October 2022 Church & State Magazine

N.Y. Yeshivas Offer Little Secular Education, Report Says

  N.Y. Yeshivas Offer Little Secular Education, Report Says

A string of religious schools run by Orthodox Jewish groups in New York are failing to offer secular education, as state law requires, even as they pull in hundreds of millions in taxpayer support, The New York Times reported last month.

The in-depth piece by The Times examined the schools, known as yeshivas, and found that most of them emphasize religious instruction and memorization of the Torah. Secular subjects such as math, science and English are relegated to a few hours a week, if they’re offered at all. Since instruction is in Yiddish, many students emerge with only a rudimentary grasp of English.

In 2019, The Times reported, one of the yeshivas, the Central United Talmudical Academy, agreed to give its more than 1,000 students standardized tests in reading and math that are used by the state. Every student failed.

“Students at nearly a dozen other schools run by the Hasidic community recorded similarly dismal outcomes that year, a pattern that under ordinary circumstances would signal an education system in crisis,” The Times story reported. “But where other schools might be struggling because of underfunding or mismanagement, these schools are different. They are failing by design. The leaders of New York’s Hasidic community have built scores of private schools to educate children in Jewish law, prayer and tradition – and to wall them off from the secular world. Offering little English and math, and virtually no science or history, they drill students relentlessly, sometimes brutally, during hours of religious lessons conducted in Yiddish.”

Some former students are speaking out. Moishy Klein, who left the Hasidic community, said the education he received left him unprepared to deal with the outside world.

“I don’t know how to put into words how frustrating it is,” Klein said. “I thought, ‘It’s crazy that I’m literally not learning anything. It’s crazy that I’m 20 years old, I don’t know any higher order math, never learned any science.’”

Despite these dismal outcomes, the schools receive millions in public support. The Times reported that the schools get public funds to pay for government mandates and provide various social services. Taxpayer money, the newspaper charged, ends up “subsidiz[ing] their theological curriculum.”

In 2019, noted The Times, Hasidic schools for boys received more than $375 million from local, state and federal government sources.

New York officials have occasionally vowed to crack down on the schools, citing a state law that requires private schools to offer an education equivalent to what students receive in public schools. But critics say the law isn’t being enforced because the Hasidic rabbis, who control a large bloc of voters, hold too much political power.

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