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NY State Proposed Regulations Threaten Orthodox Jewish Schools

NY State Proposed Regulations Threaten Orthodox Jewish Schools

A proposed set of regulations that require private schools to be “substantially equivalent” to public schools threaten to wreak havoc with Orthodox Jewish yeshivas in New York. Religious education leaders and parents are starting to fight back.

When I finally reached him earlier this month, Rabbi Yeruchim Silber was in his car, catching up on emails. He was going to be there for a while, he told me, because he had just come out of five straight hours of meetings with state education officials in Albany.

Rabbi Silber is the Director of New York Government Relations at Agudath Israel of America, (the Agudah) a major organization that advocates on behalf of Orthodox Jews.

He was in the state’s capital to talk about a number of issues[*], including a proposed set of regulations that require private schools to be “substantially equivalent” to public schools—and threaten to wreak havoc with Orthodox Jewish yeshivas in New York this fall.

“Substantial Equivalency”

Under the new rules, school authorities who now toss aside objective standards in the name of diversity, equity, and inclusion will apply them with rigor to Orthodox Jews and their yeshivas.

The proposed regulations require that nonpublic schools submit themselves to review by a local school authority (LSA) readied with a list of “objective criteria”—and the power to determine whether the private school meets them or not:

Section 130.9 of the proposed rule provides that, when reviewing a nonpublic school for substantial equivalency, an LSA and the Commissioner, when he or she is responsible for making the final determination, must consider the following criteria:

  • Instruction is given only by a competent teacher;

  • English is the language of instruction for common branch subjects;

  • Students who have limited English proficiency are provided with instructional programs enabling them to make progress toward English language proficiency;

  • Accreditation materials from the last five years;

  • The instructional program in the nonpublic school as a whole incorporates instruction in mathematics, science, English language arts, and social studies that is substantially equivalent to such instruction required to be provided in public schools pursuant to Education Law §3204(3);

  • Similar courses of instruction to the course of instruction required by law in public schools in: patriotism and citizenship; history, meaning, significance and effect of the provisions of the Constitution of the United States and the amendments thereto, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the State of New York and the amendments thereto; instruction in New York State history and civics; instruction in physical education and kindred subjects; instruction in health education regarding alcohol, drugs, and tobacco abuse; instruction in highway safety and traffic regulation; instruction in fire drills and in fire and arson prevention, injury prevention, and life safety education; and instruction in hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation and the use of an automated external defibrillator; and

  • For nonpublic schools meeting the criteria for Commissioner’s final substantial equivalency determinations in Education Law §3204(2)(ii)-(iii), the criteria enumerated in such statute.

The problem is that none of these criteria acknowledge any academic value in the basic course of study in traditional yeshivas, making “a cruel mockery of the review process,” says Rabbi David Zwiebel, the Executive Vice President of the Agudah.

Rabbi Zwiebel explains that the religious subjects include “the study of Chumash (Bible), Mishna, Talmud, the Codes of Jewish Law and the various other sacred Jewish texts,” in their original Hebrew and Aramaic.

And it is these subjects, in particular the study of Talmud, that are the most intellectually challenging. Brooklyn Law School’s Professor Aaron Twerski, a former Dean of Hofstra Law School, would know. He is also “the father, grandfather, and great-grandfather of over 100 descendants all who attended yeshivos.” In his letter opposing the regulations, he writes:

As a law professor for over five decades, I can tell you that the intellectual rigor of Talmudic studies exceeds by far the standard fare in public education. Our children are taught how to read text critically and are schooled in the Socratic method. They enter the world of commerce with the skills to be problem solvers and their successes are notable.

But under the new guidelines, many of the best yeshivas, Rabbi Zwiebel says,  “would likely fall short in a substantial equivalency review unless they make significant changes to their school day schedules.”

In other words, unless they became more like public schools.

How It Started, How It’s Going

In fact, the substantial equivalency requirement has been the law in New York for over a hundred years. But for virtually all this time, the state has not interfered with the yeshivas’ traditional dual curriculum combining religious and secular studies.

The yeshivas must have been doing something right, because  enrollment in New York has exploded over the past decades.

The trouble started several years ago when a group of former yeshiva students, dissatisfied with the secular education they received, mobilized. Bolstered by a liberal press with an appetite and audience for stories about Orthodox Jewish defectors, the group set out on a relentless, years-long campaign for reform. The yeshiva system failed them, they claimed, and they turned to the state to fix it.

