Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Defending an Ugly Oped

In 2016 NY's Mount Sinai Health System honored Satmar's Bikur Cholim Society
I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about Chasidic groups like Satmar. I certainly have my issues with them on many matters. At the same time, the Satmar Chasidim that I have met personally are some of the finest people I know. To a man - in just about every case I can think of, my experience has been that they are among the most kind and caring people in the world. Any one of them would give you the shirt off their back – if they had even the slightest notion that you needed it.

I have never had a negative experience with them personally. This is true on a communal level, too. Although I have never personally experienced it, I’m told that Satmar’s ‘Bikur Chloim Society’ founded by the late Satmar Rebbetzin, Alta Feige Teitelbaum is unparalleled in the kindnesses they provide for people that are hospitalized. As well as for their families. It doesn’t matter to them how observant you are. Nor does it matter if you are not observant at all.They will do their best for you. And yet I have some of the most profound differences one can imagine with them Hashkaficly. It’s almost as if we observe 2 different religions in certain ways.

One of those ways is how they educate their children. While there are other right wing Orthodox Jews that place a relatively low value on secular studies, Satmar type Chasidim take it to a new level. They view those that attempt to install a secular studies program in their schools almost as if they were attempting Shmad – converting their children to Christianity or idol worship!

There is also extreme pressure to conform to a world that is as different from the rest of society as possible.Which is why they are so insular. ‘Heaven forbid’ they should get any idea that there is anything worthwhile enough on the outside for them to emulate.

For the most part, this works. The vast majority of these Chasidim love their lifestyles and wouldn’t change it. On the other hand, those that deviate occasionally pay very dearly for it. As did one Chasid on New Square a few years ago who tried to create a Minyan for sick friend confined to his house. Which the Chasidic Rebbe of that community does not allow.

For the most part though, the people in these communities comply with the standards set by their Rebbe without questioning it. Whatever the negative consequences of such conformity are, they are willing to pay that price because of the overwhelming benefit of living a lifestyle they have learned to love. 

Conformity means - not only having the same practices but having the same beliefs to the exclusion of all others. Which means that most of them have a very negative attitude toward secular studies. That gives those communities the strength (in numbers at least) to circumvent government requirements for minimal standards of secular education. 

Which brings me to Naftuli Moster. Whose organization YAFFED has brought this to the attention of New York City’s education officials a couple of years ago.

Having once been a part of that community, Naftuli has been accused of having an ulterior anti religious motive - a vendetta as his real agenda for doing this. I cannot read minds. But whatever his motivation is, he’s right about his charge against those Yeshivos. They have ignored - and continue to ignore the city’s minimal educational standards and yet take government assistance for programs for which parochial schools are eligible – IF  and only if - they comply with those standards. 

In recent weeks YAFFED has accused the city of New York of not following up on their promise to investigate and sanction those schools that do not comply. For this he has been painted a Rodef recently in an op-ed by Rabbi Avraham Heschel published in Hamodia. From the New York Post
Naftuli Moster is watching his back since the Brooklyn-based Orthodox Jewish newspaper Hamodia ran an angry opinion piece last month suggesting that he is a “rodef” — Hebrew for a dangerous “pursuer” who must be stopped or killed…
The article attacks YAFFED, without naming the group, for a six-page Yiddish pamphlet it had mailed to residents discussing the importance of secular studies.
Heschel blasts the pamphlet as “a grave insult to our intelligence.” Yeshivas vary, he writes, and parents can choose “the best fit” for their children...
Under Jewish law, Heschel writes, the teen had the status of a “rodef,” justifying use of force. 
It is extremely misleading to say that  parents can choose “the best fit” for their children…”when in fact that is not true at all in those communities. There are no choices. There is only one choice. They have only one curriculum. One that is set by the Hashkafa of their Chasidic rebbe. 

What Rabbi Heschel really means is that parents of his community have the right to choose the only kind of education offered there. There are no secular tracks of any kind. Every student studies the exact same thing. That is the only education that is the ‘best fit’ for all of their children.

The truth is that there are more than a few parents there that realize that their children are being short changed and would prefer they got a secular education. That would be the best fit for “THEIR children. YAFFED is guilty of trying to enable that option for them. 

Rabbi Heschel implying YAFFED’s founder and primary force, Naftuli Moster a Rodef, not only continues to deny parents an alternative educational option, but it paints Naftuli’s actions a form of Shmad (Which is tantamount to spiritual murder.) 

It should not be surprising that Naftuli worries for his life. A lot of Chasidic parents would choose this kind of ‘Shmad’ if it was made available to them. However, it would be the height of non conformity if they were to do so. So they don’t exactly come out of the closet about it. Which makes it sound like the entire community is of one mind on this issue. One that agrees with Rabbi Heschel.

It is appalling that someone who tries to use legal means to correct a violation of an educational policy - one that would benefit the community – is characterized as a Rodef - a pursuer who - according to Halacha - may himself be pursued and killed – before he kills (spiritually).

I therefore consider it the height of irresponsibility for Hamodia to – not only have published Rabbi Heschel’s comments,- but to have added the following when the New York Post called them for comments: 
“There has been no threat made against anyone in the pages of Hamodia and its editorial expression is, under the First Amendment, of no concern to any city agency – especially the police,”. 
I wonder how the family of Itzhak Rabin feels about the extreme right wing ‘Kahanist’ type religious Zionists  who – after Oslo - declared him a Rodef. He was shortly thereafter assassinated by one of their zealots - Yigal Amir.  Amir used that as his justification.

All it takes is one person to carry things too far because of this kind of rhetoric. And I’m pretty sure the editors of Hamodia know that. The question is, do they even care?