Brooklyn, NY – Report: Charedi Yeshivas Fail To Teach Secular Subjects In Compliance With Law


    FILE - Photo illustrationBrooklyn, NY – An investigative series by New York ( has revealed that many Hasidic yeshivas are offering little or no instruction in secular subjects such as English, math and science, even though the schools are legally required to do so.

    A number of former yeshiva students confirmed the report’s findings. Shmueli Lowenstein, 25, attended Oholei Torah in Crown Heights as a child, but says he was not taught phonics or mathematics. “I did not grow up learning English or any kind of secular studies at all,” Lowenstein said. “Everything was done in Yiddish until seventh or eighth grade, and then they would switch to Hebrew. I don’t think I ever received a paper with English writing on it, except for maybe a permission slip for a school trip.”

    Under state and federal law, both public and private schools in New York are mandated to provide “equivalency of instruction” in fundamental subjects like American history and mathematics. Yet, not only do many Brooklyn yeshivas fail to fulfill this basic requirement, they, in fact, offer only one or two hours a day of secular instruction, if at all.

    According to Zalman Alpert, a librarian at Yeshiva University and an expert on the Orthodox community, “There are a number of schools which have absolutely no pretenses of it – kids from 3-years-old to 18 have no secular education at all.” Essentially, Alpert said, the Haredi school system is the “largest unregulated school system in America.”

    More children attend Jewish parochial schools in Brooklyn than attend Catholic schools in both Brooklyn and Queens. An estimated 1.1 million Jews reside in Brooklyn, and because of the large number of Orthodox Jewish families in Brooklyn, enrollment at Brooklyn yeshivas has increased by more than 12,000 students in the last four years, according to state records.

    In an interview with, Rabbi Sholom Skaist of Williamsburg’s United Talmudical Academy (UTA) admitted his school does not dedicate much time to secular subjects. “We teach math, English, some social studies and some science,” Skaist said. “They do not have secular studies in all the grades, only from fourth to eighth grade.”

    Heshy Gelbstein, 18, a former student at UTA, said, “I can’t read. I don’t know anything about the outside world – I have to struggle every time I have to read a menu for a restaurant. I have a good spelling, but not a good grammar. I lose the words. When I start talking English in front of someone who knows a good English, it’s like I’m speaking Spanish to someone who knows only English.”

    Because of the high poverty rate among many Jewish families in Brooklyn, most Brooklyn yeshivas are receiving financial allocations for their students from the federal, state and city governments. These include free lunch programs, educational resources, and federal Title I and Title III monies earmarked for poor students and English instruction for students whose primary language is not English.

    Federal officials from the United States Department of Education’s Student Achievement and School Accountability Program have repeatedly demanded that the city and state provide better oversight of how the private schools are spending their federal funding. Ultimately, the New York City Department of Education is responsible for ensuring that federal monies are spent appropriately, and that the private schools are adhering to the “minimum standard of instruction” as required by law.

    A spokeswoman for the New York City Department of Education declined to comment on the lack of compliance on the part of yeshivas, but did say, “We were notified of a situation last year regarding requirements. As a result, we engaged in the process outlined by New York State.”

    But one Williamsburg resident said she finds it impossible to believe that education officials are clueless about yeshivas skirting the law. “What’s going on is illegal, it’s totally illegal,” said Libby Pollack. “Unless somebody just arrived to Ellis Island, there’s no such thing that they grew up here and they don’t speak the language of the land. It’s a disgrace, and it’s the norm in Hasidic Brooklyn.”

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    1. This is news to anybody? SOME communities believe it is perfectly acceptable to be 100% illiterate, have no job skills, and then tell you it is ok to just go to the government and demand that they take money from family to support yours.

      It is a disgusting and disgraceful practice and I hope it forces the Federal government to pull all of their funding. The public at large should not be funding communities that choose the “entitlement lifestyle”. It is a disgrace to those who gave up everything to bring us here to Freedom… that instead of being FREE and building our communities and building our future, so many just became leeches on society like a plague. It is sickening and embarrassing to the rest of us that these people who dress as we do behave in such a manner.

    2. This is old news. It’s such a joke. My father taught English for a few years in a Brooklyn school. He said that if he couldn’t read the handwriting of the student then he would automatically fail them on the paper. If NYS would punish them by taking away their funding then what would they do? It’s a shame that schools today are teaching kids how to be close minded.. I see people today who can write but can’t spell or write correct grammar.

      Nebech that today’s so called “rabbonim” are disrespecting R’ Kamanitzkey and ‘R Feinstein who publicly said that a secular education is just as important as a Judaica one. Shame, shame.

    3. There is no Chidush in this investigation.
      The state government knows good and well that the yeshivah’s don’t to teach secular study, yet they aren’t willing to do anything about it.