It is hard to argue with the worthy goal of the underlying  compulsory education law: to see to it that all children “receive the instruction that will fit them for their place in society.” But Rabbi Silber says that is exactly what a traditional yeshiva education prepares its students to do—take their place in society. “Judaic studies prepare students for adult life,” he says. “They not only train them to think critically; they prepare them for communal life and many professions, both secular and religious.”

Parents Can Go to Jail

But those facts don’t matter under the new rules. Woe betides both the schools that fail to meet them and the parents of their students: The Education Commissioner is authorized to “withhold one-half of all public school moneys from any city or district”  that refuses to enforce the new regulations.  And it’s not only about the money. If a school fails to meet the new standards, parents of children who attend it can be fined and even imprisoned.

No Limit to Government Intrusion

There is more: If the rules are adopted, there is no limit to the government’s intrusion on private school autonomy: Even if a yeshiva—or any private school—passes the “substantial equivalency” test, that doesn’t necessarily end the state’s inquiry.

The new rules empower the state Education Commissioner to order an investigation of a nonpublic school if he or she “receives a complaint” or “has concern regarding the substantial equivalency of instruction at a nonpublic school, regardless of whether a complaint has been submitted.” (Emphasis added). And even once a school is determined to be “substantially equivalent,”  “persons considering themselves aggrieved” (emphasis added) by the determination can appeal it.

Read together, these proposed regulations grant near plenary power to the Commissioner to open an investigation on the say-so of virtually anyone or no one at all, for virtually any reason—even  for a school that has already qualified as “substantially equivalent.” The rules set no limit to the number of times the school authorities can subject a school to yet another review. As Avi Schick, the lawyer representing the yeshiva advocates, said in an interview with Hamodia, if adopted in their proposed form, the rules “would essentially make it open season on yeshivos.”

Fighting Back

The Jewish schools’ proponents—a diverse group reflecting a community of over 400 yeshivas in New York—are fighting back against the new rules.

According to the Agudah, individuals, parents, and professionals submitted a quarter of a million comments opposing the New York Board of Regents during the public comments period that ended on May 31st this year.

The Threat to School Choice

So far, the greatest opposition to the new regulations has come from the yeshiva community. But once they are adopted, the door to state intervention in all private schools will be wide open. What is to stop the government from taking the same warped educational philosophy and woke curricula poisoning the public schools and forcing them on the private schools under the rubric, for example, of “instruction in physical education and kindred subjects?” There is no limiting principle to prevent the state from reaching its tentacles back into other private school sectors in the name of “substantial equivalency.”

A Model for School Choice

About ten years ago, when the movement for “substantial equivalency” was just beginning, the idea that the government could be trusted to set academic standards for both public and private schools would have seemed reasonable to most people.  Just like trusting the police. Or the media. Or health care experts.

But the days of such deference are over, a recent Gallup poll shows. Confidence in major U.S. institutions has collapsed, their demise accelerated by the pandemic. People are beginning to defer to their own judgment rather than to the institutions that abused their trust.

Nowhere is this reorientation of the public’s trust on more vibrant display than in the school choice movement sweeping the country.

The pandemic, as we’ve written here before, precipitated a parents’ awakening. During the Covid shutdowns, parents could see into the virtual classrooms for the first time, and they started paying more attention, not only to what their children were being taught, but also to who was teaching it to them and how.

They learned that teachers unions, not their children’s safety, dictated when schools would reopen. In New York, they have now seen how public schools affirmatively ignore violence in the name of “restorative justice”; how they pay for library lessons in moral depravity; how they promote immorality; and how they sneak in CRT.

They have seen these things and they are leaving the public school system in droves, not only in New York, but nationwide.

Parents realize that they should rely on their own judgment, not the state’s, to direct their children’s education.

And that’s why, within the problem for New York’s yeshivas lies the solution: a model for school choice—for everyone.

The model is not new, but its track record is long:  Jewish law places the obligation to educate children where it belongs, on the individuals who have the greatest stake in the outcome—the parents. Teachers and schools, therefore, are properly understood as the parents’ agents, not their masters. Parents choose who teaches their children.

