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Yeshiva Yanks Secular Course, Defying City’s Drawn-Out Probe Into Religious Schools

SHARE Yeshiva Yanks Secular Course, Defying City’s Drawn-Out Probe Into Religious Schools

Yeshiva Talmud Torah Ohr Moshe on 58th Street in Borough Park, Brooklyn, Feb. 1, 2022.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A Hasidic Jewish school in Brooklyn recently notified parents that it will stop teaching secular studies to eighth graders, even though state law requires such classes, according to a new complaint filed by an education advocacy group. 

Yeshiva Talmud Torah Ohr Moshe, on the outskirts of Borough Park, sent a letter to parents last month stating that it would replace its middle schoolers’ nonreligious study course with a class on practical laws of the sabbath observance. 

The change was made in response to requests from parents, according to the letter in Hebrew obtained by THE CITY. 

Before the switch, the school only offered students 45 minutes of secular education per day, according to Yaffed (Young Advocates for Fair Education), the advocacy group that reported the school to city investigators. 

Officials with Ohr Moshe, which instructs students in kindergarten through eighth grade, did not respond to an email seeking comment. 

The latest complaint from Yaffed to city education officials comes seven years after the group’s initial grievance against close to 40 schools triggered a review by the city Department of Education — an investigation school officials claim is ongoing.  

Yaffed and other advocates contend thousands of Hasidic boys get little, if any, basic secular education in religious schools. That includes traditional math, language and science classes.

Some students struggle to speak and read and write English when they graduate from high school, according to accounts from graduates

Mayors Play Dumb

Mayor Eric Adams has said little lately about the ongoing issue and advocates are urging him to take a more aggressive approach. 

The former Brooklyn borough president was endorsed by many Hasidic leaders in the general election for mayor, with some citing his statements supporting them in the face of the drawn-out investigation into their schools. 

On the campaign trail, Adams visited an unnamed Brooklyn yeshiva and praised its curriculum. 

”I was really impressed by what I saw,” Adams told the Forward last March. “Watching those children understand grammar, understand English, saying they like writing and reading, it was amazing.”

Mayor Eric Adams at City Hall, Jan. 31, 2022.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

He noted that the school was among 28 being investigated at the time by city officials but refused to name the school. 

On Wednesday, Amaris Cockfield, a mayoral spokesperson, said, “We are aware of this complaint and we are looking into it.” 

In December 2019, the Department of Investigation released a report stating that former Mayor Bill de Blasio had been aware that the investigation was purposely delayed, in part to help him gain support in Albany for an extension of mayoral control of schools.

The report said City Hall engaged in “political horse trading” with state politicians by holding back the yeshiva report in a bid to maintain power over the education system.

Shortly after that, former Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza made public his letter to the state Department of Education explaining what his agency had found: 26 of 28 of the yeshivas named in the original complaint were still not in compliance with state education requirements. 

DOE investigators found little or no evidence of secular classes at two of the three high schools they checked since August 2018. 

‘My Son’s Future Is Being Robbed’

State guidelines requiring that education at private schools be “substantially equivalent” to instruction at public schools governed the inquiry, even as those standards have been shifting in recent years.

Since the report was released, city education officials have said they are working with those schools to improve their curriculum. Those meetings have been delayed by the pandemic, according to school officials who responded to the Yaffed complaint. 

Secular-education advocates contend that the city’s lack of serious action since 2015 against schools found to be out of compliance with state law has emboldened other yeshivas. 

“The city’s failure to enforce substantial equivalency in ultra-Orthodox yeshivas has signaled to some of these schools that they are free to deny students a secular education,” charged Naftuli Moster, Yaffed’s executive director.  

“Allowing educational neglect of Hasidic students is part of the de Blasio administration’s legacy,” he added. “We hope that Mayor Adams will set a new standard of accountability and act with integrity to ensure every student in New York City receives an adequate education.”

The yeshivas have long pushed back on any meaningful oversight and insist that they are in compliance with state law. At the same time, they’ve argued that education officials should be more concerned with struggling public schools and lobbied elected officials to try to change the law requiring all students to receive a basic secular education. 

A Yeshiva bus picks up students in South Williamsburg, Sept. 25, 2020.

Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

In April 2021, THE CITY sued the Department of Education after the agency refused to provide documents related to its investigation of the content and quality of instruction at Jewish religious schools in Brooklyn. 

Even though DOE officials have said they are actively working to improve education at the schools, they insist their probe is ongoing because no final determinations have been made about the quality of instruction at 26 of the yeshivas. Therefore, the officials say, the city can’t make the documents available for public release.

That case is pending in Manhattan Supreme Court. 

“My son’s future is being robbed from him as we speak,” Sheindy Weichman, whose teen attends Yeshiva Ketana of Bobov 45 in Canarsie, told THE CITY on Wednesday. She worries the lack of secular instruction will hurt his ability to pursue college and a professional career.

“I implore Mayor Adams,” she added, “to take our complaints seriously and not allow this injustice to go on.”

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