Last week many hailed the passage of the New York State Tuition Assistance Program for rabbinical students. Many activists and community leaders hurried to claim credit for the passage of the historic bill that will shift much of the economic burden for Yeshivos. It was indeed historic; for the first time ever, rabbinical college students will be eligible to receive TAP grants. For many school-choice activists it seemed like a step in the right direction; it appeared to be a bill that will serve our community and assist our institutions. However, for many of us it looked like a step backwards; it felt as if it was a stride in the wrong direction.
President Barack Obama advocated for better education in his State of the Union. “Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success. But if we want to win the future – if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas – then we also have to win the race to educate our kids,” he exclaimed. He claimed that the United States education lags behind other competing nations, and attributed economic growth in foreign nations to better education. Indeed, David Baltimore, former President of the acclaimed Caltech University, claimed that America’s world economic stance is falling behind due to the lack of quality education.
The Jewish community needs to heed the message as well. Too many people are falling between the cracks because of inferior secular education. Far too many in our midst are unemployed or underemployed because of illiteracy. Staggering rent prices along with the expensive cost of living for orthodox-Jews is breaking us, and no end is in sight. Arrests and indictments of community members that occasionally make the news serve us as a reminder every so often, but the message isn’t taken. Yet, the latest phenomenon in many circles of the Jewish community that despises basic elementary education and sheds important secular studies to focus on more Talmudic studies continues. It is no question that our purpose is a Jewish education. But is that enough? Will we be able to support our children in spite of the inadequate education given in many Yeshivos?
Financial assistance for college and undergraduate education wasn’t created because of fairness; it was formed to give people the opportunity to strive. It is a program that was made to assist the poor and needy to achieve the American Dream, and prepare them for the future. It is an effective tool to prepare a person for the hardships in life and create more and better opportunities to get better, sustainable jobs and employment options. Rabbinical colleges didn’t receive the grants because of their cause not because of their religion. It wasn’t a discriminatory issue rather a syllabus matter.
The passage of TAP is indeed a milestone for many communities. Decades of hope, and years of tireless lobbying finally gave end results; it demonstrated that the work wasn’t in vain. Yet, is it to our favor? Is it such an achievement that we should celebrate with champagne?
Students attending rabbinical colleges with a curriculum that graduate ordained Rabbis with a future should celebrate; others should not. The thrill falls short of our expectations and doesn’t serve our needs. Financial assistance for colleges should be based on merits, and only those that graduate students with a profession or degree should deserve it. Courses should be created to prepare young men for jobs which should be paid by the financial assistance programs and it shouldn’t be used as a method to help Yeshivos survive.
School choice should be law because of equality. People should be able to choose the institution of their choice for their child’s education. Yeshivos and Hebrew schools should not have to carry the burden of raising funds for their institutions while their counterparts that often yield poorer results don’t. We, as law-abiding, tax-paying citizens of the United States, should deserve equality and choice. School choice will also enforce a better curriculum for Yeshivos that are lax with general studies. It would help the institution financially while the students will achieve better. A loophole in the system shouldn’t appease us. We should demand NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to work on the behalf of his orthodox-Jewish brethren and create a bill that will serve for our benefit – not against our interests.
Dave Hirsch is a political analyst and columnist. He can be reached at[email protected]
NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of YWN.