A memorandum alleging that ultra-Orthodox yeshivahs do not provide substantially equivalent education as public schools was sent to the desk of Mayor-elect Eric Adams on December 20 by Naftuli Moster, Executive Director of Yaffed, an advocacy group hellbent on destroying the yeshivah system.
The Rabbinical Alliance of America-Igud HaRabbonim, representing over 950 American rabbis- responded, “One of the most important issues currently facing the Jewish community of New York City is the ability to educate our children in a proper yeshivah environment that trains them to be good Americans and at the same time teaches them to remain true to our faith and traditions. Our yeshivah educational system has produced generations of productive, loyal, resourceful, and respectful New Yorkers who have contributed much to the growth of the city’s economic, civic, and cultural greatness. The vast and diverse yeshivah system in New York City is currently thriving as it offers parents a spectrum of schools to fit each child’s unique needs. Never before in history has a Jewish parent had so many school choices as in New York City today.”
Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council executive director Yossi Gestetner released a statement to the Mayor-elect. “You and your administration will sadly be trolled by noisemakers regarding Hasidic yeshivas,” began Gestetner. “Therefore, I would like to make you aware of three core points on this topic. Gestetner noted the legal aspect that “according to New York State law, private school students must receive an education that is “subsequently equivalent” to an education given in public school. However, this is unenforceable because its meaning is too abstract. If the law is left unchanged, yeshivas will continue to be in good standing as they were for years.
Gestetner wrote of the curriculum that Hasidic boys endure. Children “as young as nine years old attend school for 10 hours a day, which is longer than public school students. Judaic studies encompass history, geography, mathematics, biology, ethics, and subjects that require critical thinking. Later in the day, the standard yeshivah curriculum includes English instruction and science. As such, yeshivah students are exposed to the core topics required to earn a General Equivalency Diploma (GED). Detractors of yeshivahs use the term ‘religious’ studies regarding yeshivahs to suggest that the day is packed with stories and prayers rather than also including an all-encompassing educational program.”
Gestetner then outlined the outcome that a Hasidic-populated neighborhood shines “with peace and tranquility, strong family and community foundations, employment and business, charitable institutions, volunteerism, and overall civic engagement, low crime rates, low infant death rates, practically no homelessness and almost no youth and criminal detention. All this is proof of an amazing education system. However, unique dynamic in this community – starting families at an early age and having larger families – skews some economic outcome data points, which detractors use to obscure the amazing success seen among Hasidim.”
Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, executive vice-president of the RAA, stated, “Incoming Mayor Eric Adams is a true friend of all New Yorkers and he is a firm believer in cultural sensitivity and diversity. We are personally familiar with Mayor-elect Eric Adams and consider him a good friend of the Jewish community. We are certain that he recognizes the importance of religiously and culturally sensitive education and will do whatever is in his power to continue the success of New York City’s yeshivah system. Nearly all of our member rabbis have attended yeshivah from grade school through rabbinic ordination, where they learned our religious sacred texts and traditions alongside the knowledge necessary to become productive citizens of this great city and country.”
On a personal note, I have witnessed the idiocy of Moster during Agudah meetings promoting yeshivah education held in Albany. Politicians have long seen through Moster’s act and have seemingly not paid much attention to his antics. I have discussed my wonderful yeshivah education at Yeshiva Tiferes Moshe and Yeshiva of Far Rockaway with the Mayor-elect, and believe he knows very well how detailed and vast a yeshiva education truly is.
I would also like to acknowledge that Rabbi Mirocznik has been appointed as a member of Mayor-elect Eric Adam’s transition team as a distinguished member of the Clergy Committee. In this role, Rabbi Mirocznik will serve the city’s residents as a representative of the Jewish community in this time of important change.
By Shabsie Saphirstein