NY Times Hit Piece On Hasidic Education Published On Eve Of NY Regents Vote To Undermine All Religious Schools
A New York Times article attacking boys’ Hasidic schools was published today, on the eve of the New York State Board of Regents vote on regulations poised to undermine the way Jewish religious schools have operated for generations. The timing of The Times’ attack appears planned to influence the vote.
A New York Times article attacking boys’ Hasidic schools was published today, the eve of the New York State Board of Regents vote on regulations poised to undermine the way they’ve operated for generations. We wrote here about the proposed regulations requiring private schools to be “substantially equivalent” to public schools and the threat to all Orthodox Jewish schools or yeshivas. The vote is scheduled for tomorrow morning, so the timing of The Times’ attack appears planned to influence the vote.
Corporate Media Coordinated Attack
The Times article has been in the works for months. Hasidic school and community leaders got a heads up from the reporters more than a week ago in an email summarizing the piece and offering them an opportunity to respond to their accusations that “students in these schools are deprived of education unlike students anywhere else in New York.”
Liel Liebovitz was on it:
Sometime soon, The New York Times is slated to publish its expose on the state of Hasidic education in New York. Several members of the community who were contacted by the Times expressed their grave concerns to Tablet about the paper’s biases and the likelihood, or lack thereof, that the Times will give Hasidic Jews a fair hearing. One member described the impending piece as “yet another assault.”
And all the way out in Texas, Ted Cruz saw the impending attack for what it really is—yet another example of the corporate media working hand-in-hand with the progressive left to defend a failing public school system against parental choice:
The article makes the predictable claims about Hasidim and their schools, focusing on the weakest link–the boys’ yeshivas where the emphasis on religious studies is greatest–and ignoring the more positive data from the full spectrum of Orthodox Jewish schools:
- “Generations of children have been systematically denied a basic education” citing “dismal outcomes” in their standardized testing;
- The Hasidic schools “turn out thousands of students each year who are unprepared to navigate the outside world,” and that’s why the poverty rates in Hasidic neighborhoods are so high;
- “Yeshivas play a central role in getting out the vote” helping to generate a large turnout–as if that were a bad thing;
- They censor their textbooks–but that seems reasonable, especially these days, given what’s in those books.
An Old Trope
The main thrust of the article though, is to reframe the debate over parents’ rights to direct their children’s education with an appeal to good governance and accountability—and an old anti-semitic trope:
“The leaders of New York’s Hasidic community have built scores of private schools to educate children in Jewish law, prayer and tradition — and to wall them off from the secular world,” they claim. And they do so by “tapping into enormous sums of government money, collecting more than $1 billion in the past four years alone.”
The Jews-and-their-money slur was so predictable:
New York State Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, who represents the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Borough Park and Midwood, responded to the accusation of misuse of government funds, as well as the article’s other accusations, in an op-ed anticipating the hit piece.
As he predicted then and tweeted today:
Eichenstein calls out the deceit in the article’s “private schools, public money” claims:
As someone who spends much of the year in Albany studying funding allocations, I found the Times’ summary description of the funds that chasidic parents or yeshivas receive to be particularly dishonest. By way of background for the uninitiated, New York State spends $25,520 per pupil, more than any other state.
New York City, in turn, spends more than any other large district in the country, at $28,828 per pupil. This is just for schooling, before pandemic recovery money, child nutrition, Title I, or any other mathematical alchemy the Times conjures to boost the sums it seeks to attribute to yeshivas.
A back of the envelope calculation suggests that New York’s 400,000 nonpublic school students save taxpayers $10.2 billion a year. Every year. A substantial part of that savings is attributable to chasidic and other Orthodox Jewish students.
As an Assemblyman, I wonder how New York could balance its budget every year if not for the savings afforded by nonpublic schools. Yet the Times desperately tries to paint a picture of yeshivas receiving enormous sums of government funds.
Given that the government doesn’t even cover its fair share of mandated services, though, the Times cleverly combines funding streams and programs over five years to conjure up a $1 billion figure. It includes one-time pandemic relief funding and child nutrition costs for low-income children.
