Getting In Face of Ultra-Orthodox on Need for Real World Education

Preaching Value of Skills in World Where Talmud Is King

By Yermi Brenner

Published June 19, 2013, issue of June 21, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Gedalya Gottdenger’s dream is to get a degree in psychology. But unlike most 21-year-olds, Gottdenger lacks a basic education, even though he has been studying since he was a child.

Gottdenger, who grew up in a Hasidic community in Brooklyn, is a product of ultra-Orthodox Jewish day schools in which, numerous students report, math and English classes are barely taught, despite state laws requiring such instruction.

“In the heder we had English and math classes, but it was always at the end of the day and lasted only an hour each,” Gottdenger said in a telephone interview with the Forward. “It was like a joke; the focus was entirely on keeping us in the class for two hours in order to show the government that we were being taught English, but it was nothing to do with actual teaching.”

Gedalya Gottdenger
shulamit seidler-feller
Gedalya Gottdenger

The situation got even worse during his high school years, when Gottdenger attended a Viznitz yeshiva in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Boro Park.

“In the yeshiva there was nothing whatsoever; they weren’t even pretending to teach,” Gottdenger recalled. “From age 13 to 18, I did not have any English or math classes. I left there with pretty much zero knowledge in English or math.”

(Efforts to reach officials at Ahavas Israel and Imrei Chaim, the Brooklyn schools that Gottdenger attended, for responses to his allegations were unsuccessful despite repeated phone calls.)

On June 5, Gottdenger saw a huge billboard while driving on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway that reminded him of the dilemma he faces. The advertisement quoted a phrase from the Talmud (in Hebrew): “One should make sure to teach his son a trade.”

The billboard was funded by Yaffed, an advocacy group of individuals raised in ultra-Orthodox communities, that seeks to improve secular studies in New York’s ultra-Orthodox day schools. According to Naftuli Moster, founder of Yaffed, the goal of the ad is to create an attitude change.

“We want to go past the community leaders and go directly to the people,” Moster, 27, said in a phone interview with the Forward. “To get to those people who do believe in education and enable them to speak up and ask their leaders to make some changes so their children can have a better future.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.