Aug 6, 2015
"I Blame the Messenger"

Op-Ed: The demands by the group Yaffed to investigate Yeshivas are not to improve them, but to disrupt and destroy them, writes Ezra Friedlander.

By Ezra Friedlander

Recently, we've been hearing much in the news about a group that calls itself Yaffed (Young Advocates For Fair Education). They sent a letter to New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina and seven district superintendents, calling upon them to investigate "the quality of secular education, and in particular English instruction, at (the listed) Yeshivas, and to take steps to ensure that pupils at these Yeshivas receive the essential and substantially equivalent education to which they are entitled."

This group, led by Naftuli Moster, is causing a tremendous amount of controversy in our community, and I'd like to share my own thoughts here.

On the face of it, their proposal seems fair. What could be more beneficial to our community than enhancing the quality of its education, even secular education? In fact, my wife and I, who are parents of two young boys in the Yeshiva system, were recently also discussing this very same issue.

So what could be wrong with Yaffed's proposal? Plenty!

In our community, mesorah (loosely translated as tradition, values, and fundamental beliefs) is the core of our educational system, a concept that has defined the Jewish people from time immemorial and has been the source of our continued survival. So when a person like Mr. Moster and his organization comes along, calling on the New York State Department of Education to investigate our Yeshivas, my only response is: "How dare you? What right do you have to interfere with such sensitive and sacred matters?"

Do Moster's claims have any validity at all? That is irrelevant. His actions speak louder than his words. By what he has done, he has completely disqualified himself from the conversation. He is like a prosecutor who is representing his case to the jury but has gathered evidence illegally. Any judge would throw his case out of court without a moment's delay.

I highly doubt that this organization truly cares about our youth. Or about the quality of our Yeshiva system. Because if they did desire to communicate effective change, they would not have gone about it by retaining the former Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union Norman Siegel (a man who I do respect on many levels) to represent their case. It seems to me that, the sole purpose of this whole campaign is to besmirch our community's reputation and to undermine our system at its core. And for that I unequivocally condemn their efforts.

It pains me greatly that it takes this person and this organization to raise points about our system that do indeed need to be addressed. They are hardly the proper messengers to deliver this message. In order to bring about productive change, the demand must come from the parents themselves and not from outside forces whose very mission is to attack our system with a viciousness and mean-spiritedness that will put our Yeshivas at risk.

Frankly, I personally feel that, by and large, our Yeshivas do adequately meet the State's educational criteria. And most of us are very much aware of the serious failings within the New York public school system, so I would advise the DOE to focus on their own schools. Be that as it may, my goal here is not to criticize that system. I'd rather focus on our own Yeshivas.

When discussing this same issue, my wife and I came to the conclusion that it would be disingenuous for us to demand that our Yeshivas take on additional expenses at this time. They are sadly underfunded and struggling to survive. Especially in the Chassidic world, where a minimum of four to six children in a family can be attending Yeshiva at any given time, tuition barely covers the necessities. So how can we possibly demand that they do more?

Is there room for improvement? Certainly. But the only way to improve the system is through the united efforts of the parent body. It is our responsibility to ensure that our children are properly educated to prepare for their future, including giving them the tools to succeed in life. The Torah demands that parents educate their children and the Yeshivas are essentially our shlichim in this endeavor. But the onus is essentially upon us. Parents should work together with the Yeshivos to create a curriculum that would allow their children to be properly trained to enter the workforce. That is, after all, the stated objective of this campaign for change.

It's important to me that my children are prepared to earn a livelihood and I take that responsibility very seriously. If Mssrs Moster and Siegel would really care about this, I call on them to redirect their talents and energies to find creative ways to request that government funding be increased so that Yeshivas can enhance their curriculum. Doing so would at least give them a seat at the table to participate in this conversation. It would show that they truly care about our children.

The Jewish people have only survived through the millennia because of the wholesome purity of our chinuch system. And that is uncompromising. Back in 1892, Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, (the Netziv) actually shut down the famed Yeshiva in Volozhin because Russian authorities, prodded by members of the Haskalah movement, sought to introduce secular studies to the Yeshiva. He closed down the Yeshiva rather than submit to their demands.

I'm certainly not comparing the DOE to the communist regime. I'm simply trying to demonstrate how sacred our Yeshivas are to our community and how outside interference can only be counterproductive. Moster certainly knows this. And calling on the DOE to investigate our Yeshivas tells me in no uncertain terms that his agenda is not to improve our Yeshivas, but to disrupt and destroy them.