Instead of looking to the state’s moribund model to regulate private schools, we should look to the one that has sustained its people for thousands of years—and let the parents decide how to educate their children.

[* This wording was added after publication for clarity.]

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Comments

Levinas “Nine Talmudic Readings” is pretty good. Study based on what you’re supposed to get out of it would be pretty dull but Levinas goes for surprises.

The Gentle Grizzly | July 18, 2022 at 7:45 pm

“ The trouble started several years ago when a group of former yeshiva students, dissatisfied with the secular education they received, mobilized.”

More Jews shooting themselves in the foot. Again.

    Geologist in reply to The Gentle Grizzly. | July 18, 2022 at 8:27 pm

    I know several Orthodox families in Los Angeles, and I have been shocked at the lack of secular education their children got in yeshiva. Their knowledge of what I consider to be esoteric Jewish topics was extensive, however.

    I can understand yeshiva graduates being unhappy when the protective bubble bursts and they discover the wide world out there! Especially when they discover that there are girls and what they’ve been missing in their cloistered lives.

      Milhouse in reply to Geologist. | July 19, 2022 at 2:22 am

      In the long run, who’s to say which set of knowledge is more important? Who’s to say it’s more important to know about Julius Caesar than about Hillel? William the Conqueror than Rashi? The Marquis de Lafayette than the Vilner Gaon?

        Eric R. in reply to Milhouse. | July 19, 2022 at 6:31 am

        I don’t disagree on that specific point, but students should learn proficiency in English, Math and Science in any school.

          Milhouse in reply to Eric R.. | July 20, 2022 at 11:34 am

          In your opinion. But what gives anyone the right to impose that opinion on those who disagree with it? The supreme court said almost a century ago that one of the unenumerated freedoms protected by the 9th amendment is the right of parents to decide how to raise their children; what values they will be taught, what they need to know to succeed in life (and after, if they think that’s a consideration).

          Many yeshivas do teach those subjects, and do at least as well at it as the NY public schools do. Many do much better. And some don’t teach those subjects, or don’t teach them well, because in their opinion, and that of the parents who send their children there, such proficiency is a lower priority, and if a child ends up needing them later in life he can obtain them then. That opinion deserves the same standing as any other.

          Remember that for centuries, until WW1, there were large communities of German-Americans who got along just fine not being proficient in English, and not teaching their children English. And government didn’t go in and force them.

          Arminius in reply to Eric R.. | July 20, 2022 at 1:34 pm

          You forget; the goal is to make non-public schools substantially equivalent to public schools. Since public schools have stopped teaching those subjects in favor of CRT, climate hysteria, and radical gender ideology I don’t see why Yeshivas should need to up their game in English, math, and science.

      ahad haamoratsim in reply to Geologist. | July 19, 2022 at 6:10 am

      Yeshivos do not teach their students that people are whatever sex they care to be, or that sex is for casual recreation, that parenthood is a punishment, that marriage is a trap, or that people of the same sex are free to have sex with one another.

      I suspect that NY is not happy about that and would like the power to mandate otherwise, like the UK has been doing.

        Bingo. New York public schools are hemorrhaging students to private schools because parents don’t want their kids exposed to that poison, so what’s a good Leftist to do? Easy. Force all NY private schools to teach the same poison that’s taught in NY public schools, so when parents see there’s no advantage in transferring, they’ll keep their kids in public school.

        Of course, NY parents will realize they can avoid exposing their kids to that poison by moving to a another state that doesn’t allow its public schools to indoctrinate students with woke propaganda. But at that point, of course, the Left will introduce Federal legislation or regulations nationalizing the NY state policy, so there will be no escape from it.

        It’s the old Gramscian incrementalism trick, or as I like to call it, Communism on the installment plan.

        Steven Brizel in reply to ahad haamoratsim. | July 19, 2022 at 8:35 am

        This is the essence of what the really NYSED wants in all yeshivos and not just the yeshivos that Agudah is fighting for, which are more Charedi ( i.e. traditional) as opposed to Modern Orthodox-instruction that children have two fathers or mothers, gender fluidity and the whole LGBT agenda-The Modern Orthodox don’t get it-bureaucrats, and especially woke educational bureacrats love to expand their realm of regulatory authority and issue more regulations-Regulations that target the traditional yeshivos will ultimately target the Modern Orthodox world on the issue of gender fluidity.

