English is Absent and Math Doesn't Count at Brooklyn's Biggest Yeshivas

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    From “My Uncle the Netziv” (p 204):

    Anyone with eyes in his head could see that the students of Volozhin were quite knowledgeable in secular studies: they took an interest in science, history and geography and knew many languages. In fact, those students who desired to pursue these disciplines succeeded in learning twice as much as any student at a state institution. In Volohzin, Torah and derech eretz walked hand in hand, neither one held captive by the other. It was the special achievement of the Volozhin student that when he left the yeshiva, he was able to converse with any man in any social setting on the highest intellectual plane. The Volohzin student was able to conquer both worlds — the world of Torah and the world at large. A well-known adage among parents who were trying to best educate their children was, “Do you want your child to develop into a complete Jew, dedicated to Torah and derech eretz? Do you want him to be able to mingle with people and get along in the world? Send him to Volozhin! (page 204)

    R’ Epstein explains what was actually proposed, which caused his uncle to close the yeshiva.

    On the twenty second of October 1891, the Minister of Education certified a system of changes to be established in the Volozhin Yeshiva, four of which struck at its main life-giving arteries and imperiled its existence. They consisted of the following:

    1. The general studies program shall take place between nine o’clock in the morning and three in the afternoon.

    2. There shall be no [yeshiva] studies at night at which time the yeshiva building shall be closed.

    3. The entire study program shall be no longer than ten hours per twenty four hour period.

    4. The Rosh yeshiva and all the instructors shall possess an educational degree.

    The result of all this was that during the winter months no time at all would remain for studying the Talmud. Even in the summer, considering that the general studies program would finish at three in the afternoon followed by lunch, only minimal time would remain for Torah study. The students would also be exhausted from 5 or 6 hours of general studies, and thus the best hours of the day would have been wasted.

    It is clear that these conditions, capped by the impossible demand that every single teacher from the Rosh yeshiva down to the instructor of the lowest shiur, have a degree, left my uncle with very little choice. “Under these conditions what do I need the yeshiva for and for what does the yeshiva need me? This will no longer be a yeshiva but a school. Aren’t there enough schools in this country already? (pages 206-207)


    If you look at the documents at the time not only was secular studies taught, there were serious financial issues at Volozhin and there was a serious issue of succession.

    The yeshiva reopened a few years later


    Though my good friend Health may think I am all about “cursing out” chareidim, I think they may have ground upon which to stand in this argument.

    First, let us distinguish between the actions of private schools that receive government funding on condition of meeting certain benchmarks, and those who do not receive such conditional funds. On that score, whether in Israel or here, if teaching secular subjects is a condition of funding, fulfill the obligation or don’t take the money.

    On the other hand, if chareidi yeshivos are not taking public funds on condition, then they – the parents of the children – can decide what kind of education they are willing to pay for, and donors to these institutions can decide what kind of education they want to support. When government funds aren’t involved, and when donors are free to choose as they see fit who they will support, it seems to me it is up to the parents. If they don’t see a need for English and Math, so be it.

    Now, personally, I choose a different derech. I recognize that such subjects are useful, and serve a purpose, but if taxpayer funds aren’t being used, I don’t feel right telling others how to parent or teach.

    Note – my support for privately funded chareidi schools teaching how and what they wish comes from my closely held belief in not telling others what to do outside of the publicly funded realm.

    Oh, the irony of tolerance.


    Akuperma: You might be right about the positive effects of learning Hebrew or Yiddish, if frum schools would teach them in a meaningful way – as an example, the fellow who taught in Philly and published frumspeak did a wonderful job. But Philly is unique. Other yeshivas just learn Gemara in yeshivish and expect people to pick up the Yiddish or Hebrew.

    Also, there is more to learning how to think than languages. Jewish schools don’t teach math, science, or history at all, nor can you propose teaching those in a meaningful way from a specifically “Jewish” perspective the way you could with Yiddish and Hebrew.

    And it’s a huge oversimplification to blame immorality on secular knowledge; especially since almost all the things that I assume you’d point to as immoral are far, far less prevalent in the upper, more educated classes.

    The fact is that a failure to teach secular studies works well for the 5-10 percent of the students who are going to become rabbonim and rebbeim, but at the expense of a tremendous handicap to all the others who won’t.

    Jews were always admired for their intellect and for their respect for education, which resulted in tremendous accomplishment. Now, many brilliant ex-yeshiva guys are struggling at borderline manual labor because they can’t operate a computer. The level of discourse in the frum arena suffers because people know nothing about statistics or about government or about science. Even successful people are relegated to doing “gray market” type things to make ends meet and to function in the general world.