Sadly, his claim, as legitimate as it might be, has lost all credibility. It reminds me of the halacha which states that a Sefer Torah written by an apikores (non believer) is not kosher and cannot ever be used. I'm not accusing him or anyone else of being an apikores, just that their actions have invalidated their initial intent.

It pains me to write this article because I truly believe that positive change can be accomplished when there's unity and people work together for a common cause. But when it comes to our sacred mesorah and the education of our precious children, there is no compromise. We must ensure that they are brought up al taharas hakodesh.

Don't blame the messenger? In this case, I do.

Ezra Friedlander is the CEO of The Friedlander Group, a NYC and Washington DC based public policy consulting group. Follow him at @ezrafriedlander on Twitter. For more information, contact or visit

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Opinions and Comments
Erroneous historical facts
The Netziv closed the Volozhiner yeshiva due to the Czarist regime. Communism in Russia began in 1917. The Zemach Zedek was instrumental in fighting the Haskala movement over the education of the the Jewish .
(8/6/2015 5:24:14 PM)
We don't know what is in the minds and hearts of those involved in Yaffed. We do know that there is a huge welfare crisis in the Frum community. Yaffed believes that this problem is partially because of lack of education.

Since Yeshivas are change-resistant, the only way to incorporate this education plan is to force them via the DOE, much like Affirmative Action in the 1960's.

Comparing the learning of basic English, math and science to the communist propaganda that the commies tried to brainwash children with is absolutely disgusting.

(8/6/2015 6:08:08 PM)
Very well written
(8/6/2015 6:24:11 PM)
Don't give up hope!
I personally have a solution that will slowly leek thru to the appropriate addresses, having gone through a not-so-great yeshiva education and then a secular law school. Keep up your spirits! There are many ways to respect our traditions and still enhance our educational programs so as to satisfy the criticizers, without using collective blame and emotional arguments. Am Yisrael Chai.
(8/6/2015 6:24:51 PM)
Shaina blum
What did Mr moster do wrong??? You failed to mention ONE thing that he did wrong. You have. O merit in your argument
(8/6/2015 6:51:15 PM)
Right on! Chinuch al taharas hakodesh!
(8/6/2015 7:15:23 PM)
Upsetting me :(
This is over the top. What are they thinking.Do they want us t do half day english and half hebrew? These are our schools. I went to Is this site Jewish?
I wrote Comment #3 on NY To Probe 39 Brooklyn Yeshivas.

(8/6/2015 7:25:21 PM)
1892? Communists?

OUCH! I am sure he was NOT comparing the DOE to the Communists. But, he certainly was comparing Yaffed to Haskala!!!

And that may be a fair comparison. But, you lose your credibility when you state history incorrectly.
(8/6/2015 8:22:26 PM)
Sounds like haskala
Plain and simple it's like the Haskala movement is repeating itself.
(8/6/2015 8:25:58 PM)
2015 yesvetzkia
That's who caused the frierdiker rebbe so much problems, this is the yesvetzkia of today.
(8/6/2015 9:28:33 PM)
why is it one goes into any shul in crown heights and theirs a handful of fundraisers,shnoores...if they had an education they wouldn;t need to???
(8/6/2015 9:39:20 PM)
This is well overdue. American schools are subpar in general compared to the rest of the developed world, and the fact that yeshivas don't even give that much is truly criminal. I'm in my early 30s and have recently watched virtually all my friends and their husbands going through crises, trying to figure out how on earth they can get a job that will support their families on the non-education they received. It's a travesty and needs to change.
(8/6/2015 9:53:52 PM)
Mr Moster comes from a fine very frum large chasidick family he was not happy being frum and went off the derech now he blaims the world for his problems and he's out to get everyone frum he is not doing this to help look him up. And I'm sure the other "community members" who signed the letter asking for this investigation are just like him.
(8/6/2015 10:07:24 PM)
This is all very well written
Lets not nit-pick-
U get the idea...
(8/6/2015 10:18:59 PM)
Government subsidies
He's right in a world where any school is being funded exclusively by tuition. If the school accepts funding it needs to accept the conditions that comes with the money. Complaining about to much tuitions costs because he has too many kids? Is this guy kidding! Why should I subsidize his or anyone's poor decision to have children they cannot monetarily and more importantly emotionally take care of. You want to be left alone - stop taking government subsidies. It disgusts me how frum people have this attitude that they are better than everyone - not just non Jews even other religious Jews. I grew up in the Chabad system - I was lucky, I had parents who cared that I had a "secular education." I finished the system including shlichus and smicha and started graduate school. I'm lucky. What about all my friends who's parents felt that an exclusive Hebrew cirriculum (taught be people who have no other options than to be teachers) who are stuck without any options. Yes, some few people will succeed against the odds, but most will struggle. It sickens me, even now, to see "secular studies" as an option. How does it help are children's self esteem when they find out even minorities are better educated then them. Look very carefully at the school in your neighborhood - what is the "success rate" for the graduates? How is success even measured in Lubavitch schools. If the schools goal is to produce shluchim, how many are being produced? What is the success rate? There aren't an infinite number of spots available and those spots that are available are either dynastic or clearly not filled for good reason. If your reasoning is that "secular studies" is not al Taharas Hakodesh and that everything we need to know is in Gemera and other Seforim then use them to teach the concepts! Lubavitch unfortunately is turning into other extreme forms of orthodox Judaism whose attitude is - 'leave us alone, we don't respect you .... but give us your money!'
(8/6/2015 11:07:39 PM)
Ad Hominem
Please. Frum communities in the US today do not survive because of the "wholesome purity of our chinuch system"; they survive because of modern day Socialism. Do you really believe that this system would be sustainable if every frum family had to pay the full freight for health insurance and healthcare, food, daycare, housing, tuition, etc. Nonsense.

