- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Private schools in New York state — in particular those operated by various branches of Hasidic Judaism — will have to offer “substantially equivalent instruction” to that found in public schools, officials ruled Tuesday.

Following months of debate about the practices of the Hasidic-related schools, called yeshivas, the New York State Board of Regents voted unanimously to require that religious schools get approval from local boards of education for their coursework or obtain formal accreditation from a recognized body.

The state will mandate math, reading, writing, science and history instruction, reports indicate. 

Since at least 2017, some yeshiva graduates have complained about a lack of instruction in some of these key areas, particularly mathematics, reading and writing — a deficit some say hampers them in the workplace.

Opponents of the new requirements say the rules will allow the state to force other subjects on the sex-segregated yeshivas, where males are taught a largely religious-studies curriculum and females a broader range of topics.

New York’s curriculum standards include areas of science education that many Hasidic Jews reject, such as evolution and detailed sex education. 

Placing these hot-button subjects before the students could cause a conflict with Hasidic values and intrude on the group’s right to educate their children according to their faith’s tenets.

Advocates of the Hasidic educational system have asserted in media reports and online postings that they are pleased with a curriculum that teaches deep analysis of religious texts and values they say strengthen homes and communities.

“The specter of government overriding the will of parents and dictating how and what we teach in our private, religious schools is frightening,” a statement from Agudath Israel, an Orthodox Jewish advocacy group, said before the regents’ vote. “We will continue to fight on behalf of our community to protect the autonomy of private, religious schools, as needed.”

The case could lead to a challenge similar to the one decided by the Supreme Court 50 years ago, when the state of Wisconsin tried to force Amish students to continue their education past the eighth grade. The Amish eschewed advanced education they considered “worldly” and unnecessary for their way of life.

The high court ruled unanimously that states cannot force individuals to attend school if this infringes on a person’s legitimate religious beliefs. A challenge by Hasidic educators and families could, observers say, rekindle that debate.

Rabbi Moshe Hauer, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, told The Washington Times via email, “We are very concerned that these regulations will lead to constant conflict between government and the religious community, and compromise an educational system that has had a strong track record of producing upstanding and productive citizens dedicated to family and community.”

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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