        We (speaking as a Christian here) do not want our religious or private schools to be equal to public schools. We want them to remain superior to government schools.

        The problem isn’t religion, it’s competition. And the govt. schools are losing.

      A Punk Named Yunk in reply to Geologist. | July 19, 2022 at 11:11 am

      I’m not buying it, Geologist.

      My Yeshivah education, in a quite religious school, more than adequately prepared me for college and the real world. If they could incorporate “Shop” in the secular curriculum it would be better. In Talmud I studied a lot of civil law (as reluctantly as ANY student would study stuff that seems esoteric to a young teen) as well as ethics, stuff sorely lacking in the public school system. That was the sacred studies. I took 4 years of math and sciences – biology, chemistry and physics, world & American history, English etc. (OK, I confess I was a bit over the top.) There was nothing lacking in my secular education. It was unfortunate that only some of my secular teachers were Yeshivah graduates themselves, especially the history teachers.

      What knowledge was lacking in the students you knew? Were they illiterate? Or had they simply never read Shakespeare?

        Geologist in reply to A Punk Named Yunk. | July 19, 2022 at 6:27 pm

        Yunk, I am glad that you are satisfied in your education. My friends’ children were not educated in English and American literature, American or world history (aside from Jewish history, which they were taught in considerable detail), civics, STEM and a myriad of other secular subjects. I am glad that you were better taught!

        I know that they learned rhetoric and were skilled in analysis and argument. I know that their yeshiva education was welcomed by college admission offices.

        Yunk, your school is not the kind of yeshiva this is about. Though if the state gets its way schools like yours would be swept up too, which is why they’re fighting it. But this is really about the kind of yeshiva where secular subjects are not taught very well, or not at all. And it’s about the constitutional right of parents to choose that sort of education and educational philosophy for their children.

        This whole movement was started by a dropout from Skver, who discovered that his school education didn’t prepare him for college. That’s true, and deliberate. Preparing kids for college is not the purpose of those schools. They give their students the best preparation for the kind of life they are most likely to end up leading; if they choose something else, they will have to take some remedial classes, just as when someone with a more standard education chooses to live a chassidishe life they need remedial classes. If someone chooses to move to another country, they’ll have to learn the language; that doesn’t mean their school was at fault for not teaching them that language in the first place. This is much the same thing.

    dunce1239 in reply to The Gentle Grizzly. | July 19, 2022 at 7:08 pm

    It is notable that Gov. Hochul is Jewish.

My advice would be to make common cause with every other private, parochial or homeschool group in the State as well as every school choice group. Then do what it takes to eventually win.

I say eventually because they are very likely to lose the first round to the bureaucracy, the second round to the unions and the third round to the politicians. Dig into their position, be resolute and dig deep into their pockets to win a contest of attrition. If they can’t make you quit then they can’t be assured of victory.

    Gosport in reply to CommoChief. | July 18, 2022 at 8:50 pm

    Maybe they can talk to the folks who run the many madrassas in New York as I strongly doubt the local school authority (LSA) will ever dare set foot in one much less criticize it.

      CommoChief in reply to Gosport. | July 18, 2022 at 10:46 pm

      Politics sometimes makes for strange bedfellows.

        Eric R. in reply to CommoChief. | July 19, 2022 at 6:29 am

        In Europe, religious Jews and Muslims have banded together in several countries to fight bans on Shechita/Halal slaughter and on circumcision.

        Danny in reply to CommoChief. | July 19, 2022 at 2:03 pm

        Or not so strange. The Muslims didn’t care enough about Israel/Palestine to avoid the Republican Party pre-George W Bush when they voted Republican at 90%+, and traditional Muslims are in most ways similar to traditional Christians and Jews.

        It was the George W Bush years that (rightly) alienated them. The U.S. Federal government under Bush was doing exactly the same to Muslims it is doing to us now and we invaded a Muslim country unprovoked killing countless people there (there are even people here at LI who cling to the Bush era dehumanization campaign even as the same people behind that campaign have moved to dehumanizing us).

      Milhouse in reply to Gosport. | July 19, 2022 at 2:22 am

      I don’t think there are many madrassas in NY.

        Gosport in reply to Milhouse. | July 19, 2022 at 8:10 am

        And yet there are.

