New York to investigate haredi schools for lack of secular studies

Department of Education responds following letter writing campaign of the YAFFED organization that complained about the the poor quality and scant amount of secular education at the yeshivas.

Haredim (photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
(photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
The City of New York will investigate 39 Brooklyn yeshivas after a local advocacy group alleged that they have failed to implement the full state-mandated educational curriculum.
“We take seriously our responsibility to ensure that all students in New York receive an appropriate education, and we will investigate all allegations that are brought to our attention,” a spokesman for the Department of Education told The New York Jewish Week on Tuesday.
While secular subjects form a much greater part of the curriculum at American ultra-Orthodox schools than in Israeli ones, especially among the non-hassidic groups, there are significant numbers of students who receive minimal instruction.
The department’s response came shortly after Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED), an organization that lobbies for increased secular education among New York’s hassidim, organized a letter-writing campaign complaining of “the poor quality and scant amount of secular education” at the yeshivas.
The letter, sent to seven district superintendents in Queens and Brooklyn, as well as to the city’s schools chancellor, alleged that the educational institutions have failed to meet New York state law requiring all nonpublic schools to provide an education that is “substantially equivalent” to what is offered in public schools and called for government intervention.
According to the Jewish Week, previous letters from YAFFED failed to raise a response from the various officials to which it turned, because it declined to name specific educational institutions.
In late 2014, The New York Times reported that YAFFED founder Naftuli Moster, along with several parents of children currently in the ultra-Orthodox school system, had brought a suit against the State of New York.
The organization is best known for running billboards in Orthodox neighborhoods calling for increased secular education. In one, a young hassidic boy is shown studying a math textbook accompanied by the Talmudic quote, “A man is obligated to teach his son a trade.”
Several testimonials on YAFFED’s website provide a hint of the resentment and anger among those who believe that they have been denied the education they deserve.
“In high school, we didn’t get any secular education at all. We were in yeshiva for almost 12 hours a day, but didn’t learn anything besides Judaic studies.
The lack of education affected me enormously. I couldn’t get in to any college, and I cannot get a decent job. More importantly, I feel like I am unable to succeed to my full potential. I feel robbed. I feel violated,” one anonymous Belz hassid wrote.
“I am empty, numb, void, robotic life trying to support tons of kids. [sic] i have nothing to write because i wasn’t taught how to write,” said another testimonial, this one from a member of the Satmar sect.
YAFFED’s activities have been controversial in the ultra-Orthodox world, especially because it works outside of established channels and the community power structure to obtain its ends.
Last December, Ami Magazine, an internationally distributed haredi weekly, issued an apology after printing an advertisement for the group.
“Last night it came to my attention that in this week’s edition of Ami Magazine there is a banner ad for YAFFED, an organization with a mission to change the state of Orthodox Jewish chinuch [education],” wrote editor Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter in an email to subscribers.
“Ami Magazine has repeatedly advocated against such efforts and has condemned organizations like YAFFED. We have asked the community to unite against all those who seek to reform the Orthodox way of life, and we remain steadfast in our resolve to defeat such misguided initiatives,” he said.
However, change within the community has proved impracticable, Moster told The Jerusalem Post at the time.
“People complain about us talking to the non-Jewish media about this issue, but the [religious] newspapers repeatedly reject our ads and offers for interviews,” he said.
JTA contributed to this report.