Log in Subscribe
Jewish Culture

Revisiting religious education

Moshe Unger
Posted 11/18/22

This is the second part of two columns reacting to recent media reports, critical of Hasidic Yeshiva Education.

A closer look at the data gathered in the NY Times piece referenced in my last …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in
Jewish Culture

Revisiting religious education


This is the second part of two columns reacting to recent media reports, critical of Hasidic Yeshiva Education.

A closer look at the data gathered in the NY Times piece referenced in my last column, reveals the gap between the facts and their ill-intended analysis. The only data the reporters offer is one state test of one school network of one year!! Is this OK to rely on to smear so many people??

All other data are anecdotal data, and they are mainly reports from people who left the Chasidic community. The most that this article is revealing is that out of the 200,000 Chasidic Jews in N.Y.S. a handful of people have left due to negative experiences or other life circumstances. We all wish the world would be perfect, and it will be one day, but we are not there yet.

Some of the anecdotal data don’t even make sense to me. They tell of a boy who is in a youth shelter near Liberty who is without food or a job. There are so many organizations in the community which he can turn to even if he is not religious at all. Alexander Rappaport from Masbia will open his arms and feed this man and help him with whatever he needs. I can name many more people and organizations. If the accounts are true, I’d suspect that there is much more to the stories than reported. Life journeys can be painful and are always full of emotion, but they are hardly reliable data to paint so many people with such negativity.

One testimony in the NY Times article is from an English instruction teacher who left the job after a year. I saw in a local magazine a report of a different teacher who has been communicating by email with one of the NY Times reporters and relayed a very positive experience. At some point in the conversation the reporter asked if this individual is employed by a Chasidic school, and he said that he is employed as a teacher but not employed as a spokesperson nor has he been instructed to reach out to the Times. This is where the reporter stopped asking him questions and didn’t quote any of his words.

This is a demonstration of the kind of data collection they’ve made. A teacher who left a school disappointed is considered unbiased and a teacher who is happy with the school and hence his further employment in the school is considered biased. This paradigm is designed to only count negative data. They write at the beginning of the article that they interviewed more than 275 people for the article to give an impression of thorough research. The sad thing is that many of these interviews have been positive reports about the Yeshivas, but they have not been included. The voices of the people who are happy with their education and lead productive lives are simply ignored. These voices are not difficult to find. They are everywhere, including on LinkedIn (the social media platform used for business by a percentage of Chasidim).

Let’s talk about public funding. In general, schooling has two important goals for the state: education and keeping children off the street. Because of the separation of religion and state and because the state does not want to fund general education in private schools, funding that goes to private schools are for the second aspect of school. The state pays for monitoring and ensuring student attendance, lunch, and other such programs. After all, they keep the youth off the streets no matter what the learning is.

Since there is no limit to improvement, I have the real solution, if anyone is interested, to upgrade the general studies in Chasidic schools: You get what you pay for. If the state will fund the education, like every citizen is entitled to, they’ll get what they pay for. Many states in the U.S. and also Canada, Australia, and most European countries do fund general studies in religious schools so really it does not challenge separation of religion and state.

They claim that the schools are flushed with money, but they offer no comparison whatsoever. They do not run any numbers on how much it costs per student, nor do they compare to public schools’ students. I don’t have to teach “college-educated” reporters that comparison is the first thing you learn in any Humanities course. A much better data point will be to show how much a community of 200,000 would have cost to taxpayers had they been using the public school system. Chasidim choose not to use the public school system, correct, but they still save the taxpayer immense amounts of money. That data is what’s important for comparison.

In short, this article does not qualify to any standards of journalistic integrity, not with the data gathered nor with the analysis of the data. It is my hope and prayer that people should look deeper and see through the lies and slander.

I didn’t read the article right away when it came out and I’m happy I didn’t because now it’s old and it doesn’t feel so threatening. Really, this article is older than old. It’s older than 2000 years of history of some Jews speaking badly of other Jews, much worse than any outsider would. As I said, in such cases their words are not reliable whatsoever.

Comments? Email me: moshe@mosheunger.com


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here