A Counterview on Yeshivas and Jewish Education
The recent legislation passed in Albany regarding yeshiva education has taken the controversy over yeshivas to a new level of intensity. As a result, critics are increasingly spreading misinformation about our yeshivas and our community.
One such person is Ronn Torossian, who recently wrote a piece in The Algemeiner that perpetuates the false narrative that our children don’t receive a basic education and have trouble getting jobs when they graduate. To prove this point, he cites opinion pieces by others and a deeply flawed report published by a group of disgruntled yeshiva graduates.
There have been dozens of opinion pieces in mainstream and Jewish publications citing the quality education provided by yeshivas, if Mr. Torossian cares to read them. These all present different views from the opinion pieces he cited. He can read a Wall Street Journal story, for example, about the improvements being made to yeshiva curriculum. Or he can speak with a number of political leaders defending the quality of education at yeshivas. Better still, he can speak with any of the tens of thousands of successful yeshiva graduates in our communities.
The assertion that we don’t care about the education of our children is absurd. Our community cares deeply about our children and is extremely proud of the education our yeshivas provide. Parents deserve the right to choose the best education for their children, even if it seems different than the secular skills taught and offered by public and parochial schools. Yeshivas are in fact different from most other schools, but that difference is why generations of parents have specifically chosen and paid thousands of dollars in tuition to send their children to them.
Yeshiva students attend school from early morning until the evening — hours longer than their public-school peers. Much of the day is devoted to studying complex Jewish texts, during which our students participate in Socratic debate more akin to law schools than middle schools. In addition to Jewish studies, students also learn math, reading, English, and more. Both portions of the day challenge our students to analyze, think critically, and debate.
Despite its heavy emphasis on Jewish studies, a yeshiva education doesn’t just teach our children to become scholars, as the author states. It equips them with the critical thinking, problem-solving, language, literacy, and analytical skills that prepare them to live personally and professionally successful lives.
Our graduates are an integral part of New York City’s economy. While many yeshiva graduates do, in fact, go on to a religious life, thousands of others go on to become entrepreneurs, medical professionals, teachers, store owners, electricians, and other kinds of professionals.
While critics assert that we are denying our children a basic education and that our leadership is ignoring this “crisis,” the reality is that we believe that yeshivas, like all schools, should seek ways to improve. And yeshivas are improving.
Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools (PEARLS), a coalition of parents, educators, and religious leaders that includes all of the city’s major Hasidic sects, has brought together diverse constituencies to pool resources and expertise to upgrade secular studies programs for Hasidic schoolchildren. This organization has raised and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund a non-Hasidic team of educators to work with the major textbook publishers to devise a culturally sensitive, Common Core-compliant set of textbooks, teacher guides, and lesson plans.
These efforts should and will continue. But we have seen enough of these misinformed critiques of our institutions. Before criticizing our yeshivas and perpetuating false claims about them, I encourage our critics to learn more about the education these yeshivas provide, the critical role they play in our community, and why generation after generation of Hasidic families have chosen a yeshiva education for their children.
Chaya Green is a graphics designer and the mother of six yeshiva students.