In the final weeks of 2018, New York’s Orthodox Jewish community went into full-blown panic mode.
One Orthodox newspaper in Brooklyn, the Flatbush Jewish Journal, ran the screaming front-page headline “ATTACK ON OUR YESHIVAS!” in red, inch-high letters.
The threats and warnings came as state authorities announced long-awaited guidelines that will regulate the curricula of Orthodox yeshivas. They also come as New York State’s ultra-Orthodox community faces a sharp loss of influence in Albany once the new legislature is sworn in.
Now, Orthodox leaders are using the state guidelines to rally their community, even as they recognize they must try to mend fences in the capital.
The new guidelines, which came after advocacy by the yeshiva reform group YAFFED made education in Hasidic yeshivas a major issue in state and local politics, will require education authorities to review the curricula of every private school in New York.
Many who reviewed the initial guidelines concluded that they would require seven hours of secular subjects per day in grades seven and eight, a schedule that would leave little time for religious studies. Later, the state education department clarified that the guidelines actually require half that much time, but in the meantime, Orthodox leaders saw a winning issue and seized it.
The fear that the state intended to interfere directly in the curricula of yeshivas spread across the Orthodox community. Calls for improved secular education have generally focused on yeshivas serving Hasidic boys, some of which are reported to put very little emphasis on secular education. Not all ultra-Orthodox people are Hasidic; non-Hasidic Orthodox schools generally provide substantial secular educations, so advocates for improved secular education in yeshivas have focused on Hasidic schools.
By early December, even Orthodox leaders outside of the Hasidic community were warning that the seven-hour requirement could threaten their schools.
Other Orthodox groups have been more measured in their response to the guidelines. The Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, which largely represents Modern Orthodox communities, sent a letter statement to schools in its network on December 19, in part saying that the state education department had clarified its guidance, and that the schools would not be required to provide seven hours of daily instruction.
Read the entire article at the Forward.