On Sunday, The New York Times presented its readers with a front page “report” on the state of New York’s chasidic yeshiva education that called to mind the electrifying sprawl of The Times’s Pentagon Papers reporting of five decades ago.

Titled “Failing Schools, Public Funds: Hasidic Students in New York State Are Deprived Of Basic Skills,” it took up a quarter of the front page and continued for a full four pages more – a total of four and a half broadsheet pages!


The piece preceded by days the expected release by the New York Department of Education’s new guidelines on the implementation of New York’s compulsory education law, which requires all non-public schools to provide a course of study that is “substantially equivalent” to that available in the public schools. Reportedly, the guidelines will require secular course offerings of prescribed duration, which will necessarily limit the time available for religious studies, and force students to be exposed to materials that run counter to the religious traditions of their families.

Many have quickly pointed out, however, that the depiction of an educational system that is totally at odds with any notion of equivalency is full of half-truths, innuendo, speculation, bias, and mostly anecdotal evidence. It cannot really be relied upon as a serious document.

Nevertheless, there are takeaways from the report that are extremely useful for understanding the mindset of the media and officials who seek to impose their will on yeshivas.

What leaps out is that both The Times and the educational establishment chafe at the insularity of the chasidic community. Indeed, the article’s first sentence is “The Hasidic Jewish community has long operated one of New York’s largest private schools on its own terms [emphasis added],” referring to Satmar’s Central United Talmudical Academy.

Thus, The Times says, the Hasidic schools “are failing by design.” It goes on to explain:

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. Offering little English and math, and virtually no science or history, they drill students relentlessly, sometimes brutally, during hours of religious lessons conducted in Yiddish…. The result…is that…the schools turn out thousands of students each year who are unprepared to navigate the outside world….

Curiously, The Times goes on to acknowledge:

For many Hasidic people, their schools are succeeding – just not according to the standards set by the outside world. In a community that places religion at the center of daily life, secular education is often viewed as unnecessary, or even distracting.

Some parents told The Times they know the limits of the schools, but they enroll their children nonetheless because they believe the educational system instills the values of their community.

[…] In some respects [Hasidic schools] have rigorous curriculums, teaching students to parse complicated texts and legal principles in Yiddish, Hebrew and Aramaic. Some community members said that religious lessons can incorporate elements of math, history and other subjects.

Of course, The Times stresses that the lack of a secular education negatively impacts the ability to earn a living. Unfortunately, The Times ignored the several chasidic business networks populated by people with the same social and educational backgrounds as current chasidic students and who are sources of contacts for employment.

The Times also ignored its own October 1, 2019 story “How Amazon Has Transformed The Hasidic Economy.” Nor did it make any mention of the wildly successful Satmar Business Expo in July: 300 entrepreneurs from the Satmar Community operated booths showcasing how they employ thousands of people and serve customers worldwide, with an economic footprint reaching hundreds of millions of dollars.

What this all suggests is that the equivalency debate is about whether an educational establishment used to things being done its own way will accommodate a group of Jews, including parents nominally responsible for raising their children, who claim they have to do things their way. The question is whether or not America is to be a place that will force a group of Jews to give up their traditional way of life in order not to run afoul of some arbitrary educational requirements.

The Times story quotes a NYDE official who said every student “is entitled to an education that allows them to fulfill their potential,” but refused to comment specifically about the chasidic schools. In a separate interview, a spokesman for Gov. Kathy Hochul would only say that the governor “is committed to ensuring that every student receive a world-class education.”

What is their frame of reference for the education of which they speak?

We hope that the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion will continue to mean something.


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