In 2014, billboards in English and Yiddish appeared in the chasidic neighborhood of Williamsburg, stressing the religious and legal obligation of giving children an education that would prepare them to earn a living.
In 2015, the chair of the New York City Council’s education committee vowed to study the quality of secular education offered in charedi schools.
In 2016, an online petition drive urged the city’s schools chancellor to enforce state regulations that require yeshivot to offer adequate lessons in such secular subjects as science, math and history.
Last month a suit was filed in U.S. District Court here calling on the state to enforce in charedi elementary and high schools its relevant regulations.
And last week the city’s schools chancellor sent to the state’s Department of Education a 14-page letter that outlined the results of a three-year study into the educational practices at more than two dozen charedi schools; the letter reported both cooperation from the institutions as well as indications of new educational initiatives, and, unfortunately, access denied to 15 schools. (Full report here.)
Virtually all of this is the result of one person.
Naftuli Moster, a product of the Belzer chasidic group’s education system who no longer is part of the charedi community, in 2012 founded YAFFED (Young Advocates for Fair Education), an independent advocacy organization that lobbies — among chasidim, politicians and journalists — for the “substantially equivalent” teaching of secular subjects that state regulations require. His emphasis is on all-male chasidic schools, mostly in New York City and Rockland County; the secular education for females is generally better in the all-girls yeshivot. (Charedi leaders have maintained that the secular education taught at yeshivas is sufficient and that their first priority is religious education, which reflects their communal values.)
Moster, named at 29 one of The Jewish Week’s 36 Under 36 young leaders, should be commended for his efforts. But he told us he has had to watch his step since a charedi newspaper last year branded him a “rodef,” a biblical reference to a pursuer who must be stopped by any means.
The implied threat is an unfortunate sign of his success — he is raising awareness in the community where he was raised of what he called the sub-par education he received. It’s a situation he is trying to change for future graduates of the charedi educational system so that they will have the knowledge and skills to support themselves and their families.