    And it’s a huge oversimplification to blame immorality on secular knowledge; especially since almost all the things that I assume you’d point to as immoral are far, far less prevalent in the upper, more educated classes.

    I do agree that it is not because of secular knowledge. But I don’t agree that the things I think are immoral are only in the lower classes. Perhaps we don’t agree on what is immoral.


    Also, re the side benefits of secular education in terms of analytical skills and creativity.

    I agree that the way many yeshivos teach gemara is not very good, but I still think the guys are picking it up anyway. My experience with yeshiva guys who have little secular education is very positive as far as analytical and creative skills.

    But I still concur that you need to give your kids the tools to live in the world, and many of our schools don’t prepare them for that. The smart ones can take the LSAT and go to Harvard, but not all of us are so smart.

    I once discussed this with my rosh yeshiva, and he said “they can get a GED”. I didn’t quite know what to respond to that.


    PBA, I concede that the acceptance for certain immoralities among even the higher classes can be directly linked to the search for reason stemming from critical thought and perhaps the self-indulgence that comes along with creativity and expression. I have two responses to that (without taking my actual position that it’s certainly not the government’s business).

    1. Just because there is a negative effect in some places doesn’t mean that we should lose all of the positives and subject ourselves to all the consequences of a total failure of education.

    2. Instead of being afraid that we will all become kofrim, we should have bitachon that the Torah’s morality is correct and defensible even in light of other educational influences, and we should pursue that education so that we can explain why.


    You’re actually conceding more than I wanted. That’s an interesting perspective. Maybe if I had a secular education I would have thought of it.


    A GED is not exactly the same as a regular High School Diploma. Its close but a bit less

    And a GED is only a High School Diploma equivilancy, certainly not the same as a College Degree. No matter what anyone says there is no quick way to get a college degree, they make you earn it


    (fails negotiation workshop)


    Z-dad, FWIW you can get a college degree from yeshiva and go to law school. I know some people who did that and make a decent living today.


    Yeshiva university is a good degree (I did not go there, too expensive)

    Cardozo Law school is good too.

    FYI you dont need a college degree to get into Law School, Its the only professional school you dont.


    Cardozo Law school is good too.

    Post-2008, going to Cardozo law school is pretty much the same as taking out a mortgage on a house and then burning it. Except that the student debt is not dischargeable in bankruptcy.


    Why post-2008? What changed?


    Post-2008, going to Cardozo law school is pretty much the same as taking out a mortgage on a house and then burning it. Except that the student debt is not dischargeable in bankruptcy.

    That is why I dont recommend anyone going to YU or Stern, nothing to do with Hasghfa, Sorely to do with cost


    Why post-2008? What changed?

    Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns, etc.

    To be more precise, the legal market is something like half the size of what it used to be, and the jobs are now only going to students at the top schools. By top schools, I mean ivy league range, so in NY, that would be Columbia and NYU–and even they struggle.

    There are 45k students graduating law school every year, and only 15k entry level jobs for them. And most of the jobs are very low paying compared to the debt you need to take for law school.


    PBA, you’re an elitist snob. Not everyone wants to work at a fancy wall street law firm, and schools that cater to other needs are much cheaper. Well, you might be correct about Cardozo but Rutgers costs about half of what Cardozo does.


    Of course I am.

    But please don’t mislead people into going to Rutgers either. I think most people graduating Rutgers today get a job that does not requires a JD. Like working retail, for example.


    PBA is absolutely right. Universities love law schools because the only equipment they require is a desk per student, but it is not worth the degree any more.

    Get a degree in either something you are outstanding at doing, or a field where you know there are jobs.

    Ben Levi

    I actually find this article pretty amusing.

    You see I am a certafied High School drop out.

    That is I ended my high School secular education so I could focus om learning.

    BTW, my employees do not have deggrees either.

    And since part of my buisness has a retail angle to it we recieve many Customer Service emails.

    I find it amazing how the English writing skills of the general populace have descended to a level that actually renders their writing unreadable.

    And what is pretty interesting is that it is the correspondence from the orthodox jewish world that is usually the most readable.

    So based on my completley unscientific observations I would think that Mayor Bloomberg has a lot more to worry about with the education being provided by the PS system (which to be fair he does seem to be concerned with) then the YEshiva system.

    The Yeshiva’s are educating it’s just a different set of priorities , goals, and skills that they focus on.

    However it seems that the PS are not educating at all.


