Sunday, April 03, 2016

Is Targeting Chasidic Schools the New Antisemitism?

Children of Stamford Hill. What will their future look like? (Independent)
‘Tateh, M’Shnad Payis’ - father, they’re cutting off Peyos. I recall this Yiddish comment being made by a survivor in the movie Shoah, the epic 613 minute 1985 documentary by filmmaker Claude Lanzmann about the Holocaust.

This Yiddish phrase was heard in pre- war Poland and other Chasidic communities in Europe. where antisemitism was rampant and expressed in pogroms – violent acts by their Christian neighbors. Cutting off Peyos (a distinctive feature of Chasidic Jews) was a common way for antisemitic Pogrom participants to demonstrate their hatred of the Jew.  

I mention all this in light of what’s happening in England. Authorities there are cracking down on schools that do not offer any secular studies in the Chasidic section of Stamford Hill. From the BBC
As many as 1,000 boys from strictly Orthodox Jewish families may be pupils at a network of between 12 and 20 illegal private schools in east London. 
These schools are not registered with the authorities, which makes them illegal, and they offer a narrow, religious syllabus. 
The Department for Education is working with Ofsted to find and shut them. 
These private schools serve the small so-called Charedi community - a grouping that contains within it a wide variety of strictly Orthodox Jewish traditions. Hackney council estimates there are around 30,000 Charedi Jews in the borough…
Some of the schools and yeshivas are run in contravention of the 2008 Education and Skills Act, which stipulates that "a person must not conduct an independent educational institution unless it is registered".
 An individual convicted of running an unregistered school could face up to a year in prison. Ofsted and the DfE began a crackdown on illegal schools in January. 
Seven schools have already been closed. Now it might be true that parents of children in these schools generally support the type of education offered there. At least publicly. But that is certainly not always the case. I wonder how many students there have the attitude expressed by this former student: 
One ex-student of illegal Charedi schools, now in his 20s and outside the community, told Newsnight: "I'm starting to study for my GCSEs. I'm maybe like an eight-year-old, nine-year-old. That's my level of education." 
My guess is that this attitude is held by more than an insignificant minority. I tend to believe that the reason these feelings are not more prominently expressed  is fear of the consequences to those who question a system based on the cardinal principles of its Chasidic leaders who see little value in anything except their own Chasidic approach to Judaism.

The state of education in Stamford Hill section of London is mimicked in similar Chasidic enclaves here, in America. Most notably in towns like New Square and Kiryas Yoel; and in neighborhoods in Brooklyn like Williamsburg and parts of Boro Park.

These schools are under similar scrutiny by New York State education officials.  But as YAFFED founder and director, Naftuli Moster indicated in a recent article, they are dragging their heels in their commitment to deal with this issue. Meanwhile students are not being educated enough to live in the 21st century without the aid of benefactors, and government financial aid.  It is an unofficial matter of policy in these kinds of Chasidic  enclaves.

It seems that the authorities in London are doing something about it. I only hope that New York follows suit.

So what has all this got to do with anti-Semitism? Sure as I am sitting here, I can already hear someone there calling this a pogrom.  There is not a doubt in my mind that there are people in these communities that will see it that way. And those of us who support government actions here will be accused of supporting antisemitic acts. (I can’t count the number of times I have seen a Charedi commentator say something like, ‘If you substitute the word ‘Charedim’ with the word ‘Jews’ the ADL would justifiably call you an antisemite!’

An argument one might hear from these Chasidic circles or their defenders to this new ‘pogrom’ might be that as citizens in a democracy they should have the right to educate their children in any way they choose.

Sure - if they didn’t need government support because of it, and their constituents generally approve - I would agree with that. But when the government is forced by their lack of education to give them our tax dollars in the form of financial aid to the poor, then their rights impede on the rights of everyone else.

But let’s leave that argument out of the equation for a minute. In what world is it even remotely ethical to fail to provide even the most basic education in order to live in the 21st century? Is the education of an 8 or 9 year old enough to accomplish that?

They will most likely retort that as long as their constituents are part of the community their needs will be somehow met. As long as they remain loyal to the sect and the Rebbe, they will do just fine. No family will be left behind.  The willingness to live a modest lifestyle combined with a community support network and government aid and they will all be happy campers. As for Naftuli Moster... ‘Who is this little ingrate expatriate Chasid think he is - to contradict what our Chasidic Rebbe decides is best for us?!’ - they might say.

This approach forces them to stay in the ‘commune’ lest they venture outside and find themselves completely lost – unable to support themselves or their families.

I completely reject the idea that what’s happening in Stamford Hill is antisemitic. It is not. It is a blessing. The Chasidim of Stamford Hill ought to be grateful that someone is looking after their welfare. And the Chasidic enclaves in Amercia should just as grateful to Naftuli Moster for his efforts in that vain. Unfortunately these Chasidim have been largely indoctrinated not to trust ‘The Goyim’ seeing an antisemite under every rock. But antisemtism is certainly not the reason that they are being forced to comply with the law.

I don’t know how this will all end. But my guess is that these communities will find a way to circumvent the law and avoid teaching their male students any more than they already are.

Which is a tragedy if you ask me. This community will certainly grow. As will their dependence on others for their financial welfare. Government resources are limited and subject to changes in the law. And private benefactors may not be able to keep up with their growth which will be exponential per generation. How will they survive then? I have no clue. And I’ll bet neither do they.