Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Two Legislators on the Wrong Side of an Issue

New York State Senator Simcha Felder of Brooklyn
You would think that Judaism itself was under attack in this great country of ours. Hearkening back to the days of Czarist Russia whose government persecuted Jews openly. And with the help of some Reform Jewish leaders tried to eradicate Orthodox Judaism under the pretext of improving their education.

That is of course complete nonsense.  The United States doesn’t do that. Nor does any state or city government therein. It would undermine the very reason for this country’s founding. Which is codified in the first amendment to the constitution.

The real issue is about whether certain mostly Chasidic Orthodox  schools live up to their educational responsibilities as required by the state. No one in America wants to deny anyone the right to the religious education of their choice. That is what the ‘Free exercise’ clause of the first amendment is all about. That constitutionally guaranteed freedom does not, however, eliminate their responsibility to also teach required secular courses - or their equivalent.   

It has been pretty well established that he above mentioned schools do not live up to that responsibility. That is why they are being challenged. Most mainstream Yeshivas, on the other hand, do live up to that responsibility. They are not the ones being challenged. Nor would they have anything to fear from a review by educational officials if they were being challenged.

YAFFED has been in the forefront of this challenge. It is clear to me what their fight is about. It is not about undermining Judaism – which is what they are constantly being accused of. It is about getting those schools to comply with state educational requirements – same as most other mainstream Yeshivas in New York do. 

Besides, it wouldn’t even matter if their motive was to undermine those Yeshivas (which to the best of my knowledge has never been proven). Achieving their stated goals would actually strengthen them. Not undermine them. It would give their young better tools function in the modern world. 

Activists on their behalf that are resisting a review by educational authorities claim that these schools' unique education is sufficient preparation for life in the 21st century. Their students have been doing just fine without teaching state mandated basics. 

That, in my view, is a highly questionable assertion. There are far too many people educated in those communities that can barely speak the English language properly- having practically no knowledge of English grammar. Imagine trying to fill out a resume with that handicap.

Sure, most of them have jobs. Some of them end up in business and have actually become quite wealthy. But for most their lack of skills give them little more opportunity than working at menial jobs for very low pay – clearly not enough to support their typically very large families. Which often means resorting to government financial assistance.

None of this is new and has been discussed here many times. But it pains me to see a religious legislator who has himself received the benefits of a decent secular education in the Yeshiva he probably attended trying perpetuate a system that denies that advantage to their young. From Politco
There have long been questions about whether private yeshivas, which predominate in Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and the lower Hudson Valley, are meeting state standards for non-religious instruction. The sources said state Sen. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, a Democrat who sits with the chamber’s majority Republican conference, was pushing for yeshivas to be exempted from review by education officials. Previously, the sources said, Felder and other parties to the talks were willing to authorize a study of the issue. 
Felder went from supporting a review of those yeshivas to requesting them to be exempt from it. What possessed him to  change course? Why does he want to exempt the young people in this community from the ability to improve their lives?  

Even more shocking is what NYC councilman has said about this. From VIN:

New York City Councilman Eric Ulrich of Queens
A Queens councilman, (Eric Ulrich ) himself the product of a private school, called out critics of the yeshiva system, saying that attacks on religious schools are unfounded and could have widespread effects that could be devastating to faith-based communities throughout New York State...
(He) said that he was grateful to have received a religious education that was reflective of his family’s values, which ultimately inspired him to a career in public service...
 The councilman also called into question the motives of anti-yeshiva activists, remarking that they “continuously attack the Orthodox Jewish community under the guise of educational quality.”
In an email sent to VIN News, Ulrich described allegations that yeshiva students are receiving a substandard secular education as “egregious and absurd.”
“I’ve had the opportunity to sit in on courses at yeshiva schools, and it is clear to me they take secular education seriously,” Ulrich, who has personally visited Orthodox and Chasidic yeshivas in both Brooklyn and Queens, told VIN News. “I was genuinely impressed with the teachers, who are dedicated to giving their students the best education possible.” 
Councilman Ulrich must have observed a mainstream Yeshiva that does comply with state mandates. Either that or he has been duped. Unless  things have suddenly radically changed.  If the latter is the case, they should have nothing to fear by a review by educational authorities. I doubt they would be so adamantly opposed to it.

I hope that New York State Senator Felder’s attempt to exempt those Yeshivas from review fails. Let them be examined. Let the educational chips fall where they may. It can only bode well for the future if these schools are finally forced to do what every other mainstream Yeshiva is doing by giving their young better tools to succeed at life in the 21st century.