For many Orthodox Jewish families, it is a choice between getting their kids a better quality education and becoming social pariahs.
Many parents have removed their children from Jewish day schools in order to get a better secular education, and hence a better life.
The issue, though not new, is timely: New York State recently announced new guidelines to improve the nonreligious curriculum within the yeshiva system.
As part of the state’s ruling, the New York City Department of Education is giving yeshivas three years to clean up their act, demanding that the religious schools ensure a curriculum “substantially equivalent” to that of public schools, the New York Post has reported.
“In a speech on Wednesday in East Williamsburg, Satmar Rebbe Aron Teitelbaum called for defiance of regulations,” the Post noted. “If the commissioner of education wants to fix education in the state of New York, he can go to the public schools and fix the education being offered there,” said Teitelbaum in a speech translated from Yiddish. “The Jewish nation will not bow or give in to the wicked, not even the commissioner of education . . . we will go out to war against the commissioner in every way.”
“Every child has a fundamental right to receive a quality education,” the chancellor of the state Board of Regents, Betty Rosa, said in a statement. “The process should be a collaborative effort that is a mutually beneficial learning process for leaders of both public and nonpublic schools resulting in appropriate educational opportunities for the children they serve.”
The new regulations come “as power in Albany swings away from the Orthodox Jewish community,” according to The Forward. “The November elections stripped the extraordinary power of State Sen. Simcha Felder, who represents heavily Orthodox neighborhoods in Brooklyn, and who controlled a key vote in the fractured Senate chamber. Voters delivered the Senate to the Democrats in November, a double blow to the Orthodox, who had close ties to Senate Republicans, and to Felder.”
According to the newspaper Hamodia, a “major ambiguity among yeshivah advocates is the hours required for secular studies. The toolkit provided by the education department… stated that there must be an hour and 12 minutes a day each devoted to English language arts, social studies, science and math. It also includes sessions in visual arts, music and other subjects. This would require an investment of about seven hours a day. But the guidelines include the term “or the equivalent.” Askanim told Hamodia they were seeking guidance from the state to determine what that meant.”
A statement by Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, a yeshivah advocacy group knowns as PEARLS, made it clear that while there are positive aspects to the report, they would fight to preserve the Torah chinuch that was revived on these shores after the war, Hamodia reported.
“Any attempt to impose uniformity on the almost 1,800 nonpublic schools in New York state, however well-intentioned,” the group stated, “is only going to succeed if it appropriately accounts for the uniqueness of our schools and our educational system.”
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