own people berabim which is a bigger chillul Hashem than anything.
      Suppose you even had a point, which of course you don’t, since accusations are just that ACCUSATIONS…what heter do YOU have to besmirch and publicly denounce your brother. Show me in the seforim where it says you may. One sin doesnt prelude another. I pay for mine and you for yours, if that were the case..
      Start looking into your own heart for your reckless attempt at mesira before you prejude anyone…
      Look into your heart where all your anger lies and deal with that.
      You are far worse than you think…

      • Nice try to flip the problem on me. Unsuccessful pivot.
        Wake up! There is a majot investigation of fraud in the Yeshiva system. That is already the Chilul Hashem. That Chilil Shem Shomayim will be furthered when Menahalim start doing the “perp walk” in their upbrim hats and frocks.
        When we stay silent and accept that fraud is done with whimsy in our moysdos – THAT is the Chilul Hashem.
        Let me make the formula excruciatingly simple for you:
        1. Federal Money is given to schools that provide a secular education.
        2. State money is given to school who provide a secular education.
        3. There are LARGE schools in the Yeshiva/Chasidish velt that offer NO SECULAR studies yet take state/federal money. They are committing large-scale fraud.
        This is already an investigation. There is no Mesira here. You just are afraid of talking about the problem and want to hush it up.

        Finally, this whole problem will go away very easily if the moysodos just stop taking the money. No one is forcing anyone to get a secular education. Just stop taking the money.

        Look into YOUR heart and ask yourself: Am I OK with Chassidishe school populations the size of Boston and San Francisco being found guilty of stealing millions of dollars? Am I ready to say “enough!”? Or am I just more concerned with playing shtick and making $$$ off the government?

        • I get your point…BUT YOU DIDNT GET MINE!
          You shouldnt be gere discussing it.Thats a chillul Hashem . I’m here only to answer to your carelessness

          • Your busying yourself with rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
            Stop worrying about my alleged Chilul Hashem on matzav and worry about the Chilul Hashem if you and I and every secheldig Yid doesn’t stand up to this and say ENOUGH.

  8. Get a life e/o.

    The Yeshiva secular studies of the past both in boys & girls & coed schools were heavy on the three RRRs – reading, writing & arithmetic. The same can not be said today.

    Dr Susan Shulman complains that men/boys who come to her pediatric office can not fill out forms, describe what hurts/ails them or take notes on home care remedies.

    USA language is English (among others) & in order to take a driving permit test, open a bank account, go to the post office, shopping or to the drug store, literacy in English is a must.

    Simple math and a quick understanding of civics, laws & regulations needs to be taught at school & if not at least at school.

  9. After all is said and done,by and large are most
    Yeshiva attendees living up
    Pound for Pound
    to their potential? Answer: no.

    Bringing proofs from lower income lower IQ public school attendies is meaningless

    • Maybe Moisha Rabbenu lived up to HIS potential…most people don’t. For you to exclusively pinpoint yeshiva bocherim is a sign that you certainly have NOT!
      We are all on a journey and that means we have the potential to as long as we live. After that, it ain’t gonna be YOU who is gonna decide if we did or didn’t live up to it.
      G-d in his infinite mercy certainly has more compassion than you…that’s for sure.

      • Guess what. People will find every excuse to blame someone regardless of whether the system works or not.Blame is only indicative of one thing. Not being responsible or taking ownership of your issues.
        What I will tell you all is this: Blaming is easier than getting up from your coach and taking things into your own hand.
        Laziness is a bigger curse than no high school diploma because guess what again: My daughter in law, who didnt even have that high school diploma and hundreds of others applied themselves ..got their GED..went on to Touro and have degrees. And these are mothers with kids doing double duty.
        So please. Stop the blame game…get off the coach and learn…
        This system has been around for years. It will not change much. As parents we have the right to send our kids wherever we feel we want to. We know our options, and we make choices. WE survived.
        The choice these OTD people have was theirs to make. Blame your parents, blame the school system, blame society..blame blame blame.
        If it’s not this, in 10 yrs it’ll be something else. There are always embittered children who want to shake things up.
        Instead of wasting your time with all the protesting, enroll and learn…like hundreds and thousands have…without blaming G-d or anyone.Tveir agrnda is obvious to even a blind person.
        Do you think secular people could all afford college fees. No…they get sponsorships.,loans etc. It’s unfortunately only our people who qvetch qvetch. I’ve seen plenty black poor from the slums people who went to school against all odds and made it.
        From every race and color…so STOP KVETCHING, BLAMING YOUR HARD WORKING OARENTS and GET A LIFE!!!!

    • I guess your totally in THE DARK about the multitude of unemployed college students and the very successful businessmen who have not even graduated.
      You actually think Hashem cares about college to give his money to whomever he desires .. that’s your problem.
      No spirituality = no seichel
      Simple

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