But the Times article proves to much. Because the looming, intrusive regulations weren’t supposed to be about the money and threats to withhold it. The “substantial equivalency” regulations, as we wrote here, are supposedly meant to achieve a lofty goal: to see to it that all children “receive the instruction that will fit them for their place in society.”
Say what you will about the Hasidic communities in Borough Park and the Lower Hudson Valley, targeted by the Times, you can’t gainsay their success, writes Liel Leibovits:
The community that runs these schools produces individuals who grow up in multigenerational homes, live close to and support each other throughout life, raise children, live according to their virtues, and spend their days doing things they love and believe are of the utmost importance. As a result, they are happier.
Don’t believe me? Maybe you’d like to glance at that hotbed of Haredi propaganda, The Journal of Psychology, which, in a 2020 study titled “Prioritizing Patterns and Life Satisfaction Among Ultra-Orthodox Jews: The Moderating Role of the Sense of Community,” came up with the following conclusion: Haredi Jews are happier. “The results,” read the survey, “demonstrated that prioritizing meaning and sense of community were positively associated with life satisfaction … Our findings suggest that even in extremely close-knit community-oriented societies, a strong sense of belonging to a community enables individuals to prioritize more hedonic aspects of their lives in order to promote their life satisfaction.”
That is because, from the time they enter school, the children in these communities are receiving the instruction that will fit them for their place in society, just not the society of the readers of the New York Times.
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“That is because, from the time they enter school, the children in these communities are receiving the instruction that will fit them for their place in society, just not the society of the readers of the New York Times.”
Exactly. The majority of these children will remain within their communities and have zero use for learning the newest pronouns or studying social justice grievance mongers.
And that is the sin the Times wants to stamp out.
Yep, the modern d/prog bureaucratic collective demands conformity and compliance.
Because Progrssivism is a religion, and one that cannot coexist with others. It will either evangelize you (in the schools, the media, and the culture) or it will subject you to the Inquisition.
It’s true. What the Times and Dumb-o-crats at-large really find objectionable about religious schools, but, won’t openly state so, is the fact that they produce largely non-“woke” students who haven’t received their full dose of Leftist indoctrination, who are unversed in Leftist orthodoxies and who reject lazy and reflexive Leftist lemming groupthink.
“We have just seen that the Messiah is the just man who suffers, who has taken on the suffering of the others. Who finally takes on the suffering of others, if not the being who says “Me”?
“The fact of not evading the burden imposed by the suffering of others defines ipseity itself. All persons are the Messiah.
“The self as self, taking upon itself the whole suffering of the world, is designated solely by this role. To be thus designated, not to evade the point of responding before the call resounds – this is precisely what it means to be Me. The self is one who has promised itself that it will carry the whole responsibility of the world … the one who invests himself with responsibility.” – Levinas “Difficult Freedom” p.89
Sounds like good preparation for the world to me.
It’s why sick Palestinians wind up treated in Israeli hospitals.
The press — In free, Western societies the propaganda arm of the government, which is the operations arm of an ideology, which is the pretense and cover for an oligarchy of friends, who can’t manage to rule any other way.
See also “the press” in authoritarian societies.
Pravda pales next to the NYTimes.
Perhaps a Pyongyang publication would be more comparative…
Do t homd your breath waiting about the abject failure of students to pass Regents or AP tests in NYC despite millions being spent on education That failure rate as per the NYT and the horrific numbers of teachers who sexually assault students In Public schools and who are never fired would never be the subject of such an article by the notoriously Orthodox bashing NYT
How does that go again? First they came for the Jews…
Propaganda from the anti-Semitic New York Slimes.
But I would bet money they wouldn’t take the same track with the top 25 muslim schools listed?
But forget the weird spotlighting of only Jewish religious schools in the article – how are they compared to “mainstream” public schools. There are NYC schools that have less than 25% graduation rates I’ve read – and only get that high by passing students who graduate functionally illiterate.
If cap-wearing students graduate able to read, write, use logic, and have enuf math to understand personal finance they’re ahead of many “mainstream” students.
In addition, asking orthodox or ultra-orthodox families to send their kids to the average NYC school in the current anti-Jew miasma affecting the black community would be like throwing kids into a shark tank sans shark cage.
