An important intra-Jewish dispute in the New York City area has been featured in parochial papers like The Forward and The Jewish Week, as well as in mainstream local news outlets, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the PBS-TV “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly” broadcast.
What happens next? Follow-up coverage should examine a significant religious liberty angle that’s been downplayed or omitted in media accounts.
Three years ago, graduates of yeshivas operated by the strict Haredim or so-called “ultra-Orthodox” Jews, including Hasidic groups, founded Young Advocates For Fair Education (YAFFED.org). Their legal advisor is Norman Siegel, former executive director of the New York City Liberties Union. These Jews complain that their limited high school educations left them ill-equipped to support themselves as adults, and demand that the city and state education departments enforce laws on minimum school standards.
Last year YAFFED organized 52 parents, former students and former teachers to send officials the names of 39 New York City yeshivas where, they contended, boys receive inadequate general education. The officials promised an investigation but no progress has been reported. The campaign gained traction this year with two crackdown bills introduced in the state legislature in January and then in May.
Though state law mandates basic course requirements for religious as well as public schools, Haredi leaders strongly resist change, seeking to perpetuate their traditions and protect youths from secular influences. News accounts indicate politicians go along.
YAFFED Executive Director Naftuli Moster and Johns Hopkins University Professor Seth Kaplan co-wrote an op-ed in the Forward titled “Why Do Jewish Leaders Keep Ignoring Ultra-Orthodox Education Crisis?” They pleaded with non-Orthodox communal organizations like the UJA-Federation of New York to take up the cause.