Letters to the Editor: A Defense of Yeshivas

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Students praying at the Shavei Hevron yeshiva in Kiryat Arba in 2011.Credit: Michal Fattal

Don’t knock the yeshivas, rabbi

In response to “Bill de Blasio must not let ultra-Orthodox Jewish votes override his duty to the law” (Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, Haaretz.com, July 27).

Yeshivas have been the pillar of New York’s thriving, successful Hasidic communities for decades. By attacking them, Rabbi Eric Yoffie ignores the central fact that tens of thousands of parents choose to send their children to yeshivas precisely because of the education they provide. In attempting to destroy our schools to serve their own agendas, critics like Yoffie belittle the achievements of yeshiva students who have gone on to lead successful careers in such fields as business, finance, law, technology and education. Committed to family, faith and the betterment of their communities, these professionals are the product of an education system that instills in students a high level of ethics, discipline, critical thinking and a commitment to a lifetime of learning.

The position that nothing is being done to support our children’s development is a misguided one, promoted by a disenchanted few who seek division over unity to score political points. Hasidic families, educators and religious leaders from all backgrounds stand together to strengthen the yeshiva system so students continue to benefit from an education that teaches them the beliefs and values that define us, and prepares them to thrive in adulthood. To reduce this solemn responsibility to a matter of votes is the kind of cynical thinking that discourages productive dialogue and ultimately hinders progress.

Rabbi David Niederman

President, United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, Inc.

Williamsburg, Brooklyn

The Orthodox have won, rabbi

I have the highest respect for Rabbi Yoffie and the deepest sympathy for his position. Israel’s policies on matters of state and religion are medieval and repugnant.

But the problem is not, as Rabbi Yoffie suggests, a matter of ultra-Orthodox hegemony and a politically weak-kneed prime minister, but rather a massive indifference of the enlightened Israeli population to the question of religious rights of fellow Jews. The saucy quip, that “the synagogue I don’t attend” must be Orthodox, is a truism in Israel. No secular parent would agree that his child waste his precious school time on the likes of Martin Buber. Rosh Hashanah is a holiday spent on the beach, not in a synagogue, of whatever stripe. A Zionist Jew is a secular Jew who may occasionally wear a prayer shawl, say on Passover or Yom Kippur. Or have his sons ritually circumcised. But that’s it. Zionists don’t believe in religion of any stream. They consider themselves too smart to engage in God-talk, which a Reform Jew would call prayer. This means that very few Zionist Israelis will take up the cudgels for your battle, Rabbi Yoffie. This means that politically speaking, the Orthodox have the field to themselves. Sad but true. Liberal Judaism in Israel is a lost cause.

Baruch Margalit

Ein Gedi