I attended Catholic HS in the 60s/70s and they had to stagger our end-of-day leaving to not coincide with the local majority-minority public HS. Those of us who lived nearby and hence walked home would get assaulted otherwise. (Including our black attendees). And that was without the equivalent of the constant
anti-Jew rhetoric black yutes are poisoned by nowadays.
always remember that the NYT buried the Shoah
If this isn’t blatant, what is it?
Not being Jewish, I can’t honestly say I understand completely but I have never understood antisemitism. Being a native Southerner, however, I can sympathize.
Years ago I, along with another half-dozen others, was visiting in the home of a coworker. One of the other visitors, originally from the Seattle area, said, “You know, we all know you’re from Alabama but you seem really intelligent.” A second later, his expression told all of us that he greatly embarrassed himself. He deserved his humiliation. Things like that aren’t easily forgotten.
Funny thing is, another Southerner saying that, I think most would assume it was just ribbing. The next one would be towards Oklahoma, and the next Mississippi.
Unfortunate that I see comments interpreting the Times piece as only anti-Semitic and anti-religion. Living here in Orange County, NY, I have seen my efforts to keep pro-freedom House members in Congress totally crushed by Kiryas Joel’s massive bloc vote. The Hasids use their overwhelming political leverage to ensure the substantial flow of transfer payments to assist their population. They build high density dwellings and are now about 10% of the county population. They get the diversion of the NYC aqueduct and force sewer expansion. I don’t blame them, they are just taking advantage of their resource (complete control of voter choice) and doing the same thing as other rent seekers like public employee unions and trial lawyers. This is not about anti-semitism.
A political activist has no way of persuading KJ residents that his candidate is the one they should support. By dint of the lack of secular education, poor English skills, and a closed community, this population can not even be reached or understand any of the ideas about freedom that we take for granted. This about being a citizen, not anti-semitism.
I know you don’t think you’re being bigoted here, but you are. The fact is that the askonim, the “community organizers” to use the modern expression, may convince some politicians that they have “complete control of voter choice”, but they don’t. It’s a free country and a secret ballot, and while they can do all they can to urge people to vote, and to urge them to vote the party line, whatever that happens to be in that election, each community member makes an individual choice whether to vote at all (which will be public knowledge) and also how to vote (which will not be).
Of course most community members vote as they’re urged to do, because they trust the askonim‘s recommendations; they want what’s best for the community, and the askonim are the ones whose job it is to find out which candidates are most likely to achieve the best result. But if you have a different idea, if you think your candidate can offer the community’s voters something better than mere public funds, you are free to try to persuade them of it, just like in any other community.
By dint of the lack of secular education, poor English skills, and a closed community, this population can not even be reached or understand any of the ideas about freedom that we take for granted.
That is a bigoted statement. The lack of English skills is your problem. Like any other community with a primary language other than English, it is your job to prepare material for them in their language. If you have nobody in your campaign who speaks it themselves, there are professional translators. (But why don’t you have any native speakers in your campaign? Could it be because you never bothered to try to recruit any, or perhaps because your cause is inherently against the community’s interests, so none of them are interested in joining you?) But to say that they can’t understand something is just outright bigotry. Their minds are at least as sharp as yours; and if your message only resonates with your own culture then who says it’s valid?
The lack of English skills is your problem.
Sorry, but throwing the flag on this one. It is NOT anti-semitic or anti-immigrant to simply demand that all citizens be able to communicate adequately in English. While any immigrant community is welcome to hold onto its language and traditions, they are not welcome to long-term hold themselves as not part of the fabric of our Republic – unless they eschew voting in it. And I find even that to be a dereliction of their responsibility as citizens.
But why don’t you have any native speakers in your campaign?
Funny, you ask that question, but you refuse to accept that the answer might be as he supposes – they are more interested in their own insular culture and maintaining control of the community so they can continue to exercise it and profit from it.
Go ahead, call me anti-semitic, too. Unfortunately, for some it has become just another race card.
Proficiency in English is not and has never been a requirement for American citizens. The USA has always had large pools of citizens whose primary language was not English.
