Why Don't Yeshivas Provide a Better Education?

Since founding Yaffed in 2012, I’ve maintained that the city and state Departments of Education are the main culprits in depriving Hasidic boys of an education, and not the yeshivas themselves. This position is stated quite clearly on Yaffed’s website and it is a position I have expressed many times in interviews as well. However, in recent months, religious leaders’ own words and actions have made it clear to me that the blame is joint -- yeshivas are not acting merely out of ignorance or ineptness as I had supposed; rather, they are willfully denying children a basic education, flouting the law, and working to sabotage my efforts to improve education for tens of thousands of Hasidic children.

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What's Going on in Israel?

In Israel, a debate is brewing about education in Ultra-Orthodox yeshivas just like here in America. While parts of the struggle for secular education in Israel sound similar to the struggle in America, many aspects of the situation are quite different. For instance, Ultra Orthodox Jews in Israel regularly hold demonstrations around a variety of issues (most recently, 30,000 came out to protest at a Jerusalem army conscription center), and Ultra Orthodox parties frequently decide the fate of the ruling coalition based on their support. Ultra Orthodox Jews make up roughly ten percent of Israel’s population, while Ultra-Orthodox Jews currently make up far less than ten percent of New York City alone. Haredim have a lot more political power in Israel than they do in the US  due to their numbers and this power dynamic has led to different developments in the fight for better education over the last year.

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Chabad, the Rebbe and Secular Education

There is really no group that I have so many differences with yet also respect deeply quite like Chabad. As Yale’s Hillel co-president, I am awed by Chabad’s outreach formula that involves being extremely welcoming and open minded, and also authentically Jewish at the same time. Yet I am perplexed by their stance toward education which can at times seem antithetical to Jewish values and even to their own expressed values.

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Kudos to BMG, but Hasidic Children Still Deserve an Education

In a recent article on crosscurrents.com, Yitzchak Adlerstein seems to argue that yeshiva boys do not need a secular education. His reason: Lakewood’s Beth Medrash Govoha (BMG), a beis medrash (place of Torah study for adult men who are past high school age) with thousands of students, was ranked top in the state as the university with the highest proportion of students passing the CPA exam. Adlerstein goes on to say that “If motivated people in their 20’s with practically no secular education at all can compete effectively with products of conventional educational systems, what can we learn about all the drill and reinforcement that is part of elementary education? Are some kids wasting years of time because they could learn material much more quickly when a bit older?”

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