Considering this reality, the state has a right to demand that these schools - which they also subsidize through free busing, lunches, Head Start, disability payments etc - teach children the basics so that you don't end up with hand-out recipients in perpetuity.

But of course, the author does not address this perfectly reasonable and valid critique. Instead, and like all poor debaters, he resorts to attacking the messenger instead of the message. Well played. Or not.
(8/6/2015 11:50:55 PM)
People in need of an Editor
Guys, I am reading all your spelling mistakes. Unfortunately someone in YAFFED's camp can use these to prove his point.

B"H nowadays there are places like Touro that offer vocational training and secular remediation for those leaving yeshiva. Probably a kollel guy has to make that decision, and resulting transition, earlier in the marriage, so that he will be gainfully employed by the time his family, IY"H, grows. Part of the problem is waiting until he has six kids & thousands of dollars in debt before taking action.

While I am ambivalent about the responsibility of a yeshiva to offer intensive secular or vocational training, the subject should be brought up & the guy directed, if need be, to job training.
(8/7/2015 12:06:19 AM)
I read your article, and I can understand your point to not taint the beauty of limudai kodesh. BUT, if you have 1000 chasidishe families,most of them struggle, the husbands depend on social services, lower rents, loans, or live from check to check, are at the mercy of a job at B and H (not to downplay B and H) and so on, the overall picture is, most chasidishe men are not taught a healthy secular studies for them to gain a healthier collage or universaty. Or even specific training and education. No, I am not saying every one is like this, but the majority are. The next point is, we no longer live in a european shtetel where the burdon of supporting a family was tremendously different. I do not believe, if you raise boys to be erliche men, that if they go for a secular education, they will loose the foundation and principles of who they are, and assimilate into the crap of the secular world. I believe there must be a helthy compromise. By the administration of the yeshivos to offer a smaller amount of basic english and math for elementry, and a bit more of these studies for the older boys in high school. I heard recently, in israel, they are teaching the charaidim computer science, stocks, tech programming etc.... It is because israel saw the enormous burdon that will fall on the country if they continue to support these communities. Without changing course. Lastly, we live in america, and I believe the chasidishe world is mostly silent when showing hakoros hatov to this great country we live in. A country that allows us to live with religious freedoms and to be able to walk down a street identified as a proud jew. Just my thoughts,,,,,,
(8/7/2015 12:20:23 AM)
My comment is totally off topic but i was verry in awe of the sentencce "my wife and i". its not common today - keep it up! also regarding the topic the Rebbe said al taharas hakodesh- THIS is the bottom line!
(8/7/2015 12:21:15 AM)
Based on reality
Didn't the Rebbe also instruct the skill
School in Kfar Chabad?
(8/7/2015 3:17:35 AM)
Re: 17
I'm truly impressed of your vocabulary and skill of articulating your thoughts so eloquently into the written word.
(8/7/2015 8:45:40 AM)
Rebbe's view
I understand the bitterness of men with no marketable skills upon marriage or further. But learning secular studies or skills when young is like teaching a 10 year-old drivers ed. He should be taught these skills when mature intellectually and can plan his future. I am not advocating hiding your head in the sand, but you guys are really golus minded, a little more emunas tzadikim. Chinuch al taharas hakodesh when young, to bring moshiach.
(8/7/2015 9:01:41 AM)
Shliach in the World
The arguments that Frum jewery is the only community that takes welfare is a farce and is antisemitic.