The USA is almost 250 years old, and for the majority of that time German-Americans spoke German as their primary language. Most could get along in English, more or less, and a fair number couldn’t. The first Congress even considered, and rejected only because of the cost, a proposal to have all US laws printed in German as well as in English, for the benefit of those who were more comfortable in that language. And that situation was only ended by the wave of outright bigotry that swept the nation during WW1. When being heard speaking German could get you beaten up, German-Americans were afraid to speak their language even at home, so their children grew up speaking English.
Then you have a huge pool of US citizens, every bit as American as you are, whose primary language is Spanish. Puerto Rico is an island full of US citizens with very limited English.
That’s more or less where the Yiddish-speaking community is. Just about everyone speaks enough English to get by in, but it’s not their primary language, and if you want to communicate your message to them you need to put it in their language, just as you have to do to reach Spanish-speaking citizens, or as you would have had to do 100 years ago to reach German-speakers. If you can’t or won’t do that, then you can’t blame them if they don’t hear your message and don’t vote for your candidates. It’s as simple as that.
Now that response really is bigoted. Who is this “they” you are talking about?
The question was, if you have a campaign that you think it would be in the community members’ interest to support, why you have none of those members in your campaign? If by “they” you mean those you claim want to “control” the community and “profit” by it, how does that stop you from attracting community members to your campaign? Nobody in the community is a prisoner, and if anyone thought your campaign was worth joining they would join it, at least if you put in an effort to recruit them. And then they could write your campaign literature for the community, just as you would do with any other community or language group.
And yes, community members in general (not just the “organizers”) are interested in maintaining their insular community. It works for them, so why shouldn’t they? If they didn’t like it they would leave; nobody is stopping them. Or they’d stay in the community but be less insular; again, nobody could stop them. Most of them stay insular because they like it that way, and that kind of freedom is what America is all about. Again, just like Mennonites or many other communities that exist within America but outside its general culture. If you want them to join your campaign you need to reach out to them, not wait for them to find you. And if you want them to vote for your candidates it is your job and only your job to explain to them why they should do so, in the language they’re most comfortable with.
How did I know that I would be called a bigot by someone? Almost a guarantee when criticizing KJ about anything. If you are a member of thatcommunity then I am automatically a threat. Well congratulations you win. A sitting NY State Senator decided not to run this time because he knew that they would crush him. This is about citizenship and thanks for all the blowback on speaking English. I wish my parents had spoken Yiddish like my grandparents so it rubbed off on me; yeah my lack of Yiddish skills is my problem. Is this blowback coming from Haredi? Not what I expected here. Thank you GWB for making my point. I would also point out the Amish and Mennonites are insular but do not inject themselves into the political world or ask for public assistance to sustain them. They all work.
If you make bigoted arguments then you should expect to be called on them. I explained exactly what was bigoted about your argument, and you chose to ignore it and complain. You wanted to know why nobody in the hassidic communities of Orange County (which is far more than just KJ) will support your candidates, and I explained that if there are reasons why they should do so then it’s up to you to reach out to them and inform them of those reasons, in their language. And the first step to do that is to find members of the community who support you and will join your movement. If you haven’t found any, either you didn’t bother looking, or your cause is inherently hostile to them so there’s no reason why they would want to support you. Either way, that’s your problem, not theirs.
Instead you choose to blame it all on some mysterious “them”, who somehow magically “control” (another or the same) “them”, for “profit”. And you don’t like insularity. Which is another way of saying you don’t like them. In other words bigotry.
Senior NYT management perhaps should visit two states east, to Newport R.I. and the Touro Synagogue, pretend it’s 1790, and consider the famous correspondence between Moses Seixas, the Warden of the of the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, and President George Washington..
At a time when the few public schools, probably mostly in New England, taught reading so students could read the bible, Washington returned Seixas’s famous letter with the well known reply that “the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” Today it seems NYT would reject the agreement of George Washington and “the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land” that our government “requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.” Now it seems the NYT and others would amend the this historic correspondence to provide that all Americans “should demean themselves as good citizens,” but “only in the public schools.”
If they take money from the state, they should stop and regain their self direction and religious freedom.
