By Yochanan Gordon
The Jewish world has been up in arms about regulations for non-public schools released recently by New York State. And while the notion that the education of our children should be mandated at the state level is extremely disconcerting, a lot of hype, hysteria, and even false information has been spread that not only doesn’t help the situation, but may also be detrimental to our communal cause.
A Teach NYS press release released Wednesday, December 19, a day after they received confirmation of its contents from NYSED officials, reported that all high schools associated with Teach NYS are currently in compliance. For example, for seventh and eighth grade, 3.5 hours of secular education are required by the state. All of the Teach NYS schools meet that goal.
With that out of the way, it seems the main sticking point in all of this is the state creating requirements for yeshivas which have until now been run without interference, in careful consideration of the values that are part-and-parcel of a Torah-observant lifestyle.
Earlier this month, the New York Times published an article asserting that yeshiva students are less knowledgeable than their secular peers. But as Rabbi Yaakov Bender, rosh yeshivah of Yeshivah Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway, New York, said to Yeshiva World, yeshivas have historically surpassed their public school counterparts on state and standardized tests, calling into question the need to impose new regulations in the first place.
Most people are not acquainted with the many details involved in this process. As much as this article pertains to the issue at hand, its objective is to address an issue on the periphery of all this but at the same time of equal importance — how to navigate this to the ideal conclusion.
I was struck by the differences while reading coverage of this issue in the Jewish media side by side with the Teach NYS press release. In my mind, this issue echoes a headline in Mishpacha Magazine questioning whether Jews in the U.S. will ever again feel safe going to shul in the aftermath of the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh. This is sensationalist, reckless, irresponsible, and doesn’t accomplish anything in the greater scheme of things. If anything, it encourages terror and does not address the threat it in a levelheaded and responsible manner.
Similarly, this week’s Mishpacha Magazine and countless Yeshiva World News articles on the Yeshiva oversight issue have framed this as a sinister, anti-Jewish attack much like our ancestors during the Greek exile were forced to endure. This is the furthest thing from the reality of what is going on.
This reminds me of a similar disparity which took place prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain. Jewish activists resorted to public protests to force the collapse of the Soviet Communist regime. But the Lubavitcher Rebbe said would it fail to achieve its goals and if anything would put them further behind. What he prescribed then, and what seems to have worked, was quiet diplomacy and covert activity.
Framing the NYSED requirements as an evil decree is preposterous. Perhaps it would be more advisable to allow the public servants to continue to work with state officials behind the scenes and report to us as clarifications are issued to the pertinent questions that have been asked.
Continue to check 5TJT and 5TJT.com in the coming days and weeks for further coverage of this issue. We encourage your comments and submissions.