As a shliach in a relatively wealthy community, I know many single moms, divorced people, drug addicts, down on their luck Jewish families and others who are struggling horribly financially - most of whom received college or graduate education.
Secular education is NOT a panacea that will help you. It is fraught with horrible side effects!!!!
(8/7/2015 9:54:10 AM)
Messenger, who cares?
Circle the wagons, why don't we?

The ppl in YAFAD were all educated in these schools, why are they not qualified to voice their opinions on how lousy the education is?

The author's arguments are poor. He recognizes the issues exists and pretty much admits that it will never be addressed internally because yeshivas will always be underfunded.

I wasn't a big fan of YAFAD b/c I thought these matters should be corrected internally. I now support the organization b/c I now realize our leaders will not fix it until they are forced do. Much hatzlachah to YAFAD and I hope you will be able to help my children without having to smear inept leaders too much.
(8/7/2015 10:21:03 AM)
Watch the video of the Rebbe and Rav Kahana
@24 "Messenger who cares?" This is a shameful argument and can only be said while hidden in comment-land.

The motivations behind this organization are not holy. The goal is abandon the archaic Yiddishkeit as we know it, for a more 2.0 approach.

When is it ok to support the Samech-Mem? Can we support someone who wants to destroy Yiddishkeit even a little bit?

Ashreinu Mah Tov Chelkeinu.
(8/7/2015 10:57:39 AM)
You're dreaming
I went through the public school system and university. If you think that the secular public school system gives you skills needed to succeed YOU ARE DREAMING.

Any individual that doesn't mind to stay ignorant and illiterate will fail in life no matter what courses are offered in school.

If anything, the skills my kids get at OT will serve them much better through life. The **skills** that they're supposedly missing can be caught up within a few weeks of study, should it ever come to that...
(8/7/2015 11:21:02 AM)
To number 23
Who ever ever argued that Frum Jewery (sic) are the only community that takes welfare? The introduction of straw-man arguments peppered with personal anecdotes, is not exactly compelling. Nor is the rush to whip out the "Anti-Semitic" card at every turn.

And speaking of education, part of the problem here is math -- or the lack thereof. While it may be true that some people who are not frum are also on welfare, frum dependency on taxpayer generosity is grossly disproportionate to the general society. Likewise, it may be true that some people with a proper education are flipping hamburgers, while some barely literate immigrants are doing quite well, but on average, educated people fare far better.

How do I know?

From the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Unemployment rate by educational attainment:

Doctoral degree: 2.1%
Professional degree: 1.9%
Masters degree: 2.8%
Bachelors degree: 3.5%
Associates degree: 4.5%
High School diploma: 6.0%
Less than a High School diploma: 9.0%

That's how I know.
(8/7/2015 11:21:56 AM)
Pinchos Woolstone
The push to introduce higher quality secular education into Yeshivos will continue and will gain momentum.
Each community will respond according to its demographic, or changing demographic.
The actions of disaffected ex Charedim will do little beyond cause frustration, resentment and will not be productive.
At this time, there are Yeshivos which offer a full secular program, those which offer a basic program and those which offer no program; parents have the prerogative to choose the approach which best fits their weltanschauung.
As the process evolves the institutions in the main will modify their approach.
(8/7/2015 11:24:55 AM)
If they feel that they can do better than they are fully capable of making their own school
(8/7/2015 11:33:45 AM)
This is a joke...
Most NYC Public School students couldn't read or write English (or spell) if their life depended on it.

Blaming Yeshivos for someones failure to read or write is a scam.

If they never read english, let them open any of the thousands of English books we have published and start familiarizing themselves with the language.

Anyone who doesn't know how to read and write can blame only themselves, or English for being such a counter-intuitive language. But they certainly can't blame anyone else for their failure to PICK UP A BOOK (any book) AND READ!!!