It’s not like anyone applying to the school doesn’t know what to expect. It is just another leftist power grab. Or children grab in honor of our pResident.
Take the Hillsdale route.
It’s got nothing to do with money. The state’s attack on them is not premised on receipt of public funds, and even if they didn’t get one penny the attack would not be affected at all.
This is not at all comparable to Hillsdale. Hillsdale is a tertiary school, and there is no law requiring anyone to get tertiary education, so the only control the government has over those is funding; turn down the funding and you deprive the government of its handle. Primary and secondary education is compulsory, so the government has inherent power over all primary and secondary schools regardless of funding.
So for these schools to give up all funding would just be stabbing themselves for no reason. It wouldn’t relieve any of the pressure, and they’d just have to raise more money from the parents and the community. And why should they?
The money they get is not for education, it’s for things like school buses and lunches, playgrounds, security, and safety. Those are things all children are entitled to by law, regardless of what kind of education they’re receiving.
One might think, for instance, that the purpose of government funding for school lunches is so the kids won’t be hungry and can pay attention in class, so if the class isn’t teaching what the government wants it has no reason to care if the kids can concentrate. But that’s belied by the fact that the government provides lunches (and breakfasts) for all children in public schools even in the summer when there’s no school. That proves it’s got nothing to do with learning and it’s just a welfare program. So why shouldn’t these schools get the same funding, even if they weren’t teaching anything at all?
And of course even if kids are learning nothing they have the same need for safety, so it’s in the government’s interest to pay for things like a school nurse, or security measures, regardless of what is being taught.
Even more so, much of the funding is for government mandates, things the schools have no choice but to provide, and the funding only partially pays for it. The rest has to be raised from tuition or from the community.
So enough about the money. This isn’t about money, it’s about parental choice. It’s about a community that simply has different priorities from the general community; different values. A community that, far from not caring about its children, puts an enormous amount of effort and money into educating them, but its goals and values are not the same as those of the general community around them. And the first amendment says the government shouldn’t discriminate between its own values and those of minority communities.
Which means that it is also about whether you could go to jail, or even lose custody of your kids, for sending them to a Yeshiva instead of a state-approved indoctrination facility where they can learn how to use drugs and why they should be sexually immoral, and be targeted for violence for looking and talking differently, and for all the reasons given to justify minority group assaults against Jews.
The regulations are about accreditation, not funding.
In 1925 and 1972 SCOTUS rejected attempts by states to legislate and regulate secular education in schools attended by Amish children as an infringement on free exercise of religion These regulations are of equally dubious constitutionality and should be and may very well be challenged in court The final chapter of this story has yet to be written
Yeah, the Yoder case occurred to me, too. There was also an earlier SCOTUS case that ruled that a state cannot ban German as the language of instruction, but the name and citation escape me at the moment. It’s been over 40 years since I last read it.
Yet the NYT fish wrap doesn’t say anything about how the Hasidic community is constantly attacked in Brooklyn, the muggings, murders. And, how many Hasidim have been arrested and charge with crimes?? Very few!
Calling the Times fish wrapping is being charitable. I wouldn’t use this contemptible propaganda rag for toilet paper. As tinder for fires, perhaps.
First of all, there are many different kinds of yeshivas, so it’s impossible and meaningless to talk about them as one thing.
There are yeshivas that have excellent secular education, because they make that a priority; they are also quite expensive, though not as expensive as secular private schools. It is possible, if you wish it, to get your child an Orthodox religious education and a secular education to equal anything available in the secular sector. These schools’ test results are not the focus of articles like this, but it’s important to understand that they exist.
Then there’s the opposite extreme, the schools that offer very little secular education, not because they don’t care about their children, or because they’re incompetent or corrupt, but because that’s what the parents want. Hassidic schools in particular usually do the bare minimum the law requires of them, or that they find they can get away with. It’s not as if the kids are idle. They’re getting a far more intense educational experience than in almost any other school of any other type. It’s just not on the subjects that most people value and are interested in. And that’s because these communities’ values are different, their priorities are different, and they’re concentrating on teaching the children the subjects they think are important.
