Op-Ed By Rabbi David Niederman: Setting The Record Straight On Yeshivas

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In response to the recent attacks on yeshivas, Rabbi David Niederman – a member of the executive member of PEARLS – set the record straight in an op-ed in the NY Daily News this morning titled “The Ugly Attack On N.Y. Yeshivas”

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.

(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)


20 COMMENTS

  1. As much as I agree with Rabbi Niederman in viewing the Yaffed attack on yeshivos as mean-spirited, vicious, and revengeful, I disagree with the rose colored glasses he wears when describing yeshivos. Yes, his description is quite accurate in the ideal yeshiva. But it is not an accurate report of what actually happens in real life. He is correct in noting that there have been sincere and expensive efforts to bring about improvement, and that there is room for much more. But the utopian view he has is simply not factual.

    The bulk of the yeshivos, to the right of center, treat secular education in a most demeaning manner. It is not a requirement for many, and those yeshivos with fewer hours per week of secular instruction herald themselves as better and frummer yeshivos. This mentality extends to the streets, and this perception of yeshivos is commonplace among hamohn am.

    The Talmudic learning trains the brain in analytical reasoning far beyond the spoon feeding that characterizes public schools, and the average yeshiva talmid is capable of engaging in that in mid-elementary grades. All nice. But the yeshiva experience for so many talmidim is frightening.

    The average classroom rebbe has little to no training, barging into a classroom right out of kollel, with nothing over the students besides age and years of learning – none of which are qualifications to be a good rebbe. Curriculum building, teaching techniques, classroom management strategies (exclusive of discipline), how to utilize audio-visual aids, how to teach the classroom of students of mixed learning potentials, how to make the teaching environment enjoyable, how to establish an individual relationship with every single talmid, how to generate a true love of Torah, and how to inculcate midos tovos into the daily lessons – all are untaught. There is minimal amount of supervision of rebbeim, and when the rebbe fails (such as a talmid failing a test), little is done to remedy the situation. This is on the Judaic side of the school program.

    So when the spoken or unspoken message about secular studies is to degrade them, what are kids expected to do? The classrooms become rough and unmanageable, and the heimishe yungerleit paid bupkis to teach are easily frustrated and overwhelmed. Education is apt to be missing, despite the programs and textbooks existing.

    I join with the outcry against the nasty attacks by Yaffed. I believe they arise from negative emotional stuff, rather than a sincere effort to improve things. I wish they would go away. But they entered an area which has been deeply troubled, and continues to be so, even with the rose colored glasses.

  2. How do kids in these schools perform on standardized tests? Either they are or aren’t being educated properly and with basic skill sets. The facts should set the record straight.
    Whether or not they teach Socrates methods or are ultimately becoming doctors or lawyers is completely irrelevant.

  3. I have taught in all the major Chasidish boys schools over the years and the kids are minimum 3 years behind their public school counterparts academically. And the only subjects really taught are math and reading. Also the years they learn “English” are from grades 2-6 that’s it!

  4. Yeshiva students go out and have very successful busineses real estate etc. I know some of them that have buildings in Manhattan. Look around how many frum doctors and lawyers around that went to yeshiva not public schools. The people that brought this up are trying to go against the frum way of life they couldn’t care less if the kids get an education

  5. @gilda Get a grip! How many Satmar kids do you know that are doctors or lawyers? How many Bobover kids? How many Vishnitz? How many professionals? None. The’re illiterates at the very best. I am very against Yaafed and Moster the Moser. He is a terrible Rasha. But Moster is for the most part being busy with Chassidish Yeshivas.

    Yeshivas like Chaim Berlin, Mir, Cheder, Torah Temimah, Chofetz Chaim etc have fairly serious English departments. English is 4 hours a day and test are serious. How many Chassidish Yehsivas give regents exams? How many Chassidish boys graduate with a regents diploma?

    Do me a favor.

    It’s one big fat joke.

  6. Me thinks this op-ed will come back to haunt Niederman bigly.

    The average kid in any of his Satmar yeshivas would know geometry if it hit them in the face. American history? My foot. They don’t even know what the constitution is. What the deceleration of independence is.

  7. Good article.

    I am afraid that there are certain yeshivos that fail their students – both in secular and perhaps even more in Jewish education. Instead of being institutions of learning they are glorified babysitters. Unfortunately, the low budgets that many of these yeshivos operate on leaves them very little alternative. And unfortunately they tend to be found in chassidishe areas.

    YAFFED may be mean spirited but the sad truth is that many yeshivos fail their students – maybe even more in the Jewish studies than in the secular studies – not because they devalue either but simply because they are not very good at what they do.

  8. I’m currently in yeshiva system and I receive zero secular education. I just can’t believe that he’ll lie about it.He writes that the parents have a choice but the truth is that we don’t have a choice because if a parent will send his child to not a yeshiva they not be part of the community.

  9. Dropout:

    Your comment is a perfect specimen of how primitive the average yeshiva talmid is, and how infantile and incorrect their attempts at writing English are. Today, word processing goes far in correcting spelling and some grammar. But one must come from a position of knowledge so that many other mistakes don’t either destroy the message or render the writing a laughing stock.

    I am certain you meant to say that a Satmar yeshiva kid would NOT know geometry if it hit them in the face. So much for technology repairing the written word.

    I do know what the Constitution is. But, pray tell, what is the Deceleration of Independence? It might have something to do with the left wing liberals who want to punish whites for being white, and for their thought police who are entitled to strip you of your rights in the name of independence. Once again, one needs knowledge and saichel; technology cannot bridge the gap.

  10. “I have taught in all the major Chasidish boys schools over the years. . . And the only subjects really taught. . . Also the years they learn “English” are from grades 2-6 that’s it!”

    Not true. I was a principal in one of the largest such schools (and I have advanced degrees in science and education without any Yeshiva credits) and I can attest to the fact that (a) secular studies (chachmas chitzoniyus) is taught through 7 – 8 grade and (b) they accomplish their educational goals better than many/most public schools and perhaps, l’havdil, Yeshivos.

  11. Moster is a moser. But Chassidish chaderim/yeshivas do need to teach basic English language skills and math. They are failing in that department.

    Sorry, to burst some of your bubbles, but public school kids and graduates barely know American history. If they ever learnt anything in school, by the time they’re out, it’s out of their brains.

    I take issue with Chareidi schools overburdening the girls with too much memorization of subjects that have no practical application later in life. By the time the average Chareidy girl from NY graduates from school , after years of needless pressure, they only remember 25% of what they learnt.

  12. My son went through elementary school in the Bobover Cheder and high-school in the Stoliner Yeshivah. He then studied a few years in Bais-Ha’Talmud (Bensonhurst) while studying for various degrees in his free time.

    He then went to law-school (only after he got married!) and is now a Lawyer in Chicago. (And he wears a Shtreimel on Shabbos.)

    “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”. (without compromising on the most important study for the young mind… namely, Torah!!!)

  13. In my profession, I worked with an elderly Satmar businessman from Williamsburg, and he was sophisticated, genteel, and educated. He referred his son to me, but told me that his son does not have a good command of the English language. When I received an e-mail from his son a few days later, a man in his early 20s, I could barely understand it. He couldn’t put a comprehensible sentence together. And when I spoke with him it was worse. And there was nothing with him, he just did not receive any meaningful education in their school system, and both the father and the son acknowledged that.