    4. My sons go to a chasidishe yeshiva in BP and get “VERY” little english education, so I take my sons twice a week to a private teacher and give them the basics, pay top dollar – “NO CHOICE”!!!

      • Yes, you do have a choice. Send your sons to a ‘modernish’ yeshiva where they will learn limudai kodesh and limudai chol and probably a little bit better ehrlichkeit and mentschlichkeit too.

        Do you think your sons don’t know that their yeshiva is violating the law AND stealing money meant to pay for parts of their secular education? Do you think they don’t get the message loud and clear?

    5. Universally, G-d is a god of knowledge. So if you ask me, you are not doing your job as a jew if you skip things like mathematics and other education. Either way. G-d is not a god of running around with half a mind.

    6. what I find the most pathetic is the thousands of people who were born and raised here who break their teeth trying to speak an english sentence. and the really sad thing is that most of them think (or should I say TINK), that its all a big joke.

    7. NY politicians and regulators are not blind; they just don’t care to lose block votes and frum monies for some frum kids.
      The denial of basic, quality education in the frum world is deliberate abomination just like the slave owners in the South outlawed education to blacks in fear that a well educated population will be too independent and will be able to question their masters’ authority. Frederick Douglass had to learn literacy in secrecy before he was able to become an influential thinker and anti-slave leader. The rosh yeshivos and rebbes who are worshiped like idols do not want a well educated community that will threaten their authority.
      It’s easy to believe that your rebbe is some saintly genius who knows everything about the world, when the yeshivos he controls don’t teach you basic skills to navigate and survive the modern world without handouts.

    8. 1) When you don’t conduct yourself with Emes, Hashem will make sure that the truth and lies come out.
      2) Ever heard of the term sociologists use, which ironically describes the Chassidic movement to the tee, “social control”. Why do you think Lakewood is following this trend in H.S.??????

    9. I have known Shmueli Lowenstein since he was born, his mother is a dear friend. He’s a great young man, but I don’t think he’s being very fair here. He went to that school at the behest of his parents. They accepted the system. Shmueli reads & writes English as well as anyone with a solid secular education. My sons didn’t learn anything worth knowing in terms of secular studies either, and they are all fully functioning & one is in Touro doing very well.

      Life is what you make it. This is our system. If parents don’t like it, there are choices: after school classes, private lessons, public school or day school. The system works just fine. If you want to learn English, you can. In the meantime, OT does a great job in educating hundreds if not thousands of Shluchim who run successful Chabad Houses across the world. An OT education hasn’t harmed them at all!

      All this article does is cause trouble for some great institutions. And FYI, MY son attended OT & I have no complaints about his competency in secular subjects.

      • you are so full of it it smells over my computer This is our system. If parents don’t like it, there are choices like what public school are you not ashamed to even write lies like that i am sure you would love to Mary your kids to some one who sends his kids there even for 5 min a day stop the abuse you are a real fake monalisa go home to your boy friend

      • I also went to OT. If you would see me today you would think I’m successful. I went to college and got my degrees, but only I know how hard it was for me to succeed. Because I had no English education I spent one whole year taking remedial courses. Even with those courses my English skills were always subpar. I had some success, but most of my friends are good solid blue class workers, and need every subsidy to support their families. For the most part they feel cheated.
        OT was good at making Sheluchim, but 99 percent of the students never became shluchim. Where are these 99 percent today. One percent became successful buisness men, but most drive trucks, buses or are shleppers trying hard to make a living. We live in a very technical world. these technical positions require people with degrees in those fields. OT trains every student to be a Shliach or a Bus driver. unfortunately most become bus drivers.

        • Absolutely right.

          + Since the 1970’s the income of a non-graduates has gone down 30%! This system doesn’t work, and as time’s progress the situation is just getting worse.

          If the government where smart, it better start getting to work on this issue. Wait a little longer, and I can guarantee that the government will be sued in the mega million’s.

      • How many of these shluchim would be able to find employment outside of Chabad? Not giving your child a secular education in reading, mathematics, science and history is a form of child abuse. Just as one must teach a child to swim so he won’t drown, so too one must prepare a child to survive in today’s world. The young chassidishe people I know can barely read and write. They are suffering and I believe this is a primary factor in so many going off the derech. True, there are always very bright and motivated students who are able to overcome these obstacles and learn on their own but the rest are drowning.

      • there are only so may Chabad houses so eventually the blessed Scluchim market will be saturated if not already.
        But there are some Chabad schools outside NY that have some secular programs and kids who go on to college..Pittsburgh is an example. Great community.

