|Chasidic school bus - image for illustration purposes only (Brownstoner)|
This is kind of the case with Zalman Zirkind. JTA reports that Zirkind pleaded guilty to laundering drug money and his supporters have asked for leniency when he is sentenced:
Among the 24 letters submitted to the judge in the case was one from Abraham Boyarsky, a math professor at Concordia University in Montreal who said he has known Zirkind’s family for 40 years — and understands why Zirkind turned to crime.
Secular education is frowned upon in the Hasidic community, Boyarsky explained, but a combination of few job opportunities and the high cost of yeshiva tuition for large families can lead men into “financial and legal woes.”
“In desperation, they rely on a thwarted perception that justifies taking extreme risks in the false belief that supporting a family condones almost any action,” he wrote.
If this doesn’t convince the doubters about the need for a decent secular education, I don’t know what will.
Religious freedom has always been the argument given by their advocates. Chasidic schools have the right to teach their children any way they see fit. Which includes not offering them a secular studies curriculum. The claim is that they are just as productive as their secularly educated counterparts and should not be forced to study subjects that they do not need in order to provide for their families. Which they claim to do quite nicely. That most of them apply for state and federal financial aid is a right they have which they execute legally.
My argument has always been that the level of dependence on such aid is so great (due to their very large families) - that it is conducive to defrauding those programs. Even if the vast majority are scrupulously honest, the very large numbers that rely on such aid makes it almost certain that more than a few will commit some form of fraud (like hiding income). And even if there were no fraud, the idea that one must rely on government aid as a means of income is not something to be proud of. Add to that the fact that opportunities for better jobs are severely limited to them because of that lack of education... makes the need for a secular curriculum all the more vital.
I see little upside to their current educational paradigm. For these reasons and a few others that I have mentioned in the past I have long been advocating that they do what almost every other Yeshiva in the non Chasidic world (and even many Chasidic ones) do and offer a dual religious/secular studies curriculum.
That being said, I wonder if the plea for mercy based on the lack of a secular education is really the problem here. I think it goes much deeper. That Zirkind felt justified in laundering drug money tells you that he has very likely been indoctrinated to not really care about people on the outside. That the only people that count are religious Jews. Kind of reminds me of the attitude expressed by Don Corleone in the classic movie ‘The Godfather’. When the Mafia considered selling drugs as part of their organized crime operation (...they had always stayed away from drugs for ‘ethical’ reasons) they decided to only sell their product to black inner-city youth.
That he was not educated enough to understand that making a living by breaking the law is never justified says more about their religious education than it does about their lack of a secular one. Maybe that should be as much of a concern as their lack of any secular education!
I’m sorry. I cannot support an educational philosophy that teaches young people to see the outside world as so evil that it leads people like Zirkind to feel justified laundering drug money to support his family. Are the defenders pleading his case really saying that only a secular education would teach him that?! Because if that's true their religious education leaves a lot to be desired.