Refuoh Shileimoh.
(8/7/2015 12:04:00 PM)
concerned parent
the efforts Yaffed are clearly Mesirah by any definition in Halacha. Additionally, the true Jewish leaders of ALL previous generations risked their lives to keep secular influences out of our education system. Any secular knowledge acquired by my children happened totally outside Yeshiva schedules and was minimized to include only that which might assist in their future financial requirements. interference by this organization would bring much unwanted secular "education" (read propaganda and heresy) into our Yeshivas, in addition to anything that may be necessary.
(8/7/2015 12:56:25 PM)
Don't make things up. Where are you getting these facts from?
(8/7/2015 2:59:36 PM)
What can be done to battle these troublemakers?
Is there a way we can promote our Torah true principles in the face of these misfits?
(8/8/2015 11:04:14 AM)
Running away from the real issue
The writer neglects the most obvious charge. Yaffed wouldn't exist if not for the failures of the yeshiva system. Own up to that before you condemn proponents of change.
(8/8/2015 12:13:27 PM)
Seems to me
Believe it or not, there was a time when the Jewish world did not depend on government money to provide our own children with a Jewish education.

There are a couple of colleges in the US that made the decision that they did not want the government telling them what and how they could and could not teach. So they decided to stop asking for or taking government money.

Voila! They were free to do things as they saw fit!

It is not easy to function without government money. But there is historical precedent for this, i.e., before the government became so involved with local educational matters among religious groups wanting to educate their own children.

We don't see the Amish being pressured by the government to make sure their educational system prepares their children for "modern society". That's because they take responsibility for their own, and don't go running to the government for a handout.

We have made a gradual shift over many years' time, from a struggling self-sufficiency to a struggling government dependency, in our Orthodox system of education. It's not too late to transition back.

It's not easy, but isn't it interesting that our schools seem to struggle with or without government money. But at least without government money, we are free to educate our children al taharas kodesh.
(8/8/2015 9:59:13 PM)
Not shayach to Crown Heights or Chabad!!!
This whole issue should not concern Crown Heights or Chabad in general as Boruch hashem we have a Rebbe who has taught us not to be cut off from the world but transform it.

They (BP & Williamsburg) have this issue because they never focused on reaching out beyond their Daled Amos.

Whether you become a shliach or not, if you were raised in Chabad you should have the tools to not only navigate this world but to try to make a Dirah Batachtonim
(8/8/2015 10:46:52 PM)
#1 it's Hashem that provides and sustains all man
#2 Hashem created the world for the yiddin to serve him and study Torah
#3 the Rebbe rights many times exactly how we are to educate are children altras hakodesh only and by doing so Hashem will provide and we should not listen to what the world says that if you don't education you kids thay won't even be able to polish shoes for a living[ we have to remember this is what paroh said about the girls you should let them live Rebbe explains that you should education them the way of the land there by killing them spiritual read the first sicha on parshas shemos]
(8/9/2015 12:54:55 AM)
To #37
The Rebbe "rights"?

You can't spell the word "writes" and you are lecturing about education?
(8/9/2015 11:37:20 AM)
how about education?
Instead of denying kids for not being up to your standards, why donít you focus more on educating and inspiring kids to be up to par? Isnít that what the school is for? Are you in the business of just preserving chassidiskite/ frumkite or are you hear to teach and inspire kids to want to grow?
(8/9/2015 1:44:24 PM)
To #36
Give me a break.

Shlichus comes with a special koach from the Rebbe. Any Shliach who believes otherwise does not belong on Shlichus altogether. Shlichus is the exception, NOT the rule. In other words, DESPITE their poor education, they are able to succeed.

As for the 99% who do not go on Shlichus, the vast majority are left with an inability to provide for a large family without turning to welfare and making "shtick".
(8/9/2015 5:12:13 PM)
I don't understand why massering would ever be the answer
The Christians have no problem giving their kids a secular education from their perspective. Why can't lehavdel elef havdalus do the same. There already is a book called "our people" and it covers almost all of global/world history. Now we need more Jewish textbooks that hit standard guidelines without compromising yiddishkeit.
(8/13/2015 3:32:47 AM)
@15 every child Is a brocha!
EVERY child is a blessing from Hashem first and foremost! Your a fool! What type of attitude is this? Noone is asking you to support anyone's children! Also "affordability" is a very loose term! Parnassa comes -goes sometimes more sometimes less, a child is a brocha that the parents have in THIS world AND the next! Woman in addition have a limited time frame as to when they can even have them! Every child comes with their own brocha they bring to their family and the community at large! How DARE you even hint that one should limit their family size hasfer shalom over tuition expenses! Time to turn off the TV , nexflic, youtube or wherever your getting the Satan influence and OPEN a safer and learn everything you can pertaining to this subject matter!
(9/30/2016 5:10:48 PM)
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