    Ben Levi, you are illustrating the pitfall of a lack of education (although to be frank, I think you’re deliberately lying about not having graduated high school). You don’t know from your personal experience whether public schools do a good or a bad job of educating people generally. As a famous economist supposedly said, “The plural of anecdote is not data.” Additionally, as someone who (supposedly) dropped out of high school, you almost certainly have a confirmation bias toward the notion that PS education is deficient.

    Moreover, even if it were true that all public schools do a terrible job of educating every single American child, that would not absolve the chadarim from their duty to provide a good education to the children they serve. Nobody made the argument that we have to learn science as well as the non-Jews do. We’re just making the argument that we have to learn science.


    As a famous economist supposedly said, “The plural of anecdote is not data.”

    lol that’s a great line.


    The point is that the average Brooklyn Litvish Yeshiva grad knows better English and math than the average NYC public school grad.

    That’s a pretty good compliment for Yeshivas whose main focus is on Torah scholarship.


    Math is not a secular subject it is a life tool. However, with letting such as calculators being used, the use of Math and head will soon be obsolete.

    In Eretz Yisroel, even in the Charedi schools math is taught in seriousness. We have family that move here from Eretz Yisroel. The boys were in Chasidishe yeshivos as Skvere and Chochmas Shlome. Here in U.S.A., yes they need help with the English but are on a way higher level in math. One boy is having problem because he finishes the math work given in class within the first 5 minutes where some students never even finish. This boy probably knows more than the teacher and therefore is being picked and punish. B”H he has normal parents, involved and are dealing with this. For the menahel this was an eye opener and realizes there is truth to math being labeled as a secular subject. But will there be change…. that only Hashem knows and time will tell.

    Math therefore,should be incorporated with the limudei Kodesh. However, unfortunately many Rebbeim themselves are not good at math and therefore that would mean Yeshivos would need to hire math teachers for which yeshivos will claim they don’t have money.

    My sons went to ultra Chasidishe yeshivos where there was no English after 8th grade, so we home schooled and it was really worth it. When my son would show the math such as Algebra or geo that he was learning, some very studious boys wanted to learn. Alot of this would have helped in learning. As early as Parshas Noach we have math, such as in building of taiva.

    The Vilna Gaon also wrote a sefer Ayil Meshulash on trig, and as one of our sons math teacher would say, it was not written in the outhouse.

    Parents have to be more tuned into the overall chinuch/education of their children. Especially today with gadgets that take away the mind from normal thinking and into the world of shmutz, introducing mind using subjects as math at an earlier age and not labeling it as a secular subject should and would help.

    Instead of walking the streets and staring at the avoda zora referred to as i phones, stare at your children and talk to them.

    Get off the phones and get involved with your children.

    If the schools/yeshivos don’t teach math, then get workbooks and help them at home, not only with the Math but other subjects too.


    Naysberg, you just continue to push the view that if we’re better on average than the public schools, that’s enough. But that’s not true. The average public school graduate does not need to support a family of 8+ on kosher food and private education. The average public school graduate is likely to be single or at least unmarried until 30-ish, giving him/her ample time to make up for whatever was missing in his/her education. I will continue later, for now, I have an exam…


    Alot of High School Graduates go onto College and earn Degrees.

    Many of the higher paying non-sales jobs will not let you in the door without the degree

    Ben Levi


    You cannot believe me all you want fact is I dropped out in mid tenth grade.

    And my point simply is that if you think a lack of a good HS education is a barrier to an ability to make a living you are wrong.

    And any attempt to state that yeshiva schools are so much worse off in their reading and writing skills that it makes it impossible for them to grt a job is laughable.

    And no it isn’t anecdotes, any one who deals with Customer Service can tell you that these days when people grow up with text speak most of the general population has a hard time reading and writing.

    About the only thing making the job market tough is the current economic policies but seeing as most of the yeshiva world voting for the Presidents opponent i don’t think they could be blamed for that.


    “And no it isn’t anecdotes, any one who deals with Customer Service can tell you that these days when people grow up with text speak most of the general population has a hard time reading and writing.”

    Your lack of punctuation, poor mechanics, and spelling mistakes makes it hard for me to read what you wrote.


    Not to mention the non-seqitur: “It isn’t anecdotes, anyone who deals with Customer Service can tell you <anecdotes>.”


    Did dnainfo.com look into the avg test score on the statewide mandated tests (eg regents for high schools), or did the article run with the few choice quotes it got about a “lack of education in yeshivos”. If they did not, I wonder if such data is available to the public. I would also ask them, why not.

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