In March, the Nobel Prize-winning mathematician Yisrael Aumann, a devout Jew, submitted an affidavit in support of several ḥaredi schools that were seeking relief from a set of regulatory fiats issued by New York State’s department of education. In the affidavit Aumann wrote of his own experience attending such schools in the 1930s and 40s, and argued that the education he received there set him on his own distinguished career path. More recently, Aumann has become increasingly concerned by reports from current and former students of ḥaredi schools who believe themselves to have been gravely disadvantaged by the inadequacy of the secular educations they received:
[T]he Jerusalem Talmud [states] that a father must teach his son a trade and thus provide him with a livelihood. In this passage, Rabbi Yehuda puts it most bluntly: “If a father doesn’t teach his son a trade, it’s as if he taught him highway robbery.”
[T]he picture that was painted for me [in private correspondence]—and later confirmed by other ḥasidic graduates and parents of current students—is of young men who often graduate without even the basic skills to operate professionally. In many cases, this leads to poverty, and also to a sense of insuperable handicap. Having left New York well over 60 years ago, all this was a revelation to me.
I stand behind every word in the affidavit. . . . We must continue vehemently to oppose government . . . intrusion in yeshivas. The government has no right to dictate how we run our schools. But as my affidavit indicates, it does have a right to see to it that all children get a basic secular education that will enable them to be productive members of society.
This can be achieved in several ways. One is to allow the state to test the children in agreed-upon subjects and at agreed-upon levels. . . . But we must do something; we cannot continue to disregard both halakhah and the law of the land.