Why do you call yourselves “Young Advocates For Fair Education”?


It is mostly young Hasidic and formerly Hasidic individuals who come to recognize the adverse effects of a poor education in today’s society. YAFFED is a grassroots organization led by graduates of various Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox schools that aims to work together with these young individuals to bring about a lasting reform.

What does Yaffed hope to achieve?


YAFFED's goal is to see Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox Yeshivas offering their students a substantial general education in subjects such as English, math, science, social studies, geography and more. Yaffed's goal is for these subjects to be offered to elementary and high school students for at least three hours each day. Yaffed also hopes to bring about a change in attitude toward general education within ultra-Orthodox and Hassidic communities. YAFFED wants these religious institutions to understand that education is a Jewish value, and hopes to work together with community leaders to improve curricula in compliance with New York State law.

How does Yaffed hope to accomplish its goals?


Yaffed is working at the grassroots level to encourage Hasidic parents to demand a better education for their children.

At the same time, YAFFED is working to compel the Department of Education (DOE) to remedy this problem in collaboration with Yaffed staff and Yeshivas. 

Yaffed is also educating local elected officials about the issue so that they can work to ensure that Hasidic children receive the education to which they are entitled. 

How long will it take to achieve these goals?


While we do not expect to achieve our goals overnight, we do expect to see positive change even in the short run. There is a tremendous resistance to change within the ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic communities. It is for this reason that it may take several years until all Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox Yeshivas are fully compliant with state standards. However, we anticipate these difficulties and will work incrementally meeting smaller, short term goals at first, and achieving a complete success over a longer period of time.

Already, several Yeshivas have begun making small changes and introducing more to their secular studies curricula. Additionally, two different ultra-Orthodox communities have formed committees to take on the task of improving curricula in specific schools. Several ultra-Orthodox Rabbis have come out openly in support of secular education as a result of Yaffed's work. We see these signs as promising and we will be here for as long as it takes until every single Yeshiva is providing its students with a proper secular education. 

Why are ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Yeshivas reticent to provide a decent secular education?


There is a misconception among some individuals that secular studies are in conflict with their faith. This may be due to their misinterpretation of the text "and you shall study the Torah day and night." To some, this implies that Torah should be studied day and night to the exclusion of all other studies.

However, the Jewish tradition also mandates that "every father must teach his son a trade," and nearly all of the great Rabbis of the past were well educated in secular subjects.

Another reason Yeshivas are reticent to provide a secular education is their fear of secular influences. But "secular" here is a misnomer. In fact, to properly understand certain concepts in the Talmud, an advanced knowledge of certain "secular subjects" such as mathematics is necessary -- and yet many ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Yeshivas do not teach any math beyond basic arithmetic. Clearly, proper study of the Torah and Talmud practically demand what is today dubbed "secular education." 

Didn't Yeshivas in Europe sooner close their doors than permit secular studies?


Another misconception: The individuals who raise this question will often cite the closing of the Netziv's Yeshiva (Volozhin) after Czarist authorities compelled them to teach exclusively secular studies. But that is neither what Yaffed advocates for nor is it what the United States requires.

In fact, the Netziv initially complied with Russian requirements to teach secular studies in his Yeshiva because those studies did not go against his beliefs. It was only after the authorities declared that no Judaic studies be taught in his Yeshiva that the Netziv shut his doors, understandably, since without Judaic studies, Volozhin would hardly have been a Yeshiva.

The United States is very different from Czarist Russia. The United States respects religious liberties and upholds those liberties whereas Czarist Russia was never known to be friendly to religious Jews. 

Furthermore, there are hundreds of parochial non-public schools throughout the United States (and in other democratic countries), including a minority of Ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic schools, that teach both Judaic studies and the required secular studies. Yaffed looks to these schools as a model for the schools not currently meeting requirements.

Why do Hasidim need an education if they're all doing so well without it?


Although Hasidim are often reputed as being successful businessmen and real estate developers, these success stories make up only a small minority of the Hasidic population. 

