The core issues undergirding the battle over curriculum control in some chasidic schools are not fully developed in Amy Sara Clark’s piece (“Questions Over Felder’s ‘Yeshiva’ Amendment,” April 6).
We must keep in mind that for the recalcitrant yeshivas, any deviation from the ancient European model of a Torah-only environment is inherently suspect and thus denigrated. Time spent on secular studies is time not spent learning Torah. History, geography, and civics are deemed inherently valueless. Moreover, certain topics, such as evolution and certain other science subjects, are perceived as a challenge to Judaism. (This is why chasidic girls’ schools, whose students learn much less Torah, nonetheless avoid the latter topics.)
From the perspective of the state, there is inherent value in having students absorb basic concepts that will have application in the world at large. This is especially true if the state is contributing resources to these schools. And so these value systems, both legitimate, are in conflict.
I don’t know where a full resolution lies, but I believe that these chasidic institutions should consider two benefits of a secular education. First, it better equips students when they engage the outside world. Many chasidim do operate businesses or otherwise labor in the world at large. It is not a Kiddush Hashem [blessing to God] if these men cannot communicate effectively or perform basic math and writing functions. Second, math, science, and other disciplines are also God’s creations; chasidism, among Judaism’s streams, especially sees God’s presence in every physical object. If God created it, shouldn’t we study it?