New York political leaders offer muted response to outcry over yeshivas

NEW YORK — New York’s political leaders have so far offered a muted response to an outcry this week over ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools, or yeshivas, after the state passed new rules to regulate secular education in schools and a damning report on the yeshiva system by The New York Times.

State education officials on Tuesday finalized rules that will tighten oversight of yeshivas and other nonpublic schools, and require them to provide a minimum level of secular education in four main areas. The new rules, drawn up for years, have drawn outrage from ultra-Orthodox communities.

A New York Times investigation published Sunday found dismal secular education in many yeshivas, which have received hundreds of millions of dollars in funding over the past few years, and some instances of corporal punishment. Funding for yeshivas is minor compared to the sums allocated to public schools, and the shortcomings of yeshivas in secular studies have been debated for years.

New York State Governor Kathy Hochul, a strong supporter of Jewish communities, deferred responsibility for the issue on Monday.

“We believe that every child in New York State deserves a very high quality education. People understand that this is not within the jurisdiction of the governor,” Hochul said. “There is a regulatory process in place, but the governor’s office has nothing to do with it.”

Hochul is running against Republican Lee Zeldin in the race for state governor. Hochul holds a firm but not insurmountable lead over his opponent. Ultra-Orthodox voters can be a force in state politics, and yeshivas are one of their priorities.

Zeldin, who is Jewish, forbidden yeshivas and attacked Hochul on Tuesday.

“Yeshiva education teaches values ​​that enable their students to lead productive, law-abiding lives. New York is so wrong to pass its new substantial equivalence rule today. Hochul, for his pathetic part, was totally AWOL,” Zeldin said.

Members of ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities stage a protest outside a board meeting to vote on new requirements that private schools teach English, math and history to high school students outside the New York State Department of Education building in Albany, New York, Sept. 12, 2022. (Will Waldron/The Albany Times Union via AP)

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said he was “not concerned” by the findings of the New York Times investigation of yeshiva scholars, but said the use of corporal punishment in schools was “not acceptable”.

He confirmed that an investigation into the matter was progressing.

“That’s what the city needs to do,” he said. “We’re going to make sure every child gets a quality education in this city.”

A survey of yeshivas stalled for years under Adams’ predecessor, Bill de Blasio.

Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso has linked the yeshiva system to the Holocaust.

“Less than 100 years ago, during the Holocaust, the Jewish people were virtually extinct. Many came to New York not to preserve their way of life, but to revive it,” he said in response to New York Times inquiry “Our city has been supportive and rightfully extended courtesy to them in this mission.”

“Education is extremely important to my administration. As such, our office will work with community leaders to ensure that all children have access to high quality education,” Reynoso said.

U.S. House Representative Jerry Nadler, a Jewish yeshiva graduate who represents parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, said he was “deeply saddened” by the investigation.

“I have long believed that all yeshiva graduates — and all children in New York City — can and should receive a high-quality secular education,” Nadler said. “Although many Jewish schools and yeshivas provide such an education, it is clear that some fail completely.”

“It is our duty to all New Yorkers to make sure the law is enforced,” he said.

New York State Senators Chuch Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand did not comment.

New York City Comptroller Brad Lander called the lack of secular education in yeshivas a “tragedy” and sworn to apply the new regulation of the Ministry of Education.

State Senator Liz Krueger, who represents parts of Manhattan and is Jewish, called the survey “a damning indictment” of schools and officials charged with overseeing them.

Several other state lawmakers, including Charles Lavine, Julia Salazar, and Emily Gallagher, have focused on reports of corporal punishment in yeshivas. All three said they would introduce legislation banning corporal punishment in schools, which is allowed; Salazar and Gallagher, who represent parts of Brooklyn where many yeshivas are based, did not mention secular studies in their joint statement.

US House candidate Daniel Goldman, who recently won his much-watched New York Democratic primary, says the survey “paints a damning picture of an inadequate secular education that does not respect state law.

Goldman, also Jewish, said he was “hopeful that the yeshivas referenced in the Times report will begin work immediately under upcoming regulations.”

The Yiddish newspaper Der Blatt, based in the Satmar movement’s stronghold of Williamsburg, headlined its next issue with the word “War” in big red letters, saying state officials had attacked the community.

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