Most people seem to see school as a preparation for earning a living. Hassidim don’t. No hassid tells their child to pay attention in second grade so they will do well and go to a good college and eventually enter a lucrative profession. That’s Asians. The Hassidic attitude is that while it’s important to make a living, that’s not the most important thing. Children are raised with the expectation that eventually they will get married and raise families, and then they will figure out how to support them. The purpose of education is not that; the purpose of education is to equip children to be decent, loving, ethical people, intellectually curious and equipped to deal with whatever comes their way. When the need to make a living comes along, then they will figure it out and do whatever they need to do. If that requires some sort of education, they’ll get it then. Childhood is not a time to think about that.
The fact is that graduates of this type of education generally do quite well for themselves. Many make a living in ways that don’t re
When it comes time to make a living they will figure it out? The purpose of education is not to prepare you for that? Yes, they figure it it out, it’s called Orange County Social Services. You make my head explode. When they need professionals they reach out to the Orthodox who provide legal, etc. The Orthodox do assimilate in terms education, dress, vocations but are still frum to some extent. Is it antisemitic to admire them?
Also, many Hassids do become entrpreneurs in land development, warehousing, some retail, but the majority are below the poverty level by govt definition.
Yes, they figure it out. Government assistance is one legitimate means of doing so. If it’s available and they qualify for it, they take advantage of it. Why wouldn’t they? There’s no virtue in voluntarily turning it down and doing without it. Or at least they don’t see any virtue in that.
Yes, a lot of them live below the “poverty line” by government definiton. Often because no matter how much they make, their large family sizes makes that line quite high. Are you suggesting it’s wrong for them to have large families?! Also, they don’t put such a high priority on living in luxury, are are happy to make do with less. So they may be “poor”, but they’re happy. They’re rich in what counts — children and the satisfaction that comes from raising them well, and from a life of trying to do the right thing.
Oops, that got cut off.
Many make a living in ways that don’t require more of an education than they got at school. Often a better living than the average college graduate makes. And those who do decide that the career they’re best suited to requires going to college do so. Sometimes that means remedial education. If a graduate of a hassidic school wants to be a doctor, they basically have to spend a year or two making up for not having had a regular high school education. OK, so if they want it enough they do that. But the community’s view is that it’s not worth subjecting all students to twelve years of a standard curriculum just so a small minority won’t need to do two years of catch-up. How many doctors does a community need? Better to spend the school time on more important things, and those who will need it can spend the time later to catch up.
Often a better living than the average college graduate makes.
That appears to be setting a low bar these days, when you average in all the Gender Studies and Puppetry graduate degrees with the still extant STEM degrees.
That is the relevant bar, though. And the fight is mainly about the parents’ right to ensure their kids aren’t taught Gender Studies and other things that they’d rather they stay ignorant of.
As for the law, all it requires is “substantial equivalence” to public schools. The yeshivas’ enemies are pretending that means substantial equivalence to what public schools ought to be producing, or to what the most elite public schools are producing. But that’s not what the law says. The law just says the outcomes have to be equivalent to what the public schools in general are actually producing, and by that measure the yeshivas are succeeding. Their average is better than the average public school, and their worst (by that metric) is far better than the worst of the public schools. If they wanted to do better than that they could, but the law doesn’t require it so they don’t.
Hmm. So the state seems to be complaining that the yeshivos aren’t producing more dropouts and violent drug addicts chas v shalom.
all children “receive the instruction that will fit them for their place in society.”
WOW. That sounds terribly… medieval. Aristocratic, Technocratic, and Communist. Straight out of A Brave New World. I wonder if chasidic Jews are considered Gammas or Deltas?
It is a rather poor choice of words, isn’t it? Now take a look at this article, published in the generally anti-chasidic Forward, no less, and tell me if you still think these schools are preparing children to be gammas and deltas.
“Girls in these communities receive substantially more secular education than boys and have not been the subject of recent criticism, so my focus here will be on boys’ schools. A yeshiva boy’s school day is very long—by middle school, often beginning at 7:30 A.M. with study and prayer services and ending only at 5:30 or 6:00 PM. In high school, boys continue to study until late at night, 9:30 PM or later.