    10. When my Grandpartents of blessed memory came to the USA, they were REQUIRED to learn English in order to pass the test for U.S. citizenship. In those days, the citizenship tests were not given in any other languages. Some communities, not only the haredi, feel that it is 100% acceptable, to live here for 50-60 years, and not learn one word of English. Do some of the Charedi communities feel that it is a sin, to speak a language other than Yiddish? I can’t understand why the secular subjects such as English, Math, Science, History, etc., aren’t taught in those Yeshivahs? What are those schools afraid of? Do they feel that such secular subjects will somehow corrupt the students? Please!

    11. Would be great to see funding cut unless the rules are complied with. Unfortunately, the frum community is a large voting block, so the odds of a politician standing up to this are somewhere between slim and nil.

    12. Interesting note. These reporters always find a dropout who is more than glad to bash the yeshiva they hate, ie Gelbstein. If he can’t read a menu perhaps he is learning disabled. I and my children attended yeshiva in wmsbg and speak/write in perfect English. True, more emphasis is placed on Torah study but they are taught grammar, math, history, current events, etc.

      • This report seems, in my limited experience, to be correct; if you are also telling the truth about your experiences then you are in the minority.

        When I speak to a chassid in these neighborhoods, my expectation is that he will barely be able to put together a full correct sentence in English, even if he is somewhat literate in the language, just as this “drop-out” said was his own experience.

        Holocaust survivors and other foreigners who had nothing, and had to learn the language on their own, often speak a better English than these American-educated students. That’s sad.

        Look at the comments here on VIN and compare that with comments posted elsewhere. The writing style, sentence composition and spelling/grammar is definitely (and sometimes strikingly) different (and not in a good way) here.

        It’s pathetic in and of itself, as maxedout wrote, and it’s also a chutzpah if the schools are breaking the law as the article claims.

      • whom do you think you are fooling? those who are in the frum community know you are writing falsehoods, and those who aren’t couldn’t care less.

        But you are as (dis)honest as the yeshivas are.

        A more interesting note than yours: read any set of comments here on VIN if you are unconvinced of the illiteracy of the chassidishe community.

    13. Most forms and customer services anywhere in the US are available in Spanish. I guess that’s for the public school graduates who get a good education paid for with my tax dollars.

      • And my tax dollars go to every yeshiva that receives a drop of aid from the local, state, or federal governments. I will be sure that my family members toss away the “haroset” or calendar or cards they receive from the yeshivas begging for money – They, and I, wouldn’t wish to support institutions that cheat their students, students’ parents, and the government – quite a hat trick! In one more generation, when the educated, generous grandparents join their avot and emahot, who will support these illiterate “students”?

    14. It is a well-known fact that some yeshivas offer little to nothing in the way of secular education. My brother took a farher at one of those yeshiva in the mid 1970’s. That yeshiva had no secular studies department at all. These kinds of yeshivas are not considered to be accredited schools by State and City education authorities and as such, are not entitled to benefits extended to schools that are accredited. For example, the yeshiva I attended for HS was an accredited school and so the yeshiva used to get money to aid in the school lunch program, which otherwise might not have been possible.

    15. One thing not to forget: these kids have to pass the Regents like anybody else, the proof is in their passing rates. This article may be partially true, but does not give the full picture.

    16. This article is not shameful – it is those of us who take it for what it is – half baked truths. I went to a real frum chasidish yeshiva in Boro Park and ended up with several post-graduate degrees. I am a frum, chasidish and proud professional. I am not ashamed of anyone and wear my stripes proudly. Of the thousands I know who went to the same yeshiva, I do not know a single person who can’t speak, read or write respectfully. My sons went to the same yeshiva, took the entire HS curriculum and passed 8 Regents exams, all in a one-year period. My blood boils when the apologetics amongst us get revved up rather than thinking for a moment before commenting. There are plenty of agendas amongst writers and articles. Stand up and be proud of who we are. I am a proud chusid with absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. My children are chasidish and educated and I would do nothing differently. Before you say anything go check which students score highest on the NYS Accounting and CPA exams. It is us frum people. So rather than whining and agreeing to every half-baked story out there see the world for what it truthfully is. I know the truth and I live it.

    17. What made last generation different is that although Yeshivos did not take general studies seriously, at least the parents thought it was important. Today’s parents are the products of that and don’t think it is important. Yes, there might be some insular communities where a few yechidim can get by without knowing English, Math, Social Studies and Science. But, if such a person has to live outside of the cocoon, he is totally lost and has no prospects for parnassa. So, this finding is merely one that was a long time coming. No corection is in sight, as the “irrelevance” of general studies is pervasive in every single Right-wing Yeshiva today.

      • Dr. E. unless you wish to earn the title Dr. no need for knowing English syntax, or science and ” Barak Hussein Obama” the socialist will assure a safety net for those devout learners , section 8, food stamps the whole socialist leftist agenda. Dr. there is something like self-respect. I arrived in 1950 bilingual in addition still remembering some Latin with the nighmares of Buchenwald and eventually landed a professional job but I was brought up with the notion of Reb Yochanan h’sandler, nonsense today. Oh yes the Rambam was a physician, translator and wrote fluent Arabic, treife like chazer.

