Zeldin Says He Will Fight Against the ‘War on Yeshiva Education’

By Reuvain Borchardt

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rep. Lee Zeldin meeting Orthodox leaders. (File)

NEW YORK — Republican gubernatorial candidate Rep. Lee Zeldin said Albany has “declared war on yeshiva education” and that he would defend yeshivas if elected, on a conference call with Orthodox Jewish media outlets Friday.

“Albany has, in many respects, declared war on yeshiva education, and in doing so, they have not told the story of everything that is good about a yeshiva education,” Zeldin said. “They’re not finding it in their ability to talk about how the values of right or wrong are being inside of yeshiva education. The law-abiding life that gets lived by so many yeshiva-education students, the high attendance rate, the continuing education, and much more. There are so many positives that are not being told in this story during this attack of yeshiva education. And I’ve been using every opportunity I can find to tell the rest of that story.”

The state Board of Regents passed regulations last month that for the first time gives the state Education Department the ability to mandate a specific secular-studies curriculum on private schools. The regulations, which had been debated for years, arose after some graduates of Chassidish yeshivas publicly alleged they had received an insufficient secular education.

The Orthodox community has strongly objected to the regulations, which it says are an inappropriate intrusion into yeshivas and infringe on religious and parental liberties.

Democratic incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul has not taken a position on the regulations, noting that the Education Department operates independently of the governor. 

But “the governor is certainly entitled to have an opinion,” Zeldin said Friday. “That opinion can be stated publicly, that opinion can be used to help move public opinion as well. And Kathy Hochul, she made a decision not to take any position or state any opinion. And that’s just entirely unacceptable to me … I will do everything in my power to stop these attacks, to speak up on behalf of yeshiva students and the quality of yeshiva education.”

Zeldin said that with both yeshivas and public schools, “there’s no form of education that has ever obtained perfection, and any opportunity ever to improve any form of education should always be pursued. 

“But unfortunately, right now, what we’re experiencing is an attack on yeshiva education, where they’re not even telling the full story or really much of anything positive at all about why parents want to send their kids to yeshivas.”

The Orthodox community has been angered by Hochul’s disinclination to speak out in opposition to the regulations — a chief reason the community is expected to vote overwhelmingly for Zeldin in the Nov. 8 election. While the Orthodox community typically shares Republican values — such as tough-on-crime policies, the main plank of Zeldin’s campaign — the community has in the past also supported friendly incumbent Democrats, and Hochul had had a good relationship with the community prior to the yeshiva issue taking center stage last spring, when the proposed guidelines were first released. But the community considers the yeshiva issue an existential threat — to the extent that Harav Yisroel Reisman, Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Vodaath and Rav of Agudah of Madison, took the rare step of making a rabbinical endorsement in a political race, telling Hamodia on Thursday he would support Zeldin. 

On Friday’s conference call, Zeldin emphasized other policies important to the Orthodox community, from fighting the BDS movement and antisemitism at the City University of New York, to promoting school choice, and reiterated that “the first day that I’m in office in January, we will declare a crime emergency here in the state of New York, and we will suspend New York’s cashless bail law.”

Zeldin’s campaign has focused heavily on the issue of rising crime — a strategy that appears to be working, as some polls show him within single digits of the Democratic governor in a state that has not elected a Republican to statewide office since 2002.

Hochul’s ad strategy has centered on criticizing Zeldin for his pro-life position. But as polls continues to show him gaining and that the pro-life issue was not high on the list of New Yorker’s most important issues in the race, Hochul switched tactics in the past week, focusing instead on Zeldin’s support of former President Donald Trump and Zeldin’s vote in Congress to challenge the results of the 2020 election.

Asked on Friday’s call by a Hamodia reporter whether he regrets his actions surrounding Trump and whether he sees them as a liability, Zeldin replied that he was focused on more important issues.

 “While I am talking about the issues that matter most to New Yorkers,” Zeldin said, “Kathy Hochul wants to obsess over the former president? Every single day that she spends her day doing that is a day that I am winning a large majority of the undecided, independent-minded voter.” 

Zeldin plans to spend Sunday campaigning and meeting with community leaders in the heavily Orthodox neighborhoods of Midwood, Boro Park and Williamsburg. Rav Reisman will officially announce his endorsement Sunday, and the campaign said it expects further endorsements in the community that day as well.

Click here to read Hamodia’s April interview with Zeldin.

Hochul has not granted Hamodia an interview despite repeated requests.


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