Very little of this day, it’s true, resembles the secular curriculum found in traditional public schools, though these schools do find time for subjects such as English, math, social studies, and science. Having observed classes, from grades K – 12 in dozens of Haredi schools, I have watched students learn reading comprehension, spelling and handwriting; place value, multiplication and problem solving; early American history and global geography alike.
These subjects, however, do not constitute the central focus of the school day.
What are students doing the rest of the time?
The short answer is “religious studies”, but this is misleading — conjuring, perhaps, a vision of catechism memorization or ritual practice. Despite what many people believe, yeshiva students are not training to be pulpit rabbis—a fairly rare occupation in these communities.
Rather, yeshiva students’ “religious education” centers mainly on close textual study of a canon of ancient and medieval texts central to Jewish life: the Torah, the Talmud, and a near infinite body of commentaries on both.
In-class activities focused on these texts more closely resemble upper-level humanities coursework in a university than clerical training or contemplation of the Divine.
Enter a college course on any subject in the humanities, and you’ll likely find students working to parse the flow and meaning of primary texts, grappling with questions like “Who wrote this?”, “What were they trying to say?”, “Who was this written for?”, “What were they arguing against?”
This is not so different from what yeshiva kids spend most of their time doing—except that unlike most American university students, yeshiva kids are reading ancient and late ancient texts in their original languages (Biblical Hebrew, Mishnaic Hebrew, and Aramaic) rather than in translation.
. . . But there is more than meets the eye in Torah and Talmud. Each encompasses a wealth of knowledge and skills.
Starting in pre-school, students spend time learning Hebrew letters and But by very early into their elementary school experience—2nd or 3rd grade—this type of story-telling instruction fades away, and students instead begin reading the biblical text directly in Hebrew, learning eventually to analyze it using ancient and medieval commentaries. Detailed text-based questions like “Why is this word repeated?” “What was this character’s motivation?”, “Why does the text appear to stop mid-stream?” are typical. These classes offer students a top-notch education in close, critical reading and analysis.
These activities closely resemble the sorts of interventions that researchers have shown to be effective at developing reading comprehension. For example, one successful program developed in the 1980’s called reciprocal teaching asks students to read in small groups and to frequently pause to predict what will happen next, clarify what happened, or ask questions. Reciprocal teaching asks students to do a bare bones version of what yeshiva students do every day when studying biblical texts.
By middle school, male students are studying Mishna and Gemara, which make up the Talmud, for the plurality of the day. (Girls don’t study Talmud, but continue to develop their skills in Hebrew Bible, studying the text closely, and analyzing its numerous commentaries). In Talmud class, students are asked to read, translate from Aramaic, and analyze complex, dense, and sophisticated legal arguments (originally codified between the 2nd and 5th centuries in present-day Israel and Iraq).
Much like the rest of the yeshiva school day, Talmud presents an unusual dichotomy; its study has profound religious meaning to members of these communities, but its substance is not always self-evidently “religious.” For example, students often begin Talmud study focusing on laws of damages, torts, and monetary law, and implicitly learn more about ancient Roman and Jewish law and life than any other group of eleven year olds in the world.
Very little of what students learn in Talmud class has direct bearing on contemporary religious practice—as noted, this is not rabbinical training, and current religious practice is substantially different from the simple reading of the Talmud text—rather, it is a complex academic endeavor that has profound religious significance as an act of study itself. . . .
This academic endeavor revolves around argumentation skills such as reasoning from evidence, resolving multiple perspectives, and contextualization among many others. Skills that fall under the rubric of argumentation are central to nearly every secular domain, and the Talmud text significantly develops these skills.
In Talmud study, students must follow extensive arguments, often presented in elaborate labyrinthine textual constructions. For example, the text might pursue an argument far into one direction just to see how far it will go, before reversing course and rejecting the premise altogether. Different versions of the same argument between two interlocutors might be presented, and the differences analyzed in light of the opinions of yet another pair of interlocutors. And the entire thread of the discussion may be interpreted very differently by later commentaries, further complicating things.