    18. If you do not teach social studies, math and English and science, the result is that you lose a social consciousness, you lose analytical skills, you can not compete globally and you can not see the future in terms of human achievement and human insight.

      • Sir/Lady you are wrong there is a socialist President a sone yisroel but he provides a safety net and of course we don’t give a hoot from where the geld comes as long as it greenbacks with the goyishe face of Washington we take it and more the better and then one can fall back on the money under the table , the goyishe IRS is not our concern and finally the probably there is money in the family and why bother with the goyishe subjects, wo cares about analytical skills, human achievement another goyishe idea and human insight that is the worse type of goyishe idea . We beat the Germans constantly over the head what they have done to Jews but frankly the survivors are trash and we cannot poot a foot in the Yad vashem Tzionim idea and the best some time ago a fine Neturei Karta subject gave an interview to a German correspondent , not a man and lambasted rightfully the treifene medina and of course his fine children have been under the care of a psychiatrist [von einer beruehmten Rabbinische familie] for a mild case of incest, beautiful. Certainly this type enhances the respect for Jews. If you wish I will provide the issue number of the Spiegel which you can obtain by e-mail

    19. Ode to the undereducated. No secular classes, no college degrees, no PHDs, but I’m a PR Specialist (we know who this is), I’m an accountant, I’m a teacher and I’m a therapist (this is topical.) All without any education, never mind a command of the English language and secular studies. Primitive? Absolutely! Destructive? Just read the newspapers! Sad! Luke

    20. We pay property tax just like everyone else.
      Our property tax goes to Public Schools – 16,000 per year spent on each public school student.
      Many states provide tuition grants for private schools
      NYS does not.
      Why should WE pay to teach English.

      • You live in a country that prospers and you want the government to pay to teach your child English, the native language? If your comment was not so sad, it would be funny. But it is not. Languish (Google the word) in your ignorance. Sad. Luke

      • Clearly you should send your children to public school. If you do not want this send your children to yeshiva. The English courses should be taught in Yeshiva. Before you get too worked up about the government, remember that the money you give to tsedaka is tax deductable. School is not tax deductable, but I don’t want my taxes to pay for part of your tsedaka. I don’t want my tax money to help pay for your childrens’ transportation.
        I certainly don’t want any use of a tax exempt number go to the maintainance of any of your charities. That might raise my taxes and benefit you.
        I know that some here will be upset, but I am just trying to have you realize that other people’s tax money helps you. Oh before I go, don’t get me started on Section 8 and food stanps in the frum (or any other) community.

    21. The ones who get 100s in Gemara usually do just as well in English. It’s taught (been there, done that, have the rotten tomato stains on my jacket to prove it) and you can actually cover a lot in two hours. Of course, by that time in the afternoon, the kids have had it and would rather be playing ball; they’ve been there since Shacharis. If the Teacher gets through to at least a few kids, he feels succesful. The public school kids in NYC don’t know much more, btw.
      The same problem in reverse happened with the Public School kids who went to “Hebrew School” after school; guess what, they learnt even less! Those kids couldn’t even read the words “Borchu es Hashem HaMevoirach” at their Bar-Mitzvas without ten mistakes, so I think the Yeshivas are getting more English than that. Some kids did better, some kids worse, and yes the Yeshivos should take it a little more seriously, but realistically it depends on the individual kids and their families. I still don’t think that the public schools know much more when they finish. My kids (even the weaker students among them) know English just fine, and enjoy reading (what we approve of) to expand their knowledge. The home is a major factor.

    22. There is also the theft aspect. They are not fulfilling their teaching duties but call themselves a school and are receiving financial allocations from the government as if they are one.

    23. I would like to see a Yeshivish school that caters to boys who are properly on the derech, but not cut out to go to yeshiva or kollel after they finish school. And why not have an option to have a regular study day instead of the almost 12 hours they can spend there currently with only 3-4 of that being devoted to secular studies (in the afternoon). It is crazy.

    24. When my grandparents came to this country they learned English because this was America and they were going to be American. My parents speak no Russian or Romanian and very little Yiddish.

      My wife does policy research for a major metropolitan school district. The biggest question is whether immigrants need five years or just two of ESL in order to attain fluency and literacy in English. It would be almost impossible to keep the kids from learning the language.

      In light of this we are forced to come to one of two distasteful conclusions. Either
      1) Charedi schools are working as hard as possible to keep their students from learning
      2) Charedim are incredibly stupid if they can’t do in several generations what people from all over the world do in a couple years.


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