        Danny in reply to Milhouse. | July 19, 2022 at 2:08 pm

        There are enough for common cause to be made; frankly if there was only one that would be enough to make common cause with. New York is one of a tiny handful of states to have a Muslim population, and like the Jewish population it is small.

        We could hang together or the progressive leftists will laugh hysterically as they hang our religious institutions of education separately.

The Gentle Grizzly | July 18, 2022 at 8:12 pm

Question: a lot of non-Catholic kids attend Parochial schools. To the Yeshiva schools admit non-Jews?

    It is fairly rare. Catholic school from what I have heard from friends who attended them is much more focused on ‘secular’ topics. In a yeshiva the religious studies are a larger portion, often more then 1/2, of the curriculum.

    There are non Yeshiva Jewish day schools with curriculum more akin to Catholic schools but they tend to be priced more akin to private schools.

    They certainly don’t try to, but I am aware of a few cases where the parents knew exactly what sort of education was being offered and insisted they wanted that for their children, and they were admitted.

Bear, I doubt that any non-Jews would apply to yeshiva. A lot of non-Catholics attend parochial schools, for the quality of the education, the greater involvement by the parents and (at least fifty years ago) the greater discipline in the schools. Parochial school was an affordable private school.

I cannot think of a reason why a non-Jew would attend yeshiva. Seriously.

    The Gentle Grizzly in reply to Geologist. | July 18, 2022 at 9:04 pm

    Just wondered. I know very little about these matters.

    jb4 in reply to Geologist. | July 18, 2022 at 9:27 pm

    My wife, daughters and now two young grandchildren have all attended the same parochial school in our town. The quality of academic education, moral education, parental involvement, etc is similar. Discipline is less – no strict nuns with rulers and it is far from the free it once was to parishioners, but reasonable. They still wear uniforms.

    As to “substantial equivalency”, if this was not just political strong-arming of schools that actually deliver educated people, it would be equivalency of result, on standardized tests, not equivalency of process. Also, Lakewood, NJ is not that far away, if things get that bad.

Public education should be terminated. It’s a joke and has nothing to do with education.

    Eric R. in reply to Barry. | July 19, 2022 at 6:28 am

    To the ruling Marxists, it has EVERYTHING to do with Education.

    Educating young minds to think the proper way.

JackinSilverSpring | July 18, 2022 at 10:22 pm

I’m a product of modern Orthodox day school education from K through 12. After graduating high-school, I went on to receive ar BS in economics from MIT and a Ph.D. in economics from the University if Chicago. New York State has no business poking its nose into Orthodox Jewish schools. They provide a fine secular education and and an in-depth Judaic education. They are as good as New York’s finest public schools.
New York appears to be on the path of self-destruction, and it seems bent on destroying everything with it.

    I’m a product of a very different kind of yeshiva, more like the kind this government action is directed at. My high school education alone would not have prepared me to be admitted to MIT or Chicago, had I wanted to go there. That wasn’t its purpose. But I know of nobody in my class who did not succeed in life because they hadn’t been taught what they needed to know. Those whose chosen path in life required them to gain extra knowledge knew how to do that.

    As one of my high school teachers put it: “You’re not here to learn things; you’re here to learn how to learn. Once you know that you can learn whatever you end up needing to know.”

ahad haamoratsim | July 19, 2022 at 6:05 am

“No person, individually or as a teacher, shall, in any private, denominational, parochial or public school, teach any subject to any person in any language other than the English language.”
— held to be unconstitutional as a violation of parents’ right to educate their children, Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923)

California (I think) recently passed legislation that doesn’t officially mandate LGBT training and CRT/DIE training in religious schools, but if your school does not offer such courses, you can’t get into the UC or CSU university systems.

Now, in my experience, most Hasidim don’t go to college, but most non-Hasidic Orthodox do. So for them, it would be devastating.

missing the point. State has no biz in ed. Only both parents period

It looks like New York is now officially broken beyond repair.

If other private and Catholic schools as well as homeschoolers don’t think this is also a threat to them, they are delusional. “First they came for the Jews…..”

LukeHandCool | July 19, 2022 at 3:40 pm

“… ‘substantially equivalent’ to public schools … ”

What’s the point of a PRIVATE school then?

Who wants to pay a ton of money for something they can get for free elsewhere?