Last Friday, as observant Jews hurried with last-minute preparations for Passover, one Orthodox Jew was in Albany, holding up the New York State budget. He was insisting that this roughly $168 billion package include a special provision that would allow religious schools to meet the state’s educational requirements by using their long hours of religious instruction.
In recent years, education activists, among them former Hasidic yeshiva graduates, have pushed aggressively to bring the yeshivas into compliance with the state’s education laws. Simcha Felder, the state senator from Brooklyn who represents the heavily ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Borough Park and Midwood, was on a mission to get legal permission for the state to turn a blind eye to the near-absence of secular instruction in many yeshivas. The upshot? Tens of thousands of children would continue to graduate without the most basic skills.