NYC mayor praises yeshivas, pushes back on criticism of secular education standards

Adams suggests city’s public schools are failing students and should follow the seminaries’ example, as city hall fights media effort to publicize assessments of 26 yeshivas

New York City Mayor Eric Adams attends a a news conference, October 11, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
New York City Mayor Eric Adams attends a a news conference, October 11, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

New York Jewish Week via JTA — Eric Adams pledged support for yeshivas and said public schools should emulate them, pushing back on scrutiny the haredi Orthodox day schools have received for reportedly falling far short of state educational requirements, among other alleged malfeasance.

In a speech delivered last Wednesday at an event held by the Orthodox Union, the New York City mayor suggested that the city’s public schools were failing students and should follow the yeshivas’ example.

“But instead of us focusing on, how do we duplicate the success of improving our children, we attack the yeshivas that are providing a quality education that is embracing our children,” he said.

He added, “But we’re asking, ‘What are you doing in your schools?’ We need to ask, ‘What are we doing wrong in our schools?’ And learn what you are doing in the yeshivas to improve education.”

Beginning last September, the New York Times published a series of articles reporting that New York yeshivas did not meet state educational standards, and that some teachers employed corporal punishment. The Times also reported that some yeshivas had used public special education funding for other purposes.

Advocates for increased secular education in haredi schools have praised the series for drawing attention to a festering problem. But the Times’ investigative series has drawn criticism from Orthodox community leaders and others, who have portrayed it as a false and misleading attack on the haredi community.

A Jewish man crosses a street in a Jewish quarter in Williamsburg Brooklyn in New York City on April 24, 2019 (Johannes EISELE / AFP)

Conservative think tanks have published analyses alleging that the series paints yeshivas with too broad a brush, and that the reporting relies on inaccurate data and unethical journalistic practices. Agudath Israel of America, a haredi umbrella group, launched a campaign claiming that the articles were fueling rising antisemitism in the city, and charged that the Times “conducted a smear campaign against Orthodox Jewish and Hasidic private schools — and their communities’ entire way of life — in a way that can increase the already alarming number of attacks.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, echoed those complaints in a recent speech, saying the Times’ coverage has reflected ”the kind of antisemitism we know all too well.”

Adams’ speech last week appeared to give succor to critics of the investigative series, and comes as his administration is fighting a local press outlet’s effort to publicize city assessments of 26 yeshivas in New York City. The City, a local news website, went to court to force the city Department of Education to release their evaluations of teaching at these yeshivas, which have been compiled as part of a probe into the quality of instruction at the schools.

A judge ordered the education department to release the assessments, and New York City says it will appeal that ruling, arguing that publicizing the assessments will interfere with an ongoing investigation.

In his speech, Adams also said he doesn’t “apologize for believing in God,” and added, “We are a country of faith and belief, and we should have it anywhere possible to educate and to help uplift our children in the process.” The remarks recalled comments he made in March, when he said, “Our challenge is not economics, our challenge is not finance, our challenge is faith — people have lost their faith.”

Adams has drawn support from Orthodox voters. In September, Rabbi David Niederman, executive director of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, a Satmar Hasidic organization, told the New York Jewish Week that the relationship between the Orthodox community and the Mayor is the “strongest it has ever been.”

“You were there for me when I ran for mayor,” Adams said in his speech last week. “I’m going to be there for you as your mayor.”

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