According to the UJA Community Study, 43% of Hasidic families qualify as poor and an additional 16% qualify as near poor. The UJA attributed these high rates of poverty to inadequate education. 

The majority of Hasidic community members are suffering and are not well off at all, largely as a result of their lack of education. Clearly, Hasidim do need an education and they are doing very poorly without it. 

Does the government require that schools teach certain subjects?


Yes. New York education law 3204 requires all non-public schools to provide an education that is "substantially equivalent" to that of public schools. The list of required subjects can be found on the Department of Education’s website. It includes English, math, reading, writing, music, art, geography, U.S. and N.Y.S. history, science, physical education, and more. While public schools are more heavily regulated than private schools, the guidelines listed above do apply to private schools, and religious schools have the same legal and moral obligations as other private schools.

Who is supposed to enforce education laws pertaining to non-public schools?


The Department of Education (DOE) appoints district superintendents at the city level who are required to ensure that all schools within their districts, public and non-public, follow state guidelines. The DOE even has committees and members on the board of regents at the state level dedicated to non-public schools. Nonetheless, the DOE (both at the city and state level) has been shirking its responsibility to the Hasidic children attending non-compliant Yeshivas for decades. This is an egregious violation of the children's basic human rights which the DOE is party to and must be held accountable for.

Why don't Hasidic parents demand the schools improve or send their children to public school to avoid the problem?


Within the Hasidic community, many parents and former Yeshiva students are extremely frustrated by the state of Hasidic education, but they often refuse to speak up and demand change for fear of reprisal. The ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic community have a long history of threatening livelihood, intimidation and expelling children from Yeshiva when parents speak against the status quo. Through Yaffed's efforts, some parents and former students have become emboldened to demand change, but they still rely on organizations like Yaffed and the government to stand up for the children's rights since they do not feel empowered to do so on their own.

While public schools might seem like a viable alternative, the thought of sending a child to public school is unconscionable to most Hasidic parents. In any case, New York State law requires even non-public school children to receive a substantial education and it guarantees that the Department of Education will enforce education standards. That being the case, Hasidim should not be forced to send their children to public school in order for their children to receive an education required by law and which the DOE is obligated to oversee in non-public schools.

Why doesn't the Jewish community address this problem?


The Jewish community is made up of many different factions. There is the Hasidic community, the Modern Orthodox community, and the broader Jewish community and its leadership.

While the broader Jewish community and Modern Orthodox community value education, many of them are not aware of the extent of the problem in Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox communities. This is because the Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox communities are extremely insular.

The leadership in the broader Jewish community has been made duly aware of this problem, and behind the scenes, many Jewish activists have lent their support to Yaffed. However, for this problem to be addressed we need their full and vocal cooperation. The reason many of the leaders give for neglecting to fully take on this issue is their concern about upsetting the Hasidic leadership. But when it comes to the basic human rights of our children, and the skyrocketing poverty rates that result from the lack of education, the Jewish leadership needs to take a stronger position.  

Within the Hasidic community, the leaders are often just as afraid of upsetting those who prefer the status quo as their constituents are. Yaffed has spoken to a number of reputable ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Rabbis and leaders who have acknowledged the problem of a lack of education and even encouraged Yaffed in its work. However, these very Rabbis request that Yaffed not release their names publicly as they feared their views would be unpopular or controversial and would compromise their standing in the community.

What's the worst case scenario?


Worst case scenario: 

The Hasidic population continues to grow exponentially. By 2030, Hasidic children are projected to constitute 30% of the children in Brooklyn. With their minimal education, they will not be able to achieve financial security and a majority of them will be living in poverty. (Already, according to the UJA Community Study of 2011, nearly 60% of Hasidic families in New York are poor or near poor.) As trends in other populations suffering from low levels of education indicate, many Hasidim may resort to crime to accommodate their financial needs. 

If the aforementioned were to occur, local anti-Semitism would likely reach a boiling point, affecting all Jews in the area. This is already beginning to occur in East Ramapo and it would be catastrophic if this trend were to spread throughout New York State.

The worst case scenario is dire indeed, and it can all be curtailed if basic education standards are enforced in Hasidic schools.