During a recent visit to one of the Hasidic schools in Brooklyn that Yaffed has criticized, I saw sixth-grade students parsing a complex argument in which two legal opinions drew on four different, but related, multi-step proofs, using subtleties in the biblical passages that served as proof-texts to make each argument. In a fifth-grade Talmud class in another one of the schools, the students had to determine how a biblical verse implicitly requires a charity obligation on a wheat field of 1/40th, 1/50th, or 1/60th of the field (which also entailed converting fractions such as 1.5/60 into 1/40).
When they parse these arguments, students must key in not only to the answers provided by the text, but also to the rationale of the questions themselves, in order to make sense of the underlying disputes. Talmud students quickly realize that if the question seems too obvious, they are likely missing the point.
Students are socialized into both the practices of Talmud study and the skills necessary to engage in those practices. For students in these yeshivas, Talmud instruction starts with the development of basic familiarity with the language (Aramaic), the ability to understand the legal arguments, and the approaches taken by Jewish legal authorities over time. As students progress into upper middle school and high school, they are expected to work on their own in pairs (called chavrusas) to decipher the text, make sense of the commentaries, and to generate their own arguments using evidence and logic. Students have a great deal of agency and autonomy over their learning, with lectures and other forms of teacher support fading away as they get older. By the time they are post high school, nearly all Talmud study is completely self-driven. . . .
there is an important sense in which their religious study alone provides a significant grounding in many of the essential skills that they would otherwise be receiving; enough, in fact to make the large curricular gaps somewhat beside the point.
This is something that, ironically, most members of the community itself don’t realize, as they take the strengths of this education for granted. But what these kids do in school is actually quite remarkable, and represents a level of intellectual achievement that is significant not only from a religious perspective, but also as a serious foundation for success in most domains beyond the religious community.
Pragmatically speaking, which best prepares students for future success—a secular school program, or a yeshiva program? Even given then schools’ acknowledged limits in secular instruction, I’d be hard pressed to pick the secular track. The critical thinking, textual analysis, reading comprehension, argumentation skills; the historical knowledge, the foreign language acquisition, the legal concepts; indeed, the Jewish culture, tradition, and ethical behavior (which are deeply important to all religious Jews, not just the ultra- Orthodox) embedded in these schools’ religious study are genuinely remarkable.”
WORTH READING IN FULL: https://forward.com/life/416616/what-yeshiva-kids-are-actually-studying-all-day/
I missed that the quote was from the chasid, themselves, and not from the gov’t.
No, it isn’t. It’s directly from the NY State Education Department.
Did you read the article? The author is a is an Associate Professor at the Azrieli Graduate School for Jewish Education and Administration at Yeshiva University and directs Azrieli’s Master’s program in Jewish education. He studies American Charedi education and culture, curriculum, cognition, and inquiry learning in Jewish educational settings. Where did you get the idea that he is a chasid? And where did I suggest that the quote was from the government?
Do you have ANY evidence that ANYTHING in the quote was inaccurate?
That description is the ideal these schools aspire to, and what the best of their students achieve. But of course many schools are not perfect and many students are not perfect. I have heard parents in these communities complain that their sons emerge from school “illiterate in three languages” (and that’s not even counting Aramaic, in which students are not expected to become fluent, just familiar enough to be able to figure out written text, on the level of High School Spanish or French in the secular world). But the same is true in any other educational system; there are students whose schools fail them, and there are students who belong in different schools more suited to their talents.
Now is a good time to recall the Times’ similarly disgraceful effort to cow/shame American Jews, back when narcissist-incompetent, Obama, was attempting to hock his manifestly awful and indefensible capitulation/footsie session with Iran’s despots, farcically termed a “deal.”
The Times published a list of U.S. Senators from various states, noting each Senator’s support for, or, opposition to, Obama’s Iran appeasement/giveaway, the Senator’s party affiliation, and, in separate columns, whether or not the Senator was Jewish, and, the percentage of Jews in the Senator’s home state. Straight out of National Socialist Germany.
The NYT has a sordid record of whitewashing Communism Nazism downplaying the uniquely Jewish nature of the Holocaust opposing the creation and support of the State of Israel and clearly opposing any sense of Jewish continuity and or belittling the same