Ultra-Orthodox schools must provide a proper education, but politicians aren’t holding them accountable.
My son is 8 years old. He tells me he wants to be a scientist when he grows up. But his ultra-Orthodox Jewish school doesn’t offer any sciences. Even the math and English, it’s only four hours a week. There is a law in New York State that all private schools have to provide an education at least equivalent to what’s being provided in the public school. There’s almost 60,000 children in New York that attend these type of schools. The school is breaking the law, but the city and state officials are not doing anything about it. Meisha Ross-Porter, you’re our new chancellor. Please make sure every child in New York gets the education they deserve. Betty Rosa, you’re commissioner of education, this is already the New York state law. Just enforce it. Yeshiva is a boys’ school. In 2019, a New York City investigation found that only two out of 28 ultra-Orthodox yeshivas met the basic standards. The boys in my community, and my son, are essentially being prepared to become Jewish scholars, rabbis. The hardest thing for me is to see what happens when you don’t get that education. I was one of those boys. I went to a yeshiva called Oholei Torah in Crown Heights. I didn’t learn enough history to even know who Martin Luther King was. Oftentimes you’ll see politicians afraid to do anything or even say anything, because the community votes as a bloc, and it’s a powerful voting bloc. “The mayor was facing re-election, loath to offend voters in the Hasidic community.” What these politicians are doing is that they’re invalidating the experiences of thousands of people, including myself, who were denied a basic education. When I left the yeshiva system, I had no idea how to get into the job market, and I didn’t feel like I had any options or a way forward in terms of a career. I didn’t even have a high school diploma. This is not about suppressing the religious education. Many yeshivas offer a Judaic study curriculum and an academic study curriculum — math, science, history, geography. The modern Orthodox schools, the Catholic schools, the Quaker schools — there are so many schools that do this really successfully. I’m no longer part of the community. Because I’m divorced and I have an agreement with my ex-husband, who is part of the ultra-Orthodox community, I have to send my child to an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva. This is an ad asking for teachers, and it explicitly says, [speaking in Yiddish] “You don’t need to know anything.” It does say if you went to a yeshiva, there’s a strong possibility that you participated in college programs. “College” is written like “collage,” but I think they mean college programs. The teachers are coming from the same system, and then they go and teach. These are the teachers they’re looking for. It is so, so maddening. I want my son to be able to fill out a job application, write a college essay, just the basics. I am begging you as a mother, please enforce the law to make sure my son gets the education he deserves.
What do you want to be when you grow up? That’s not a common question for boys attending ultra-Orthodox yeshivas in New York. That’s because many of these schools focus on Judaic studies, preparing students for a life of religious scholarship — at the expense of basic reading, writing, math and science. New York State law mandates that private and religious schools provide a curriculum equivalent to that of public schools, and a 2019 report by New York City’s Department of Education found that only two of the 28 yeshivas it investigated met these requirements. This is especially problematic, considering that the city’s yeshivas receive over $100 million in state funds annually.
Authorities have failed to enforce the laws, allowing the community, which is a strong and unified voting bloc, to disregard secular education requirements. In the video above, a mother pleads with city and state officials to enforce the law so her son can receive one of the most basic rights: education.
Beatrice Weber is a former member of New York’s Hasidic community. Her son still attends an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva.
Chaim Levin is an alumnus of Yeshiva Oholei Torah, an ultra-Orthodox school in Brooklyn.